Time to start volume 2 of the Jesus series I've been writing. I'm not quite done editing the first volume, but need to get some writing momentum going in my life.
Chapter 1: Mark, the Basic Story
This is the second of two books on Jesus. The first volume aimed to give an overview of Jesus' mission while he was on earth, the basics. What are the core features of his ministry on earth? What are the elements that the gospels share in common, especially the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke?
This second volume is then interested in the unique themes of each gospel, the specific contributions each individual gospel makes to our understanding of Jesus. How is each gospel different from the others and where does it likely fit in the history of the early church? Did the gospel writers know about the other gospels and, if so, did they interact with what the others had written?
A good place to start, though, is to summarize the core features of Jesus' earthly mission from the previous volume. Jesus was on earth from around 6BC to AD30. He was born in Bethlehem south of Jerusalem and grew up in Galilee about a three day's journey north of Jerusalem, not far from the Sea of Galilee. Augustus was the Roman emperor when he was born, and Herod the Great ruled all the land of Israel as a king under Augustus. Tiberius was emperor when they crucified him under the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.
His ministry began near the end of the 20's. At that time Israel was divided up with different rulers. A Roman governor ruled in the south, in Judea where Jerusalem was. In the northwest, where Galilee was, a son of Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, ruled not as a king but as what was called a "tetrarch," the "ruler of a fourth." It was this Herod who beheaded John the Baptist.
Jesus' mission really got started after Herod arrested John "the baptizer." Jesus had traveled down to the south, to the Jordan River, and was baptized by John. John was likely preaching that God was coming both to judge the world and to re-establish his kingdom on earth. In preparation, John called the people to repent of their sins against Israel's covenant with God and wash themselves in the Jordan through baptism.
The fact that Jesus submitted to this baptism shows that he must have substantially agreed with John's message. But while John's message focused on something that was coming, including the coming of the Messiah, Jesus' message focused on the arrival of the kingdom. Jesus appointed twelve key disciples, or followers, symbolizing the restoration of Israel. While he was not very open about it publicly, he eventually made it clear to his disciples that he was going to be the king of the kingdom that was arriving in his ministry.
The cornerstone of Jesus' preaching and teaching was thus the kingdom of God that was starting in his ministry but would not fully arrive until some time that only God the Father knows. He taught primarily in parables, stories that clarified the truth for some but were riddles for others. The kingdom was to be for everyone, so he targeted especially the "lost sheep," those like the poor and widows, who the powerful ignored or, worse, abused.
He healed the sick--more of those disempowered. He cast out demons, cleaning the spiritual house of Israel in preparation for the coming rule of God on earth as it is in heaven. He trained his key followers to carry out the mission first everywhere in Israel but, as it would turn out, eventually in the whole world. He taught them the core principle of loving your neighbor as yourself.
Lastly, he died and rose again from the dead. While many Christians focus almost exclusively on Jesus' death, this was not the focus of his time on earth. We have good reason to believe that his death generally took his disciples by surprise. Similarly, his resurrection seemed to take them by surprise as well. It's a reminder to us that we have much more to gain from Jesus than simply his death and resurrection. We have much to gain from his life as well.
The rest of this chapter continues to review the overall thrust of Jesus' earthly ministry but from a slightly different perspective. What you will find as you move through this book is that the Gospel of Mark was a primary source behind Matthew and Luke. These three gospels are called the "Synoptic" Gospels because they are similar enough to look at side by side.
So to start off, let's look at the core story of Jesus in Mark. All but about 31 verses of Mark is found in Matthew and Luke. That fact makes Mark an excellent place to begin Matthew and Luke as well.