On Sunday we continued our series looking at the different gospels, why they were written and what are some of the “big themes” we can get from them. And on Sunday we looked at the gospel of Mark and the reality of darkness. Because in many ways if you read the book of Mark what you realize is this: it’s face, it’s punchy, and it’s actually pretty dark.
We normally think of the gospels as all light, and nice – but Mark has a dark undercurrent to it. And I think this is because Mark was writing to a very dark and difficult context.
Many scholars agree that Mark was most likely written to the church in Rome. A church that was going through deep persecution. A church that was suffering and having friends ripped from their arms, dragged into the coliseum to be ripped apart by wild dogs, or lit up as torches for garden parties for the Emperor Nero (Google Tactius to read his account of it). So it’s into this setting that Mark writes and seeks to bring hope.
What I think you’ll notice if you read is that Mark doesn’t shy away from the darkness that is a reality in the life of faith. We actually find Peter saying to Jesus in Mark 8, that since Jesus is the Messiah he will not struggle, experience death, or any seeming defeat. But Jesus turns around and tells Peter that – that view is satanic. Jesus is implicitly teaching that sometimes a necessary part of faith and following him will be to encounter and go through times of difficulty, darkness, and even death. The life of faith doesn’t preserve you from experiencing those things, the life of faith gets you through those things.
So on Sunday we looked at how Mark doesn’t deny the difficulty we face in life, but he also doesn’t ever say that difficulty, death, or darkness get the last word. Mark walks this fine line between accepting the reality of difficulty, but not the ultimacy of difficulty. And this is something that I believe is really helpful for any of us who grow through tough times. That yes we will face darkness, but we can get through it.
That was actually our main point on Sunday: that yes we will encounter darkness, difficulty, and death but we can get through it. That darkness and difficulty even when seemingly invincible and powerful, don’t get the last word. That’s the teaching of Mark. That we need not deny the reality we are facing, but also we don’t need to give into it as all-powerful either.
So on Sunday we moved to applying this to our lives in a few specific ways. If you are in a good place, then our calling is to remember the message of Mark because life has a habit of taking us into difficult places. And if we are in a tough place to follow the example of Jesus in Mark 8 where we name the darkness we are facing, we bring others into it (widen the circle) for support, and hold onto hope in the midst of it. That’s part of what I think the message of Mark is about – hope in the dark.
So we closed with this well known quote from Vaclav Havel that I appreciate and I think Mark would as well:
Hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world. Hope is not a prognostication—it’s an orientation of the spirit. Hope is definitely NOT the same as optimism. It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is hope, above all, that gives us strength to live even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now. In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.
Big Idea: We will encounter darkness, but we can get through it.
- Mark has an urgent message.
- There is darkness in the life of faith.
- We will encounter darkness, but we can get through it.
- Faith isn’t about preserving you from difficulty, darkness, or death; faith is what gets you through it.
- In the end nothing you go through will be wasted.
- Life has a habit of becoming difficult when we least expect it, and are least prepared for it.
- Remember the message of Mark.
- To name and accept the darkness you’re facing.
- Jesus widens the circle.
- Hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world – Vaclav Havel
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Had you ever thought about the gospels being different before? How does knowing some of the context change things? Would you say you are more likely to deny difficulty, or obsess about it? How does knowing that a gospel really acknowledges the difficult parts of life encourage you? Are you in any difficulty right now? What do you need to name? Who can support you? How can you hold onto hope?
Challenge for the Week: Name the darkness, share your struggle with another person, hold onto hope in the midst of it.