Often when new believers ask where they should start reading their Bibles, the answer is “The Gospel of John. Begin there. Or maybe 1st John.” The same is true in evangelism. Perhaps you have done the same: when you recommend a place for an unbeliever to start reading, you mention again the Gospel according to John. I’ve done the same, but not always sure why – I get why 1st John is good for new believers—security of salvation is one of his themes, the Lordship of Christ, the black-and-white change of conversion —I always understood why 1st John is recommended for new believers. But I never quite understood why the Gospel of John for unbelievers—indeed John purpose is so we will believe—and I’m not denying the evangelistic nature of John.
But for us non-Jews I always found John a little difficult. Unbelievers in our culture do not know the OT, and John records many of Jesus’ teaching that need OT knowledge to understand fully. Unbelievers already think we Christians are on a spiritual cloud with no relation to real life, and although John is certainly not guilty of creating a gap between spiritual truths and this early life—quite the contrary, I still find John more philosophical and theological than the other three Gospel accounts.
And then one day a seminary professor dropped a comment about giving an unbeliever the Gospel of Mark to read as a starting point to understand Jesus and faith in Him. Since that day I’ve come to love the Gospel of Mark. I like concise and to the point; Mark is short, by far the shortest account of Jesus’ life. I like a fast-paced action story rather than a drawn out philosophical muse; Mark’s most repeated word is “immediately.” (36x in 16 chapters!)
And it appears that Mark is the least Jewish – what I mean with that, is that Mark writes more for our non-Jewish culture than for example Matthew who quotes the OT all the time. We need to know the OT, but we don’t know it as well as we should, and Mark accommodates our shameful ignorance.
But what strikes me most about Mark, is his point. His point is simple: “This is Jesus, what do you make of Him?” Mark is an advertiser: “This is my best product, will you be amazed and receive it, or will you mock and destroy it.” Except, Mark is not advertising, but evangelising. Mark is presenting you with Jesus, wondering how you will respond. Will you respond like many in Jesus day who were amazed—astonished!— or will you mock? Will you repent, or resist. Mark does not ask you directly for a response, but he shows you the many responses of the people of Jesus’ own time, subtly asking you “What do you make of Him?”
This makes Mark a perfect Gospel presentation. We might tend to deal in the realm of abstract theology when we evangelise. Mark deals in the realm of real, normal, personal theology. He puts you right down in the middle of Ancient Israel, and makes you see, hear, and experience Jesus. And then every so often, Mark turns your head to see what the people of Israel around Jesus were doing. He makes you see Jesus, and then witness the astonishment in the people around him.
“This is Jesus, what do you make of Him?”