Eyewitness - Jesus through the eyes of Peter (Mark's Gospel chapters 1-6)

Introduction

 

To encounter Jesus is to experience transformation.  That's the message of all four Gospels.  Featured in their pages are people whose ordinary lives got turned on their heads through meeting Jesus.  The power of the Gospel narratives is that they originate with the testimony of the actual people who met Jesus in the flesh.  How do we know this is the case?

 

Let's take Mark's Gospel as an example, as there is a general consensus among Bible scholars that this was the earliest Gospel to be written.  We learn something important about this Gospel from the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea who quotes some of the writings of Papias, who was Bishop of Hierapolis (a city near to Colossae and Laodicea in what is now Turkey).  There are no actual copies of Papias' work in existence; we only know of his writings through others.  Scholars date the writings of Papias to the end of the first century to early in the second century.  There are two extracts from Papias (quoted by Eusebius) which are important regarding the origins of Mark's Gospel.  The first is that Papias writes of an earlier time in his life, around the 80s of the first century, when he had conversations with people who knew actual individuals who had met Jesus.  Papias was writing about a chain of transmission; he himself never met Jesus, but as a historian he knew the value of ascertaining first-hand information about Him.  In particular Papias mentions two named individuals, Aristion and John the Elder who, in around AD80, were still alive and had personally known Jesus when they were young men.  Papias writes that he met and conversed with people who had been speaking recently with these two eyewitnesses of Jesus.

 

So Papias was in a very good position not only to know himself about the stories of Jesus, but also to know some of the trusted channels through which the Gospel narratives had been transmitted.  In particular, Papias wrote this regarding Mark's Gospel:

 

"The Elder used to say, Mark, in his capacity as Peter's interpreter, wrote down accurately as many things as he recalled from memory - though not in an ordered form - of the things either said or done by the Lord.  For he [Mark] neither heard the Lord nor accompanied him, but later, as I said, he heard and accompanied Peter, who used to give his teachings . . ."

 

It was Papias' understanding that the origin of Mark's Gospel was the eyewitness testimony of Peter.  On what basis does Papias believe this?  Because Papias had conversed with people who had listened to living eyewitnesses of Jesus and these eyewitnesses were teaching about Peter's role in the writing of Mark's Gospel.  This information was not derived from a haphazard chain of messaging like a game of Chinese Whispers.  Papias stood only two people removed from the teachings of named individuals who had known Jesus personally.  These eyewitnesses taught that Mark wrote down the stories Peter told about Jesus when Peter was engaged in teaching in the early Church.  Peter himself never formulated these stories into any coherent order, but Mark noted them down accurately in Greek (from Peter's Aramaic) and those writings formed the basis of the Gospel that bears his name.[1]

 

In all this we see the vital role of eyewitnesses to the transforming life of Jesus.  One way to understand the dynamics of transformation is to see it in terms of re-positioning.  Transformation is about change and this can often be expressed by a change of position in one way or another.  When Jesus performs a healing in someone's life, they are re-positioned from sickness to wholeness.  The call of Jesus to serve Him beyond our present home can relocate us geographically.  When an aspect of our lives has gone off the rails, we can experience the power of Jesus to bring re-alignment.  And when the Spirit of Jesus transforms our internal attitudes, we can find bitterness being re-positioned into forgiveness, hatred turning to love, rejection transposed into acceptance.  To be transformed is to have aspects of our lives re-positioned.

 

This series invites us to view Mark's Gospel from this perspective of re-positioning, as we view the transforming power of Jesus through the lens of Peter's eyewitness recollections.  Peter saw at first hand, not only the way in which Jesus re-positioned other people's lives, but also the way his own life got turned around.

 

The scope of this series encompasses the first six chapters of Mark's Gospel.  The selection of readings follows the plan of the Revised Common Lectionary. These readings from Mark's Gospel usually feature in the lectionary in the middle of the year, once every three years.  This series can therefore accompany those who follow the lectionary as their devotional practice.  For each day there is a passage from Mark to read, a reflection that offers teaching and life application and a themed prayer to finish.

 

Nothing stays the same when you meet with Jesus.  May this series offer you fresh opportunities to meet with the Saviour whose transforming power re-positions us for the glory of God.

 

[1] One of the most detailed analyses of the role of eyewitnesses lying behind the Gospels is Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Published by Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2006). The quotation from Papias is taken from Bauckham’s book.

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