When I was in college, I (reluctantly) attended a weeklong campus ministry retreat where we spent 5 hours a day studying the Gospel of Mark. It was a slow, in-depth study (we ended up only getting through the first 8 chapters!) and I was doubtful as to whether I would enjoy the experience. But much to my surprise, by the end of the week, I had a whole new appreciation for the Gospels, and my passion as a Christ-follower was greatly reinvigorated.
One reason for my reluctance in going on the retreat was that I wasn’t sure there would be much to glean from the book of Mark. A study of Romans? Sure! Ephesians? Totally. These (epistles) were books of the Bible I was much more familiar with and REALLY ENJOYED. I saw them as straightforward and applicable…. which is actually not an uncommon perspective. This reluctance regarding the Gospels is summed up well by Bible scholar, Joel Green:
“Simply put, many feel uneasy in trying to understand the message of the Gospels. Contemporary Christians often find the letters of the New Testament easier to read. The epistles, it is presumed, yield their truth more easily, more directly than the sometimes enigmatic sayings and stories of the Gospels. Our textbook-and-lecture oriented educational system places a high value on factual data, logic, objective thought and rationalistic prose. It is no wonder then that the Gospels often seem like books from an alien world, shrouded in mystery.”
– How to Read the Gospels and Acts
As we took the time to delve into the Gospel of Mark that week, my eyes were opened to how much was there. We began to understand the historical context of Jesus’ teaching and ministry, and some of his more enigmatic sayings and lessons began to make sense. As I allowed myself to enter into that world, I realized the power of God’s word being given to us in story form in the Gospels.
Being drawn into the story caused another shift in my approach as well: I tried to hear the teachings of Jesus as if I was there in the crowd too. As I did this, I found myself relating to the disciples. I was encouraged that even though they were with Jesus day in and day out, they were often deeply challenged and even clueless to the meaning of Jesus’ teachings and actions (I was not alone!). The disciples wrestled with what it meant to follow Jesus. I realized He still wants us to engage and wrestle with His message. Jesus was not looking for passive learners or followers then, nor is he now.
Author Eugene Peterson puts it this way:
“We enter the world of the text, the world in which God is subject, in order to become participants in the text. We have our part to play in the text, a part that is given to us by the Holy Spirit. As we play our part we become participants.
We are given this book so that we can imaginatively and believingly enter the world of the text and follow Jesus.
If we have not entered this text as participants we aren’t going to understand what is going on. This text cannot be understood by watching what is going on. This text cannot be understood from the bleachers – or even from the expensive box seats. We are in on it.”
– Eat This Book, p. 69
Ready to dive in? Use these guiding questions to help you “enter in” as you read the Gospels:
First, start off by slowly reading through a section of Scripture. Try to fully enter into the scene.
Take a few minutes to reflect on these questions:
– What is the mood? What emotions do you feel?
– What characters or words stand out to you?
– With whom in the story do you best relate? Why?
– What do you learn about each character in the story (including God)?
– What is the main message or lesson? Try to summarize it.
– What might God be saying to you through this story?
This is the invitation of the Gospels. It is the invitation to enter into the story – God’s story – so it becomes the center of our story. It is the opportunity to engage with Jesus, who engaged people just as he found them and who today still desires to engage each one of us…right where we are.