The Roar of the Lion: A Rookie Anglican Guide to the Gospel of Mark

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A lion can be heard, even when it is not seen. And the lion’s roar demands a response.

Over the millennia, the church has paired each of the four evangelists with one of the living creatures from Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4:

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  • Matthew with the Man
  • Mark with the Lion
  • Luke with the Ox
  • John with the Eagle

In a lesser sense, these pairings reflect the qualities of each evangelist. For example, like the lion in the jungle, we only catch glimpses of St. Mark, but we hear the voice of his gospel.

In a greater sense, these pairings represent each evangelist’s depiction of Jesus. Thus, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has the qualities of a lion: immediate action, demanding words, dominance, echoing sounds, territorial claims, and provocation to fear and awe.

Glimpses of Saint Mark

The first Biblical reference to Mark is in Acts 12, when Peter, leaving prison, rejoins the church at the house of Mark’s mother. Subsequently, Mark joins Paul and Barnabas on their return to Antioch and then on their first missionary journey.

Mark becomes the point of conflict that leads to Paul and Barnabas’s separation, and we lose track of him when he departs with Barnabas. But Paul reunites with Mark later in his ministry, referring to Mark positively in both Colossians and 2 Timothy: “He is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).

Where did Mark get the information for his gospel? A 2nd-century text from the Apostolic Father Papias identifies Mark as a companion of Peter:

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.

Though modern scholars have sometimes doubted the connection between Mark and Peter, most believe Mark’s Gospel was the first written. Composed in the AD 60s or 70s, it was written during the living memory of the apostles and disciples of Christ. Mark became the prototype for Matthew and Luke, both of which borrowed from its text.

Immediate Action

Perhaps the most characteristic feature of Mark’s gospel is its immediacy of action. We see this at its beginning, where there is no dedication, no genealogy, and no record of Jesus’ infancy or childhood. Mark’s only prologue is a single verse announcing “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).

Then, the action begins, with Jesus going to John the Baptist for baptism. When Jesus emerges from the waters, “immediately” the Holy Spirit descends upon him, and again “immediately” the spirit drives him into the wilderness (Mark 1:10, 12). There, Jesus is “tempted by Satan” and, intriguingly, communes with “wild animals” (Mark 1:13). The Christ-lion draws all creatures to himself!

The word “immediately” appears nine times in chapter 1 alone and 35 times in the whole gospel. This is more than all the other gospels combined, though Mark is the shortest. Mark is a short story of action, quick twists, and turns, and it is a breathtaking page-turner.

Demanding Words

This Jesus is a man of few words. Matthew and Luke feature Jesus as the preacher and teacher through his public teaching at the Sermon on the Mount and in the collection of Parables. And John depicts Jesus as the extended conversationalist. But in Mark, Jesus speaks in short, demanding phrases. Consider his first two statements:

The time is come, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).

Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men (Mark 1:17).

Like a lion, Jesus demands a response, and he gets it:

And immediately they left their nets and followed him (Mark 1:18).

Establishing Dominance

While a lion easily receives submission from his inferiors, there is occasionally a test of dominance with others of his own standing. Thus, Jesus in Mark confronts demons—his fellow spiritual beings—and establishes dominance over them.

When the Pharisees question Jesus’ ability to drive out demons, Jesus uses a parable to describe this test of dominance:

But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house. (Mark 3:27).

Jesus is the stronger man who can bind the strong man Satan to plunder him and win back the humans he has enslaved. A vital example of this dynamic is Jesus’ encounter with the demoniac, who had a legion of demons:

And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces (Mark 5:2-4).

This poor man had become utterly enslaved to his demons, and as a result, no one could bind him. But the man and his demons recognized Jesus immediately:

Crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me” (Mark 5:7).

So Jesus sent the legions into a herd of pigs, plundering Satan and rescuing the man.

Echoing Sounds

The roar of a lion leaves an impression, not only in its message but also in its very sound. Mark relates the very sound of Jesus’ Aramaic words, recording four of his Aramaic phrases and including translations for the reader. Two of these are unique to Mark, both accounts of miraculous healings.

The first is when Jesus brings back to life a girl who has died, recalling the miraculous healings of Elijah and Elisha:

Taking her by the hand he said to her, Talitha cumi,”which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement (Mark 5:41-42).

The second is when Jesus heals the hearing of the deaf and mute man:

And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly (Mark 7:34-35).

The roar of Jesus’ Talitha Cumi and Ephphatha now reverberates for all time, promising life and knowledge to all who follow him.

Territorial Claims

Like a lion, Jesus covers a lot of territory in the gospel of Mark, traversing the various regions of Galilee and even traveling as far north as Tyre and Sidon. There, he meets a Gentile woman and drives a demon out of her daughter, establishing that his territory is not limited to Israel (see Mark 7:24-30).

However, the range of Jesus’ travels underscores the one place he does not go until the end: the city of Jerusalem. In the gospel of Mark, Jerusalem is the last place for Jesus, the lion, to conquer. But it will also be the hardest, for it will require Jesus to die. When Jesus reveals this to his disciples, Peter rebukes him. But Jesus rebukes Peter and even calls him Satan (see Mark 8:31-38).

On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus three times tells his disciples what has to happen:

See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise (Mark 10:33-34).

When they arrive in Jerusalem, Jesus makes his royal claim explicit, orchestrating a procession on a donkey in the messianic tradition of the Davidic kings (see Mark 11:1-11).

Fear & Awe

The final acts of this royal lion prompt fear and awe in everyone. The fear begins with Jesus himself, who in the Garden of Gethsemane prays that God will take the cup of suffering from him. But he submits himself to his Father’s will, and Mark records the Aramaic:

Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will (Mark 14:36).

During Jesus’ arrest, his disciples flee, including an anonymous young man who runs away naked when the soldiers grab his clothing. Might that young man have been Mark himself? Whoever he was, he showed that the Garden of Gethsemane was a second Garden of Eden, naked shame running away from the Lord.

From that moment to the cross, Jesus took upon himself our sin and shame, experiencing our separation from God. That is why he cried on the cross (again in Aramaic):

‘Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mark 15:34).

When Jesus died, and the veil of the temple tore in two, the result was a terrible awe. Even the Roman Centurion, one of those who crucified him, confessed:

Truly this man was the Son of God (Mark 15:39).

On the morning of the third day, when a group of women came to the tomb, they could not find the body of the defeated lion. They were told he had risen again, and they were filled with “trembling and astonishment” (Mark 16:8).

For the Lion of Judah had not been defeated. His had died to redeem his people from Satan, Sin, and Death. And then he rose again, triumphant over them. On that resurrection day, with Satan finally bound, the Lion was already abroad, already collecting the souls whom he had won for God.

The women did not yet see him, but they heard his gospel roar.


Image: Lion of St. Mark stained glass from Saint Bernard Catholic Church, Corning, OH. Photo by Nheyob, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Published on

April 25, 2024

Author

Peter Johnston

The Ven. Dr. Peter Johnston is the Ministry President of Anglican Compass. He is a priest and archdeacon in the Anglican Diocese of All Nations and the rector of Trinity Lafayette. He lives with his wife, Carla, and their seven children near Lafayette, Louisiana.

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