The narrative structure of Mark’s Gospel has fascinated me for years.
Unlike Matthew and Luke, the two gospels most similar to Mark, Mark does not begin with Jesus’ birth narrative.
Instead, Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism, and then follows Jesus as he proclaims the kingdom of God and offers healing as a sign of God’s coming rule until he reaches Jerusalem, where he is crucified.
Given this structure, it is very conceivable that an early Christian audience would have recognized the story of Jesus as their own story. Mark seems to serve as a manual of discipleship.
In this sense, Mark’s presentation is meant to show Jesus as the example of faithful discipleship.
In other words, Jesus is the one to follow, for he sets the example of what it means to live and do the will of God.
One characteristic of Jesus that is communicated by the story is Jesus’ own faith in God.
While we tend to focus on having faith in Jesus, Mark also places emphasis on the faith of Jesus.
All that Jesus does throughout his journey to Jerusalem is made possible by his own faith in God—a faith that is to be emulated by his followers.
Indeed, the power for Jesus to do miracles may be credited to his faith in God to work miracles through him.
This is particularly clear in the description of Jesus “looking up to heaven” in Mark 7:34 before healing the deaf mute, an action indicating his looking to God for power to heal the man.
This may also be implied in Jesus’ call for petitioners who seek healing to have faith (see Mark 5:36 and 9:23).
The object of their faith is left unsaid, but it seems likely that Jesus was calling these individuals to have faith in God, or, at the very least, to have faith in the power of God at work in him.
In fact, it is unlikely, given Jesus’ submission to God in Mark, that he calls others to have faith in him alone, apart from God.
They are to have the same faith in God that Jesus has in God, a faith that recognizes the presence of God in Jesus.
One way of demonstrating Jesus’ faith in God that is certainly important for readers of Mark’s story is to show the significance of prayer for Jesus.
While the places in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus is at prayer may be few, they can be viewed as occurring at significant events in the life of Jesus that reaffirm his own faith in God.
In Mark 1:35, Jesus goes to a solitary place to pray just before he goes out to proclaim the gospel.
Jesus’ prayer in solitude sets the stage for his powerful proclamation of the gospel and serves to show Jesus as a model for the disciples’ own prayer and proclamation.
In Mark 6:46, Jesus is again seen in prayer, and his choice of venue, the mountain, indicates not only a place of seclusion but also his desire to be in close proximity to God.
His mountain prayer precedes an important event in his ministry, his walking on water, an epiphany before his disciples.
The third and final time Jesus is seen in prayer is the most crucial of the three. The prayer in the garden just prior to Jesus’ death is characterized by his anguish over this ensuing event.
His call to the disciples to watch and pray, and their failure to follow this command, signifies that Jesus’ posture of prayer indicates his full reliance on God’s spirit to empower him for suffering, and it contrasts him with the disciples’ reliance on the “flesh” at a time of testing.
It is true that Jesus’ prayer is offered in hopes that God would rescue him from suffering.
Nevertheless, his determination to do the will of God, even if this means suffering and death, indicates the likelihood that Jesus’ strength is due to his dependence on the power of God through prayer.
After coming to find his disciples sleeping yet a third time, Jesus seems to be more determined to carry out the will of God, a true sign of faithfulness to God.
The faith of Jesus expressed through his reliance on God to carry out miracles and his life of prayer is a model faith that the followers of Jesus are to imitate.
From our baptism, we are to walk the way of discipleship not only by following the example of Jesus, but also by having faith in the God of Jesus.
Drew Smith, an ordained Baptist minister, is director of international programs at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. A longer version of this column first appeared on his blog, Wilderness Preacher, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @WildernesPreach.
Assistant Director of the Honors College at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.