Timothy Keller is my favourite contemporary Christian writer. His exploration of the life of Jesus doesn’t disappoint and even though it seems simple, Keller does an excellent job of looking at the story from multiple angles. Taking the Gospel of Mark, Keller examines who Jesus was. What he did, what he said, how he described himself, and how others reacted.
Mark is generally accepted to be the earliest written of the four gospels. Keller explains that most scholars believe Mark used the apostle Peter as an eyewitness. Indeed, there is nothing in the gospel that Peter did not witness and a few things that only Peter could have described. (Like his own detail of Jesus after his arrest. It’s also telling that such a moment is included because who else but Peter would dare to share such a shameful story of a man who went on to be a leader in the new Christian church?) Mark tells of Jesus life with urgency and immediacy. There is a lot of action and travel and immediacy.
Keller divides the book in two parts, the first half dealing with Jesus’ ministry, the second half focuses on his death and resurrection. In the first half he looks at some of Jesus’ miracles and some of his preaching. He explains some of the social background so the reader can better understand just how shocking Jesus’ teaching was in its time. Keller also gives us greater background on some of the stranger stories, such as the moment of Jesus’ transfiguration. It always seemed funny to me that Peter (one of three disciples to witness this moment) wanted to set up tents for Moses and Elijah but Keller tells us why this was a logical reaction and how this moment was prophesied among the Israelites.
In the second half of the book Keller’s speed slows down as he devotes this section to the final days of Jesus’ life. What did it mean when Jesus prayed for “this cup” to be taken from him? Why did the centurion at the foot of the cross declare Jesus to be the Son of God at the moment of his death?
If you’re at all interested in the life of Jesus Christ, this book would be a great place to begin. For an in-depth scholarship, it might not be quite right. While I find the book enjoyable and informative, most of what I read here was familiar. It was a great overview and a good introductory work however and I always appreciate Keller’s insight.