I am getting ready to launch a series on the Gospel of Mark this Sunday. The series will last “a while.” What does “a while” mean? Well, we’re going to take it a chapter at time, then break off into something else, then come back to the book. I wanted to do it that way so that I could respond to other teaching needs in our church, while still working through a book in an expository manner.
In preparation for the study, I added to the graphic above (which you can download HERE) that I originally found on CreationSwap (you can download the original artwork for free HERE). We will also use the title package they used for the series which you can play below (or download from CreationSwap).
Mark is a fascinating book. Written by John Mark from material that he got from the Apostle Peter, it is an eyewitness account of “Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God: (Mark 1:1). Mark’s account is action-oriented. It deals less with the teachings of Jesus and more with his “deeds of power.” In the first 8 chapters, Jesus is shown to move from one place to the next quickly. Mark uses the word “immediately” 42 times. He also starts 88 sections with the word “and,” almost as if he is an excited child who can;t wait to get to the next amazing story about Jesus.
Mark also uses the “historic present” 150 times in his gospel. Although the wording is often changed of the sake of readability in our English translations, Mark’s use of the historic present give the picture of one who begins to tell a story and then closes his eyes and is actually in the story he is telling (e.g. “nd when Jesus heard it, he says to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician…” (2:17); “Now when they come to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sends two of his disciples and says to them, ‘Go into the village in front of you…'” (11:1-2); “And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas comes…” (14:43)).
One of the other interesting things about Mark is his inclusion of little details that are often left out by the other Gospel writers, such as the fact that Jesus was sleeping in the stern of the boat “on a cushion,” or that the 5,000 were “seated in groups of 50’s and 100’s,” or that when Jesus was leading the disciples on what would be his final journey to Jerusalem that the was “walking ahead of them.” Mark also highlights the emotions of Jesus like no other Gospel: how he sighed deeply in his spirit (8:12); how he was moved with compassion (6:34); how he looked at the rich young ruler and loved him (10:21); the fact that he got hungry (11:12) and got tired and needed to rest (6:31).
Mark portrayed Jesus as in a very human way. Mark refers to Jesus as “the carpenter,” which Matthew softens to “the carpenter’s son.” Mark writes in the Roman vernacular rather than as a literary writer. Mark uses a number of transliterations from Aramaic, which he then translates for his Roman audience. Taken together, Mark’s Gospel must are the amazing memories of the Apostle Peter, the one who denied Christ and was restored. Mark’s Gospel gives us a unique picture of Jesus as a Messiah who was a servant leader. Mark’s Messiah was a suffering servant rather than a conquering King.
Mark’s Gospel has been called a Passion narrative with an extended introduction. the story has three main acts:
- Jesus’ Galilean ministry with “deeds of power,” culminating in Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah.
- Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem with his disciples after Peter’s confession where he teaches the disciples the true nature of being a follower of Jesus.
- Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem – his passion, death, and resurrection. Interestingly, while Mark flies through the first 8 chapters, the last 8 days of Jesus’ life encompasses 32% of the book.
A Suffering Messiah
Mark’s audience was the Roman Christians in the late 60’s AD. During the writing of Mark’s Gospel, these early Roman believers were suffering brutal persecution under Emperor Nero. Peter and Paul were put to death as a result of these persecutions (Nero wanted to shift the blame of the burning of Rome to the Roman Christians). The Sacra Paging commentary on the Gospel of Mark offers interesting insights as to how the book would have been received by these early Roman Christians:
The shadow of the cross, opposition from powerful leaders, divisions among Jesus’ followers, persecutions, and betrayals – all these themes in Mark;s Gospel would have been especially meaningful to an early Christian community that had suffered for the name of JEsus and was experiencing even more suffering… Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, who wrote around 115 C.E. described the procedure used in arresting Christians as follows: “First, the confessed members of the sect were arrested; next, in evidence furnished by them a huge multitude was convicted not so much on the count of arson as hatred of the human race.” Tacitus goes on to recount the horrible punishments inflicted on them: ‘they were covered with wild beasts’ skins and torn to death by dogs; or they were fastened ion crosses, and when daylight failed were burned to serve as lamps by night”… Both Tacitus and Clement (bishop of Rome) indicate that apostasy and betrayal were byproducts of the persecutions under Nero, However, Clement’s praise of Peters heroism in the face of suffering (“having borne his testimony, he went to his appointed place of glory”) also suggests that Peter was rehabilitated after his denials of Jesus. And if Peter could be forgiven his apostasy and betrayal, so others who had given up their fellow Christians could be forgiven. (Sacra Pagina – The Gospel of Mark, pages 43-44)
In short, Mark is an amazing Gospel, reminding us that we have a Messiah who is not unfamiliar with suffering and who can sympathize with us in our own suffering. We must also realize that a the call for disciples of Jesus to “take up your cross” is not just a metaphor.
The mystery is that of a suffering Messiah who is also God’s chosen Son. The full unveiling of this secret comes at the cross when the centurion cries out, “This was truly the Son of God” (15:39), and the dramatic challenge of Mark’s Gospel is whether the followers of Jesus can accept Jesus’ own revelation that he is such a Messiah, and whether they are ready to follow him to the cross (8:31-38). (Sacra Pagina – The Gospel of Mark, page 29)