“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)
It would be seemingly incongruous to preface any study of the Gospel of Mark with a lengthy introduction since the Gospel itself contains nothing of background or prologue. Mark’s is the gospel of action and urgency and he begins his narrative accordingly. Absent from his account are the genealogies of Matthew and Luke’s versions, nor do we find the theological profundities present in John’s opening. Instead, Mark commences his writing with a simple declaration: “Here follows the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…”
The Tempo Of Mark’s Gospel
From the very start, we see the pace and tempo that will define the entire book. In the opening chapter, we read of John the Baptist’s ministry, the Baptism of the Lord Jesus, our Lord’s temptation in the wilderness, John the Baptist’s arrest, the calling of the first disciples, Christ’s teachings in the synagogue of Capernaum, His casting out of demons, the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, the healing of the masses of sick and demonically oppressed, and the cleansing of a leper. The ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ began with a bang and Mark is dutiful to show this.
The word “immediately” (also translated as “straightway” and “forthwith” in the KJV) appears nearly 40 times in the Gospel of Mark (ten times in the first chapter alone), thus reinforcing the sense of urgency with which Mark recounts the events of Jesus’ public ministry. Now is the time for action, now is the time to respond to the Gospel. Perhaps no other portion of Scripture so imperatively demands a response and decision as Mark’s Gospel.
Mark’s Audience And Purpose
Luke wrote for the philosophically and scholarly minded, Matthew for the religious and orthodox of Israel, but Mark wrote for the common everyman within the Empire of Rome. We do not find the abundant references to the Old Testament Scriptures for the sensibilities of the Jewish reader, or the minute details for the historically and academically curious, but rather the facts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ laid bare and insistent upon our verdict. Will we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God or not?
For this is the overreaching theme and purpose of Mark’s writing: to convince us that Jesus Christ is the Son of God sent to redeem us from our sins. Mark’s very first sentence declares Christ to be the Son of God (1:1). John the Baptist attests to Who Christ is (1:7-8). God the Father and the Holy Spirit witness to His identity (1:10-11), as do the demons of Hell (1:24), and the Centurion overseeing His Crucifixion (15:39).
Christ The Servant
Mark presents Christ, not as King or Priest, but as Servant, the faithful Servant of God. Therefore it is not His biological origins nor even His teachings and parables that are in focus, but His actions. The witnesses mentioned above testify to His identity and His miracles prove it. Miracles are emphasized in Mark’s account and they serve as the credentials of the Anointed Servant of God.
Colossians 4:10 reveals that John Mark was a cousin of Barnabas. Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas on Paul’s First Missionary journey (Acts 12:25, 13:5). When the missionaries reached Perga, however, John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Later, when Paul enlisted Barnabas to return with him for the Second Missionary journey, Barnabas suggested that Mark accompany them again. Paul refused and insisted that Mark not be allowed to join them because of his earlier abandonment of the group. This caused a division between Paul and Barnabas resulting in their separation, with Paul choosing Silas to accompany him into Syria while Barnabas and Mark sailed for Cyprus (Acts 15:36-41).
Without a doubt, Mark had failed his ministry at Perga and had abandoned his calling, yet we know that he later reconsidered and once again became profitable for the work of the Lord. Paul himself would later call Mark, along with Luke, his “fellow worker” (Philemon 24). Paul, toward the end of his life, would also refer to Mark as “useful to me for service” in a letter to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:11).
Mark also had the unique privilege of being in close fellowship with another great apostle, Simon Peter. Peter refers to John Mark as “my son” (1 Peter 5:13) and Church tradition maintains that Mark’s Gospel is actually the “memoirs of St. Peter.” Thus it is suggested that Mark was in the unique position to learn the facts of the Gospel from the Apostle Peter and the interpretation of the Gospel from the Apostle Paul.
Studying Mark’s Gospel
For these reasons, I believe that Mark’s Gospel is a great place to begin a study of the Gospels, the New Testament, and even the Bible itself. In fact, when asked where someone who does not know Christ should begin reading the Bible, my answer is emphatically the Book of Mark. There are no lengthy genealogies to quickly lose the new reader’s attention, no list of Jewish laws and customs, no stories of the origins of the nation of Israel. These are all important areas of the Word of God worthy of the Christian’s thorough examination, but for those unfamiliar with the Word of God it is best to begin with the basics. After all, where would a medical doctor first direct his attention on a suffering patient? To a broken toe or to a wound gushing blood from her throat? Yes, the toe should eventually be addressed, but the potentially fatal injury is by far the more pertinent of the two. All manners of theological and doctrinal matters are vital for the total spiritual health of the child of God, but if a person lacks a solid foundation on the fundamentals of faith in Christ, they are of no avail whatsoever. To forego the basics in favor of the more advanced would make as much sense as attempting to teach the intricacies of the works of Shakespeare to the child who has yet to learn to read.
That being said there is, of course, much meat and not just milk within the Gospel of Mark for the mature believer, as well. It is my hope and prayer that everyone who joins me on this journey through Mark’s Gospel will find it edifying, profitable, and beneficial for strengthening their own walk with the Lord, regardless of how far along they have come.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,
[This post was originally published June 16, 2014]
[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]