The Gospel of Mark
The Purpose of Life Mark 10:45 Some years ago one of the world’s renowned scholars of the classics, Dr. E. V. Rieu, completed a great translation of Homer into modern English for the Penguin Classics series. • He was sixty years old, and he had been an agnostic all his life. • The publisher soon approached him again and asked him to translate the Gospels. • When Rieu’s son heard this he said, “It will be interesting to see what Father will make of the four Gospels. It will be even more interesting to see what the four Gospels make of Father.”1 • He did not have to wonder very long. Within a year’s time E. V. Rieu, the lifelong agnostic, responded to the Gospels he was translating and became a committed Christian. • His story is a marvelous testimony to the transforming power of God’s Word. Experiences like this have been repeated time and time again. Whenever I begin a fresh study of one of the Bible’s books, I keep this story in mind, and especially the inviting questions: • What will it make of me? • What will it make of the people I influence? • My own personal experience has been (and I think for many it has been the same) that when I have finished studies of sections in the Scriptures (for example, the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord’s Prayer, or the book of Colossians), I was not the same person as when I began. • Positive changes have taken place in my theology and my prayer life. • The Sermon on the Mount has enhanced my understanding as no other Scripture as to what the Christian life is all about. • The Lord’s Prayer with its three upward petitions, three downward requests, and immense emphasis on God’s Fatherhood has greatly enriched my prayer life. • The towering Christology of Colossians has made me see, as never before, God in all his fullness. • What is this in-depth study of the Gospel of Mark going to make of you and me? Mark is the oldest of the Gospels. 1. Matthew and Luke made such great use of it in writing their own Gospel accounts that between them they reproduced all but a few verses of Mark’s! 2. So in this Gospel we have for the very first time in history a systematic account of the life and words of Jesus. 3. Mark was the beginning of a distinct and original literary form which we refer to as “Gospel.” Also intriguing is the background of this Gospel. 1. Virtually everyone agrees that the author was John Mark, a young man who had a shaky beginning in the ministry when he abandoned Paul on the apostle’s first missionary trip and decided to return home (Acts 13:13). 2. Paul was so unhappy with Mark that he refused to take him on the second journey, thus beginning a bitter quarrel between Paul and Barnabas which ended with Paul and Silas going one way and Barnabas and Mark another (Acts 15:36–41). 3. Although intimate details are lacking, Paul and John Mark later reconciled when Paul was in prison in Rome. 4. Mark served as his aide and then as a delegate on an important mission to Asia Minor (see Philemon 24 and Colossians 4:10). 5. Later Paul would ask Timothy to bring John Mark back with him to Rome because he was useful in service (2 Timothy 4:11). 6. When the Apostle Peter was writing 1 Peter in Rome, he affectionately called Mark his son (1 Peter 5:13). 7. It was Mark’s close relationship with Peter which motivated and enabled him to write an intimate portrait of Christ. The very earliest statement about the Gospel of Mark was written by Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, about a.d. 140: 1. Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord, nor had he followed him, but later on, as I said, he followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them.2 2. What a recovery Mark made! He rose from failed follower of Christ, to devoted disciple, to premier biographer and honored martyr. They on the heights are not the souls Who never erred or went astray, Or reached those high rewarding goals Along a smooth, flower-bordered way. Nay, they who stand where first comes dawn Are those who stumbled but went on. 3. After a promising start, some of us too have stumbled, and now our confidence is gone. For us, John Mark’s triumph is an immense encouragement. The context in which John Mark wrote was, to say the least, dramatic: 1. Rome right after the death of Peter and the Neronian persecution, sometime between a.d. 60 and 70. 2. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, Nero made the Christians scapegoats for his burning of Rome and butchered them wholesale, so that the Church was driven into the Catacombs.4 It was during this time of misery that Mark wrote the Gospel. The purpose of John Mark’s writing was to encourage the Gentile church in Rome. 1. He wanted them to see Christ as the Suffering Servant-Savior, and so arranged his material to show Christ as One who speaks and acts and delivers in the midst of crisis.5 2. Mark has no long genealogy, no birth narrative, and only two of Jesus’ long discussions. Christ is all action in Mark! 1. Mark used the historical present tense 150 times. a. Jesus comes, Jesus says, and Jesus heals—all in the present tense. b. There are more miracles recorded in Mark than in the other Gospels, despite its being far shorter. c. Everything is in vivid “Eyewitness Newsbriefs,” brilliantly vivid and fast-moving. d. Mark uses the Greek word for “immediately” some forty-two times (there are only seven occurences in Matthew and one in Luke). e. The conjuction “and” is unusually frequent (beginning twelve of Mark’s sixteen chapters) and adds to the rush of action. f. Christ’s life is portrayed as superbusy (he even had trouble finding time to eat—see 3:20 and 6:31). It takes a slow reader about two hours to read Mark through at a single sitting; and if you take the time, you feel surrounded by crowds, wearied by demands, and besieged by the attacks of demons. You are also repeatedly brought face to face with the human emotions of Jesus and the astonishment of the multitudes. Mark is the “Go Gospel”—the Gospel of the Servant-Savior. The acknowledged key verse, the one which summarizes the Gospel of Mark, is 10:45—”For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” • This verse is part of the answer to the question, “What will the gospel make of us?” • It will make us servants like the Master, effective servants who do not run on theory but on action. • He was (and is) Christ for the crises! • Power attended his every action. • This same Christ brings power to life now, and a serious study of Mark will bring that power further to our lives. 1. THE DISCIPLES’ FAILURE TO LEARN JESUS’ SERVANT APPROACH (vv. 36–41) a. The irony is this: though Jesus had been with the disciples for three years as the ideal Servant, though the end was near and he had just given them a detailed forecast of his death (10:32–34), though he had taught them that his way was to be the model for their lives, the disciples (represented by James and John) now made a request which revealed that their way of thinking was virtually the opposite of Christ the Servant. b. The request was outrageous: “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’ ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked. They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory’” (10:35–37). c. They dimly saw that the end was near and that it involved the possibility of thrones for the disciples. d. As part of the inner circle (Peter, James, and John), these two hoped to get the best thrones. Perhaps they wanted to “ace Peter out,” because he no doubt would try for the top. So they approached Jesus privately. e. Matthew tells us they even had their mother do the talking (Matthew 20:20, 21). f. This all sounds pretty contemporary to me. i. “The Lord takes care of those who take care of themselves,” some say. ii. Name it and claim it,” that’s what faith’s about! iii. You can have what you want if you just have no doubt. iv. So make out your “wish list” and keep on believin’ v. And you find yourself perpetually receivin’. g. Despite their association with Jesus and despite their piety, these disciples saw greatness according to the world’s definition. h. A bit later (v. 42), Jesus described the world’s viewpoint: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.” i. James and John had fallen to the world’s idea that seeking the place of authority and personal power was right for them. j. It is so easy to succumb to such thinking, as Robert Raines mused: I am like James and John. Lord, I size up other people in terms of what they can do for me; how they can further my program, feed my ego, satisfy my needs, give me strategic advantage. I exploit people, ostensibly for your sake, but really for my own. Lord, I turn to you to get the inside track and obtain special favors, your direction for my schemes, your power for my projects, your sanction for my ambitions, your blank check for whatever I want. I am like James and John.7 k. The Lord, of course, was not going to leave James and John, or the rest of the disciples for that matter, in their delusion. l. So he began to dialogue with them, probing the shallowness and naïveté of their thinking. m. Shortly the remaining ten got wind of what James and John had tried, and a major blowup ensued. 2. THE LORD’S REBUKE OF HIS DISCIPLES (vv. 42–45) a. The Lord called all twelve together and in a few brilliant moments set the record straight for all time and eternity: “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (v. 43). Then (v. 44) he told them that preeminence among God’s people would go not to rulers but to slaves: “and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” b. Why is this so? Here he gave the ultimate rationale and the key verse of the Gospel: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 45). c. Here we will do well to pay close attention to Christ’s words. a. He called himself “the Son of Man.” This was a self-proclaimed title which did not exist before he came. b. It means that he is human, but even more. c. By saying he was “the “Son of Man,” he meant that he was (and is) the unique representation of the human race. d. He is not merely a human being. He is the human being—the true man. d. Now consider the second phrase: “did not come to be served, but to serve.” a. Here “serve” and “served” refer to the most common service, as seen in the parallel section in Luke 22:27—“For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” b. Which is greater, the host and his guests, or the waiter? i. Jesus said, “I am among you as the waiter.” ii. These startling words were meant to shake up the disciples. The meaning is this: the Son of Man, the man who lives the truest human life, waited upon others instead of seeking others to wait on him. iii. The ultimate extension of this was “to give his life a ransom for many,” which he shortly did. iv. The logic is: if the One who created both the supernova and the firefly and holds them together by the word of his power (Colossians 1:15–17) became our servant, our waiter, how can we do less? Closing : In 1878 when William Booth’s Salvation Army had just been so named, men from all over the world began to enlist. One man, who had once dreamed of himself as a bishop, crossed the Atlantic from America to England to enlist. He was a Methodist minister, Samuel Logan Brengle. And now he turned from a fine pastorate to join Booth’s Salvation Army. Brengle later became the Army’s first American-born commissioner. But at first Booth accepted his services reluctantly and grudgingly. Booth said to Brengle, “You’ve been your own boss too long.” And in order to instill humility into Brengle, he set him to work cleaning the boots of the other trainees. And Brengle said to himself: “Have I followed my own fancy across the Atlantic in order to black boots?” And then as in a vision he saw Jesus bending over the feet of rough, unlettered fishermen.” “Lord,” he whispered, “you washed their feet; I will black their boots.” The “Son of Man,” the Man for all of us, came not to be waited on, but to wait on us, and to give his life as a ransom. Therefore, how can we seek our own? Jesus has thrown open for all of us a competition which has no charms for most. But the rewards are beyond imagination. We ought to go for it! • The Gospel of Mark can bring profound servanthood and active power to our lives. • It is the Gospel of miracles, the Gospel of power, the Gospel of service. • May it rub off on us! • May the gospel of our Lord make something out of us. • All of us have tremendous opportunities. • If you are ruling in the community, your opportunities for service are infinite. • If you are a student laboring through your books, or teaching a Bible class, or pastoring, or whatever you are doing, your opportunities to serve are more than you can possibly imagine. The Ideal Man, the Man for all men, did not come to be waited on, but to wait tables and to live a life of sacrifice. May this sink into our minds so we can be used of God.