The Beginning of the Gospel
The Beginning of the Gospel
ILL. READING THE INTRODUCTION TO A BOOK. As we begin a new study in the book of Mark it is important that we take the time to look at the introduction. We need to know the author, the subject matter, and the purpose of the book. Understanding these issues will help us to understand what Mark has recorded and its significance to our lives. Ultimately this is the main goal of our study (or any study of the bible): that we will be changed by our understanding of God’s word. Specifically, in the book of Mark we will have the unique opportunity to look closely at the life of Jesus and so our purpose should be to understand who Jesus is and what He teaches. If we truly know who he is then we will follow Him; we will obey him; we will be changed from who we are into who He wants us to be. This is the purpose of our study. And if we are going to accomplish this purpose then we must begin with the introduction.
Mark introduces his Gospel with these words: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Here we see a couple of important things. First, we see that this book is more than just a bunch of facts about Jesus; it is the good news that we need to hear. Second, the content of this gospel account is extremely important. This is a gospel that is all about Jesus. Additionally, if we do a little bit of extra work we will see several distinct features of Mark’s gospel account.
I. The Beginning of the Good News
Let’s start from the beginning. Mark says in verse one that this is the beginning of the Gospel. But what does he mean? Well, this is like an introduction to the introduction. In the first fourteen verses of Mark we find the preparation for, and the inauguration of the ministry of Jesus. John prepares the way, Jesus is baptized, Jesus undergoes the temptation of Satan, and this his public ministry begins. This is Mark’s introduction, and verse one is the introduction to the introduction. Verse one reveals that the entire theme of this book is the gospel, vv. 2-14 introduces this theme, and then the rest of the book explains this theme. So, Mark is about the Gospel. But what is the Gospel?
Usually when we think of the Gospel we automatically think of the Christian message. In our culture this is what the Gospel is. Some people even think of the gospel as just being a kind of book in the bible (i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). However, this is not what Mark’s original readers would have thought of. In the first century the term gospel was a common term that simply meant “good news.” In the Roman Empire this would have been a particularly significant word because whenever the Emperor had good news he would send out his own gospel message (i.e. an heir to the throne being born). So, when ever something good would happen to the Emperor all the people would hear of this good news. The idea being that good news for the Emperor was good news for his people.
This is the term that Mark, and many of the New Testament authors, employs here. Except this “good news” is far greater news than any “good news” from the Emperor. In fact, this “good news” would prove to be far better than any good news ever because it is good news from the Heavenly King. This good news is from God. We need to pay close attention here, for if the subjects of an earthly ruler were excited to here the good news of their earthly king then how much more should we be excited to hear the news of the Heavenly King. This is something that we must be paying attention to, and that we should be excited about. The Emperor would send forth his good news for something as silly as his birthday, but the subject of God’s good news is far more important. Mark tells us that this good news is the good news of Jesus.
II. The Message of the Good News
Mark writes that this is the “gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Literally, this is good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As we read these words it may be easy for us to just gloss over them. If you have spent any time in church then you have heard these words thousands of times—Jesus Christ, the Son of God. However, these words from Mark should cause us to pause and take a closer look. In this verse alone Mark lists three different titles for Jesus, and each one of them is extremely significant.
First, Mark uses Jesus’ given name. Your probably think “yeah what’s the big deal, Jesus was his name?” But Jesus’ name is very significant. It is not like Mary and Joseph just chose this name out of hat. They didn’t go down to the book store and pick up one of those “baby names” books. Jesus was the name that God chose. In Luke 1:31 we see that the angel who came to Mary and told her that she was going to have a son also told her to name that son Jesus. In Matthew 1:21 the angel came to Joseph in a dream to tell him that Mary was going to have a son. In this dream the angel tells Joseph that this child was to be named Jesus. This time the angel also tells Joseph why this child is to be name Jesus: “for he will save his people from their sins.” This is the significance of the name Jesus. Literally Jesus means “the Lord is Salvation” and it points to Jesus’ role as the Savior of the world. This is how Marked viewed Jesus, and this is how we must see him as we study through the book of Mark. Jesus is the Savior and He came into this world in order to save his people from their sins.
The second title that Mark uses for Jesus is Christ. Contrary to popular belief Christ was not Jesus’ last name. Christ is a title for Jesus. It is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word for “Messiah.” Literally it means “an anointed one.” It is a term that has heavy Old Testament connotations. God had promised to send a Messiah to His people for their salvation. The people had been looking forward to the coming of this Messiah since Genesis chapter three. Here Mark declares that Jesus is this Messiah. He is the anointed one that was promised in Daniel 9:25-26.
Finally, Mark declares that Jesus is the Son of God. This is a shocking claim! When Mark says that Jesus is the Son of God he is declaring that Jesus is God. When we read that Jesus was the Son of God we might think that this means that He was lesser than God. However, in the Bible when someone is said to be the “son of” a person it usually means that they are of the same essence or nature as that person. For instance, if I said that I was the “son of a Shirley” what would that make me? It means that I am a Shirley. That is my Dad’s last name, and so it is also mine. So this phrase, “the son of God,” refers to Jesus as the second Person of the Trinity. He is God. This claim to deity did not escape the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They knew exactly what it meant. In John 5:18 they wanted to kill Jesus because “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” Additionally, the rest of the New Testament confirms that Jesus is God. For example, Hebrews 1:8-9 clearly declares the deity of Jesus. Not to mention Jesus’ role as the Savior Messiah made it necessary for Him to be God. No one but God could have done what Jesus did. He was the only possible sacrifice for sins against an infinitely good God (Hebrews 2:17).
When Mark says that this is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God it is quite an amazing claim. He is claiming that what we are about to read is the good news about the one who came to save His people from sin, the long anticipated Messiah, God Himself.
There is another aspect in which this gospel is the gospel of Jesus. In addition to being all about Jesus, this good news is from Jesus. To put it another way, this gospel is proclaimed by Jesus. This is not just some gospel that Mark came up with. As we will see this gospel is based on the very teachings of Jesus. There are two specific examples of this that I want to point out. The first comes at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In Mark 1:15 Jesus tells us what our response to this good news should be. We should repent and believe. Then in Mark 10:45 Jesus tells us His purpose on this earth. He did not come to be served by others, but rather he came as a suffering servant to die on behalf of sinners. Specifically he serves as a ransom for those who repent and believe as he commanded in 1:15.
So as we study the book of Mark we must remember that Jesus is the main character (it is all about Him), and the main point of this story (it is His message). There are some additional aspects to Mark’s gospel account that will help us to better understand what we are reading. For instance, who wrote this book? When did he write it? Where did he write it from? Who did he write it to? Why did he write it? These questions are going to take a little bit of extra work to answer, but I think that we can come with some answers.
III. Mark’s Presentation of the Good News
The First question we need to answer is who wrote this book? As is the case with all four of the Gospel accounts, the author of this Gospel does not identify himself. Thus, any attempt to determine who wrote this Gospel must look to the testimony of the early church for help. Looking back at the writings of the early church, we find that uniformly the early church recognized Mark as the author of this gospel. Specifically, the author of this book is the John Mark who is mentioned numerous times in the New Testament. The first appearance of “John Mark” in the Scriptures may come as early at Mark 14:51-52. Some have postulated that this young man was Mark for several reasons. First, his mother Mary owned a home in Jerusalem that may have been used by Jesus on that night. Second, Mark is the only Gospel writer to include this detail.
The next appearance of John Mark comes in Acts 12:12. In this account Peter is miraculously freed from prison and flees “to the house of Mary the mother of John who was also called Mark.” After this, John Mark left Jerusalem with Paul and Barnabas for Antioch (Acts 12:25). From there Mark remained with Paul and Barnabas assisting them in their missionary work (Acts 13:5). This was a natural fit for Mark. His mother had already proven to be a useful servant to the church; he was Barnabas’ own cousin (Colossians 4:10); he was even bilingual. Everything was going according to plan for Mark as he served under to world’s foremost missionaries until one day when everything changed for Mark. As the missionary team moved on to their next stop in Perga in Pamphylia Mark abruptly deserted his missionary team and returned home to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Luke does not tell us why Mark deserted his companions, but it seems as if Mark was no longer willing to face the dangers and hardship that lay ahead of the missionary team.
Mark’s desertion was not well received by Paul. In fact, as Paul and Barnabas prepared to leave for their second missionary journey a major dispute arose over whether Mark should be allowed to accompany them or not. Paul said no, and Barnabas said yes. Unable to reconcile their opinions the team split up over this incident (Acts 15:36ff). At this point in Mark’s story we see a man who failed to live up to his commitments and let down the apostle Paul himself. However, this is not the end of Mark’s story.
Around eight years after Paul and Barnabas split up over Mark, Paul was in prison writing the epistles to the Colossians and Philemon. In the conclusions to both of these letters we once again find John Mark. This time the once rejected John Mark is now commended by the apostle Paul as a co-worker (Colossian 4:10; Philemon 24). In 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul added to his commendation of Mark when he wrote: “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.”
The final mention of Mark in the New Testament comes from the pen of Peter in 1 Peter 5:13. Here Peter writes, “She [the Church] who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark." From this we learn that John Mark was in Rome ministering with Peter. We are not sure exactly what role Mark played in the ministry of Peter, but it is clear that Peter had a major role in Mark’s development. As Hendricksen has pointed out, “It would appear, then, that sovereign grace, making use of the kindly tutelage of Barnabas, the stern discipline of Paul, and the potent influence of Peter, had triumphed in the life of Mark.” And of the three of these it was the “potent influence of Peter” that had the greatest impact on Mark’s Gospel. Peter was a man who knew what is was to deal with immaturity, and failure. He had personally experienced both as a disciple of Christ. And because of these experiences, Peter was the perfect man to take Mark under his wing and help him to grow in the Lord. Peter’s relationship with Mark is not only interesting to reflect upon, but it is also a key element in understanding Mark’s gospel. As Heibert has pointed out, “Peter’s preaching indeed was the main source upon which [Mark] drew….” This is why many have referred to Mark’s Gospel as the Gospel according to Peter.
The next question is when was it written? There are quite a few factors in determining the date of this book. However it can be safely assumed that Mark wrote this book shortly after the death of Peter between A.D. 65-70.
A really important question is to whom was this book written? As one reads through Mark’s Gospel it becomes clear that his target audience was primarily Gentile. This can be observed in at least six different aspects of the Gospel:
i. Mark provides a translation of Aramaic terms that would not have been necessary for a Jewish audience (3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 10:46; 14:46; 15:22, 34).
ii. Mark uses Latin expressions that would have been foreign to a Jewish audience (5:9; 6:27; 12:15, 42; 14:12; 15:42).
iii. Mark omits distinctly Jewish elements that are found in other Gospels (i.e. genealogies, and detailed critiques of the religious authorities).
iv. Mark alludes to the Old Testament fewer than another other Gospel writer.
v. Mark carefully explains elements of Jewish culture that Gentiles would not have been familiar with (7:3, 4; 14:12; 15:42).
vi. Mark uses a Roman reckoning of time (6:48; 13:35)
Clearly we see that Mark was writing to a Gentile audience. In all likelihood this gentile audience was made up of the believers in Rome. This can be asserted based on four primary evidences:
i. In 15:21 Mark specially mentions that Simon of Cyrene was the father of Alexander and Rufus. Most likely this Rufus is the same individual mentioned in Romans 16:13 who would have been well known to the believer in Rome.
ii. Mark’s association with Peter would have placed him in Rome (1 Peter 5:13).
iii. “The prominence given by Mark to sayings about persecution and martyrdom (e.g. viii. 34-8, xiii. 9-13) might perhaps be regarded as a pointer to Rom: at least it would be very understandable, if the gospel was written there soon after the Neronian persecution.”
iv. The earliest witness that we have from the church fathers attests to a Roman audience.
One of the most important questions we can ask is why did Mark write what he wrote? Or to put it another way, what was Mark’s purpose? The primary purpose of all four gospel accounts is to proclaim the good news, and bear witness to Jesus as the anticipated Messiah. That being said, each individual Gospel has its own unique and special purposes and emphases. Mark is no different. The Gospel According to Mark brings out many unique and vivid details concerning Jesus and His ministry. One specific emphasis of Mark is the theme of Jesus as the suffering servant. This theme is most clearly seen in 10:45. Although Mark never cites it, the picture of the Messiah as the suffering Servant can also be found in Isaiah 53. This aspect of Jesus’ ministry is something that many of the Jews, including the religious, leaders missed. They were looking for their Messiah to come, overthrow their oppressors, and reign over Israel. However, they forgot that the Messiah had to first come and suffer as a sacrifice for sins before he could come and reign over his people. This ignorance on the part of the Jewish masses plays a major role in the Gospel of Mark. Consistently we read of Jesus silencing demons who proclaimed him to be the Messiah (1:44; 5:43), and telling his disciples to keep certain things a secret for a time (9:9). Jesus did all of this because the people did not understand what the Messiah had to do. Had Jesus come into town performing miracles, casting out demons, and declaring himself to be the Messiah then the timing of the Father would not have been fulfilled. The triumphal entry would have occurred immediately after Jesus was baptized by John and the crucifixion would have occurred before Jesus’ earthly ministry could have been fulfilled. It was for this very reason that Jesus referred to himself as the “Son of Man.” This title is an allusion to Daniel 7:13-14 where the Messiah is prophesied of, but it would have had far fewer connotations with the masses than Messiah. Speaking to this aspect of Mark’s Gospel Bock said that
Some have called this the messianic secret, but it was not that Jesus’ identity as the Messiah was to be kept a secret but that it was not to be shared until it was more fully understood. Only as the cross drew near did the full scope of his divine promise and calling emerge. The disciples were not in a position to preach Jesus until they appreciated this aspect of his mission. The subsequent mission of the church makes this clear.
This perspective of Jesus as the Suffering Servant would have been a helpful reminder to the Roman recipients of this letter who were under immense persecution (10:35-45). Additionally, Mark’s portrayal of the disciples and his own testimony would have been a welcome encouragement to those who were struggling in their faith.
Mark’s Gospel would have also represented the continuance of the apostolic message. Mark recorded those things which Peter had long been teaching, and by doing so preserved Peter’s message about Jesus even after his death. Thus, part of Mark’s purpose in writing this Gospel was to preserve the teaching of Peter after his death.
As we study this account of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God it is important that we not only understand what it means, but also that we apply it to our lives. In this book Jesus is teaching and ministering to real people in situation that are just like the ones that we face. There are so many valuable truths and applicable principles, but none are more important than Jesus’ call for you to repent and believe in Him.
 William Hendricksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark, Baker Academic (Grand Rapids, MI: 1975), pg. 9.
 D. Edmond Hiebert, The Gospel According to Mark, Bob Jones University Press (Greenville, SC: 1984), pg. 6.
 Ibid., pg. 9.
 Bock, the Gospel of Mark, pg. 398.