Studies in Mark’s Gospel, Part One

The Beginning

1. Background Information

Mark’s Gospel is different in character from the others. That’s not a profound statement because each of the four Gospels is different from the others even though they cover the same historical events. John, of course, is really different from the other three; the other three often lumped together as “the Synoptics.” Each Gospel is concerned with the Person of Jesus Christ but from different perspectives: as a the Son of God; as the Son of Man; as the Son of David, the Jewish Messiah. But Mark is different because He does not present Jesus as the Son of God, though he does not deny it. He does not present Jesus as the Son of Man, even though it’s obvious He is in Mark’s Gospel. He does not present Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, even though Mark clearly knows that He is. Mark presents Jesus as the Servant, in particular, the Servant of God bearing His Word to lost men.

(a) Mark the man

Although this Gospel is anonymous, it is almost certain it was written by John Mark, the son of a wealthy woman named Mary, who was likely a widow and whose home served as a gathering place for many of the early disciples after the founding of Church in Acts 2.

Mark traveled with Paul and Barnabas, to whom he was related, to Cyrus. There was a falling out between Paul and Mark, and Mark returned to Jerusalem (Acts 12:25; 13:13; 15:37-39). Sometime later, however, Mark became a trusted minister of the Gospel and again traveled with Paul and Peter (2 Timothy 4:11; 1 Peter 5:13).

According to Church tradition, Mark referred to himself when he related this incident in 14:51-52—

A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.

Although there is no Biblical evidence that this young man was John Mark, the fact that the very early Church accepted it as fact makes the possibility that it was highly likely.

(b) Date and purpose

Although there is some debate, it is likely that Mark wrote his Gospel, probably for non-Jewish Roman readers, very early in the life of the church, perhaps as early as the 50’s. This early date is based on the belief that Luke and Acts were written before the death of Paul (64 AD), and that Mark, one of Luke’s sources, was written earlier.

We often lump the four Gospels in with Acts and refer to these first five books of the New Testament the “historical books” detailing the life and times of Jesus and of the early Church. This is an apt description, but does not go far enough. Although Mark does not state his purpose as John did in his Gospel (John 20:31), it seems clear the recording historical facts was not the main reason, although they are historically reliable.

John Mark caught a glimpse of Jesus that changed his life. Whether he saw and heard Jesus in person, or whether he learned of Jesus from men like Peter and the other eyewitnesses, something about the Man from Galilee grabbed hold of his heart and mind, and Mark was compelled to tell others about a man called Jesus, who had engaged Satan, sickness, and sin in a mortal combat to the death and emerged a the Victor. And so this man, once a failure and a disappointment in the ministry, wrote down and preserved for all time His story, told in the present tense, as though it were happening before his very eyes. Things happen fast in Mark’s Gospel; the sentences are short and he uses the words “immediately,” “at once,” and “also” many times to move the story of Jesus along at breakneck speed and in great detail.

1. The unstoppable kingdom, 1:14—15

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

The kingdom of God cannot not be stopped. The death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod Antipas, though tragic, was the catalyst for Jesus to begin His public ministry. We are told that John was “put n prison.” That term means literally “handed over to another” and is the same term used of Jesus and His betrayal, for He too was “handed over” and given to His enemies.

As is his custom, Mark’s account is very brief, stating that Jesus simply went to Galilee preaching. Though brief, Mark’s point is clear: John’s ministry had ended and Jesus’ had begun. The content of Jesus’ first sermon, according to Mark, was “the good news of God,” that is, “the Gospel.” The Gospel is good news; in fact, it is the best news ever, for God is its author and its object.

Jesus further said, “The time has come.” The word rendered “time” is not the usual chronos (space and time) but kairos, meaning “an opportune time” or “a decisive moment.” In other words, John the Baptist had completed his work, Jesus was about to begin His and all this happened at exactly the right time in God’s plan.

Our Lord preached “the kingdom of God is near.” Cranfield:

The kingdom of God has come close to men in the person of Jesus Christ, and in his person it actually confronts them.

Jesus preached “repent,” meaning a “radical change of mind” is the correct response to the Gospel message. John also preached repentance, but it was mixed with judgment. Jesus preached repentance but mixed it with faith in the Word.

2. The calling of the four fishermen, 1:16—20

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

The calling of the first disciples is a natural sequence of events; the message was preached, now Jesus must gather together men He can trust to take that message to others.

The first four called disciples included:

· Peter, the impetuous one, who would become the leader of the Twelve, and who is mentioned in single list of the Apostles

· Andrew, Peter’s brother, who is always seen bringing people to Jesus

· James, Zebedee’s son, the first to be martyred (Acts 12)

· John, his brother, the disciple whom Jesus loved.

Mark says nothing of a previous encounter these men had with Jesus (John 1:35-42), but rather introduces the story in a very casual manner, Jesus was out for a walk on the beach. It was a busy place, for the lake was small and it was the center of the fishing industry. Simon and Andrew were putting in day’s work when Jesus called them. This is always the way God works: He meets people in the midst of everyday life, when you least expect Him to. Jesus deals with people where they live. God does not exist or operate in a void; He operates in the real world, where we live. Jesus said it best:

The kingdom of God is near.

It was Jesus who took the initiative; He called them to move from being mere fisherman to fishers of men. That should not be taken as a blanket statement that every single follower of the Lord will become great soul-winners. In fact, all the disciples had different talents and abilities. Some were not great preachers, others were great preachers but could do little else. All followers of the Lord are called to serve in whatever capacity the Lord puts them. But notice that Jesus did call them to do something; this is the true purpose of discipleship.

Christ calls men, not so much for what they are, as for what He is able to make them become. (Swift)

Mark records that they followed “at once.” Their hearts had already been prepared to accept the call to full time service.

A short distance further down the beach, Jesus ran into another pair of fishermen, fixed their broken fishing equipment. It is interesting that the first pair of fishermen were seen actively fishing, while these two were putting their nets in order. Promptly, Jesus called them, these sons of Zebedee. To be a follower of Jesus was by invitation only and reminds us to what John wrote in his Gospel—

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. (John 15:16)

There is something about the call of James and John worth noting. Jesus called them and they went immediately, leaving their father in the boat mending the nets. This decision of theirs is remarkable, even though their hearts had been prepared to make it by an event that happened over year earlier (John 1:35-51). We see the price some pay for the privilege of discipleship, in this case, the eventual severing of all family ties.

3. The rest of the story

If we had only account of the calling of these men, we might be given to think they acted in a rash or thoughtless manner. But the fact is, these men were called a total of three times before they forsook all to follow Christ:

1. In John 1:35-51, these men were called in a general sense, but they did not stay with Jesus at this time, they went back to their fishing.

2. In Luke 5:1—11, we discover that after this calling in Mark, they again went back to their fishing.

3. The last call of Jesus to these men is recorded in Mark 3; Matthew 10; and Luke 6. We find them fishing again, and we read of this exchange between Peter and Jesus—

“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)

Perhaps Peter was saying out loud what the other three fishermen were thinking; that they were failures and sinners and didn’t deserve to be called by God to do anything. Fortunately for them, and for us, Jesus didn’t give up. And the third time these men yielded their hearts and wills to Him.

There is something encouraging about that. We have this exalted view of people who we perceive as “great servants of God,” whether they are preachers, Bible teachers or pastors. The reality is, the call to serve Christ is never easily answered, even though the answer itself is obvious.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd
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