I don’t know if this is important to you, but you ought to know that (God willing) we’re going to spend the rest of the year in the New Testament. The plan is to go through Mark, Luke, and Acts through December. Along the way we’ll take short diversions into topical studies, such as the nature and work of the Holy Spirit, the Church, and possibly some others. Hope you’ll stick with me for the ride.
So we come to Mark, the shortest of the Gospels. Here are some notes about it:
• Church tradition is unanimous that it was written by John Mark, the cousin to Barnabas whose story is laid out in more detail in the book of Acts. He was well-known among the Church fathers as a close associate of Peter’s. Church tradition also says that Mark’s main source for his Gospel was in fact Peter’s preaching.
• There’s some dispute regarding this among Bible scholars, but the best evidence seems to indicate that this is the earliest Gospel, possibly written around the 50’s or early 60’s.
Here are some emphases which we’ll find here:
• Action! This Gospel spends a lot less time recording Jesus’ words and a lot more time recording his actions—especially miracles. You might notice he repeatedly uses the word “immediately” to introduce another section. There’s very little teaching in Mark’s Gospel which isn’t repeated in one or more of the others.
• It’s pretty obvious that its main audience were Gentiles, since he explains Jewish customs and translates words from the Aramaic (the language Jesus used) into Greek.
• It also seems that he has in mind persecuted Christians, hence the topic of persecution and serving Christ unto death. Therefore his Gospel would be meant as a source of encouragement and challenge to believers who were undergoing this.
• Succinct. Mark summarizes and “squeezes down” large portions of stories for his readers. Notice how short is Mark’s description of Jesus’ baptism and temptation compared to Matthew’s and Luke’s.
• Jesus as Servant. Each of the Gospels provide a portrait of Jesus with a different (not contradictory) emphasis of who Jesus was and is. In this Gospel Mark presents his Lord as the One sent to serve us. Of course, the ultimate display of this was at Jesus’ Passion.
Based on what we know about John the Baptist, I think he would've considered this version of his story his own personal favorite. It gives him a short introduction, tells how he baptized Jesus, and then from that point forward the Messiah is center stage. Any attention that John received he immediately tried to turn into attention towards his Savior, which is a great lesson for us all.
I think we can learn a lot from how the Gospels are similar, since that shows what was important to them. But I also find it interesting to note how they differ. For example, of the three versions of Jesus’ temptation, this is the only one that points out that he was with “the wild animals” out in the wilderness. Why would Mark note this? Why would it be important to him? Because many in his original audience were being fed to these animals as a public spectacle. Out in the middle of nowhere, where there were predators about, Jesus was perfectly safe. Not just because he was God in the flesh, but also because he was right in the center of the Father’s will. So Mark was saying to his audience “Remember, God’s still sovereign over everything. Whatever trial you’re facing, even if it kills you, is under the supervision of the Father. Trust him.”
And I think that’s a great reminder for us. Probably you’re not being fed to literal lions, but it might feel like that at times. I’m sure that there are people reading this who are going through problems which are much worse than mine. But please remember—Your Father is still in control. He’ll bring you to the other side of this. Just trust him.
Lord Jesus, please help me to keep this in mind. I do trust you—most of the time. Please help me to completely cast myself into your strong hands.