I have recently started teaching the Gospel of Mark in our Men’s class. I am trying to work through the narrative more rather than pull it into little tiny pieces. Here are the highlights of the introductory material:
I. Who wrote Mark?
- Mark – early tradition (120 AD) has it that John Mark (of Acts 12) who went on missionary journeys with Paul and Barnabas wrote this Gospel.
- Tradition has it that he spent time with Peter in Rome (1 Peter 5:13 – links Peter and Mark in Rome) and wrote down the stories he heard from Peter. When Peter got out of prison in Acts 12 he did go to John Mark’s house.
- Many have identified Mark with the man who fled naked at Jesus’ arrest because it seems like a random detail. Mark is probably highlighting just how chaotic the scene was that the urge was to “get out of there” even if it meant fleeing naked.
- Because he heard these stories over time and probably not quite in order the order of Mark’s gospel is not written to be an exact chronology of events. It is more like “pearls on a string” – each story for a purpose that can be held up and examined by itself but it is important to examine the string that connects them as well.
- In the church we have tended to examine the pearls apart from the string – small bits of content (less than 20 verses at a time) apart from the larger story. There is something valuable about examining the string as well.
II. Purpose of Mark
- Mark’s purpose is to advance the story of Jesus. He places stories together for reasons. He mentions prophesies that are later fulfilled. He brings up conflict that finds resolution. Events that are alluded to find their place in the narrative.
- The original hearers would have heard the whole thing in one sitting, out loud.
- It is hard to get the feel of the plot, the rising of tension and the release of it, the prophesies and fulfillments, the character development, etc if you read it in one chapter each week.
- Assignment – this week, read the entire book of Mark (or at least chapter 1) out loud and with someone if you can. In its original setting scripture was not read alone or silently. We have turned it into an individual activity. It was meant to be read in community.
- This was not written as an evangelistic piece – it was written to Christians and churches undergoing real life problems who needed their faith renewed.
III. Structure of Mark
- The structure feeds on itself:
- Chapters 1-8 deal with discipleship: how to follow Jesus and his authority through submissive faith
- Chapters 9-16 deal with Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice – which comes back to discipleship – following Jesus will also involve suffering and sacrifice.
- This is a story that is going somewhere – it is moving/has a destination – with the disciples and their own faults and failures to understand as they travel with the one who has power to do these great things – they eventually fully understand who he is. The hope is that we too have decided to follow Jesus and as we journey with these men, we too will have our understanding of the Son of God enriched and our relationship with him enhanced
- Download image for my take on how the structure feeds into itself.
Jesus the Christ/Messiah:
- Mark tells us in the first verse (Mark 1:1) what it takes the disciples 8 chapters to figure out – this is a story about the good news (Mark 1:14-15 – this is the center of Jesus’ own message) concerning Jesus the Messiah (Christos = anointed one). Being anointed means you have been set apart for a specific purpose.
- Chosen for what purpose?
- 1 Peter 1:18-21 – Redeemed by the blood of the lamb who was chosen before the foundation of the world.
- The firstborn spotless lamb is destined for sacrifice. That is how it was with Christ.
- He was chosen to be sacrificed for our sins but also to be the firstborn from among the dead.
- As his ministry unfolds it becomes more and more obvious who he is:
- He teaches with authority (Mark 1:22, 27)
- His message is repentance and good news – not either/or but both/and
- He has authority over the spiritual realm:
- Authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:10)
- Authority over demons and evil spirits (Mark 1:21ff)
- He has authority over nature:
- Walks on water (6:45ff)
- Raises the dead (5:35ff)
- Heals the leper (1:40-45)
- Gives sight to the blind (Mark 8:22ff)
- He has authority over death:
- John 10:17-18
- It is there in principle in Mark through the resurrection narrative.
- He teaches with authority (Mark 1:22, 27)
- Messianic Secret – In Mark we have Jesus portrayed as one who is going around doing Messianic things but doesn’t want the secret to come out until the proper time.
- 1:24-25 – The demons know who he is
- 1:40-45 Jesus heals a man with leprosy and tells him not to tell anyone what has happened.
- 3:12 – evil spirits know who Jesus is and he commands them not to tell others his identity.
- 5:21-43 Jesus raises a girl from the dead and he tells the people not to tell anyone (5:43).
- 8:30 – Great confession and then 8:32 – Jesus spoke plainly to them.
- Break in the narrative – he opens up about what is to come and what it means.
- Why keep it a secret? The Son of God comes on the scene and he is cautious about telling people who he is….I thought he wanted us to tell everyone about who he was. Why would Jesus be so secretive at first?
- Look back at 1:40-45 and see the result of this man disobeying Jesus’ orders.
- The people didn’t have room yet for the true message of what the messiah was supposed to do. They didn’t have him connected with Isaiah 53 yet. They thought he would be a conqueror.
The reason it is a secret to begin with is because the reader is not quite ready to really get what Jesus has to say if they come to him with all sorts of different glasses on. So it starts out with a secret…we are given a hint here and a hint there and when we hit the end of chapter 8 we will find Jesus finally talking plainly to us.
There is a story that unfolds throughout the Gospel of Mark that you cannot get by taking out a snippet here or a snippet there. You cannot get it a chapter at a time. It takes a walk/journey with Him. So, put aside all your presuppositions, all your forgone conclusions, all the boxes you have kept God in for all these years and see and hear him afresh.
Hear the call of Jesus to follow him…Walk with him, talk with him, listen to what he has to say, watch him as he heals others, hear him predict things that come true before your eyes, see him on a cross, see him in the grave, see him living again. Let those lessons come back around and deepen your walk with him.
Mark’s Narrative Tools:
- Markan Sandwich – one stories is used to interpret another by coming back to it:
- Cursing the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14, 20-21) with the cleansing of the temple in between (Mark 11:15-19).
- Indicates that the cleansing of the temple was basically a curse of temple worship and would come to an end.
- Woman with the bleeding inserted into the story of healing Jairu’s daughter – importance of faith (Mark 5)
- Demon exorcism and disbelief by the scribes in Mark 3 is bracketed by judgment by Jesus’ own family.[see ABD, Gospel of Mark 549]
- Mark 8:22-38 – Vision vs. Blindness (physical and spiritual)
Episode 1 – 8:22-26 (physical)
· Just as parables used stories from the physical world to tell about spiritual things, here Jesus acts out an example (a physical example) of a parable with this blind man that will soon teach the disciples a lesson.
o Partial healing
o Full healing
Episode 2 – 8:27-30 (spiritual)
· Who is Jesus? What evidence did they have to base their answer on so far?
· Two part question – what are they saying & what do you say?
· 8:29 – They finally get it! But not totally! Just as the blind man only partially received vision the first time – they only partially understand what it means for Jesus to be the messiah.
o Partial understanding
· 8:31ff – full understanding.