What follows is a 16-week sermon series from the Gospel of Mark entitled “The Journey; Chronicles of a Follower of Christ.” Because of the way Mark wrote his Gospel, it is appropriate to cover it at a brisk pace with a view to grasping the book as a whole rather than dissecting its individual components. I encourage you to begin your study of Mark by reading through the entire book in one sitting; this will only take about 40 minutes. Then, to gain the most benefit from our study, I suggest you read each chapter on your own prior to listening to/reading these lessons. Before we begin in chapter one, I thought I would whet your appetite for the things we will be encountering in this Gospel along with some background information.
Author: John Mark was related to Barnabas and traveling companion of Paul (see Acts 15:37; Colossians 4:10; and 2 Timothy 4:11). He received his instruction from Peter, who referred to Mark as “my son” (1 Peter 5:13). Thus most think Mark recorded Peter’s perspective on Jesus’ life.
Date & Setting: Mark was probably written in the early/mid 60’s. Possibly written to Christians in Rome during the severe persecution by Nero beginning in a.d. 64. Mark frequently translates Jewish words and customs for his Roman (Latin-speaking) audience (see Mark 3:17; 5:41; 7:3-4, 11, 34; 12:18; 14:36; 15:6, 16, 22, 34, 42).
Purpose: The purpose of Mark’s Gospel is to evoke from the reader a lasting response in word and deed to the true identity of Jesus (much, much more on this in the lessons that follow).
Jesus’ Galilean Ministry (1:1-8:26)
Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem (8:27-10:52)
Jesus’ Jerusalem Ministry (11:1-16:8)
Noteworthy Characteristics (look for these during your personal study time):
- Mark is very much a tell-it-like-it-is sort of Gospel, and actions speak louder than words. The book reads like any 30-minute show on primetime TV: It is fast-moving and action-packed (“immediately” is used 41 times by Mark, and only 19 times in the New Testament outside of Mark).
- Mark is heavily weighted toward Jesus’ miracles rather than his teachings.
- Six of sixteen chapters is dedicated to the final eight days of Jesus’ life.
- Mark’s Gospel is the most chronological of the four Gospels.
- Mark was probably the first written of the four Gospels.
- At sixteen chapters and 661 verses, Mark’s is the shortest of the four Gospels.
- Matthew and Luke repeat all but 31 verses of Mark (all but 55 in Matthew).
- The disciples serve as comic relief in Mark, characterized as severely dense.
- Jesus gets alone with his disciples about 20 times in Mark (see 3:7; 3:13; 4:10; 4:34; 4:35; 5:37; 6:7; 6:31-32; 7:17; 8:10; 8:27; 9:2; 9:28; 10:10; 10:23; 10:32; 10:42; 11:11; 12:43; 13:3).
- In Mark, one must have the right confession (“Jesus is the Son of God”) and the right response (following Him).
- People respond to Jesus with amazement or astonishment about 20 times. Incidentally, large crowds frequently seek out Jesus, but these usually do so out of amazement rather than devotion (more on this in chapter one).
- Twice we will see individuals go from sitting on the sidelines to standing, walking, and following Jesus (Levi and Bartimaeus). Are you on the sidelines? We will repeatedly see the necessity of not only starting well, but finishing well. Have you started well? What is your plan for finishing well?
- The notion of “wanting” (θέλω) occurs 24 times in Mark, coming to a head with Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Not what I want, but what You want.”
- Mark’s Gospel is heavily characterized by action-reaction. Mark the cameraman zooms in while Jesus teaches or performs a miracle, then he zooms out and pans the audience for their reaction. One almost gets the impression that the response of the audience is as important to Mark as Jesus’ action that provokes it.
Markan Motifs (see if you can begin to identify these in your reading before I point them out):
- Messianic Secret: Jesus’ tendency—especially in the Gospel of Mark—to command people not to tell anyone who He is (see Mark 1:25; 1:34; 1:43-44; 3:12; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26; 8:30; 9:9; 9:30).1
- Passion Predictions: Jesus predicts His own suffering and crucifixion in three famous passages in Mark (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). “Passion” is a technical term (borrowed from Latin) describing Jesus’ sufferings, especially the crucifixion.
- Individual Encounters: Jesus affects roughly 20 individuals one-on-one. If you stick with me you will certainly see yourself somewhere in this text.
- Following Jesus: The term “follow” appears 17 times in Mark.
Those who “follow” (ἀκολουθέω)—or refuse to “follow”—Jesus:
- Peter and Andrew (1:18)
- Levi (2:14)
- Tax collectors and sinners (2:15)
- A crowd from Galilee (3:7)
- Large crowd (5:24)
- His disciples (6:1)
- Any who wish to come after Jesus (8:34)
- Invitation to the rich young ruler (10:21)
- Peter et al (10:28)
- Those going to Jerusalem with Jesus (10:32)
- Bartimaeus (10:52)
- Those at the triumphal entry into Jerusalem (11:9)
- Peter, at a distance (14:54)
- Mary, Mary, and Salome (15:41)
In characteristic form, Mark anxiously tells his readers the answer to the riddle in the first verse of the book. Who is Jesus? He is the “Son of God.” In fact, the Gospel has this creed as bookends for emphasis—the centurion by the cross confesses in Mark 15:39, “Truly this man was God’s Son” (NET Bible). Enjoy your journey with the Son of God through the Gospel of Mark.
1 Matthew S. DeMoss and J. Edward Miller, Zondervan Dictionary of Bible and Theology Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2002), 150-51.