The Most Important Question: An Introduction to the Gospel According to Mark

BIG IDEA: An introduction to the historical, socio-cultural occasion for the writing of Mark. A look at the author and the big overarching themes of the first gospel written.

SERIES: The Most Important Question Ever Asked – A Study in the Gospel According to Mark: John Mark, a traveling companion of the Apostle Peter, wrote this gospel. We trust his writing because of that tie to Peter, an Apostle of Christ. He writes this gospel by taking down Peter’s account of Christ. It’s written likely because the Apostles were aging and their stories needed to be told for the coming generations. These are essentially the memoirs of Peter written to a group of Christians in Rome, and it’s written with a sense of urgency. Jesus came to accomplish a mission and to do so with a remarkable sense of urgency. Throughout the entirety of the gospel, there is the most important question ever asked: Who do you say Jesus is? Fist gospel written.

SCRIPTURE: The Gospel According to Mark
Take one hour or so and sit down and read the Gospel According to Mark in one sitting.

KEY CONSIDERATIONS

  • Why do we care what this document, the Book of Mark, says?
    • Most scholars believe that the Gospel According to Mark was the first gospel written. It was likely the first attempt of the followers of Jesus to write down an account of Christ.
  • Who was Mark? He wasn’t one of the 12 disciples, so what makes his account trustworthy?
    • Name: He was referred to as John Mark because there were a lot of men named John, so Mark was essentially his nickname.
    • Family: His mother was a great and important figure in the early church in Jerusalem. She hosted a home church in that city.
    • Connection to Paul: John Mark was a close companion of Paul, and he traveled with Paul and Barnabas at the beginning of their first missionary journey, but he eventually decides not to continue on the journey with them. This angered Paul, but later in his ministry he seems to have somewhat reconciled with John Mark and refers him to Timothy. All that to say, John Mark spent a lot of time with Paul.
    • Connection to Peter, Connection to Christ: John Mark also spent a lot of time with Peter, particularly when Peter was in Rome, working with the church there. Most commentators believe that this gospel comes out of a compilation of the stories and sermons of the Apostle Peter. This is important because Peter knew Jesus personally, and because of that, we can trust it.
    • Orthodoxy: We, as Christians today, seek not to say anything new. Meaning, we hold the unique things that Christ taught, the unchanging Word of God, in a tight fist. But that doesn’t mean some things don’t change, and what changes is how we communicate them, and we hold that communication with an open hand. We never change the old things because they never change. This is important because there are people within and without the church who want to change those unchanging things, people who would like to change the original meanings out of chronological snobbery. That is to say that because we are so educated and much further advanced in our current society from when the Bible was written that we know better than the people of old. This hubris continually affects and infects the church. Be wary of that.
  • What is a gospel?
    • Two definitions are present in the book of Mark:
      • “gospel according to”
      • “gospel of”
    • How was the word used in its historical context of the early church.
      • Evangelion (greek): the Roman Empire would spread good news – a gospel – to the peoples. It was a morale boost for the Empire, often telling of a victory. So a “gospel” is “good news.”
    • “Gospel of Jesus Christ”
      • This is the good news of the victory of Jesus. It’s a proclamation of King Jesus.
      • To understand the good news of the victory, you have to understand the war. Mark pulls from the vibrant history of the people of Israel, the Jews.
    • “the gospel according to…”
      • It’s the same gospel message of the same war and how it’s won, but they differ in how they tell the story. In that way, “gospel” becomes a kind of genre: biography, teaching document, poetry, theology, etc. They are a bit of everything, but everything to do with one man, Jesus.
    • “The Gospel According to Mark” is best described as a “portrait.”
      • It’s not a picture because that would be every detail.
      • It’s not abstract because it’s not an interpretation.
      • It’s a portrait because a portrait draws attention to specific and true details about its subject. John Mark paints a portrait of who Jesus was with a specific audience in mind, emphasizing certain true things about him.
  • What was the occasion for writing the Gospel According to Mark?
    • The Time and Place: Mark was likely writing from Rome in Italy during the mid 60s.
      • Persecution: This was a time of extreme persecution of Christians, in fact they had been banished from Rome. Emperor Nero burned Rome and blamed it on the Christians, enacting a huge move of brutal and violent persecution.
      • Mark was trying to paint a picture for the persecuted Church of why these horrible things could be allowed to happen to them if God loved them, and if Jesus really had given his life for them. He hopes to give hope in the midst of hopelessness.
      • We don’t experience extreme persecution here, but we do feel marginalized. We see the low demographics, and we sense that the people around us don’t want to know about our faith, so in this way, the Gospel According to Mark is very relevant to us.
    • Structure: three main acts.
      • First Act: Chapters 1-8, the miracles of Jesus that beg the question, “who is Jesus?”
      • Second Act: Chapters 8:27-10, where Jesus asks, “who do you say that I am?”
      • Third Act: Chapters 11-16, in which Jesus lives out the definition of himself, the Messiah.
  • Four Themes
    • Immediacy/Urgency: this is highlighted specifically by Mark’s use of the word “immediately.” Over half of all biblical uses of that word reside in Mark’s gospel. Jesus is always acting and moving out of the urgency of his mission, which begs us ask the question, “what is our sense of urgency for the mission of God?”
    • Discipleship: What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? Mark shows us disciples who are constantly falling short. They’re very dense, but they follow Jesus. They give up everything they have, all stability and all comfort, to follow him. They adopt his purpose on this Earth. All you have to do to be a disciple of Jesus is be stupidly sacrificial.
    • Authority: A struggle over authority runs through this gospel: Jesus having ultimate authority and everyone who has authority loses that authority. Jesus teaches with authority. He casts out demons with spiritual authority. He has authority over the natural world. He has authority over religion itself by claiming authority over even the Jewish law. This gospel requires us to look at our lives and ask ourselves whether or not Jesus has authority over every part of our lives.
    • Suffering: The Messiah, Jesus, was the suffering son of God. What does it mean that Jesus is the Messiah and that he also experiences the most suffering of anyone? When we’re called to follow Jesus, we’re not called to the benefits, we’re called to the suffering. We must count the cost.

Want to study this topic more?
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