Podcast: Play in new window | Download
This is the shortest of the four gospels, but Mark uses a number of devices to make it fly by even faster. This is a gospel of now. This is a gospel that is quite effective in presenting us with a sense of vivid immediacy. Mark uses the historical present tense consistently, he uses abrupt transitions, and he uses the phrase and immediately (euthys) 42 times. Story grip is easy while reading Mark. And in this sense, the hand that grips is the hand that saves. So one of our tasks here is to bring this story to life.
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).
Some Background on Mark
Let’s begin with the place of John Mark in Scripture. All the manuscripts we have of this book contain the name of Mark in the title. So what do we know of this man from the pages of Scripture? He was a relative of Barnabas—“Aristarchus my fellow prisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas” (Col. 4:10). We also know that he was son of a certain Mary. “And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying” (Acts 12:12).
Although he was probably from the Dispersion (because of the Latin name Marcus), the family at least had a residence in Jerusalem. This also indicates some measure of wealth (along with the servant girl Rhoda). He worked with Paul for a time. “And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark” (Acts 12:25). When they left Antioch, “they had also John to their minister” (Acts 13:5). This was on the first recorded missionary journey of Paul.
John Mark was the occasion for a falling out between Paul and Barnabas. “And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work” (Acts 15:37-38). The next verse records a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas over this, resulting in them going in different directions. The good news is that Mark was reconciled with Paul later: “Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11). And, “touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him” (Col. 4:10). We are not told who was right in the initial dispute; we are told that it was resolved.
Years later, we know that Mark was with Peter at Rome. “The church that is at Babylon
There are other places where John Mark’s presence is hinted at. A few passages in Scripture maybe applied to our writer, although we cannot be dogmatic about it. It is possible that he was the famous rich, young ruler. This Gospel is the only one to record the fact that when Jesus confronted the wealthy young ruler, he “loved him” (Mark 10:21). If this is Mark, then we may obviously conclude that the rich, young ruler was converted later.
He may also have been the one who fled the night Jesus was arrested. In Mark 14:51-52, we find the odd inclusion of an odd detail — a young man who fled naked at the arrest of Christ. This also may be John Mark. Otherwise, it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with anything. If so, it adds a nice touch to the story—the rich young eventually did give up everything.
And last, it appears that John Mark was at least initially in sympathy with the Judaizers. John Mark left the entourage of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey at the first opportunity after the gospel was preached to Sergius Paulus, a Gentile (Acts 13:13). This may account for the depth of Paul’s opposition to him (Acts 15:39).
We have just a few details about him from church history as well. The historical accounts concerning John Mark are remarkably consistent, and early. First, his nickname—the prologue of an early Latin version of the Gospel records that Mark’s nickname was “stumpy-fingers.” We can only speculate . . . my thought is that it was a lawn mower accident. As indicated earlier, his main source of information was the apostle Peter. This Gospel is written as a collection of Peter’s accounts of the works and teaching of Christ. We learn this from Papias (c. 60-130), bishop of Hieropolis in Phrygia, from Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215), and Irenaeus (c. 115-202), who was from Gaul. The church uniformly received this Gospel as apostolic precisely because of its connection to Peter. The early sources are also uniform in telling us that Mark was the founder of the church at Alexandria, and that he was the first bishop there. He died in 62 AD, and was succeeded there by Annianus.
The Son of God is Here
Mark begins his account with an unambiguous statement of the identity of the one is who preached in the gospel. In this setting, the title “Son of God” meant Deity to Jewish ears (John 5:18). We cannot know what Jesus did unless we affirm who He is. The words the beginning are reminiscent of Genesis, and we are hearing the account of a new creation.
Combine Mark’s use of the immediate with his three-fold testimony of the identity of Jesus—one at the beginning, one in the middle, and one at the end of the gospel. The pitch is set in our first verse. This is the gospel of the Son of God. But there are three
epiphanic moments. At the baptism of Christ, the Father says, “You are my
Son . . .” (Mark 1:11). On the Mount of Transfiguration, the voice from the cloud says the same thing again (Mark 9:7). And then, at the moment of His death, the same testimony is confirmed by the Roman centurion (Mark 15:39).
This is primitive gospel preaching. This is Peter’s recollection. This shows that the scope of Mark’s gospel is exactly parallel to the early apostolic message—a message that began with John the Baptist and concluded with the resurrection (Acts 10:36-43; 13:24-37). This is the message, and everywhere it is preached in power, it has immediate effects. Why wouldn’t it? It is an immediate gospel.
Put it all together. Christ is God and Christ is here, now. Will you follow Him?