An Introduction to the Gospel of Mark (pt. 4)

[Sermon Audio]

V. Purpose

Purpose: Continue and Explain the Apostolic Teaching of the Gospel of Christ

The primary purpose of all four gospel accounts is to proclaim the good news, and bear witness to Jesus as the anticipated Messiah.  That being said, each individual Gospel has its own unique and special purposes and emphases.  Mark is no different.  The Gospel According to Mark brings out many unique and vivid details concerning Jesus and His ministry.  In fact, one commentator put it well when he said that “Jesus is the story and the point of the story.”[1]  In other words, not only is Jesus the main character in the story line, but he is also the main point of the entire story.  Through Mark we learn about Jesus the individual, and the significance of who this Jesus is.

Mark’s Gospel would have also represented the continuance of the apostolic message.  Mark recorded those things which Peter had long been teaching, and by doing so preserved Peter’s message about Jesus even after his death. Thus, part of Mark’s purpose in writing this Gospel was to preserve the teaching of Peter after his death.  In fact, Clement of Alexandria confirmed this when he said:

The Gospel according to Mark has this occasion.  As Peter preached the word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out.  And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it.[2]

VI. Major Themes

As Mark explains the Gospel from his perspective and with his style it seems as though Mark had in the back of his mind the questions arising our of a persecuted body. He seems to go out of his way to explain how the Son of God could suffer and still be the triumphant King.  He also provided persecuted disciples with a genuine picture of discipleship without omitting the failures, difficulties, or set backs.  Furthermore, He focuses a great deal of attention to the Kingdom of God, emphasizing its current seed form as well as its future consummation.  Each of these themes plays an important part in Mark’s Gospel and deserves additional attention.

A.     Mark’s emphasis on Christology

Balanced Christology

Mark is very careful to emphasize Jesus’ humanity as well as His deity.  With regard to his humanity: Jesus eats (2:16); drinks (15:36); becomes hungry (11:12); shows emotion (3:5; 10:14); is limited in His knowledge (13:32); gets tired and falls asleep (4:38); has a body (15:43); and even dies (15:37).  With regard to his deity: Jesus is called the Son of God (15:39); exercise authority over demons (i.e. 1:21-28); exercises authority over diseases and various physical infirmities (i.e. 1:29-34); exercises authority over nature (i.e. 4:35ff); raises the dead (5:335ff); knows the heart of men (i.e. 2:8); forgives sins (i.e. 2:5); and ultimately he rises from the dead (16:6).

Son of Man vs. Son of God

Consistently we read of Jesus silencing demons who proclaimed him to be the Messiah (1:44; 5:43), and telling his disciples to keep certain things a secret for a time (9:9). Jesus did all of this because the people did not understand what the Messiah had to do.  Had Jesus come into town performing miracles, casting out demons, and declaring himself to be the Messiah then the timing of the Father would not have been fulfilled.  The triumphal entry would have occurred immediately after Jesus was baptized by John and the crucifixion would have occurred before Jesus’ earthly ministry could have been fulfilled.  It was for this very reason that Jesus referred to himself as the “Son of Man.”  This title is an allusion to Daniel 7:13-14 where the Messiah is prophesied of, but it would have had far fewer connotations with the masses than Messiah.  Speaking to this aspect of Mark’s Gospel Bock said that

Some have called this the messianic secret, but it was not that Jesus’ identity as the Messiah was to be kept a secret but that it was not to be shared until it was more fully understood.  Only as the cross drew near did the full scope of his divine promise and calling emerge.  The disciples were not in a position to preach Jesus until they appreciated this aspect of his mission.  The subsequent mission of the church makes this clear.[3]

Only three times in the entire Gospel is Jesus referred to as “The Son of God” (1:1, 3:11, 15:39) and it is not until chapter 15 that a person makes this assessment!

The Suffering Servant

Mark’s record of the life and work of Jesus often leads an emphasis on the Suffering Servant. This theme of Jesus as the sufferingservant is most clearly seen in 10:45: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Although Mark never cites it, the picture of the Messiah as the suffering Servant can also be found in Isaiah 53.  This aspect of Jesus’ ministry is something that many of the Jews, including the religious, leaders missed.  They were looking for their Messiah to come, overthrow their oppressors, and reign over Israel.  However, they forgot that the Messiah had to first come and suffer as a sacrifice for sins before he could come and reign over his people.  This ignorance on the part of the Jewish masses plays a major role in the Gospel of Mark.  This perspective of Jesus as the Suffering Servant would have been a helpful reminder to the Roman recipients of this letter who were under immense persecution (10:35-45).

Mark’s emphasis on Discipleship

If any Gospel could be referred to as the “anti-prosperity Gospel” it is the Gospel according to Mark.  There is no doubt that Mark wanted his persecuted readers to remember that disciples aren’t always perfect, and that the life of a disciple is often a hard life.  Mark made this clear by presenting a blunt picture of the disciples (i.e. 8:32-33, & 4:35ff).  Mark’s discipleship is that of an unglamorous servant of Jesus who is consistently amazed and fearful at the prospect of following Jesus.  Mark does not really focus on what you might call the end product of discipleship (i.e. Peter in Rome), but rather on the painful process of discipleship.  This would have been encouraging for the believers in Rome—as well as for us!

Mark’s emphasis on the Kingdom of God

Mark’s perspective on the Kingdom of God seems to be particularly helpful for his original audience.  They would have been very tempted to think “Really, this is the Kingdom? How can this be? How can we be in the Kingdom and yet have Nero burn us to death?”  Whether or not Mark was dealing with specific questions like these we cannot know.  However, we do know that Mark’s teaching on the Kingdom provides answers for questions like these.  Mark’s Gospel teaches us that the Kingdom has been spiritually initiated (1:14-15) in seed form (4:30-32).  However, the current revelation of the Kingdom is by no stretch of the imagination the fullness of the Kingdom.  There is a future and more glorious element to the Kingdom (9:1).  Before the fullness of the Kingdom can be ushered in, however, there must be a difficult intermediary period (13:1ff).  As the Roman Christians were grappling with there persecution, and as the church continues to wait for this fullness, this is a helpful message.

[1] Bock, the Gospel of Mark, pg. 397.

[2] Ecclesiastical History 6.14.6

[3] Bock, the Gospel of Mark, pg. 398.