Today we begin our journey through the Gospel of Mark. After spending a substantial amount of time in the Old Testament going through Jeremiah and Lamentations, it seemed fitting that we should now spend time with the Lord Himself.
So what do we know about Mark? He is not mentioned as one of the apostles, or even as one of the acquaintances of Jesus. So how could he write such authoritative words about a man he had never met?
As it turns out, Mark (also known as John Mark) is mentioned nine times in the Bible (five times in Acts, 3 times by Paul, and one time by Peter). We first meet Mark when Jesus’ followers are gathered at Mark’s mother’s house to pray for Peter in prison (Acts 12:12). Soon after that incident, Paul and Barnabas head out on a missionary journey, taking John Mark with them (Acts 12:25).
Something happened during that trip, and John Mark left Barnabas and Paul and went back to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Later, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark on another missionary journey, but Paul refused. Paul and Barnabus ended up disagreeing about the matter so much they went their separate ways (Acts 15:36-40). Later, Paul recognized John Mark’s commitment to Christ and his value to the Gospel (Colossians 4:10, Philemon 23-24, 2 Timothy 4:11).
Colossians 4:10 also tells us that John Mark was Barnabas’ cousin. Peter calls him “my son” in 1 Peter 5:13 (a term of endearment, similar to Paul referring to Timothy as his “son”). In fact, historical records outside the Bible tell us that John Mark stayed with Peter until his death, similar to Luke staying with Paul until he died.
So this history lesson is interesting, but how does Mark come to write about the life and times of Jesus? Early church historians tell us that John Mark faithfully recorded the stories of Jesus as told by Peter. Some historians even label the Gospel of Mark as “Peter’s memoirs of Jesus”. Here is one such account of Mark’s role in recording these truths:
“Unlike the epistles, the gospels do not name their authors. The early church fathers, however, unanimously affirm that Mark wrote this second gospel. Papias, bishop of Hieropolis, writing about A.D. 140, noted:
“And the presbyter [the Apostle John] said this: Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements. [From the Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord (6)]”
Source: John MacArthur’s introduction to the Gospel of Mark, Feb. 17, 2010
Mark’s book is the first of the four Gospels that were written down. Mark’s book is part of the three “synoptic” gospels that painted different aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry (as recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Through Mark’s (and Peter’s) eyes, we see the humanity of Jesus expressed more than any of the other gospels, with real emotions, human boundaries, and His deep love for people.
To give you a sense of this picture of Jesus, Matthew mentions Jesus’ emotions 6 times; Luke, 7 times; John 4 times. And Mark? 16 times! That doesn’t necessarily fit with our sanitized, “proper” version and image of Jesus we like to tell ourselves, does it?
The Gospel of Mark was clearly written for a Roman (non-Jewish) audience, as Mark explains Jewish customs and provides background information for a non-Jewish audience not familiar with its cultural customs. Many historians believe the Gospel of Mark was written while Peter and Mark were in Rome, somewhere between AD 50 – 70 (before the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple).
The key portrayal of Jesus on the Gospel of Mark is that of Jesus’ service and sacrifice. Mark spends the majority of his time showing us Jesus’ deeds. Mark sums up Jesus’ life best in his gospel by quoting Jesus’ words:
45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
(Mark 10:45 NIV)
As we begin our study of Mark’s (and Peter’s) Gospel, may we be drawn to and fall even more deeply in love with our suffering servant, our Lord and Master, Jesus.