Let’s see what we will Discern as we read and explore this book. As mentioned earlier, Mark’s gospel does not emphasize words or is long on sermons; but rather flows from one action-packed event to the next. Unlike the other gospels, Mark records only ten parables whih were given at 4 periods of time and nineteen miracles. He changes from one event to another by frequenting using of the Greek word eutheos that we generally translate immediately. This word is used over forty times in this gospel and means “directly, at once, soon, as soon as, forthwith, immediately, shortly, straightway” The book divides into two sections—The Servant’s Story and The Servant’s Suffering.
1-10 The Servant’s Story
This first section is all about the story of the history of the Lord’s ministry. One of the things of note in chapters 1-10 is the Lord never leaves the northern part of Israel. We know that is not the case from reading the other three gospels, but if we just had the Gospel of Mark, we would assume the Lord never ventured farther south then the southern area of Galilee until He leaves for Jerusalem and His suffering.
So, everything we read will take place in the location most common to the Samaritans and the Gentiles. Again, remember he is writing to Roman believers so he wrote only that which was necessary for convincing them about the Son of God as the Servant of God.
There is a pair of things emphasized in this first section. First, Mark introduces the subject of the Son of God as the Servant of men with a forward; and then second, he tells the story through a narrative. It’s really just that simple. Mark is all about giving former heathen Gentile converts an understanding that Jesus the Son of God is not the same as the gods they worshipped previously and that were worshipped throughout the Roman Empire. Mark is showing that instead of weakness mixed with selfish indulgence as pagan gods, the reader discovers the Son of God is a servant of humanity—very different than the heathen age around them.
These stories and events are not so neatly packaged, at least as I like. Remember, the chapter divisions are not inspired and that serves to enhance the difficulty of devising and quantifying nice and neat cool outlines without really stretching and forcing things to work. It’s really just a great foreword, followed by narratives explaining how Jesus is the Son of God and related to serving humanity. We study His many works and few words, the ministering and the short messages of Christ.
1. The Servant’s Foreword
The first thing we find and learn (and is fundamental of any story) is the origins of Jesus as far as He is identified as the Servant. Simply put, in chapter 1, verses 1-13 we see the beginning and introduction of Jesus the Servant. Let me mention that we notice four voices declaring the identity of the Servant. They are the author, the Prophets, John the Baptist and finally the Heavenly Father.
At the close of these introductions, just prior to the start of His ministry, comes the test of the Servant. Was there ever any question as to failure and success of Christ in these temptations? Not at all! In fact, when it comes to the book of the Servant, we have zero idea of any specifics of the three tests. We actually need to venture to Matthew and Luke to find out what happened. Identifying that He was tested and passed is more a benefit for the reader then the Son of God’s. It’s written for us that we might understand the Servant was tempted and completed that test successfully. On His part, failure was never an option! For our behalf and Satan’s, His victory was convincing.
This is the forward, and it is signed off by the Father saying “You are My Beloved Son, in You I am well pleased.” And that confirmation was sealed by the stamp of the Spirit coming down in the form of a dove upon the Servant of God—all before His temptations occurred.
2. The Servant’s Narrative
The remainder of the first section is the Servant’s Narrative. We follow His life as he ministered throughout the Northern part of Israel. Again, we know from other gospels He ventured farther then what Mark presents. It is the local area that Mark is consumed about showing. We are reminded of the Lord’s urgency, passion for humanity and zealousness to work with the Apostles to ready them for the same prospect of ministry and work. Rather than attempt to make an outline out of the narrative, let me make two different points and move on.
a. The Servant’s Work
First, what we will see is the Servant’s Work. What this is showing us is that the Son of God is all about helping humanity around him. Beginning with a possessed individual in chapter 1 questioning the Servant’s service at the front of His public ministry (with the Lord casting out a complaining demon), to concluding with blind Bartimaeus’ healing in chapter 10 we have nineteen signs and wonders accounted for.
These are specific ones, no doubt, listed and remembered as a result of Peter’s ministry with the Lord for the 3 years. There were many more miracles along the way not accounted for. However, with what is written we have a clear picture of just how busy the man Jesus was and the extent in which He touched the needy around Him.
I think that it’s no coincidence that the His words just before His final recorded miracle in Mark are:
NASB Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
While the crowds are trying to shut Bartimaeus up from his noise making, the Lord takes note and heals him. This final miracle takes place on the south side of Jericho, just before His triumphal enter into Jerusalem. There will be no more recorded miracles in the book of Mark hereafter.
b. The Servant’s Word
The second noticeable point in this first section is the lack of teaching, words and messages from the Lord. There are parables mentioned and teaching given. However, there is only one recorded preaching, teaching time in the whole book of Mark and that is the parables about and around the Sower and the Seed. Every other time when we read of teaching or read of parables in Mark it is always in response to a question or a situation requiring a reply!
This book is all about action, action and immediate action! If we were to strip away all the teachings of the Lord in Matthew and Luke, leave in only the actions and service of Christ, the gospel of Mark is the biggest gospel of all of them. The detail and intricacy of what is written in Mark is much greater than the other Gospels, that is, if we remove the teachings and parables. That is why we look at the book of Mark as the Gospel of the Servant. It records His activities and service for mankind around Him.
11-16 The Servant’s Suffering
Let me move to the second and last section of this book—the Servant’s Suffering. This last part is a bit easier to place into categories. We have the Servant’s Controversies, Suffering and Culmination of His life.
1. The Servant’s Controversy
In chapters 11-13 the Lord arrives in Jerusalem and the controversy begins. His first action is clearing the temple and one would think this started the whole problem of conflicts. However, we read in prior chapters the Jews had already sent delegations ahead in an attempt to figure out what the rumors in the North were all about. When the Lord arrived in Jerusalem, these Jewish leaders already had a chip on their shoulders.
There are messages and teachings given while the Lord is in Jerusalem, generally in the temple. Summed up He covers three things: condemning the religious leaders, exhorting to not follow the religious leaders and what the signs of His second coming are.
I think it is of note to remember the temple is still standing when Mark writes his gospel therefore the conversation about the temple being torn down is still relevant and prominent when he wrote the Gospel in 64 AD. Within a few short years it must have been amazing to witness the fulfillment of the Lord’s words as written in the Gospel of Mark when the Romans leveled it in 70 AD.
Remember what He said to those admiring the grand structure of the temple in Mark 13? One of His disciples said as they exited the temple:
NASB Mark 13:1 “…Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”
The Lord’s reply:
NASB Mark 13:2 “…Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”
This was His prophecy of what was to come and an open door to speak about His second coming! It too would become a great controversy.
2. The Servant’s Suffering
Chapters 14-16:8 are all about the arrest, trail, crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of the Son of God, Servant of God. It’s the witnessing of the suffering servant, and, as noted earlier, I think we have a very personal, eyewitness account of the whole incident as its related by Peter, and very possibly a very young Mark himself! There are a large number of scholars that believe Mark 14:51-21 is the author:
NASB 14:51 A young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they sseized him. 52 But he pulled free of the linen sheet and escaped naked.
The detail and intimacy of the whole incident causes people to believe Mark is speaking of himself in a second hand voice. We do know from scriptures his mother was a close follower with resources, as was his uncle Barnabas. You don’t have to stretch the imagination too far to make out a boy of 12 to 13 being in that situation, following the Lord with family and curious at all that was transpiring. It also makes more sense as to why Peter chose Mark as a companion/translator as he would have been familiar with many of the stories.
3. The Servant’s Culmination
The last section is a difficult one. Verses 9-20 are omitted by newer translations. An argument has developed that has dated back centuries, as to whether the Gospel of Mark ends at verse 8 or not. Ending at verse 8 leaves a rather unsatisfying and incomplete story if this is the case. It’s thought by some that early church fathers in the 2nd century completed the book with stories that they had heard happened.
I’ve called verses 9-20 The Servant’s Culmination as they are much more positive and give clear goals and directives rather then stopping suddenly at verse 8. The Servant’s Culmination is continuing the Servant’s Mission. It was in 1881 the inclusion of these verses came into question. Based upon a small amount of evidence of a handful of corrupted Greek manuscripts, modern contextual critics have sought to remove the verses.
There are more than 5000 fragment manuscripts that predate the two oldest complete manuscripts that omit these verses. In these fragments are included verses 9-20, so verifying the accuracy of historical Christianity. Irenaenus quotes these verses in his teachings. He taught them as inspired a little more than a generation after the New Testament Canon closed. The NIV is just plain wrong to question the inspiration and authenticity of 9-20!
The fact that these verses have been conclusively accepted throughout centuries of Christianity, not to mention acknowledgement by the first century fathers, lends a strong case for their inclusion in the divine canon of scriptures. Whether Mark wrote the words or not, whoever wrote them was inspired by the Holy Spirit and acknowledged by first century elders as God-breathed words and thoughts!
J. Robert Hanson