Something that has become apparent to me recently is the need for the church to challenge and encourage one another. This often involves training, mentoring, and accountability. Something that rings loudly and repeatedly is the discipline that is needed to grow in our faith. For instance, you can probably relate to this: How often do we sit in home Bible studies or Sunday School classes, and we all readily admit that we need to spend more time reading God’s Word, and studying and memorizing it? We all know that when we talk about our prayer lives and evangelizing our heads sink a bit because we know that we do not apply ourselves appropriately in these areas. So, we are going to make it a group project. Everybody loves group projects, right?
So, for the year ahead, we are going to encourage and challenge one another with some of these practices. Most of our emphasis will be centred on the Gospel of Mark. If you look in your bulletin, you will find this insert. Aside from Jesus, this will be your best friend for the next year. If you take this and an ESV Study Bible, you will be well on your way to strengthening your faith. Of course, it is NOT just a checklist that guarantees this. You can refer to last week’s sermon for that. But as a church we are going to be intentionally in the Word. Let me explain.
We will be exploring the Gospel of Mark over the next year. And we will take just a bit of time this morning serve as an introduction to our study. We will begin to delve more deeply next week. Please turn in your Bibles to Mark’s Gospel. Now this doesn’t refer to the Gospel about Mark, but rather according to Mark. In fact, in many Bibles it will be titled, “The Gospel according to Mark.” As we strive to understand and apply what we learn, we need to become familiar with background information. So we need to look at who the author was, who he was writing to, what some of the emphases of the book are, etc.
So, we begin by asking the question: who was Mark? We know that he wasn’t one of the Jesus’ disciples. So, who was he? When we do a little research, we find that he was a Jew from Jerusalem and his Hebrew name is actually, John. We find this in the Book of Acts. And his Roman name of “Mark” gradually superseded his Jewish name. Whereas he was referred to as John in Acts, he is identified as Mark in his Gospel and 2 Timothy.
In Colossians 4, we see that he is cousins with Barnabas. In Acts 12, we know that his mother is Mary. Now the house of Mary in this chapter is the place where the prayer meeting was taking place when Peter was in prison. And the angel busted him out of prison and Peter went right up to the prayer meeting and knocked on the door. A servant girl answered the door and was so excited she left Peter there and ran off to tell everybody. And no one believed her. I guess they didn’t actually believe their prayers would account for much. Peter continued to bang on the door until he got their attention and let him in. This all happened at Mark’s mom’s house.
Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey but left them once they reached Perga. Of significance is the fact that there was some sort of sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas because of Mark. In Acts 15:36-40, Luke records this, “36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.”
Whatever the incident involved, we also know that they reconciled because Paul speaks favourably of him in his letter to the Colossians and in Philemon. And near the end of Paul’s life, he asks Timothy to bring Mark to him because of his usefulness to his ministry.
But probably the closest association with Mark is Peter. Evidence suggests that Mark probably got his material from Peter, who as we know, spent considerable time with Jesus. There is one theory that suggests that the Gospel that Mark records is essentially Peter’s sermons that were written down by Mark. And we know that Peter was perhaps the leader of Christ’s disciples. Well, he was at least the most vocal.
The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the gospels. It seems to come across as sort of fast-paced action movie. We know that Matthew and Luke spend considerably more time in teaching. But Mark focuses in on the action. And he moves from one event to the next sometimes quite abruptly. In fact, as we will see, he uses the word, “immediately” repeatedly. You can see that Mark does not mention either the birth or childhood of Jesus, but launches right away into the ministry of John the Baptist and then Jesus baptism and ministry. In fact, Jesus is already calling disciples in verse 16 of chapter 1.
As we go through the book, we will learn a bit about the disciples. We will learn about the Pharisees and other religious leaders. We will see demons, and cripples, and the down-and-outs. But primarily we will see Jesus. For as this is the Gospel according to Mark, we see in verse 1 of chapter 1, that this is about Jesus. The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is the Gospel according to Mark about the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is the gospel about Jesus.
What is the Gospel? We might quickly answer that it is the good news of Jesus. But what do we mean by that? From our study of the Scriptures, we become quickly aware of our problem of sin. This is the bad news. Romans 3.23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 5.12 “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Ephesians 2 tells us, “1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Romans 6.23 says, “23 For the wages of sin is death.” We could continue to search and find lots of Scripture that point to a real problem that we face as human beings.
I would confidently assert that the Gospel at its very core is the good news that Jesus died on the cross for sins. 1 Corinthians 15.3-4 3 says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” Christ died for sins. This is very “good news!” Romans 5.6-8, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That is the Gospel at the very core!
The Gospel in its broadest sense is the entire life and ministry of Jesus. And so I think that when Mark indicates that this is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God he provides the context of the mission of the cross. He begins with Old Testament prophecies that all point forward to Jesus, the initiation into ministry through his baptism and then launches straightway into the rest of his ministry. The Gospel, or good news, is that God did not leave us in our miserable state as enemies of Jesus – children of wrath. Jesus did not remain in heaven where he could have been content and comfortable in his place of absolute authority and reign. One of the songs we sing in our house says, “You left your throne of grace to suffer in our place. So we praise you Jesus Christ.” We are also studying the humiliation of Christ, where we are looking at the many ways that Christ humbled himself to endure treatment as a mere mortal human being – temptations, hardships, loneliness, physical pain – so that he could reconcile people to God. That means that he makes it possible for us to be righteous in God’s sight. 2 Corinthians 5 tells how God, through Christ, reconciles people to God by no longer counting their sins against him.
So Mark will recount for us many things about the life of our Lord. This is good news because all these events will ultimately lead to the cross which is the sacrifice for our sin. There is great importance on studying the miracles of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus, and the life of obedience of Jesus. He is our example of obedience and morality for sure. But the cross is what is always and ultimately the focus. If he came merely to live a good life and teach a few things, that leaves mankind in sin and alienation from God. All of Scripture points to the cross. The Old Testament is a big finger pointing forward to the cross and all of the New Testament and history to date is an outworking of the events of the death of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is central to the life of the believer. We know that one needs to trust in Christ to become righteous. But the gospel also has implications for the Christian life. It is not merely acknowledging cognitively some historical facts – though these are important and necessary. But Scripture continues to provide us with implications of a life changed by the gospel. First, there are doctrinal implications. Romans 5.1 says that because we have been justified by faith (the gospel) we have peace with God. Romans 8.1 tells us that there is now no condemnation for those who are “in Christ Jesus” – those who trusted in him. Romans 8.32 says, “32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all (through his death on the cross), how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” These are doctrinal implications of the gospel.
But there are also behavioural implications of the gospel. The gospel is not merely for the unbeliever who needs to turn to Christ. Believers continue to live according to the gospel. Listen to Philippians 1.27, “27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,” In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul commands us to flee from sexual immorality because “you are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” That’s the gospel. “So glorify God in your body.” Ephesians 4.32, Paul tells us to forgive each other. To what extent? “as God in Christ forgave you.” Gospel. “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
Christians continue to be impacted by the gospel even as non-Christians need to embrace it for salvation. It is not a one-time deal. I’m hoping that in the year ahead, we will look more intently at our lives and how they communicate the gospel. So, we need to see if our walking the gospel, serving for the gospel, forgiving and loving the gospel. It is not a works based righteousness, just a heart and life that has been changed by the gospel. It is the overflow of the work of Christ in us.
And here is where we will see the example of Christ. The Gospel of Mark focuses on the “suffering servant,” Jesus. We will see clearly his authority as the Son of God who teaches with great authority, who possesses authority over demons, over the Sabbath, and had authority to forgive sin. And the great paradox that glares at us is that, despite this great authority, he humbles himself and suffers and dies. I think that the theme verse for the entire book is found in chapter 10. Mark 10.45 reads, “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.”
Jesus allows us to peer into this great humility that serves as our example. He does not focus on his “rights” or authority, but lays them down for the salvation of souls, the example for others, and for the glory of God.
But this will not always be the case because, as we have seen in the Book of Revelation, he is returning. And he returns with authority. Mark includes several references to Jesus as the Son of Man. This is done intentionally as fulfilling Old Testament prophecies such as in Daniel. In chapter 7, it says, “13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Jesus is coming back to judge and to establish his kingdom.
But for now, we start at the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is a great study for those who are being introduced to Jesus. So my hope is that this study will help us to declare the good news of Jesus to a world that needs to know him. But remember that the Gospel is not just for the unbeliever. It is to be revisited daily by the Christian so that we do not live merely a moral life but one that is motivated by the implications and empowerment of the gospel. We need to improve our ability to associate the great truths of Scripture to our everyday lives. It is a “we” thing, a group project for the next year and for our lifetime. Let’s encourage each other in our endeavor to make disciples of the nations. We share the good news and observe the Spirit at work in the hearts of people. And then we continue the process of holding forth the gospel for daily living. We want to be characterized by such things. And we want to give God the glory for it.