A Ransom for Many: Introduction to Mark's Gospel
Mark 1 - 16
Introduction: Jesus sat down one day, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9.35). The first being last is a concept that doesn't really seem to sink in for many people in the world today.
The iPhone came out in late June, 2007. It cost $599. Ten weeks later the price went down a third to $399. Some who purchased the phone when it first came out were pretty upset; others would have paid any price to be the first to own new technology like the iPhone.
“If they told me at the outset the iPhone would be $200 cheaper the next day,” one customer explained, “I would have thought about it for a second and still bought it. It was $600, and that was the price I was willing to pay for it.”
Despite the fact that electronics often become more reliable in the second and third generations and retail prices for technology always decrease with time, those who want to be first are undeterred by the risks. The pleasure of owning a rare product far outweighs the financial sacrifice. In the words of one satisfied iPhone owner, “Even if it works one day, it's worth it.”
May Wong, “Many iPhone owners relish being first,” www.news.yahoo.com (9-7-07)
This morning we begin a series of sermons that examines Mark’s portrait of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Suffering Servant. Isaiah wrote that the Suffering Servant “was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isa 53.5). We are astonished at a further pronouncement from the prophet: “…It pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand” (53.10).
The Lord Jesus did not come to be first. The theme of Mark is concisely summarized in chapter 10 and verse 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.”
We will go through this Gospel verse by verse on Sunday mornings. However, this morning, we are taking an opportunity to consider some introductory aspects of the book that will help anchor our thoughts on who Jesus is according to Mark.
It may not surprise you to learn that some scholars do not have a high opinion of Mark. One scoffed at Mark’s literary achievement: “The point is settled: the author of Mark was a clumsy writer unworthy of mention in any history of literature” (PNTC, 2; FN1; E. Trocmé, The Formation of the Gospel According to Mark, P. Gaughan (London: SPCK, 1975), 72). Augustine typifies not only the judgment of the fathers before him but also that of the succeeding centuries until the age of the Enlightenment when he wrote, “Mark imitated Matthew like a lackey and is regarded as his abbreviator” (PNTC, 2).
The Author of the Gospel of Mark
But who was Mark? A survey of the NT helps us find out the following about him:
· His mother’s name was Mary (Acts 12.12). He had a Jewish name which was John and a Greek name, Mark. He is at times called John-Mark in the Scriptures. Mary, his mother, owned a house in Jerusalem. Peter was arrested after the martyrdom of James the apostle. The early church was very concerned that Peter would be next so many gathered in Mary’s home to pray for his deliverance. This indicates the house was fairly large. It also had a gated entryway. It is possible that Rhoda, the girl who answered the door when Peter knocked, may have been a servant-girl of Mary. We learn from this that Mark grew up in a wealthy family.
· Mark accompanied Barnabas and Saul on their journey from Jerusalem to the church at Antioch-Syria. From here, they departed for their first missionary journey (Acts 12.25). So, Mark was dedicated to the work of missions and serving the apostles.
· In Acts 15.36-41, Paul desired to visit the churches established during the first missionary journey. Barnabas was determined to bring Mark, but Paul did not want to take him due to the fact that he had left them during that first journey. A sharp contention between Barnabas and Paul developed. Barnabas and Mark left for Cyprus and Paul joined Silas. Barnabas saw enough in Mark that he thought his service for the Lord was invaluable.
o Mark more than likely provided arrangements for travel, food, lodging, and conveying messages.
o Acts 13.5 identifies Mark as an assistant. The Greek word actually means “one who acts under the orders of another to carry out his will.”
o Mark may have left Paul and Barnabas for a good reason. We’re not told. Paul seems to view it as desertion, but Barnabas did not.
o At any rate, Paul changes his view of Mark. Colossians 4.10 records that Paul wanted Mark to be welcomed by the Colossian believers. Philemon 24 states that Mark was with Paul during his imprisonment. 2 Timothy 4.11 (recorded just before the end of Paul’s earthly life) fortifies Paul’s change of heart toward Mark by calling him useful for ministry. Paul desired that Mark be with him. Why? Because Mark was a servant. Who better to write about the Suffering Servant!
· Another important passage is 1 Peter 5.13. Here, Peter refers to Mark as his son when he greets the churches in Rome. Obviously, Peter had been a mentor and Mark the protégée – similar to Paul’s Timothy. Perhaps Peter was even a second father to Mark. As a matter of fact, many believe that Mark’s Gospel is actually Peter’s Gospel.
The Influence of Peter in Mark’s Gospel
The Gospel According to Mark is a title given by the early church. It is traditional not inspired. There is not explicit internal evidence as to who wrote it and when it was written. An early church father named Papias gave testimony to Peter’s influence upon Mark. It has been preserved by Eusebius:
Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said or done by the Lord. For Mark had not heard the Lord, nor had he followed him, but later on, as I said, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them. (PNTC, 3)
Note that Mark was not an apostle, but a faithful interpreter of the Apostle Peter’s testimony.
The reference to Peter “teaching as necessity demanded” is elaborated in a further testimony of Eusebius, the substance of which he attributes to the late-second-century church father, Clement of Alexandria:
When Peter had publicly preached the word at Rome, and by the Spirit had proclaimed the Gospel, that those present, who were many, exhorted Mark, as one who had followed [Peter] for a long time and remembered what had been spoken, to make a record of what was said; and that he did this, and distributed the Gospel among those that asked him. (PNTC, 4)
Dating and Audience of Mark
External evidence seems to point to the fact that Mark was written near the end of Peter’s life or shortly thereafter. Church tradition reports that Peter died near the end of Nero’s reign in 68 AD. It seems Mark must have been written in the mid to late 60s of the first century.
Mark’s audience seems to be Roman Gentiles. His infrequent quotes from the OT, explanations of Jewish customs, translations of Hebrew and Aramaic phrases into Greek, his inclusion of Latin elements, and his neutral stance on Rome indicate that he was writing to Romans.
Literary Features in Mark
Mark writes concisely and clearly in common language. He uses connectives such as ‘and’ to keep the pace of his Gospel quick. For musicians, Mark’s narrative is an allegro narrative of the life of Christ. It is a fast-paced, vivid account of the life of Christ. The Greek adverb euthus, translated mainly as immediately, occurs 40 times in this short Gospel. Note this passage in chapter one:
Mark 1:18 (NKJV) — 18 They immediately left their nets and followed Him.
Mark 1:20–21 (NKJV) — 20 And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him. 21 Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught.
The vividness of Mark is best demonstrated by several short readings from the Gospel:
Mark 5:2–6 (NKJV) — 2 And when [Jesus] had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, 3 who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, 4 because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. 5 And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones. 6 When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him.
Mark 6:30–34 (NKJV) — 30 Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. 31 And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. 32 So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves. 33 But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him. 34 And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things.
Mark 8:22–26 (NKJV) — 22 Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. 23 So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. 24 And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.” 25 Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. 26 Then He sent him away to his house, saying, “Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town.”
Mark 14:50–52 (NKJV) — 50 Then they all forsook Him and fled. 51 Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body. And the young men laid hold of him, 52 and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked.
A unique literary device in Mark is his sandwich technique:
1. The Lord’s own people (certainly a reference to friends and relatives) sought to lay hold of Him thinking He was out of His mind; the Lord confronts the scribes’ accusation that Jesus cast out demons through the power of Satan; when the Lord’s own people get to him, Jesus asks, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” (Mark 3.20ff.)
2. The Lord relates the Parable of the Soils; the explanation for the purpose of parables is given; then, the Lord interprets the Parable of the Soils (4.1-20).
3. Jairus begs Jesus to heal his daughter; the woman with a hemorrhage interrupts Jesus en route to Jairus’ house; Mark resumes the story of Jairus (5.21 ff.).
4. Jesus sends out the 12 two by two; John the Baptist is murdered; the 12 return (6.7-30).
5. Jesus curses the fig tree; He cleanses the Temple; He explains the fig tree’s curse (11.12-21).
6. The Jewish leaders plot to kill Jesus; Mary anoints Jesus; the Jewish leaders hook up with Judas (14.1-11).
7. Jesus predicts Judas’ betrayal; Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper; Jesus predicts Peter’s denial (14.17-31).
8. Peter follows Jesus at a distance; Jesus stands trial before the high priest and is condemned; Peter denies Jesus (14.53-72).
9. The women look upon Jesus from afar as He died; Jesus is buried; the women see an angel who gives them the news of Jesus resurrection (15.40-16.8).
Mark uses irony in a very effective manner. Three major examples:
1. The religious and moral leaders should have known better and received their Messiah. The irony is that a Gentile woman is commended for her faith.
2. The disciples of Jesus see His mission gradually and with great difficulty. The irony is that a blind man named Bartimaeus responds to Jesus immediately and with a keen sense of understanding.
3. Jesus restores lepers and the demon-possessed – those alienated by Jews. The irony is that He himself is alienated by the Jews.
Jesus in Mark
Jesus is included in every pericope or section of Mark except two (1.2-8; 6.14-19 – these are both about John the Baptist). Jesus is a man of action in Mark. He is also a man of human emotions. Sorrow (14.34), disappointment (8.12), displeasure (10.14), anger (11.15-17), amazement (6.6), fatigue (4.38), and even one who does not know something (13.32) all highlight His humanity.
“Except for the name ‘Jesus,’ the title ‘Son of Man’ is the most frequent phrase used to refer to Jesus in Mark” (Dever, 70). The title certainly points up the humanity of Jesus, but He was more than human. Mark 12.36 is a quotation of Psalm 110.1. Mark 14.62 refers to the same Psalm. Psalm 80.17 and 144.3 also were most certainly in the mind of Jesus during His earthly life. A comparison of Hebrews 2.6 with Psalm 8.4 indicates that Jesus was more than a man and certainly greater than David. He was God’s special messenger.
This parallels with the ministry of the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel is referred to by God as the son of man over 90 times. It is not difficult to recognize the following parallels:
· Both began their ministries at 30
· Both were messengers of God
· Both found people to be unresponsive
· Both delivered their message anyway
· Both brought a message of judgment to come
· Both sacrificed and suffered great personal lost (an understatement when referring to Jesus)
· Both delivered a message of redemption
The Jews at the time of Christ thought that the title ‘Son of Man’ referred to Messiah (see John 12.34). When Jesus calls Himself the Son of Man, He is calling Himself the Messiah. As the Son of Man, Jesus came with authority (1.22) and suffered (9.12). He will come again to judge (cp. Dan 7.13-14 w/ Mk 8.38; 13.26; 14.62).
Jesus is a man of unusual authority. His opponents are angered while His followers are awed. He calls 12 apostles to Himself, redefines family relationships as those doing the will of God rather than blood lineage, and even redefines the OT Law. Jesus lays claim to prerogatives that could only belong to God. He cures illness, calms a storm, walks on water, binds Satan, forgives sin, and replaces the veil of the temple.
Jesus appears at the beginning and end of the Gospel as the Son of God (1.1; 15.39). God the Father refers to His beloved Son twice. Once at His baptism (1.11) and another time at His transfiguration (9.7). The demons recognize Him as the Son of God (1.24; 3.11; 5.7). He is also the rejected Son in a key parable of Mark (12.1-12).
Mark records how people responded to Jesus. There were those who believed His words. They tended to be those considered as outcasts in that society. People like Gentiles, women, and the deaf and blind. A second group referred to as the disciples of Jesus tended to be uncertain about Jesus’ identity (4.13, 40; 6.37, 52; 8.14-21). A third group vociferously opposed Jesus. These were mostly religious leaders in Jerusalem (e.g., Sabbath day controversies). [Dever, 65-68]
During the first half of Mark’s Gospel, scholars have pointed out several occurrences during which Jesus seemed to be hiding His true identity. This is referred to as “the Messianic secret.” See 1.25, 34, 44; 3.12; 4.11-12; 5.39-43; 7.36; 8.26, 30; 9.30-31. The reason for this seems clear. Jesus formed a teaching strategy that would allow time with his disciples first before being thronged by the crowds (Dever 68, 69).
A Ransom for Many
Conclusion: Who is Jesus in the Gospel of Mark? More than anything, Jesus is a ransom for sin. He became a guilt offering and carried our sins upon Himself (cp. Mark 1.1 w/ Isa 53.3-6 and 10.45 w/ 53.10-11).
Next week, Lord willing, we will read the first verse of chapter one and begin our look at Jesus in the Gospel of Mark:
Mark 1:1 (NKJV) — 1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
But this beginning is unexpected:
Isaiah 53:3–6 (NKJV) — 3 He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
Remember why Jesus came over 2,000 years ago:
Mark 10:45 (NKJV) — 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.
That is why we read the following in Isaiah:
Isaiah 53:10–11 (NKJV) — 10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. 11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.
Do you see it? It pleased the Father to bruise the Son. Why? Because in so doing, Jesus finished the will of the Father and justified many by bearing their iniquities. You can fully understand this only by coming to repentance. Repentance brings hope this morning, even as it did with the Apostle Peter.
Even though Peter was the first to recognize that Jesus was the Messiah, he was also called Satan-incarnate at the time he tried to rebuke the Lord (8.32-33). When Jesus said that all would desert Him, Peter basically said, “Not me!” Yet, all did desert Jesus, including Peter (14.50).
Peter not only deserted Jesus, he denied His Lord (14.68, 71). But Peter wept (14.72), a sign of true repentance. Godly sorrow brings hope for change; it brings deliverance from sin – all because of the fact that Jesus was a ransom for you!
Hymn: Man of Sorrows (127)
 The Message of the New Testament, Mark Dever, pp. 62-64.