2009-06-28 (am) Mk. 1:1-8 What’s A Gospel?
Alistair Begg has a sermon series on the Gospel of Mark called, “They Just Don’t Get It, Do We?” For the next while, we’re going to spend some time with Mark’s gospel, in order to learn more about Jesus Christ, and about ourselves, and as we learn, we’ll see the ways in which the disciples didn’t get it, didn’t understand Jesus, but we’ll also see how very similar we are to those disciples.
This morning, we’re going to learn a bit about Mark, who he was and how he came to write this book, this gospel. Then we’ll look at the genre of a gospel, what’s unique about this kind of book. And finally, we’ll look at the theme of Mark’s gospel, his purpose for writing this book, as we’ll see in our passage this morning.
So, who was Mark? Today, there are all kinds of ideas and suppositions. For our purposes, we’ll simply say that Mark was the John Mark that we read about in Acts.
So who was this guy? What did he do? Who did he hang out with?
John Mark was a young man, who had some experiences with Jesus and the twelve before Jesus’ death and resurrection, and most certainly after Jesus ascended into heaven. In fact, tradition holds that John Mark’s parents provided the room for the Last Supper.
Tradition also identifies Mark as being in the garden when Jesus was arrested. Let’s take a trip back in time, and see how things might have taken place.
Jesus sent some of his disciples to find a place for them to share the Passover meal together.
It went just as Jesus told them. When they entered the city, they saw a man carrying a jar of water. They followed him to a house, knocked on the door, and said to the owner, “The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples.” The man immediately showed them a large upper room, furnished and everything. They made their preparations there and before long, the meal was ready.
Mark, for it was his house, after celebrating the Passover with his family, and ready for bed, snuck out of his room so that he could listen in on what was happening in that large upper room.
We know what he heard, don’t we? The words we heard this morning, he heard as they were spoken for the first time: “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” And a bit later, he heard: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
Then, when Jesus and the disciples were leaving, while his parents were distracted receiving thanks for their hospitality, Mark snuck out of the house, ready to follow Jesus and his disciples. He knew something important was going to happen. Mark was in such a hurry; he didn’t even realize that he was only in his pyjamas!
Keeping his distance, Mark followed them down the hill, past the Temple mount, down into the Kidron Valley, up the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane. Hiding behind a tree, Mark watched as Jesus talked to the disciples, then, he couldn’t really be sure, it looked like he took Peter, James and John with him, away from the others. Even from where he was, Mark could tell that Jesus was greatly troubled. As Jesus prayed in agony, the night seemed to get blacker and colder.
Jesus was praying for a long time. He went back to his disciples several times. They didn’t seem to grasp the gravity of the situation. But the third time Jesus went to his disciples, Mark heard a commotion outside the garden. He saw Judas! And there was a crowd of people with him. They were armed with clubs and swords!
Judas walked right up to Jesus and kissed him. Then one of the disciples, maybe it was Peter, drew his sword and cut the ear off one of the people with Judas. Jesus healed his ear, said something to Judas and those with him, and then, willingly went with them.
The rest of the disciples scattered, and the crowd ran after them. Some of them ran right at Mark, and one of the crowd tried to grab him. All he got was his pyjama, so Mark made his escape by slipping out of it, and he ran home naked!
Later, after Jesus’ resurrection, after his ascension into heaven, after the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, Mark became a follower, a disciple of Christ. He went with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, but he deserted them and left the ministry in Pamphylia. Later, though, Mark proved his mettle, he frequently accompanied Paul, and was very helpful to him. He also spent a lot of time with Peter, and he wrote down everything he could learn from him. In fact, this gospel is what Peter and the other apostles taught him.
But what is a gospel? What kind of genre is it?
Genre is the style of writing. A newspaper has several kinds of genres in it. You have the news, which are reports of events that have taken place all over. Usually, they are eyewitness accounts. But a newspaper also has opinion pieces, where a famous person will give his or her opinion on such things like the job the Prime Minister is doing in parliament. Another genre is the comics.
Now, we don’t read the comics the same way we read the news, right? Nor do we read fiction novels in the same way we read non-fiction stories. So, knowing the genre of a book helps you understand it.
What genre is this book called Mark? Is it a novel? Is it fiction or non-fiction? Is it news or opinion? Is it comical? Is it biography?
Well, it is not a novel, and it is not fiction. It is news, but there are opinions added. There are even some pretty outlandish things in there, like it being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, you know the part the thread goes through, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Pretty much impossible, isn’t it? But with God, all things are possible, thus I suppose, God could get a camel through an eye of a needle. I reckon it’d hurt just a bit!
In some ways, a gospel is like a biography. It tells the history of an individual. But this biography is kind of weird. Mark doesn’t tell us anything about Jesus’ birth, his parents, his family, where he was born. It says “the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, but it doesn’t start at the beginning of Jesus’ life! And then, it doesn’t even start with Jesus, it starts by describing John the Baptist!
So, this isn’t really a biography, though it does tell us a lot about Jesus, but it is really much more like a Reader’s Digest condensed version, that starts with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and ends with his resurrection.
It’s a strange book, isn’t it?
So, if it isn’t biography, is it just an historical book? Well, as I’ve mentioned already, it has some colour commentary thrown in, so it isn’t really history as we’d define it. Also, it isn’t necessarily chronological, as we get to hear the events of John the Baptist’s life as through a flashback.
So, what is it? Because so much came from Peter, and because it is more than just a retelling of events the best way to describe it is to call it preached history. In seminary, perhaps to make it sound even more impressive, they call it kerygmatic history, preached history, not a history of preaching.
Mark had a plan in writing this book. He had a purpose for writing it, and he wrote his book carefully, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, with his readers in mind.
And that leads us nicely into our third point, Mark’s theme or reason for writing this book.
The English Standard Version Study Bible’s introductory comments on the gospel of Mark lay out the purpose and theme like this, “The ultimate purpose and theme of Mark is to present and defend Jesus' universal call to discipleship.” During the telling of the story, two camps emerge followers of Jesus and opponents of Jesus. In calling people to discipleship, Mark narrates Jesus identity and teaching.
What is discipleship? It is a relationship with Jesus, not merely following a code of conduct. The heart of a Christian is fellowship with Christ—trusting, confessing, imitating and following—all are shaped by the relationship. But discipleship, a relationship with Jesus has consequences. It means that believers will become ready to face the same kind of rejection that Jesus faced.
Jesus’ ministry wasn’t easy. Yes, he had his followers, but they weren’t always so great. Peter rebuked him. The disciples fought over who was greatest. Two asked to have the privilege of sitting on either side of Jesus in heaven. They all abandoned him, one betrayed him. And those were the ones closest to him. His opponents fought him at every turn. They plotted against him, tried to trick him, tried to stump him, and turned the people against him.
Have you felt some of this already? Have you felt opposition from people because you’re a Christian? Have you boldly told the truth, and then suffered from ridicule and mean words? Or have you given into your fears, and so said nothing when asked if you’re a Christian? Have you struggled with trying to tell others about the gospel? Have you chosen to remain silent in class, when the teacher mocked your faith in Jesus?
Being a disciple is hard. But it is not in vain. What we believe in is truth, consider how Mark opens his gospel:
Jesus is the Son of God. There have been false messiahs in the past. But this one is the real deal. You can trust this one. This one came from heaven. Mark has carefully written his gospel with the purpose of proving that Jesus is the messiah. Over the next while, we’ll see proof after proof that Jesus really is the Son of God.
Many people had trouble believing the disciples, so Mark set out to give the best proof possible, to answer the critic’s questions, to present Jesus as he really is, through Peter’s eyewitness recollections, passed down to Mark.
So, in reality, what we have before us is pretty much what it was like for Mark. He got to hear story after story of Jesus, as Peter went around preaching about him. Then, especially, when Peter was in Rome, Mark got to hear Peter’s sermons about Jesus.
In fact, as we read Mark’s book, it’s like hearing Peter preach.
So, you’re probably asking yourself, “How do we know that this guy is the real messiah? How do we know that he’s not just some crack pot?
Well, how many false messiahs got their start in ministry by having some other guy get the ball rolling?
That’s what happened with Jesus. John the Baptist came before him, fulfilling the prophecy made by Isaiah and Malachi. Malachi said, ““I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” (Mal 3.1). That’s John the Baptist.
Then Isaiah describes the kind of ministry that the forerunner will have. John would be “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’” (Isa. 40.3).
And that’s precisely what John did, he called out in the desert, in the land east of the Jordan River, John called people to repent, to seek forgiveness for their sins, and to be cleansed through baptism.
In this way, John functioned very much like the prophet Isaiah himself. He too called people to repent. Isaiah warned the Israelites, that unless they repented, they would not be spared from destruction and exile.
John came in the same way, calling people to turn from their false gods, their worthless religion, and to turn to the one true God. And if they turned, they would see the glory of God, that is, the salvation of God.
And who should show up? Jesus, he whose name means salvation. He who came to seek and save the lost.
John’s call is just as needed today as it was then.
Maybe you’re here this morning and you’ve never really heard the call to repent. Maybe you’re not even sure if what you’ve been doing is wrong. Maybe you’re still not sure about this Jesus guy. Stick around, come again, and learn more about him.
But maybe you’ve heard John’s words this morning, and they’ve cut you to the quick. You know that you’ve been living for yourself, or for false gods, or money, or family, or for friends, for anything but for Christ. Whatever your situation, John’s call is the same. Come, get the bumps and lumps, and rough patches out of your heart. Humble yourself, swallow your pride, open your heart to the Saviour! Confess your sin, and receive your saviour, and Jesus will baptise you with the Holy Spirit! Amen.