Mark; The Work of the Servant
Key Text: 10:45
Mark’s Place as the Author Assured
As with Matthew, there is nowhere within this, the briefest of the Gospel records, which confirms that Mark indeed was the author. Likewise, however, as with Matthew there has been no dispute over the authorship since the earliest days of the Christian Church. An important witness is Papias of Hierapolis. Born between 50AD and 60AD he may have known apostles (some believe the John whom he served was the Apostle John) but he almost certainly was acquainted with first generation Christians. Writing about the Gospel in question he recorded this fact, “Mark, on the one hand being an interpreter of Peter, wrote accurately as many things as he remembered, yet not in order, the things which were either said or done by the Lord.” He was Peter’s interpreter in the sense that Peter needed someone to convert his words from the Aramaic of his birth to the Greek language in which the epistle was penned. It was the unity between Peter and Mark that convinced the Church from the very beginning that this work had apostolic sanction and was therefore the inspired Word of God.
Meet the Author
Of all the Gospel writers Mark is the most surprising and therefore the most interesting choice.
The Facts about Mark which are Beyond Question:
A Mark was his surname, his Christian name being John.
B His mother’s house was used for prayer when Peter was cast into prison. She was without a doubt a woman of means who supported Jesus in his earthly ministry. This brought her son into contact with the Lord and all of the Apostles (Acts 12:12)
C His mother was Barnabas’s sister (Colossians 4:10).
D He accompanied Barnabas and Paul on the first missionary journey. He probably accompanied them as a servant caring for their practical needs, freeing the preachers to study and evangelise. Unfortunately he abandoned the enterprise, which left a rather sour taste in Paul’s mouth and eventually led to the breaking up of the first missionary partnership in history (Acts 15:37-39).
D At a much later stage in the narrative of the early church Mark reappears as a companion of Peter (1 Peter 5:13). It is most likely, and this was the view of the post apostolic writers, that Babylon was a pseudonym for Rome, on account of the depravity of the place. There was certainly no place with that name in the world of the New Testament.
E When Paul was imprisoned in Rome and writing to Philemon and the Colossians Mark was with him (Philemon v24, Colossians 4:10). This indicates that the two men had now been reconciled, although Barnabas disappears completely from the narrative of the New Testament.
Mark therefore is presented as one who was always around the leaders of Christendom. He was a man with flaws but he overcome them to be a faithful servant. He is an encouragement for believers discouraged by their own weaknesses.
“Who, then, was Mark? Not a great leader but rather a follower, not a master-builder but a helper, not flawless but one who fought against and overcame his weakness, not a stay-at-home but a great traveller, not pre-eminently a man of quiet contemplation but a man of action, one who delighted to picture Christ in action for the salvation of sinners for the glory of God” (William Hendrickson)
The People for Whom Mark Wrote
That Mark wrote an account of Christ’s life in Greek for the benefit of the Romans Christians with whom he so familiar. This account was principally the presentation of Peter’s preaching to the Romans in a written form, and so preserved for antiquity. Quite apart from the New Testament detail that Mark (and Peter) was familiar to the Roman Christians, there are clues within the narrative that Mark was interpreting the words and thoughts of one whose natural and most comfortable mode of speaking was in Aramaic.
Mark explains Aramaic phrases giving their meaning to a Greek audience to whom these words were foreign (boanerges, 3:17, talitha cumi , 5:41, corban, 7:11, ephphatha, 7:34, Abba, 14:36). Furthermore Mark at times explains Jewish customs for the benefit of his readership such as the preparation being the day before the sabbath (15:42). Also, Mark had the habit of converting Greek words into Latin, which must have been particularly helpful for the Romans. Therefore the widows two mites were a “farthing which was a Roman coin, the quadran (12:42). Of particular interest is the hall where Jesus was led to, Praetorium, this was the Roman Governor’s official residence (15:16).
In addition to these fascinating details Mark takes time to name the sons of Simon of Cyrene, Alexander and Rufus. Why? Because they were well known to the Christians at Rome (Romans 16:13).
As with the other books in our English Bible the title is one given by the translators and is perfectly agreeable with our understanding of the authorship of this Gospel. Mark, however, penned his own unique Holy Ghost inspired heading; “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” How do we understand the word “beginning as it is employed here? It could mean that Mark was simply beginning his story of Christ’s ministry. Alternatively he may be stating that the ministry of Christ marks the true beginning of the New Testament Church. One is a limited narrow view while the other looks at the word from a broader New Testament perspective. The fact that Mark commences his Gospel with the introduction of the Lord by John the Baptist would indicate that it is the beginning of His New Testament ministry which is in view here. We normally consider John to be the Gospel which emphasises the deity of Christ. While that is true we must remember that all the writers had a clear appreciation as to the identity of Jesus Christ. Mark is crystal clear from the outset as he describes Jesus Christ as “the Son of God.”
The Missionary Gospel
Mark presents Christ as the busy worker, as the missionary evangelising and labouring for the masses. His favourite word is translated “immediately” or “straightway”. Christ was the one who had so many demands pressing upon his time throughout those brief years of public service. The 1st Chapter perfectly illustrates this truth..He commenced his ministry by calling the four fishermen walking by seashore looking for them (v16-20). Going to the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath he caused quite a stir by his exorcism of the unclean spirit which possessed a man who interrupted proceedings (v21-28). Afterwards he entered the home of Simon Peter where he healed his mother-in-law (v29-30). By sunset the house was beset by multitudes who brought the sick and those possessed by devils and the Lord worked to help everyone (v32-34). In the morning he was up before dawn for prayer (v35). When Simon and the others eventually found him they informed him that many were seeking for him. He told them he had other towns to reach into and so he travelled throughout Galilee ministering to the the people (v36-39). Therefore the scene is set for the Great Galilean Ministry which occupies so much space in Mark’s Gospel because it took up the majority of Christ’s public service. He certainly is the greatest example of a servant of God.
Mark was also the Missionary Gospel in that he related those aspects of Christ’s life which the Apostles concentrated on in their evangelistic preaching. While the virgin birth of our Lord is a vital doctrine the Apostles in their ministry did not initially proclaim that truth. They preached the life of Christ, his notable miracles, his death and resurrection. This is especially evident when Peter proclaimed in the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:22-36). The miracles were the indisputable evidence that Jesus was the Son of God. These were the signs that he was who he claimed to be. Therefore it was vital that these public performances of power should be emphasised primarily. Other truths such as the virgin birth were taught later as men and women grasped the truth of the Christ’s public service, his death and resurrection. Therefore Mark was presenting an account of Peter’s preaching and evangelism. Teaching the facts of Christ’s life are central to the Gospel. This Gospel therefore had an evangelistic goal from the outset.
1:1-13 Christ’s Introduction
1:14-10:52 Christ’s Three Years of Public Ministry
A Galilean Ministry 1:14-7:23
B Christ’s Ministry Beyond Galilee 7:24-10
10-15 The Week of Christ’s Passion
16 The Resurrection and Great Commission