“Sir, we would see Jesus.”
That is what a group of Greeks said to the apostle Philip while in
Actually, portrait is an incorrect word to use, because the gospels are more like sketches than they are portraits. None of the four gospels were designed as exhaustive biographies. They are character sketches; intended to be different, intended to present four distinct views of Christ and His work. They are all true. They are all inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), but they each provide the reader with a unique sketch of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Of the four gospel accounts (There are only four notwithstanding the discoveries of the “new” gospels according to Thomas and Judas.) Matthew, Mark, and Luke are more similar to one another than John. They are known as the synoptic gospels. “Synoptic” is a compound Greek word; the two parts mean “see (optic) together (syn)”. They are classified as such because they contain a common approach to Christ’s life while John is more distinctive. For instance, the Synoptics concentrate on Christ’s Galilean ministry while John focuses on His Judean and
It has been estimated that 93% of Mark’s gospel is found within the other Synoptics (Robert Gromacki, New Testament Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974, 54). This should not lead one to believe that the gospels, at least the synoptics, contain useless repetition. “If you’ve read one, you’ve read them all” is an inaccurate statement when applied to the synoptic gospels.
Matthew’s gospel is written with the Jewish reader in mind and its goal is to present Christ as the King. Mark’s sketches Christ as the suffering servant, and his targeted audience was the Roman reader. Luke emphasizes Christ’s humanity, and is crafted to engage the philosophical Greek mind. John’s sketch accentuates the deity of Jesus; there are found the greatest claims for His deity. Thus, each gospel executes a distinct purpose. Each gospel draws an inimitable sketch of Jesus: the King, the Servant, the Man, and the Lord God.
Beginning today, our Sunday mornings will be spent expositing the good news that Mark has supernaturally recorded. As stated earlier, Mark’s sketch was fashioned with the Roman in mind. We know this because Mark virtually ignored the Law, described Palestinian geography (1:5) and Pharisaical practices (2:18), and translated Aramaic expressions (3:17; 5:41; 7:34; 14:36; 15:34). According to Gromacki “Latinisms” are often used (modius for “bushel” in 4:21; census for “tribute” in 12:14; centurio for “centurion” in 15:39, 44-45) when good Greek equivalents were available (Ibid. 97).
Mark is the shortest of the four gospels, and it is the most straightforward. The book launches off with John the Baptist’s ministry. In 1:11 Jesus is baptized, and five verses later He has called His first disciples! The pacing of Mark’s gospel is quick; action rather than teaching is highlighted. The Greek word translated as “immediately” or “straightway” is used 42 times. Compare that with the seven occurrences in Matthew and one in Luke. (R. Kent Hughes, Mark Vol. 1: Jesus, Servant & Savior (Wheaton: Crossway, 1989), 15.)
Kent Hughes writes in his commentary:
Christ is all action in Mark! Mark used the historical present tense 150 times. Jesus comes, Jesus says, and Jesus heals – all in the present tense. There are more miracles recorded in Mark than in the other Gospels, despite its being far shorter. Everything is in vivid “Eyewitness Newsbriefs,” brilliantly vivid and fast-moving.
Mark is dramatically fast-paced because he provides griping details that Matthew and Luke omit. Mark’s dramatic details don’t dawdle they deliver! Compare…
- Jesus Hungry & Hunted Mark 3:20-21 – Only Mark records this occassion.
- Jesus Calms the Sea Mark 4:35-41; Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-25
- Jesus Heals the Demoniac Mark 5:2-6; Matthew 8:28-29; Luke 8:27-29
- Jesus Heals the Blind Bethsaidan Mark 8:22-26
- Jesus in the Garden Mark 14:51 – John Mark’s cameo appearance.
As one author has noted, “Mark’s…structure is clear, and his style is engaging – all of which makes his Gospel a good one to use for evangelism. It is a great book for introducing the gospel and Jesus to non-Christians.” (Mark Dever, Promises Kept: the Message of the New Testament (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 64.)
Christians have much to gain from reading and studying Mark as well. Consider the man who was inspired by God to pen this gospel account. His full name was John Mark; John was his given Jewish name and Mark his Latin surname (Acts 12:12). He came from a family that was prominent in the early church. Peter’s first visit following his miraculous jailbreak was to Mary’s house. There are many Mary’s in scripture, but this particular Mary was the mother of John Mark. At this house many of the first church were gathered in prayer, and the joyfully absent-minded Rhoda worked as a housekeeper (Acts 12:13-14). Barnabas was Mark’s uncle (Colossians 4:10), and the apostle Peter was Mark’s spiritual father (1 Peter 5:13).
John Mark’s public ministry began when he accompanied his uncle and the apostle Paul on their first missionary journey. He started well, but ended poorly; proving himself to be an unfaithful servant who started but did not finish his task. There was eventually a rift between Paul and Barnabas over Mark. Barnabas wanted to take Mark on the second missionary trip. Paul said no, and since neither Barnabas nor Paul would change they went separate ways.
Mark was reconciled to Paul before the end. In Colossians 4:10 Paul described Mark as a “fellow worker” and “a comfort unto me”. In Philemon 24 Paul again refers to Mark as a “fellow laborer”. And in his second letter to Timothy, Paul makes it clear that Mark is “profitable…for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).
I find it interesting that while Mark had originally failed as a servant, he was chosen by God and inspired by God to pen the gospel account which draws Jesus as the suffering servant. The key verse in Mark is 10:45, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” This key verse also serves as a broad outline. Mark’s sketch of Jesus has two main parts. First we see the work of a servant (1 – 8:30). Next we see the work of the Savior (8:31 – 16).
Jesus the Servant
Genealogies are found in Matthew and Luke but not Mark. That’s perfectly understandable. No one cares about the servant’s genealogy. Servants also have no authority, but Jesus, as you might expect, was not an ordinary servant. People were repeatedly astonished by this Man’s authority.This Servant Taught with Authority
- Mark 1:22 – “And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.”
- Mark 1:27 – “And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, what thing is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him.”
- Mark 3:15 – “And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils.”
- Mark 6:7 – “And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits.”
- Mark 2:5-11 – “…Son, thy sins be forgiven thee… that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins.”
Who has, or has ever had, this kind of authority? Only God has this kind of authority.
Jesus the Savior
Jesus did not come to be served but to serve, and His ultimate service to us was to willingly go to the cross as the only acceptable sacrifice for our sins. The first eight words of Mark’s gospel are, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ”. “Gospel” means “good news”, and the good news of which Mark speaks is this “The son of man came…to give his life a ransom for many.” Jesus was God come in the flesh, rejected by His people, yet freely offering Himself as a willing sacrifice for all those who would repent of their sins and believe in Him.
Jesus was the suffering Savior. He taught His disciples “It is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought” (Mark 9:12b). The scripture to which Christ referred is Isaiah 53:3, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
Remember, the transition point of this gospel is 8:31, and that is the point at which Christ began to instruct His followers that His ministry would end on the cross: “And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
This instruction was repeated in 9:31, “For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day.” And again in 10:32b-34, “And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him, Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again.”
It is notable that the religious elites did not recognize Jesus for who He was despite the fact that He taught with the authority that could only come from God, demonstrated the authority over death, disease, and demons that could also only be derived from God. Despite the evidence these stiff-necked religious hypocrites refused to believe.
What is more surprising: the religious right’s rejection of Christ or the confusion of Christ’s own followers? The Pharisees knew who Jesus was claiming to be, and they rejected His claim. But the disciples were just plain confused. When Peter first heard Christ teach about the cross Mark tells us that “Peter took him, and began to rebuke him” (8:32). Peter was rebuked for his rebuke: “Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” (v. 33)
The cross is why Christ cam, and to oppose the cross was and is to oppose God.
When next Jesus teaches about the cross, the disciples are still confused. Mark says in 9:32a “But they understood not that saying…” but after hearing Jesus call Peter “Satan” they are all afraid to speak up, “…and were afraid to ask him” (v. 32b).
The disciples are still slow to apprehend Christ’s teaching in chapter 10, just after His third block of “cross instruction”, the brothers James and John promptly and privately made an outrageous request which revealed their ignorance: “Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire…Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.” (10:35, 37) Matthew even tells us that they had their mommy do the talking! (Matthew 20:20-21)
It was this private discussion which led to the public dispute (v. 41) which prompted Jesus to declare what would become the key verse of this book. “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (vv. 42b-45).
“Jesus came to serve by being crushed. He came to give his life as a ransom by becoming a guilt offering and by bearing their iniquities” (Ibid., 74). May we see ourselves for who we are – sinners in desperate need of a Savior – and Jesus for who He is – the Savior for whom we are in desperate need.
Let us also bear in mind that the Savior came to serve, not be served. May this astounding truth sink deep into our ears, and let this mind be in us which was also in Christ Jesus.