Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Introduction to Mark

If you weren't in service on Sunday to get a copy of my introduction to Mark handout, here is the digital content. I hope this helps you as begin to study the gospel of Mark with us.

Background Information

Author – historical evidence and the witness of the early church fathers points to John Mark (from Acts 12:12 & Acts 15:36-41), who composed the narrative from his close relationship with the apostle Peter (thus explaining the eye-witness angle in many of the stories). The material would have originally been oral tradition (which Peter and other apostles repeated many times), then compiled by Mark for mass-distribution.

Date - composed sometime between 65 and 70AD, Mark is most likely the earliest of the gospels, which was then used as a source for both the gospel of Matthew and Luke (which share many similar sections).

Audience – the first readers of Mark’s gospel were probably Christians in Rome who were facing renewed waves of persecution from the Roman authorities for their faith in Jesus Christ. The Roman world at that time was primarily pluralistic in its religious orientation (including even the emperor in its list of gods) with a small monotheistic Jewish population centered in historic Palestine. The Roman authorities had grown more hostile to the Christian community by the time of Mark’s writing because of their growth numerically and their resistance to pagan religious practices. This Christian community would have known Greek (the original language of the book of Mark), but would have needed help understanding Jewish customs and Aramaic expressions in the text.

Purpose – writing to a first-century community of persecuted Jesus-followers, Mark seems to write in order to accomplish a few goals: first, he wants the community to know the life and teaching of Jesus whom they follow. Discipleship of Jesus is difficult to do without knowing who Jesus is or what Jesus teaches. Thus, Mark seeks to develop the reader’s Christology, to know the true Jesus. Second, Mark wants the community to understand that discipleship (following the path of Christ) involves the cross and not just the glory. In fact, Mark seems to push farther than that in his narrative – the cross must precede the crown. Finally, Mark’s purpose is to help the reader place themselves in the story in relationship to the major characters – are we most like the authorities, the disciples, the crowd, or like Jesus?

Unique Features – while reading the gospel of Mark, look for the secrecy motif, the lack of understanding from the disciples, the needs of the crowd, the claims & authority of Jesus, and the suffering inherent in discipleship.


Outline (and preaching schedule)

Introduction - Mark 1:1 (06.28.09)

Disciples of Jesus – The Leader We Follow

Jesus’ Call - Mark 1:2-20 (07.05.09)

Jesus’ Authority - Mark 1:21-45 (07.12.09)

Jesus’ Conflict – Mark 2:1-3:6 (07.19.09)

Jesus’ Family – Mark 3:7-35 (07.26.09)

Jesus’ Parables I – Mark 4:1-20 (08.02.09)

Jesus’ Parables II – Mark 4:21-34 (08.09.09)

Jesus’ Identity – Mark 4:35-5:20 (08.16.09)

Jesus’ Power – Mark 5:21-6:6 (08.23.09)

Disciples like Jesus – The Path We Follow

The Call to Die – Mark 6:7-32 (08.30.09)

The Call to Trust – Mark 6:33-56 (09.06.09)

The Call to Purity – Mark 7:1-23 (09.13.09)

The Call to See God – Mark 7:24-8:21 (09.20.09)

The Call to Suffer – Mark 8:22-9:13 (09.27.09)

The Call to Kingdom – Mark 9:14-50 (10.04.09)

The Call to Stewardship – Mark 10:1-31 (10.11.09)

The Call to Sacrificial Love – Mark 10:32-52 (10.18.09)

Disciples from Jesus – The Cost To Follow

The Cost of Fruit – Mark 11:1-26 (10.25.09)

The Cost of Obedience – Mark 11:27-12:27 (11.01.09)

The Cost of Generosity – Mark 12:28-44 (11.08.09)

The Cost of Persecution – Mark 13:1-37 (11.15.09)

The Cost of Betrayal – Mark 14:1-42 (11.22.09)

The Cost of Repentance – Mark 14:43-72 (11.29.09)

The Cost of Injustice – Mark 15:1-20 (12.06.09)

The Cost of Surrender – Mark 15:21-47 (12.13.09)

The Cost of Speaking – Mark 16:1-8 (12.20.09)

Lessons Learned from Mark (12.24.09)


Major Characters

Jesus – the central character of Mark’s gospel is Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1), who is mysterious, powerful, and compassionate. Mark’s portrayal of Jesus is mysterious primarily because Jesus’ parables are not always clear (He has to explain to His followers what they mean) and because He consistently tells people in the story to not share what He has done with others (the secrecy motif mentioned above). Jesus is obviously unique in His power and authority throughout the book of Mark as He encounters and overcomes illness, demons, forces of nature, and opposition forces. Mark’s Jesus is in control from start to finish. Finally, the Jesus of the gospel of Mark is compassionate in his love for his disciples and the crowds. He sees them as sheep without shepherds, heals their infirmities, forgives their sin, and teaches them about the kingdom of God. Of course, finally, He gives up His life for them and as an example of what all who live in the kingdom can expect to endure. Mark’s story ends with a short resurrection narrative, reminding us again that Jesus is unique among all men. Jesus’ identity defines the identity of the disciple – to be His follower, we must first know who He is and what He requires.

Jewish Authorities – the Jewish authorities function as one character in Mark’s gospel (the experts in the law, the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, etc.) because they constantly oppose His work and His teaching. From chapter 2 until the end of the book, Mark portrays the religious leaders as blind and deaf to the work of God through Jesus. He also contrast their “lord-it-over” leadership with Jesus’ “servant” leadership.

The Twelve – Mark describes the twelve primary disciples of Jesus as simply The Twelve. The Twelve in the gospel of Mark are portrayed as both faithful followers of Jesus and also scared, confused, faith-less men. From scene to scene, the disciples go from misunderstanding Jesus to participating in amazing miracles to resisting the mission and death of Jesus. The disciples are not antagonistic (like the authorities) toward Jesus, but they fail to be for Jesus when it really mattered. Mark seems to ask the reader implicitly what kind of disciple he/she will be.

The Crowd – the final reoccurring character in the story is the crowd. People float in and out of the narrative as they listen to Jesus teach, experience miraculous healings, or just watch Him at work. The crowd has surprising amounts of faith in Jesus, but also tends to not stick with Jesus for very long. Mark’s literary use of the crowd is an interesting commentary on many of us who like to observe but fail to commit.



Major Themes

Christology – Who is Jesus?

As mentioned before, Mark primary goal is to introduce the reader (and the listener) to Jesus, the Son of God. As the first written gospel, the book of Mark was created as a lasting record for generations who would want to know the stories of Jesus’ life so that they could understand His identity. The reader today must enter the gospel with the goal of meeting Jesus. Mark is not interested in simply telling a story, but in helping the reader connect with a person. Mark has a high Christology (as evidenced by Mark 1:1), but also wants the reader to be shocked by some of the things that Jesus says and does. The Messiah is not who anyone expected Him to be, including us.

Discipleship – What does it mean to be Jesus’ disciple?

A second theme (that runs closely parallel with the first) is discipleship. The word disciple (which we are using as the series title) means student, apprentice, or follower. In other words, Mark is introducing us to the person and work of Jesus so that we who believe in Him can know what it means to follow after Him. How did He live His life? How did He treat others around Him? How did He relate to God? How did He endure suffering and betrayal? As we study the life of Jesus in more depth, we begin to understand what it looks like to follow His example. The most difficult place to follow Him is to the cross – Jesus’ Way is the way of the cross. The disciple of Jesus understands that the cross comes before the crown.

Suffering & Sovereignty – How do we approach suffering?

The early community of Christ-followers who read the gospel of Mark would have been closely acquainted with suffering and persecution. The church at that time was still the minority in a majority polytheistic culture. How does the disciple of Jesus endure unjust suffering from the hands of unrighteous leaders? Mark reminds his readers that this is Jesus’ story – as His disciples, we should expect the same treatment that He encountered. Mark points us to Jesus’ trust in the sovereign plan of God as one of the keys to experiencing suffering with grace.

The Gospel – What is the good news?

Why does Mark describe his book as good news? What about the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus is good news for its hearers? Mark seeks to explain that Jesus’ advent and work demonstrate to the world that God’s love and presence are real, and that God has not left us alone. Redemption has finally come.


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