This is the eleventh day, and the eleventh post, in our ninety-day reading of the New Testament. Today’s reading is Mark 1 through Mark 3. Thank you for joining me in this amazing journey.
The gospel of Mark is the shortest and the earliest written of the four gospels. It is widely accepted, based upon the writings of the church fathers in the early second century, that Mark was a companion of the apostle Peter, who wrote Peter’s testimony after Peter’s death. That testimony may, in fact, be this gospel. (Irenaeus and Eusebius both assert this claim.)
It is also believed, through a detailed examination of the text, that Mark was probably an educated man, writing this gospel to a group of Gentile Christians, maybe even those who lived in Rome, who had never converted to Judaism, or had any expertise with Judaism at all. (For greater detail here, check out Ben Witherington’s book The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary.)
The Gospel of Mark, too, is probably written as an ancient biography, with the passion of Jesus gaining the most prominence in the book. Almost twenty percent of this gospel is about the arrest, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
It’s important to know these sorts of things, though, because it helps us get a clearer picture of what the gospel intended to say. There are generous amounts of historical information, and it may help you to do some of this kind of research.
Anyway, the gospel starts with a bang.
The introduction Mark gives is frank and to the point, and includes the only Old Testament reference given by Mark in the entire gospel. (All other OT references found in Mark come from Jesus.) This should give us an idea that Mark probably isn’t writing to a Jewish audience, or, at least, isn’t writing to people familiar with the Hebrew scriptures. For him, it is enough to say that the Jewish faith pronounced and prophesied something special. And something threatening.
Here is Mark 1:2 …
It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”—
Here is the original quote, found in Malachi 3:1, and the following verses …
“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord,as in days gone by, as in former years.
“So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.
Malachi, which is the final book in the Old Testament, gives a prophecy of a messenger, who will pronounce the coming of the Lord. Yet, when the Lord comes, he comes in judgment, and the day of his coming will be difficult to even endure. Mark has some skill with the Hebrew text, and he knew full well what followed Malachi 3:1. It was a bit ominous. And it wasn’t pretty.
So Mark uses this passage to begin his gospel with an image of Jesus as a man of action.
And, ultimately, a martyr.
The road to being a hero for Jesus begins at his baptism, in Mark 1, and what happens there was meant only for him. Mark writes that Jesus saw heaven open to release the dove, and only he heard the voice of God.
Following this moment, in 1:12, Jesus is led into temptation. We are only twelve verses into this gospel, and Jesus is already undergoing the stresses of a hero. Here are the first few things Jesus endures in Mark’s telling:
- Jesus calls his disciples.
- Jesus drives out an evil spirit.
- Jesus continues a ministry of healing, and exorcisms.
- He then prays (more on that below).
- Then he heals a man of leprosy.
- The healing of a paralytic.
- Answering the questions of the teachers of the law.
- Questioned about fasting.
- Questioned about his action on the Sabbath.
And all of that is just in the first two chapters.
Mark has one priority in this gospel, and that is to present Jesus as a man who just doesn’t waste much time.
As a matter of fact, Mark only presents Jesus privately praying at three different moments in his gospel. The first time is in 1:35, after he met with the entire town of Capernaum, healed their sick, and drove out demons. And even in this moment of prayer and withdrawal, Simon wouldn’t let Jesus have this moment of solitude. Simon just had to go and find Jesus.
In Mark’s gospel, then, Jesus is pictured as a man with little time of prayer and solitude. There is much to be done. (About those other two prayers, then — Jesus prayed by himself, finally, after feeding the multitude, and again in the garden before his crucifixion. And that’s it.)
See Jesus in this gospel, then, as a conqueror, as a deliverer. Because Mark wants you see to Jesus this way.
It’s entirely possible, too, that if Mark is writing Peter’s testimony, then this is how the apostle Peter saw Jesus.
And that’s pretty special. Jesus, to Peter, was the ultimate deliverer.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the first few days of reading through the New Testament. You can find all my posts, as I read these ninety days, by clicking here.
And, I must say that I thought about including a video here from some superhero movie, to better help grasp the idea of a hero. But, really, is there anyone who can drive out demons? Heal those with serious illnessess? It just seemed like a cheap ploy in comparison to the awesomeness of Jesus. So, no video.
But, with the release of The Avengers, and that film on its way to becoming the third highest grossing movie of all-time, it’s no surprise that our world is captivated by hero stories.
Blessings to you today!