The four gospels are likely the best-known and least understood portions of the New Testament canon. Written to communicate the foundations of the gospel in the person and work of Christ (while Acts shows what we do with the gospel message in communicating it to all, the Epistles give the inspired interpretation, unfolding, and application of the gospel, and Revelation tells us where the gospel is consummated with the Lord’s return and earthly kingdom), they clearly reveal to us the personal glory and power of our Lord Jesus. They are the best-known because they have likely been more visible than the epistles or even Revelation; they are the least understood because the Enemy has energized men’s fallen thinking to distinguish the Lord’s teaching from Paul’s, or to find in Jesus any number of fashionable leftist and social justice concerns that stem from a brash misunderstanding of His words. And of course, many are the cults and half-converted professed Christians who have used statements in the gospels to deny everything from the absolute deity and eternality of our Lord to His bodily resurrection.
It is not surprising that the Enemy of men’s souls would spend so much time attacking the gospels. For they are the foundation of our New Testament and the beginning of the fulfillment of the Old. In many ways they are the linchpin of the whole Bible. As such, a most careful, reverent, and devotional examination of each gospel is vital for a fruitful Christian life and a firm grasp on God’s plan for the world.
Today, we begin our study of the gospel of Mark. After a few introductory comments, I will proceed with exposition under each point.
Mark is the third gospel written (the church held unanimously until the advent of evolution and higher criticism in the 1800s that the gospels were independent, inerrant accounts that did not depend on each other at all and that Matthew was the first gospel written). It was penned in Rome in the 50s AD by John Mark, a close friend and ministry partner of Paul and Peter. (Peter refers to him as “my son” in 1 Peter 5:13; in his last letter (2 Tim. 4:11), Paul says Mark is useful to him in ministry and asks Timothy to bring him to see him in prison.) He was a cousin of the early church leader Barnabas and Mark’s mother, Mary, was a believer who hosted the church at Jerusalem in her apparently spacious home (Acts 12:12). It is likely that Mark is the young man referred to who escaped with his life, but not his clothes, the night of Jesus’ arrest (Mark 14:51-52; it is possible the Last Supper was held in Mary’s home). That would indicate he had some acquaintance with our Lord during His earthly ministry even though he was not an apostle. But he did have apostolic oversight—the true church has unanimously affirmed that the Lord moved upon Peter to record his memoirs of Jesus’ ministry, and that the Holy Spirit commissioned Mark to put pen to paper under His direction.
In Mark, we see the vantage point of our Lord as the Suffering Servant-King who lives wholly for God and dies for sinners in humiliation and sacrifice. Mark is also a fast-paced text, moving from scene to scene with rapidity (the Greek for “immediately” is used some 42 times in this gospel), each one demonstrating some facet of the person and work of our wonderful Lord.
Verse 1 is a summary of the book: It is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus. But “gospel” here does not refer to Mark’s book, but to the message of the gospel. Mark is telling us how the precious message Peter is taking to the world got its start: in real space-time history, with a real flesh-and-blood man heralding the greatest Man to ever live. The word for gospel means “glad tidings” and was used in the LXX to refer to deliverance and in Greek literature to the arrival and reign of a divine king.
Jesus is the subject of the glad tidings. This one has a full name: “Jesus” is the personal name of the glorious theanthropic person, the one person with two perfect natures—eternal sovereign God, perfect sinless man. “Jesus” refers to the one person, not one of His natures. ‘Christ” is a rich OT term denoting Jesus’ anointing and appointment to a position: to be the Prophet, Priest, and (especially) King of His people and God’s eternal kingdom. “Son of God” is an equally rich term that has several facets: It at once denotes our Lord’s absolute, sovereign eternality and deity (for He shares the very nature of God as Son to Father), His position of humiliation (for God fathered a human Son through the virgin birth, so there is an incarnational, and thus humble, aspect to the term), and to His sovereign position as ruler and authority over all (for the kings in the anointed, promised Davidic line were often called the “son of God,” and in Romans 1 we read our Lord was installed into the position “Son-of-God-in-power” by virtue of His glorious bodily resurrection—a position of utmost sovereign authority as an incarnate man, not only eternal God). This glorious One is the subject of Mark’s gospel!
But before we meet Him, we meet one like us—a mere human, His herald.
A. He is a Messenger (vv. 2-3)
Mark quotes two passages of Scripture, referring to Isaiah because that was the more prominent of the two quotes. Both passages (Malachi 3:1, Isaiah 40:3) refer to a coming messenger who would precede the sovereign God’s arrival to rule. This one is John the Baptist. Elsewhere in Malachi, our Lord promises He will send Elijah the prophet before the Day of the Lord (4:5); John is a generic fulfillment of this passage (Mark 9:11-13), for he came in Elijah’s spirit and power (Lk. 1:17), yet the final fulfillment is yet to come, in the days immediately preceding the second advent of our Lord (Rev. 11:1-10). Of note is Mark 1:6—an odd description for a man…unless, of course, he is like unto the greatest prophet to come until that time (2 Kings 1:8).
John had the unique privilege of being the herald of the incarnate God.
B. He Has a Pointed Message (v. 4)
John’s message could be summed up in one word: Repent. He called people to repent and toe be baptized as a sign of their changed hearts. In Luke 3, we see a snapshot of Johns preaching. He warns to complacent and the sin-loving that divine, promised wrath is imminent, and that their lives are to be transformed in a manner commensurate with Spirit-granted repentance (vv. 7-9). (Note that here the emphasis is not even on the repentance, but on its necessary fruit!)
Repentance is a transformation of mind—not a mere shift in minor opinion, but a radical, foundational reorienting of your view of God, self, and everything. This must be worked out in practice as a disciple over the course of a lifetime (which is why we are to be taught all things Jesus commands, because we must be continually confronted with truth to expose our faulty thinking), but the foundational, initial shift is what makes a lifetime of repentance and transformation possible. Where you once saw yourself as basically good and in no need of rescue, now you see yourself as a condemned sinner who can do nothing to save yourself. Where you once saw God as a fairy tale or a harsh taskmaster or a benevolent, if absent, deity, now you see Him as devastatingly holy and matchlessly sovereign and powerfully immanent and infinitely glorious, mighty, merciful, and worthy. You see the person and work of Jesus as your only hope before a sovereign God. You see His Word as authoritative, precious, and worth more than anything.
Or, in other words, you have passed from death to fullness of life. That is repentance.
C. The Messenger Has a Telling Effect (vv. 5-6)
The verb tense in verse 5 indicates a continual, ongoing coming. Desperate to truly know God and sick of the man-corrupted religion of Jerusalem, the humble crowd in the wilderness responding to the cry of this prophet came with hearts ready to yield to the coming King’s authority and seek His cleansing for their sin. They had exchanged their ways and thinking for God’s, siding with Him and His holiness against their hard-hearted disobedience and unbelief. While some likely were baptized simply for show or to go along with the crowd, doubtless many did so out of a right heart. We will see them in heaven someday.
While this verse should not be taken as implying faithful preaching will always result in mass genuine conversion and revival, it should be taken as saying God blesses faithful preaching—with both true disciples and sometimes many of them. True preaching will create a dividing line between those who yield and those who do not. It will have a definite, decisive impact on the world around it.
D. The Messenger is a Nobody (vv. 7-8)
John, however, was consumed with one person: Christ. His whole ministry was Christ-centered. It was not about his abilities or gifting but about suing those things to point people to the only One that mattered. John’s humility is sharp. He avers he isn’t worthy to untie our Lord’s shoes—a task reserved for the most menial of slaves. Elsewhere, John ties our Lord’s greatness to His deity (John 1:15, 30); here, he connects it to His position. Doubtless the baptism with the Spirit is a new covenant allusion (cf. Ezek. 36:27); the One who baptizes with the Spirit is mighty indeed. Because giving the Holy Spirit is necessary for the people to have the righteousness that befits the reign of the promised king, it is likely John considers Jesus’ ability to baptize with the Spirit a mark of His being the Messiah, and using that messianic, Davidic authority as an initial fulfillment of His rule. John’s baptism pointed to the greater, heaven-wrought baptism that would mightily and decisively cleanse and reorient the heart. It is thus profoundly connected with the repentance he preached.
Like John, we are fit to only be pointers to the Great Point. The Lamb of God who takes away the world’s sin has come, and we are to serve Him with our whole hearts, suing life and lip to tell all who would listen about the great work of salvation He has begun and will very soon everlastingly complete.