Reading the Gospels - Mark
The Gospel of Mark: The Way of the Suffering Son of God
The Coming of God to Confront Evil and Restore the World
Mark’s gospel is a fast-moving train with one stop: the cross. There is no birth account in Mark’s gospel nor any lead-up to Jesus’ ministry. Verse 1 announces the story that will unfold: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, Son of God…” Mark then highlights a reference to passages from Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1. The fuller context of Isaiah 40:3-5 helps see what the good news of Jesus the “Son of God” is about:
A voice is crying out: “Clear the way of the Lord in the desert! Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God! Every valley will be raised up, and every mountain will be flattened. Uneven ground will become level, and rough terrain will become a valley plain. The Lord’s glory will appear, and all humanity will see it together; the Lord’s mouth has commanded it.
The story of Mark is about the coming of God to restore the world, to smooth out what has become rough and ragged. The first two chapters (remember beginnings are important!) set Jesus in action right away, announcing that the kingdom of God has arrived, that people need to turn their lives around and get on the Jesus train. He calls the disciples and they get to business. This train is moving fast.
The very first thing Jesus does is cast out an evil spirit. Then we get a bombardment of stories about Jesus: he heals from sickness and isolation (Mark 1:29-31), he delivers from disease and brings wholeness (Mark 1:40-45), he restores fullness of life and forgives sin (Mark 2:1-12), and he welcomes sinners (Mark 2:13-17).
Jesus’ coming is a clash not only with evil, but with the ruler of evil, and with the ways evil shows up in our lives and our world. Jesus has come to cast out the spirit of evil from this world and from people’s lives. This is what the arrival of the kingdom of God in Mark’s gospel means and it plays out in the ways Jesus brings deliverance from sickness, oppression, enslavement to worldly powers, and sin. Even welcoming sinners is one way God’s kingdom confronts evil. Notice that “sin” is not the big problem in Mark’s gospel because it is a manifestation of the power of evil in the world.
The Son of God Who Suffers and Dies
Along the way, there is a gradual revealing of Jesus' identity as the Son of God. In a few places, demons recognize Jesus as “Son of God” but he tells them to be silent. Even at the transfiguration in Mark 9:2-13, where Jesus’ identity as “Son of God” is revealed by God to the disciples, Jesus tells them not to say anything about it. The only public “revealing” is the climactic revealing of Jesus’ identity when the Roman soldier proclaims at the crucifixion: “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39). This time there is no keeping it silent. It is Mark’s great announcement: the glorious Son of God is the crucified Jesus.
In the midst of this, Mark 8:27-10:52 has a unique focus on discipleship, where Jesus repeatedly makes the point that true followers of Jesus are servants, the least of this world who follow the way of the Son of God. Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Christ” (Mk. 8:27) is followed by three predictions of Jesus’ suffering, rejection, and death. The first prediction is followed by a call to follow which emphasizes losing one’s life “for my sake and the sake of the good news” (Mk. 8:34-38). In 9:30-32, Jesus predicts his suffering and then emphasizes: “If anyone desires to be first, let that one be last of all and servant of all.” Jesus then embraces a child and states, “whoever receives one of these in my name receives me” (9:37). Jesus is both sufferer and likened to a child, one of the ‘least’ in the world, giving a clear example for those who would follow him. Finally, in Mark 10:45, Jesus states, “for even the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
What will you do now?
Mark’s original ending, Mark 16:1-8, leaves readers in suspense. Jesus has been raised from the dead. None of the twelve apostles are present at the tomb as in the Gospels of John and Luke. There are only a few women, who don’t even encounter Jesus but run into an angel who announces startling news: Jesus, who was crucified, has been raised. The final verse, like a good movie, leaves us hanging: “Overcome with fear and dread, they ran from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).
How do we make sense of this cryptic ending? It’s not as if Mark’s audience was unaware of the resurrection or of the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. So, the question is, why would Mark tell the story this way to an audience who knows the story? Because the story continues with us. This Jesus, Son of God, who brings God’s kingdom to clash with evil in this world has been raised. What will we say? What will we do?
Mark has no birth narrative like the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Why do you think Mark does not tell this part of Jesus’ life? What is gained by jumping right into Jesus’ active ministry like Mark does?
Jesus doesn’t do much formal teaching in Mark. But his actions still teach. Read Mark 5 or Mark 7. What do Jesus’ actions in these chapters teach us about how God’s kingdom arrives in Jesus?
Read Mark 8:27-10:52. This is Mark’s “discipleship” section. This section begins with Peter confessing Jesus as the Christ, and ends with Jesus opening blind eyes. How do these chapters help the disciples, and us, move from a simple confession that Jesus is the Christ to fully “seeing” what it means to follow Jesus? What is the final obstacle to true sight for the disciples? Is this an obstacle for you?
Mark’s gospel does not have a resurrection story like Matthew, Luke, and John. In Mark, Jesus does not ascend, but “he goes ahead of you.” What invitation does Mark’s gospel give us? How does Mark’s gospel as a whole call you to respond to the empty tomb?