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What Will the Gospel Make of Me?
Introduction to the Gospel of Mark
What kind of person are you? There are all kinds of ways to analyze that question. A recent article I read differentiated people by the way they use the gym. This articled asked, what is your gym type? Are you the stinky guy? This lifter smells so bad that just walking past him at the gym leaves a bad taste in your mouth for hours. Are you the group guy–always going to the gym in a herd of men who spend ten percent of their time lifting, and the other ninety cheering their brainless buddies, who are doing the funky chicken in an effort to lift far more weight than they are capable of?
Are you Miss Mountain Lion? These are older women who are really fit, are made of flesh and plastic, and can physically hurt most of the men at the gym if they feel like it–be careful. Or are you hoop earring girl? She’s young, good looking and never makes eye contact with anyone while she stretches, does fifteen minutes on the elliptical, then leaves.
Are you the screamer? These are the annoying guys who sound like they are giving birth to a harbor seal with every lift. Maybe you’re the tsunami. This is the guy who shows up sweaty, but by the time he is done, he is a walking puddle of protoplasm. You could be the Juicer. This guy or gal is hardcore, and always drinking or injecting some toxic concoction into themselves in order to build mass. Are you the talker? If this gym rat spent as much time lifting as they did talking, he or she’d be huge. Finally, the strong man–this man eats meat in every meal, has a huge gut along with a massive handlebar mustache. He can bench press your entire family, and never talks to anyone. Try not to upset him.
You are all so different, but you all have the same basic needs. Your biggest need is your need to be made right with God. Why are there so many different religions? Because people have an innate awareness that God exists, and they are accountable to Him. Religion is the expression of people wanting to be right with their Maker. So how do we know which religion is right?
Simple–all religions but one represent the effort of people reaching out to God, trying to please God by living religiously. Only one faith actually describes the work of God Himself to make men right with Himself. All religion is based upon human achievement. But the Gospel of Christ is based upon divine accomplishment. Religion is what people do, the Gospel is what Christ has done. And this one true Gospel is so encouraging that the very name Gospel means good news.
And today, we are introducing our verse-by-verse study of the good news, as written by the author Mark in your Bibles. Open your Bibles to Mark and take the outline in your bulletin, and as you do, ask yourself–what will your exposure to Mark’s gospel do to you? What are you praying for?
I’m praying God will cause you to embrace and live the Gospel
I’m praying Mark’s gospel will affect your marriage and family, your friendships and speech, your behavior and heart
I am asking God to overwhelm us with His love for us–to gain a huge vision of who God is and what He’s done for us
I am praying God will cause you to become more like Christ
And I am praying God will cause some of you to come to Christ
What will this gospel make of you? What will it do to you?
Kent Hughes writes of Dr E.V. Rieu, a Greek scholar and lifelong agnostic. He was finishing up his translation of Homer, from the Greek to English, for a publishing company. As he finished, Dr Rieu was asked by the same company to translate the four gospels from Greek to English. When Rieu’s son heard of this new project, this is how he reacted. He said, “It will be interesting to see what father will make of the four gospels. It will be even more interesting to see what the four gospels make of Father.” He didn’t have to wonder very long–within a year, Dr. Rieu, the lifelong agnostic, responded to the gospels he was translating and became a committed Christian. Again, what will the gospel of Mark make of you? What will it make of me?
Mark is most likely the first gospel written in your New Testament, which means it is the oldest one–the earliest gospel completed. Almost all of Mark is quoted or found in Matthew, Luke and John. Mark is most likely the very first systematic account of the life, ministry and works of Christ. Mark is written to Romans and other Gentiles who don’t understand the Old Testament.
Mark is the shortest of the gospels, and is also the most translated book in the entire world. The Bible is the most published book in the world, but the gospel of Mark is written in more languages than any other written document. When translators finally figure out a language, they most often begin their translations with this great gospel. Mark is one of the synoptic gospels, written around the same time as Matthew and Luke, and all four of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, give us four portraits of the person of Christ.
We are about to begin a study, which will cause us to get to know Jesus Christ even more intimately. We’re going to walk with Christ, see Him up close and personal, and understand Him intimately. We will feel His breath, embrace His agonies, trust His Words, catch His passion, follow His example and model His person. In fact . . .
#1 Mark will force you to begin evaluating the reality of Jesus Christ in your life
You are here today because you know of Jesus Christ. But do you intimately know Jesus Christ? Personally? I knew Swindoll, talked to Piper, even R.C. Sproul, but I know more about them than actually know them personally, intimately. I am friends with John MacArthur. I know his heart, I know his kids, I have been in his home innumerable times, I partnered with him in his travels. I can tell you things about him no one normally knows . . . he has the gift of giving . . . he knows all there is to know about suits, shaving and pens . . . he is really funny, and in person is not confrontational at all. And most importantly, he always knows where the best pizza is.
A lot of Christians are like I am to John Piper–they read his books, but they don’t know him personally. But Christ desires you to know Him intimately, personally, not cursory, not distantly, nor as an acquaintance–but as family. Intimacy with Christ is one of the reasons Christ saved you. John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
The Lord wants you to know Him, and the word “know” here is relational knowledge, not the knowledge of facts or raw data. You are not supposed to merely know about Christ–you’re supposed to know Him intimately. How intimate are you right now with Jesus Christ? Do you, as Ephesians 3:19 says, “Know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God”?
And can you say with Jeremiah in 9:23 to 24, that knowing the Lord alone is your boast? Verses 23 and 24, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the Lord.”
Are you an info Christian, or an intimate Christian? Are you a fact disciple, or a fellowship disciple? Are you a data believer, or a delighting believer? What you have in Mark is an intimate, personal and confirmed description of the ministry of God the Son on earth.
When Mark writes His gospel in the 60’s of the first century, don’t ever forget there are people still living in that day who had walked with Christ, witnessed these events, experienced them firsthand. They had been telling about what Christ said and did for years. So as Mark puts this in writing under the care of an apostle, this writing only confirms the reality and truthfulness of what actually, relationally occurred.
What we are about to study is not oral tradition, but firsthand eyewitness accounts. The paralytic who was lowered through the roof, the person who carried the cross for Jesus–Simon of Cyrene, the women who watched Jesus being placed in the tomb had been telling what happened for decades, many of them still alive by the time Mark writes all this down in this book.
And don’t miss the raw candor of what actually occurred during the earthly life of Christ, and what is preserved for us in this gospel account. Mark is not giving us a purified history. Mark does not give us only the blue light specials or greatest hits of God’s people. This is not a crafted book to make leaders look real good. The greatest leader of the Early Church denied Christ three times. And the fullest description of Peter’s actual denial is found in Mark’s gospel, which is the one Peter oversees as an apostle. No one else could have known that kind of detail but Peter. And no one else in the Early Church would have dared to highlight the weakness of its most significant leaders with such candor–unless that very weakness was an important part of the story, and unless the accounts were true.
This book will enable us to learn about what really happened, and because it is God’s living and active Word, it has the power to transform us. But it will not be automatic. It will not happen if you call yourself a Christian. It will not happen if you say that FBC is your church family. It will only happen if you are here, week in and week out. It will only happen if you pray, and read, and chew, and discuss, and apply God’s Word by the power of the Spirit. It will only happen if you pursue intimacy with Christ.
Right now, some of you are walking intimately with Him. But others of you have lost your first love. Still others of you never had Christ in the first place. The apostle John tells you what to do if you have drifted–Revelation 2:4 and 5, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.” Do you see it? Three basic steps to return to your first love.
First See how far you have fallen
If you’re not in prayer or study of the Word regularly, you’ve fallen. If today was your only expression of worship, praise and the study of the Word, you’ve crumbled. If there was a time where you were more intimate, you’ve drifted.
Second Change your priorities (see the word “repent” in verse 5)
You have to change your lifestyle–turn from something and turn toward someone. Give up TV, computer or video games and turn toward some intimate times of study and prayer.
Third Go back to where you were at first
John says, “Do the deeds you did at first.” Remember the price you paid, the words you spoke, and the deeds you did to win your spouse? Well, go back to that first love, return to that kind of behavior with Christ. The gospel of Mark can change our lives, but only as we pursue Christ as first in our lives–do you? Will you?
#2 The uniqueness of Mark will drive you to be a doer by following the example of Jesus Christ
The gospels make up four portraits, with four purposes, directed at four different people groups, giving us a fuller, more complete understanding of our Lord Jesus Christ. Like an accident report in an intersection from four people standing on each of the four corners. Like different reactions to the same painting. Mark is going to give us a unique picture of Christ. What is that?
Mark is not going to give us a dry history. Mark is written in the present tense, often using words like “immediately”, “straightaway”, “forthwith” (42 times) to make this gospel full of action. You can’t help but notice the abrupt, breathless speed of Mark’s writing. Mark uses the historical present 150 times in this portrait–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 it being shorter in length than the others. Everything is in vivid, eyewitness accounts, brilliantly intense and fast moving. This gospel reminds us that Christ is not merely a historical figure, but a living reality, a person who addresses us today, who wants us to see His example as impacting us now, not later. Mark communicates need, and a sense of crisis. Mark shows us God has broken through the status quo, to fire up our lives. No tradition can stop Christ, no religion can slow Christ down, and no barrier can prevent Christ from transforming your heart.
Just like the Romans felt about Rome and its army, Christ is unstoppable in Mark. And Mark wants you to see that the coming of Jesus Christ calls for decisive action on your part. Mark is the most chronological of all the gospels, because with this gospel there is a beginning and an end to this road we’re on, and we need to get on the road now and get going.
Compared to the other gospels, Mark has very little instruction–there is very little teaching in Mark, mainly Jesus doing. There is no genealogy, no record of the nativity, only two partial discourses–no condemnation of the Jewish sects and fewer allusions to the Old Testament than any other gospel. So the heart behind the gospel of Mark is this:
* Faith without works is dead
* Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?
* This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me
* Run your race to win
And James 1:22, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” Parents, the gospel of Mark is going to press you hard to make certain you are modeling over instructing, doing not just being, living the Word of God and not merely hearing. It takes a slow reader about two hours to read Mark in a single sitting, and if you take the time, you feel surrounded by crowds, wearied by demands, and besieged by the attacks of demons. You are repeatedly brought face-to-face with the human emotions of Christ, and the astonishment of the multitudes.
Mark is the go gospel–the gospel of the Servant Savior. And most likely, Mark was targeted at Romans–westerners like us. Church history tells us Mark wrote the gospel while Peter was preaching in Rome. Mark often interprets Aramaic words for his non-Jewish readers. He explains the location of the Mount of Olives, which Jewish readers wouldn’t need. Mark often uses Latin words used by Rome, not found in the other gospels. In fact, Mark is the only gospel to mention Simon the Cyrene as the father of Alexander and Rufus. And Rufus is mentioned at the end of the book of Romans as living in Rome. This gospel was to Rome. So Mark is a book of action written to a people of action.
Christian, if you are one of God’s children, you will live for Christ. You won’t just pray a prayer and live like the lost. You won’t have merely served in the past, you will serve Christ now. Christians are not merely hearers, they are doers–people of action. If Christ is in your life, He will not just affect your speech and thoughts, He will affect your behavior. You will battle with sin, you will fail–but you will see Christ living through you. This will involve conviction over sin, a desire to represent Christ to others, and a desire to delight in Christ throughout the day.
Mark will call you to do, to act, to run, to work and to change. Yet Mark will not demand you be perfect–in fact Mark will cause you to rejoice in God’s grace since this gospel was written by, and overseen by, two men who are glaringly imperfect.
#3 The gospel of Mark will remind you that the grace of Jesus Christ is bigger than your failures
The author of this gospel is named John Mark. Most believe that Mark actually mentions himself in this gospel. Because the event described in Mark 14:51 to 52 is only described in Mark, and because it remains anonymous, most believe it is Mark. Turn to Mark 14:51 and 52. It was the night before the crucifixion. Jesus and His disciples have left the upper room, possibly a room in Mark’s home. If so, it is understandable that the young man, having fallen asleep, now awakes as he hears them depart, and either in his PJ’s (a linen cloth), or throwing that on, he follows them. We don’t know at this point whether he has surrendered his heart to Christ, but he is compelled to follow Christ into the night. Mark 14:51 and 52 tell us what happens. “A young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. 52 But he pulled free of the linen sheet and escaped naked.”
Mark may very well have been present at the arrest of Jesus. There are some who believe that earlier in the gospel, the rich young ruler is actually Mark himself. The reason some believe that is because of what Mark adds to the story that no other gospel does. The young man runs up to Jesus, kneels down and asks, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
And Mark tells us later in the discussion (in Mark 10:21), that Jesus “Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’” No other gospel tells us Jesus felt a love for him. Before he was saved, this could be describing Mark. But what we know with certainty is this–John Mark was the son of a well-to-do Jerusalem woman named Mary, whose home was one of the meeting places of the Early Church. In fact, the church met at Mark’s house in order to pray that God would release Peter from prison in Acts 12.
Mark undoubtedly knew all the Early Church leaders, and Mark was also a relative of Barnabus, the Son of Encouragement and early missionary companion to the apostle Paul. So Mark actually accompanied Paul and Barnabus on their first missionary journey as far as Perga, in Acts 13. But it was there where Mark got discouraged about missionary work and left. Some have proposed that Mark was upset that his cousin Barnabus was no longer the leader of the missionary team. Saul, now called Paul, is listed first, and obviously the point man on the team. Others suggest Mark missed his mom, or was afraid for her as opposition of Christians intensified in Jerusalem.
But when Paul refused to take Mark on the second missionary journey, he actually tells us why Mark left in one word in Acts 15:38, “But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.” Missionary work, pastoral work, is hard work. This kind of service paints a bull’s eye on you for the enemy to shoot at, and makes you a favorite target of those inside and outside the church.
The Greek word “work” means labor, implying hardship and difficulty. He was so afraid of brigands, wild beasts and difficult terrain, plus the possibility of more direct attacks, so Mark deserted the missionary team and went back home. The word deserted also carries the flavor of a revolt–it wasn’t a pretty scene, nor a quiet departure. Mark blew it badly, and let his team down when they needed him most.
Then, when they started up the second missionary journey, Mr. Encouragement, Barnabus wants to give Mark a second chance to come along again, but Paul sharply disagrees and says, “No”. Paul said, “Burn me once, shame on you, burn me twice, shame on me.” So the team splits up, Mark going with Barnabus to Cypress, where Barnabus had property and was well-known. And Paul chose Silas and began the next great missionary journey. This could have been the end of Mark and his ministry for Christ.
Who of you here have not blown it, messed up with people, and made poor choices in life and ministry? Who of you here have not been hurt by other Christians, or struggled with another Christian family, or took the side of your children over other children who verbally attacked your children in some manner (like a cousin)? Who of you have not served, ministered, volunteered, yet you ended up flushing out, or taking credit for what God did? Who of you have not given up when you should have endured? This is why the gospel of Mark should be so encouraging to you, because God was not finished with Mark, and this written gospel is evidence of just how greatly God can use those who mess up.
At Paul’s first imprisonment, Mark is actually serving with Paul in Colossians 4:10. “Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas’s cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him).” Later Mark is serving with Peter in Rome, greeting fellow Christians in Asia Minor in 1 Peter 5:13. “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark.” And at the very end of Paul’s life, Mark was with Timothy in Ephesus. Timothy was to bring Paul’s cloak and books, but also bring Mark, for Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:11, “Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.”
Mark had failed once as a servant, but now he had earned a reputation as a faithful servant. Somewhere between Paul’s castigation of Mark and his commendation of Mark, someone possibly handed Paul a manuscript and said, “Here Paul, read this.” I can picture Paul reading that scroll with ever-growing interest. You can almost hear him say with tears, “A true gospel of Christ–who wrote it? Peter?” No, it was John Mark. Paul might even have said, “Barnabus was right about Mark after all.” One tradition tells us Peter sent Mark to Egypt, where he founded the church at Alexandria, and became a church planter in that region. Some writings suggest Mark suffered martyrdom in that famous city.
Now it is not surprising that the content of the gospel of Mark matches the teachings we have of Peter in Acts, like Acts 10. It is not shocking that the Early Church fathers claimed that Mark is the gospel according to Peter–under his oversight. And it is certain that Mark was with Peter in Rome during the writing of 1 Peter. So Peter is behind this gospel. And does that also encourage you? That Peter himself, one who failed greatly during the ministry of Christ—“Get behind me Satan.” Then the soon-to-be great apostle actually denied Christ three times? Even later, Peter sided with some Jews over the Gentiles in a social setting, and had to be rebuked by Paul in Galatians, because by His behavior, Peter was distorting the Gospel. Isn’t God’s grace awesome? Mark and Peter teach us that, failure is not fatal.
So here is Mark–maybe he’s a lot like you. Not a great leader, but a fantastic follower–not a master builder, but a helper–not flawless but one who overcame his weakness–not a quiet loner, but a man of action–not one who is selfish but a servant. Like Paul, Mark would definitely say in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “By the grace of God. I am what I am.” Failure is not fatal, Christian–no one is put on God’s inactive shelf. There is always a place for those broken under God’s grace. There is always room for another imperfect servant. In fact . . .
#4 The book of Mark will impassion you to become a servant like Christ
Turn to Mark 10, for it contains the key verse of this gospel. The theme of Mark is 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Remember the question–what will the gospel make of you and me? It will make us servants like our King and Master, Jesus Christ. It will make us true slaves, people who actually serve and not just run on theory or words. This gospel will transform us from selfish gainers to servant givers. And this gospel will do so, not by external motivation, but by internal transformation. Mark is going to prove to us that becoming a true servant is not easy–in fact, it is impossible. It takes an act of God.
Though Jesus had perfectly modeled being a true servant in every way to His disciples for three years, at the end of that period, listen to what they asked of Jesus in Mark 10:35 to 37. “James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, ‘Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” 36 And He said to them, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ 37 They said to Him, ‘Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.’”
Ouch–they dimly saw that the end was near and that it might involve thrones for the disciples. So as a part of the inner circle of Peter, James and John, these two hoped for the best thrones. They may even be trying to ace out Peter, since in their minds he might deserve the top spot. The gospel of Matthew tells us James and John even got their mother involved in asking for thrones. Sadly, the worldly view of leadership, as power, as fame, as personality, as popularity, had taken root in their hearts.
Jesus even told them later in verse 42, “Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, ‘You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them.” Thankfully, Jesus does not leave them there–look at verse 43 and 44, “’But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.’”
And why is this? Again, Jesus summarizes in verse 45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Pay attention–Jesus calls himself the Son of Man. That means, The Man, the one true man–more than man. He is the unique representation of the human race, and the only one who can represent the entire human race–the Son of Man.
And Jesus says He did not come to be served, but to serve. Serve here refers to the most common service. I am not the host, nor one of the guests–I am among you as a waiter. This should shake you, as it did the disciples. Jesus says the Son of Man is the one who lives the truest human life, waited upon others, instead of seeking others to wait on him. And the ultimate extension of this service is to give His life a ransom for many–which He shortly did after saying this.
The logic of the argument is this–if the one who created both the supernova and the firefly, and holds them both together by the word of His power, became our servant, our waiter—how can we do less than He? Once, instead of being asked to teach the Bible each week to 200 kids, which I was gifted to do–I was told to clean toilets for 600 kids, which I was not gifted to do. After three days of intense struggle, God taught me that if He could wash the disciples’ feet, then I could clean toilets and trust Him for my future. I cleaned those restrooms twice a day for an entire summer for Jesus Christ, with genuine joy.
And there lies the challenge for you and me. Will you take up the call to be a servant like Christ? Have you forgotten the joy God experiences in the Trinity is because the Father, Son and Spirit serve each other selflessly, with no hint of desiring reciprocation? That it is in the very act of giving themselves away to one another in love which brings joy?
Have you forgotten that the joyful oneness in marriage is only experienced in a life of selfless service to your mate? Or the joyful unity God desires in His Church is only experienced in the members as they faithfully serve one another? Or the blessed competition which brings joy to our fellowship is all of us constantly seeking to be the greatest—for in God’s family, the greatest among you is the what? The servant. The gospel of Mark is destined to transform you into a Christ like servant–are you ready?
The Lord wants you intimate with Himself. That can only come if you turn to trust in Christ alone for your salvation–ransom for many. The true Gospel will transform you into a doer of the Word, and not merely a hearer–to be a Christian of action. Marks gospel will encourage your heart by reminding you of God’s grace to people who fail like you and me–failure is not fatal. And this gospel will mold you into a true servant, written by Mark under the leadership of Peter, to Romans and non-Jewish people, presenting Christ as the Servant King, written in the 50’s and 60’s–are you ready? Then come back next week!