1: The Servant and His Ministry (Introduction to Mark)
Early church tradition suggests
that the author of this book was Mark, Barnabas’ cousin (Col 4:10).1/499 He accompanied Paul
and Barnabas on their first missionary trip but abandoned them before it ended
(Acts 15:38). However, by the time Paul was imprisoned, Mark had become a
trusted co-worker (2Tim 4:11). The author probably got much of his eyewitness
accounts from the apostle Peter. His writing, in turn, became a reference for
Matthew and Luke.
The book was most likely addressed
specifically to the Romans, and, by extension, to the Gentiles. In his writing,
Mark often explained Jewish customs and translated Jewish terms because his
audience was not familiar with them. To someone who is unfamiliar with
Christian-Judaic history, the book serves as a concise introduction to the
story of Jesus Christ.
Between A.D. 50 to 70.
The book was probably written in Rome. Mark’s immediate
audience was the believers in the city.
the book was written, the church was under persecution from the Jewish
religious leaders and the Roman government. Mark wrote an account of Jesus to
show that He had suffered under the same hands but persevered and accomplished
God’s salvation work. Jesus’ powerful ministry on earth encouraged the
believers to continue God’s work, to imitate Christ, and to overcome their
book shows Jesus’ divine and human nature. Jesus had boundless power and
authority as the Son of God. At the same time, He chose to work as a tireless
servant. Through His ministry, Jesus set a perfect example of how to love God
and to serve others.
the four gospel books, only Mark refers to itself as the “gospel” (1:1).
contrast to Matthew and Luke, Mark reads like an abridged version of the
gospel. It aims to answer the question, “What did Jesus do?” The author skips
Jesus’ genealogy and His childhood and goes straight into His work. Also, the
proportion of miracles to teachings is much higher than those recorded in
Matthew or Luke. Unlike the other gospel books, Mark rarely includes long
theological or moral discourses.
frequently uses words such as “immediately,” “at once,” “quickly,” etc., which
conveys a sense of urgency in Jesus’ mission.
often explains Jewish customs and Aramaic words. Several Aramaic words in Mark
are not found in the other gospel books (5:41; 7:34; 15:34).
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be
served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (10:45).
Survey of Mark
Briefly go through the entire book
to get a general overview and fill in Chart B.
Like the other gospel books, Mark
proves that Jesus is God who came in flesh to save us. However, Mark takes a
bottom-up approach to reach that conclusion. He doesn’t tell us that Jesus is
descended from the kings, or that angels heralded His birth. Instead, he first
gives a picture of a humble servant. This approach gives us a tangible
illustration of how “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). From
Jesus’ example, we learn how not to “love in word or in tongue, but in deed and
in truth” (1Jn 3:18).
The first half of Mark focuses
more on Jesus’ deeds. During this period, Jesus spoke in parables of everyday
items (wineskins, bread, seed, lamp, etc.). His power and authority is implied
in His words and actions, but He avoided making claims of divine nature.
Halfway through the book, there is a distinct shift in focus. After Peter
confessed that Jesus was the Christ (chapter 8), Jesus began to assert His
divine nature. He spoke plainly about the last days and the heavenly kingdom.
He also harshly rebuked the Pharisees and scribes of their hypocrisy. At this
time, the twelve apostles began to play a more prominent role, as Jesus
prepared them to continue the work of salvation. The narrative builds up
momentum and shifts its focus onto Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection.
After Jesus rose from the dead, He commanded His disciples to continue His
work. The same ministry is given to us.
The words of the apostle Paul is a
fitting synopsis of the message of the gospel according to Mark:
Let this mind be in you which was
also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it
robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the
form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in
appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of
death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him
and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those
under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is
Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Php 2:6-11).
Consistent with Mark’s focus on
Jesus’ ministry, its themes are more often illustrated by actions and less by
discourses. These themes emerge when we study the details of the events
recorded in the book (what Jesus did, how people interpreted His actions, how
they responded, etc.).
The entire book of Mark is about
Jesus the tireless servant (illustrated by the frequent use of the words
“immediately, ” “at once,” “quickly,” etc.). Jesus set practical examples on
the various aspects of service:
• Purpose of serving (1:2-3;
• Preparing to serve (1:9-13, 35;
6:46; 7:14-23; 14:35-36).
• Attitude of service (8:34;
9:35-41, 42-50; 10:21,31,38-40,42-45; 13:35).
• Ways to serve - preaching the
good news (1:4, 14-15, 38-39; 3:14; 6:12, 34; 13:10-11; 16:14, 19-20); healing,
casting out demons (1:34; 3:10; 6:13; 16:17-18); helping people in need (6:41;
• Overcoming setbacks and
resolving arguments (9:14,36-37,39).
• Responding to those who oppose
the gospel (2:13-28; 3:20-30; 6:1-6; 7:1-23; 10:1-12; 11:27-33; 12:13-27).
• Rewards of serving (1:17; 9:1,
John the Baptist’s humble
statement (1:7) set the tone of the ministry. He deferred to Jesus, who would
baptize with the Holy Spirit (1:8). To save us, God in heaven became “Jesus of
Nazareth,” a poor carpenter from an unimportant town. He was despised and rejected,
even accused of being out of His mind and being in league with the devil
(3:21-22). Jesus took it all in stride. As long as He was doing His Father’s
will, He was content. Through His examples, He taught His disciples to be
humble and innocent like little children (10:14-15) and to be lowly servants
Even though Jesus deserved all
power and glory, He chose to be a lowly servant. As the Son of Man, Jesus
deferred to God in heaven. He hid Himself from the people’s adoration. When
unclean spirits recognized Him, He commanded them to be silent (1:25, 34;
3:12). After healing a person, He often commanded them not to tell anyone
(1:44; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26).
Jesus was a servant who
considered His own needs last. He asked, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
(10:36, 51) and never “What will I get in return?” When people asked (sometimes
even demanded) Jesus for something, He always patiently listened and did
according to their faith. Jesus poured out all of His power to heal and to
save. Perhaps that is why He did not have physical beauty (Isa 53:2), and that
He died so quickly on the cross.
Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion
are the best example of His humility. He had the power to save Himself at any
time, but He chose not to. When false witnesses accused Him, He did not rebuke
them. When Roman soldiers flogged Him, He did not fight back. On the cross,
when people mocked Him and dared Him to come down, He remained silent.
Mark vividly depicts Jesus’
loving emotions. To anyone in need, Jesus always had a kind word and a gentle
touch. When a man with leprosy pleaded with Him for mercy, “Jesus, moved with
compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ’I am
willing’” (1:41). He called a woman who wanted to be healed His “daughter”
(5:34), and He gently called a little girl back from the dead (5:41). He was
glad to take little children in His arms to bless them (10:16).
Jesus is always ready and willing
to supply our needs. When He saw that the people were like “sheep not having a
shepherd,” He set His hunger aside and began to teach them (6:31, 34). While
Jesus made spiritual matters a priority, He did not neglect the people’s
physical and emotional needs. After feeding the crowd with the words of God,
Jesus fed them with fish and bread (8:2-4). During a storm, when the disciples
feared for their lives, Jesus calmed the wind and the waves (4:38-39). When He
saw the disciples “straining at rowing” (6:48), He went to them.
The greatest mercy is the
forgiveness of sins. Jesus never turns away a repentant sinner (2:17). He ate
with tax collectors (2:15). Often He gives us grace beyond what we had asked,
such as when He forgave the sin of the paralytic (2:5). He willingly endured
the agony of the cross and the consequences of sin so that we can have the hope
A servant is required to
sacrifice, sometimes painfully. John the Baptist lived a simple life and later
died for the Lord (1:6; 6:27; 9:12-13). From the beginning of His ministry,
Jesus sacrificed His comforts for the sake of teaching, feeding, and healing
(1:13; 3:20, 6:31). But Jesus came not only to help us in this life on earth,
but also to save our souls from hell. Doing that required the ultimate
sacrifice. Jesus was willing to be persecuted, flogged, and to suffer and die
on the cross (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34, 38-39; 12:6-12; 14:22-24, 34-36, 53-65;
15:12-37). His loving sacrifice compels us to follow His example (1:18; 6:8-9;
8:34-38; 10:21-31; 13:9,12-22; 14:3).
Jesus’ claim that He is the Son
of God is grounded in truth. He was prophesied and confirmed by the prophets
(1:7-8; 9:4). God in heaven spoke for Him (1:10-11; 9:7). Even the demons
recognized His authority (1:24, 34; 3:11; 5:7). When He died on the cross, a
Roman centurion was moved to exclaim, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
Jesus’ words had authority unlike
any others’. Everyone was amazed at His teaching and His deeds (1:22, 27; 2:12,
5:20; 6:2; 10:24; 11:18; 12:17). His wise words silenced even His fiercest
critics (12:34). He revealed the mystery hidden in the words of God (2:19-22,
27-28; 3:4; 4:3-34; 7:8). Only the Son of God could speak truthfully and
powerfully on the kingdom
of God and the last days
(4:1-34; 10:1-31; 13:1-37). Only the all-knowing Lord could correctly predict
His death and resurrection (8:31; 9:9; 10:34; 10:38; 12:8).
Jesus had authority over
everything, including sickness (1:31, 41-42; 5:29, 41; 6:56; 7:37; 8:25),
demons (1:25-27, 34; 3:11; 5:7; 7:30; 9:25-26; 10:52) and nature (4:39;
6:41-42, 48; 8:6-8; 11:14,20). He alone had the authority to forgive sins (2:5,
Jesus delegated His authority to
the disciples and promised to work with them (3:15; 6:7; 16:17-18, 20). He
commanded the disciples to keep watch and complete their assigned tasks until
the master comes again (13:33-37). When the disciples received the Holy Spirit,
Jesus’ promise was fulfilled. Today, Jesus gives us the same authority of the
Holy Spirit to build up the church and to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. If
we serve Him faithfully, when Jesus comes again with great power and glory
(13:36-37), we will inherit eternal life in the kingdom of God.
Ironically, while the demons and
nature obeyed Jesus, those He came to help rejected Him. People rejected Jesus
for who He was. The Gerasenes feared Jesus and asked Him to leave them (5:17).
His own family thought He was out of his mind (3:21). People from His hometown
rejected Him due to His humble background (6:3). The scribes from Jerusalem even claimed
that He was demon-possessed (3:22). They doubted Jesus’ divine authority (2:8).
They argued with Him over God’s commandments (10:5). They repeatedly tried to
catch Him in a mistake (2:18, 24; 3:2; 8:11; 10:2; 11:28; 12:13, 24). When they
failed to trap Him, they made false accusations against Him (14:56, 59). While
Jesus was suffering, they ridiculed Him (14:65; 15:17-19, 29-32, 35-36).
People refused to accept Jesus’
teachings. When Jesus told a rich young man the one thing he still lacked, he
“went away sorrowful” (10:22). The disciples never learned their lesson, in
spite of having been with Jesus for three years. Even though Jesus took extra
time with them to explain His words (4:11), they continued to draw their own
outrageous conclusions (8:15-17, 31-33; 9:5-6). They continued to be amazed in
disbelief of Jesus’ power (4:40-41; 6:51-52). They fought among themselves and
with others (9:14, 34; 10:13, 41). Even after Jesus plainly told them that He
would suffer, die, and rise (9-31,10:34), they did not connect His words with
the events. Even after many witnesses told them that Jesus had risen from the
dead, they still did not believe (16:11, 13-14).
Jesus warned people of their
downfall so that they would repent and change their ways. However, His warning
often fell on deaf ears. He warned the disciples about arguing over who was
first among them (9:33-37; 10:38). He warned the chief priests, scribes, and
elders about the consequences of their hypocrisy (7:6; 12:36-40) and their plan
to kill the Son of God (12:7-9). He warned Judas against betraying Him (14:18).
He warned Peter about denying Him (14:30). Sadly, they all ignored Jesus’
Gospel, amazed, Son of Man, serve,
authority, believe, compassion, Son of God, betrayed, condemn, rise
To preach to the Romans, who did
not have a Jewish religious background, Mark focused on Jesus’ work. Today,
when we preach the gospel to someone without a Christian background, often the most
effective way is to share a testimony of how Jesus can make our lives better.
When the person becomes more familiar with our basic beliefs, then we can get
into the deeper spiritual teachings on salvation and the heavenly kingdom.
When we read about how Jesus
worked tirelessly, pouring out everything He had until the very end, we can not
help but feel compelled to repay His love. The best way to do that is to preach
the good news (16:15) and to “be last of all and servant of all” (9:35). With
the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we can imitate Jesus’ example as a