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1: The Servant and His Ministry (Introduction to Mark)
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1: The Servant and His Ministry (Introduction to Mark)

I.       Author

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.

II.    Recipient

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.

III. Date

Between A.D. 50 to 70.

IV.  Place

The book was probably written in Rome. Mark’s immediate audience was the believers in the city.

V.     Purpose/Occasion

1.   When 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 suffering.

2.   The 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.

VI.  Unique Characteristics

1.   Among the four gospel books, only Mark refers to itself as the “gospel” (1:1).

2.   In 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.

3.   Mark frequently uses words such as “immediately,” “at once,” “quickly,” etc., which conveys a sense of urgency in Jesus’ mission.

4.   Mark 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).

VII.           Central Verse

            “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).

VIII.        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).

IX.  Themes

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.).

A.     Servant/Minister

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; 10:45).

• 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; 8:2).

• 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, 41; 10:29-30).

B.     Humility/Meekness

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 (10:42-44).

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.

C.     Compassion/Mercy

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 of salvation.

D.     Suffering/Sacrifice

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).

E.     Authority

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!” (15:39)

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, 10-11).

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.

F.      Hardened Hearts

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’ warning.

X.     Key Words/Phrases

Gospel, amazed, Son of Man, serve, authority, believe, compassion, Son of God, betrayed, condemn, rise

XI.  Modern Relevance

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 humble servant.


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