Mark: What’s that book all about?
(A brief introduction to the book of Mark)
If you want to get to know Jesus for Who He is, reading His story in the Gospels is a great place to
begin. Each of the Jesus stories (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) is simply that, the story of Jesus.
The book of Mark is the second of four of these brief accounts of His life. If you’re interested in
Jesus, you’ve come to the right place.
Here we’re taking the “macro view” (the big picture) of Mark's book. As with any of the Bible's
books, this view will help you as you develop a more “micro view” of the specific contents of this
Gospel. We won't get technical on you here. We’ll take a look at Mark's Gospel as a whole to better
understand its parts. We’ll look at the author, Mark (The Person), his main purpose in writing (The
Point), some of the specifics of his writing (The Particulars), and the uniqueness of what he wrote
One of the most interesting aspects of this Gospel is the identity of its author. The first Gospel was
written by a former traitor/tax-collector (Matthew). This book of Mark was the work of a former failed
missionary. Ironic, don’t you think, that God would use a servant who failed to write about a Servant,
Who didn’t! God still uses whom He chooses. He also changes whom He chooses! Let’s look
Mark was the son of a wealthy lady in Jerusalem whose name was Mary, and whose house was a
meeting-place of the early church (Acts 12:12). He was the nephew (possibly, “cousin”) of the
famous character in Acts, “Barnabas” (Colossians 4:10). When the Apostle Paul and Barnabas set
out on their first missionary journey they took Mark with them to be their “helper” (Acts 13:5). For
reasons unknown to us Mark left the expedition and went home prematurely, which caused big
problems for Paul and Barnabas at the onset of their next journey (Acts 13:13; 15:37-40). Maybe he
was tentative about the dangers of cross-cultural interaction or afraid of persecution from
unbelievers. Maybe he didn’t appreciate the leadership of Paul – his uncle being pushed to the
background. One early Christian historian suggested that he simply wanted his mother (and the
comforts of his well-to-do home)! In any case, he abandoned the team, and was on “the outs” with
Paul for quite some time as a result.
Paul and Barnabas spilt up their missionary efforts on account of Mark; Paul taking a new partner,
Silas; and Uncle Barnabas sticking with his young nephew (Acts 15:39-40). The awesome thing is
that nearly twenty years later it seems that both Mark and Paul had a change of heart. Mark went
from disqualified missionary (at least to Paul) to “fellow prisoner” with Paul worthy of “welcome” by
the Colossian church (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24). Later in his final letter Paul writes, “Get Mark
and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:10). Think of it. The
man once dismissed as a quitter, redeemed himself and became the one that the great Apostle Paul
wanted with him at the end of his life; to say nothing of being chosen by God to write one of the four
memoirs of the life of the Son of God!
It is widely and historically believed that John Mark (John being his Jewish name, and Mark his
Roman name, possibly indicating a mixed marriage of his parents) was at some point the traveling
partner and disciple of the Apostle Peter. In his first Epistle Peter calls him, “… my son Mark” (1
Peter 5:13). In this capacity he would have heard the recounting of the Jesus stories over and over
in the preaching of Peter. With this in mind many believe Peter and Mark wrote the book together.
The hand that wrote it is Mark’s, but the voice is the voice of the less educated fisherman, Peter. It’s
really the Gospel according to Mark – and Peter!
Interesting isn’t it, that Mark and Peter are very much alike. Both fail badly early on through an
apparent lack of courage. Peter denies the Lord and Mark deserts the Lord’s Apostle. Both are
totally restored to brave service and outstanding leadership!
As you read through his book, you’re going to see Jesus in action. We see Jesus at work in the
Gospel of Mark. The emphasis of the book is not so much the words of Jesus, but His works. He
focuses mostly on what Jesus did, and not so much on what He said (thus the absence of His
longer discourses which are included in the other Gospels). Mark was assigned by the Spirit to
present Jesus primarily as the royal Servant of God and man. Of the four biographers of Jesus,
Mark was the one most interested to show Jesus as the model and active Servant. A synopsis of
this theme is found in the key verse of the book, “For even as the Son of Man did not come to be
served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45
The whole book might be summed up in those words: “To minister and to give His life.” The first
nine chapters picture His labors of love throughout Galilee; and over them we might write the
words: “…to minister.” The final seven chapters reveal His trek to Jerusalem and passing through
suffering, death and resurrection. We might give those chapters the title: “…to give His life.” Since
the most important work of Jesus on earth was His work on the cross, Mark devoted almost 40% of
his book to the final 8 days of His life! Service and Sacrifice – thus the book of Mark is summarized.
Ironic, don’t you think, that God would
use a servant who failed to write
about a Servant, Who didn’t!
What a wonderful thing that God would use a formerly failed servant, later redeemed and restored
to write about the Model Servant of God! Mark’s role on the first Paul-and-Barnabas-Missionary-
Team was as a “helper” (servant, roadie, attendant). For some reason he ran from his
responsibilities as such, but later after much growth, was considered by his former spiritual leader to
be “useful” and valuable to him personally. Now he writes about the most humble, the most faithful,
the most servant-like Servant of all!
Mark wastes no time in getting his point across about the activities of Jesus the Servant. This is the
briefest and most streamlined of all the Gospels and moves rapidly through the brief ministry of the
Lord on earth. By the fourth verse of the book he’s telling us of the ministry of John the Baptist. By
the end of the first chapter Jesus is over 30 years old and well into His ministry. Mark reaches in
chapter one what Matthew takes eight chapters to relate. He covers in nine chapters what Matthew
deals with in twice as many. It’s the most concise, vivid, and in some ways exciting of the Gospels. It
could be called a long short story.
One of the most often repeated and prominent terms in the book of Mark is the simple term,
“immediately.” Its synonyms are, “at once… without delay… just then… quickly… as soon as...” In
fact you’ll find nearly a dozen such terms in the first two chapters and as many as 40 in this brief
book. It seems that Mark is portraying Jesus on a mission to serve. He’s got no time to lose, no time
to waste. He goes from one divine appointment to another serving both the needs of people and the
will of His Father.
The hand that wrote it is Mark’s,
but the voice is the voice of the
less educated fisherman, Peter…
For Jesus in this Gospel, “doing only what He sees the Father doing…,” it’s task after task, with
almost breathless activity. Look over the book and notice that the narrative passes from scene to
scene, each full of life, movement, and vigor. Mark employs an almost tedious use of the conjunction
“and” between activities throughout the book. Someone pointed out that two out of three verses in
the book begin with “and.” Jesus’ almost restless activity effects His disciples in many ways, not the
least of which is the twice mentioned, “they could not so much as eat bread.” There were times that
keeping up with Jesus meant that they wouldn’t have time to eat!
Yet with all this activity and almost constant serving we never see a sign that He was given to worry
or haste. All His deeds were done with dignity and deliberation. Mark shows us that Jesus was
“busy about His Father’s business” though never distraught or in a hurry. In fact, this Gospel tells us
of at least ten different occasions in which Jesus withdrew to be alone with the Father and with the
disciples. Even these moments were often interrupted by the multitudes thronging Him for help and
healing. But these periods of quiet and meditation prepared Him with fresh anointing to serve the
masses all the more. What a great lesson that is!
Each of the Jesus stories has it peculiarities. Each includes and omits items from the life and
ministry of Jesus which fits their particular assignment. The following are some things which only
Mark includes or emphasizes in light of his Holy Spirit guided assignment and which make the book
unique among the Gospels.
· You’ll notice throughout the book the repeated reference to the awe and astonishment of
those who encountered Jesus. “They were astonished at his teaching” (1:22). “They were all
amazed” (1:27). “This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen
anything like this!’” (2:12). “They were filled with awe…” (4:41). “They were utterly astounded…” (6:
51). “The disciples were amazed at his words…” (10:24, 26). Mark is trying to tell us that Jesus is
not just special, He’s a wonder, and when we’re around Him we’re going to be full of just that -
Mark shows us that Jesus was
“busy about His Father’s business”
though never distraught or in a hurry.
· Mark seems most emphatic about us knowing that Jesus was a deeply feeling Person. None
of the Gospels tell us more about the strong emotions of Jesus. “… with a deep sigh He said to the
man…” (7:34). “He sighed deeply and said…” (8:12). “… in anger and deeply distressed at their
stubborn hearts…” (3:5). “When Jesus saw this, He was indignant…” (10:14). Only Mark tells us
that when Jesus looked at the rich young ruler He loved him (10:21).
· Mark is the only one of the four who actually tells us that Jesus was a “carpenter” (6:3). As
such He obviously worked with His hands. Mark is rather emphatic about the “hands of Jesus” in his
Gospel. He took Peter’s mother-in-law “by the hand.” He “took the blind man by the hand…,” and
put “his hands on the blind man’s eyes to heal them.” He took the demon possessed boy “by the
hand, and lifted him up.” When healing a deaf and dumb man He “put His fingers into his ears.” The
townspeople once remarked that His mighty works were “wrought by His hands.”
· Mark’s Gospel, being by far the briefest of the four, is notorious for what he is led by the Spirit
to leave out. For instance, he makes no mention of the preexistence of the Lord (as in John), or His
birth (Matthew and Luke), or his boyhood years (Luke). To Mark, the great Servant stepped on
stage completely ready to serve!
Mark is trying to tell us that Jesus is not just special,
He’s a wonder!
· We mentioned earlier that Mark and Peter most likely wrote the book together. If that is indeed
true, we might better understand a rather comical account of the Garden of Gethsemane scene in
this book. Notice in 14:47 we’re told that “one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the
servant of the high priest.” We know from John’s account that it was “Simon Peter” who performed
this hasty act. I’m thinking it might be that with Peter involved in the recording of the story, he might
have made a deal with his partner, John Mark. “I think we might be able to leave out the exact
details here, don’t you, Mark?” “I don’t see why not, Peter. But what’s in it for me?”
Well, if that’s even close to how it went, you might want to look down at verses 51 and 52. There we
hear of a “… young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they
seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.” As we used to say, I’ll give you 3 guesses
(and the first 2 don’t count) who that “young man” is most likely to have been?! It seems to me this
is the other end of the deal between co-writers. “Okay, Peter, we’ll leave out the identity of the
lunatic swordsman, if we just mention, but not be specific about the identity of the streaker!”
The way Mark concludes his book is unique. “And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the
Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed.” Here we have the
consummate Servant, having mentored eleven men to do what He did. He continues to this day His
life of service, working with those who will work with Him!
I hope you’ll read and re-read Mark’s Jesus story. And as you do, feel free to wonder!
Don’t concoct a mechanical or theologically sterile Jesus, please! Look for the real Jesus
on every page! Don’t expect to completely understand Him. Remember, after all, He is
God! Read and wonder.