The Four Gospels: Mark
Preached: July 31, 2011
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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
Last week we began looking at these symbols on the banners above the organ. They come from the four faces of the cherubim that the prophet Ezekiel saw when the glory of the Lord appeared to him. From the Middle Ages on the church has used them to represent the first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
As we noted last week, although there are four books, there is only one Gospel. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John proclaim the same Good News, namely the Good News of Jesus Christ, God's Son. He alone rescues us from sin and death by bringing forgiveness and eternal life as a free gift. For he kept the law in your place. He died your death and rose in victory. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each proclaim the same Jesus Christ, the only way of salvation, so that you believe and are saved.
Likewise, even though we may refer to these accounts as the Gospel according to Matthew, the Gospel according to Mark, and so on. It's not their own version or opinion. Each one of these books has the same Author. The Holy Spirit gave them the thoughts and words to write. He reminded them of what Jesus had said and done and guided them into all truth, just as Jesus had promised
Yet the Holy Spirit used these individuals according to their own unique gifts and abilities, according to their particular backgrounds, circumstances, and experiences in life. So each of these four accounts has its own style and character even as they proclaim one and the same Gospel.
Last week we looked at how the image of a man reminded us of the what Matthew wrote. Today we look at the Gospel according to Saint Mark, pictured by the lion.
Who is this Mark? We knew Matthew because he was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, also called Levi. You remember how Jesus' called Matthew away from collecting taxes to follow him. But who is this Mark and where does he get off in writing this account of Jesus, since he is not one of the twelve Apostles?
His full name is John Mark. Now since Mark is the only Gospel that records the incident, many have supposed that he is the unnamed young man who followed Jesus after his arrest in Gethsemane. He was wearing only a linen garment, so when the soldiers seized him, he fled naked leaving his garment behind.
But we do have more certain information about John Mark. His family was closely connected to the work of the Apostles in Jerusalem after Pentecost and possibly with Jesus' work before. In Acts 12 Peter had been put in prison for preaching about Jesus. The Apostle James, the brother of John, had already been executed by King Herod. The believers have gathered to pray for Peter at the house of a woman named Mary, the mother of John Mark, we're told. That's the first time he's named in the Scriptures. After an angel had appeared to Peter and brought him out of prison, he went to that house, because he knew the believers gathered there and may have been quite close to this family and the young man, Mark.
Next we hear that Barnabas and Paul take Mark along as an assistant on Paul's first missionary journey (Acts 12:25). But half way through, Mark left them (Acts 13:13). Paul refused to take him along on the next mission trip. But Barnabas wanted to. So Paul and Barnabas parted company going on different journeys. Barnabas took Mark; Paul took Silas. (Acts 15:37-40).
But the rift between Paul and Mark did not last. Mark continues to do the Lord's work, and Paul recognizes him as a faithful servant of the Lord. Mark is with Paul during his first imprisonment in Rome. From this imprisonment Paul sends greetings from Mark as he writes Colossians (Colossians 4:10) and Philemon (Philemon 24). He urges the Christians at Colosse to welcome Mark if he comes (Colossians 4:10). And as Paul writes his last Epistle during his second and fatal imprisonment at Rome, he asks Timothy to bring Mark along "because he is helpful to me in my ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11 NIV1984).
Much of John Mark's work was alongside the Apostle Peter. So close was there relationship, that Peter refers to Mark as his son (1 Peter 5:13). Early church fathers from the time after the Apostles tell us that Mark was a close associate of Peter and preserved Peter's preaching. That also fits with the details that Mark wrote. For example, only Mark records the Aramaic words, "Talitha Koum!" (Mark 5:41 NIV1984) that Jesus spoke when he raised the dead daughter of Jairus while only her parents and Peter, James, and John were in the room. Can you picture Peter powerfully preaching about that miracle recalling the very sounds Jesus had uttered? So great an impression it had made on him?
This is the John Mark the Holy Spirit used to write the Gospel of Jesus, which he heard it first hand from the Apostle Peter himself.
Mark spent time in Rome with both Paul and Peter. He may well have had a Roman, Latin-speaking audience in mind as he wrote. He explains Jewish customs and Aramaic words, but leaves Latin terms unexplained. And this helps us understand the character of Mark's account and why the picture of a lion is so suitable for it.
Rome was the capital of the Mediterranean world, the largest empire the world had yet seen. Roman legions had conquered from Spain to the Euphrates, from Upper Egypt to the English Channel. Rome's power held the empire together, protected its borders, and preserved the peace. Look at what Roman power had accomplished. How weak and helpless Jesus looked in comparison! See him bloody and beaten standing before the proud Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Look at him condemned and crucified on a Roman cross. How could he be God and Savior? He couldn't even save himself.
So Mark shows Jesus as the mighty Savior he is, like a mighty lion, powerful in word and deed. But this mighty Savior willingly choose to lay down his life, not out of weakness or helplessness, but to ransom us. "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" (Mark 10:45 NIV1984).
Now the Gospel according to Mark is the quickest paced of the four. Like a lion roaring alone in the wilderness, we hear a voice calling out in the desert as Mark begins the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It's the voice of John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus. In just the first twenty verses, Mark quickly recounts John's ministry, Jesus' baptism, his forty days of temptation, and the calling of his first disciples, including Peter, away from their fishing nets to be fishers of men.
Then Mark recounts a day in the life of Jesus, the mighty Savior. See if this sounds like a weakling to you. It's a Sabbath day in Capernaum. Jesus goes to the synagogue and teaches there. A man with an evil spirit cries out in the synagogue. Jesus silences the evil spirit and drives him out. The people marvel at his teaching with authority. Then going to Peter's house, he cured Peter's mother-in-law of a fever. After sunset, the people brought their sick and demon-possessed to Jesus and he healed them on into the night. That's what the Sabbath, the rest-day, was like for Jesus. And don't think he slept in the next morning. Mark tell us, "Very early in the morning while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed" (Mark 1:35 NIV1984). What a mighty Savior, like a powerful lion!
In this way the first seven and half chapters lay out miracle after miracle revealing Jesus as the mighty Savior, the powerful lion. He cures a man of leprosy (Mark 1:40-45), heals a paralytic, even forgiving his sins (Mark 2: 1-12), defends his disciples against the accusations of others (Mark 2:13-3:6), shows that his power over evil spirits certainly cannot come from Satan (Mark 3:20-30). After teaching in parables all day, he stills a storm when the disciples fear the boat would sink and drown them all (Mark 4:35-41). He heals a man possessed by so many demons he's named Legion (Mark 5:21). He heals a woman, raises a dead girl (Mark 5:21-45), feeds over five thousand with five loaves and two fish (Mark 6:30-44), walks on water (Mark 6:45-56). And that's only the first six chapters. What a mighty Savior! What a powerful lion!
But half way through chapter eight, Jesus' tone appears to change. This mighty Savior whom demons, devils, disease, and death yield to talks about suffering and being killed and then rising (Mark 8:31). This seemed so contrary to the mighty Savior they knew that Peter toke him aside and scolded him for talking like that. But Jesus rebuked Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! ... You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men" (Mark 8:33 NIV1984).
Yes, God's mighty plan to defeat sin, Satan, and death, meant the cross, and as the mighty Savior Jesus resolutely faced it all to rescue you and me. As Mark's account continues the destination of the cross becomes clearer and clearer. Yet even here Mark shows that Jesus is the mighty God, the roaring lion, who willingly chooses this path. We glimpse his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration in Mark 9. Jesus still drives out an evil spirit (Mark 9:14-27) and heals a blind man (Mark 10:46-52), but he keeps on talking to his disciples about his coming death and resurrection (Mark 9:12, 31; 10:33-34, 45). He teaches them that the path of faith isn't the path of power and dominance but of service and humility like a little child (Mark 9:33-37; 10:13-16, 35-45).
Yes, dear friends, don't look for God's power in the mighty acts this world boasts of. Jesus certainly displayed his power and might in his miracles, but the reason he came was to serve by giving his life as the ransom for you. Since the mighty Savior has served us in such a great way, can we not serve others with all humility? Serve not to gain earthly power, prestige, or wealth. Serve not because others say nice things about your helpfulness or because it makes you feel good about yourself. Rather serve because you rely on Jesus alone as your mighty Savior, your powerful lion. And such reliance on Jesus brings not only the power to serve others but also the strength to bear whatever cross comes when you follow Jesus. If the mighty Lion stood there in humiliation with his main shorn letting them kill him in our place, how little our cross in comparison.
And so beginning in chapter 11 Mark, like Matthew, Luke, and John, recounts in detail Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and the events of Holy Week. Chapter 14 brings us to the upper room and Gethsemane. In chapter 15 Jesus is crucified for you, forsaken by God so that you might live with God forever. What a ransom price he paid for you! And yet even in death, or maybe we should say especially in his death, he is the mighty Savior. Even the centurion at the cross confesses: "Surely this man was the Son of God!" (Mark 15:39 NIV1984). And then chapter 16 proclaims his glorious resurrection, as the angel said, "He has risen! He is not here. Come see the place where they laid him" (Mark 16:6 NIV1984). He is risen, our mighty Savior, the living Lion.
So dear friends, don't be put off by the lowliness of Jesus as the ancient Romans were. Or maybe what troubles our faith even more, don't be put off by the lowliness of your own life, with its hurts, pains, setbacks, and failures. Don't expect a mighty life as you live on this earth. Yet no matter what you go through, remember the Lion. Jesus is your mighty Savior. He has ransomed you with his blood. Cling to him in faith until he takes you from this vale of tears, this world of sorrow, and delivers you safely to his heavenly kingdom. For he is the living Lion, the King of kings. He has risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally, your mighty Savior. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.