Reading the Gospel of Mark

The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1).

Mark’s first words, in a Roman political and cultural context, are startling. 

“Gospel” was the term used to describe the joyous announcement of imperial news, that is, the Roman Emperor has secured peace, prosperity and security for the known world. “Son of God” was the language of Roman coins, e.g., Tiberius was the “son of God,” the son of the divine Augustus. 

Mark’s Gospel begins as a frontal assault on Roman confidence in their Empire. It is not the Emperor, but Jesus, who is God’s anointed Son. He brings “good news” rather than the Emperor. The narrative of Mark’s gospel unfolds the good news about Jesus the Messiah who is the true Son of God.

The first half of the Gospel of Mark (1:2-8:26) answers the question “Who is Jesus?” with the answer that “He is the Christ (Messiah), the Son of God.”  This means he is healer, forgiver, redeemer, etc.

  • The Father declares “You are my Son, whom I love” (1:11)
  • An evil spirit cried out, “I know who you are–the Holy One of God” (1:24)
  • Jesus said, “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (2:27).
  • The disciples ask, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (4:41).
  • Legion exclaims, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (5:7).
  • Two feedings of thousands declared his Messianic role (6:30-44; 8:1-13).
  • The people said, “He even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak” (7:37).

The central confession of the Gospel of Mark is Peter’s response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”  He answered, “You are the Christ (Messiah)” (8:29).

  • The narrative begins with this Christian confession: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (1:1)
  • The narrative ends with this confession by a Roman soldier: “Surely this man was the Son of God” (15:39).

The second half of the Gospel of Mark (8:31-16:20) answers the question “Who is Jesus?” with the answer that “He is the Messianic servant who dies and rises for our redemption.” He brings a different kind of kingdom into the world. In contrast to the Roman obsession with power, control and violence, Jesus inaugurates a kingdom of service, sacrifice and healing.

  • Jesus began to “teach them that the Son of Man must suffer…be killed…rise again” (8:31).
  • Jesus forebade discussion of his transfiguration until “the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (9:9).
  • Jesus reminds the disciples that “the Son of Man will be betrayed…mock[ed]…flog[ged]…kill[ed]…he will rise” (10:33-34).
  • “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (10:45).
  • The blind man asks, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (10:47).
  • The crowd praises God acknowledging Jesus’ Messianic entrance, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David” (11:10).
  • Jesus cleanses the temple of God which is a “house of prayer for all nations” (11:17).
  • Jesus is the rejected stone of the builders who has become “the capstone” (12:10).
  • The Son of Man will “gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth” (13:26).
  • Jesus is the sacrificial passover lamb, “Take it; this is my body” (14:22).
  • “But the Scriptures must be fulfilled” (14:49).
  • The high priest asks, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”  “I am,” Jesus replied (14:61-62).
  • Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1 from the cross (15:34).
  • The centurion confesses, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (15:39).
  • “Don’t be alarmed,” the angel said, “Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified…has risen!” (16:6). 

 Some communities of faith, like Harpeth Community Church, encourage the use of the SOAP method of contemplative Bible reading.

Scripture reading–read the text, praying beforehand that God will give wisdom through the Spirit

Observe what is in the text, recognizing how something there captures your attention and your heart.

Apply that observation to your own life, seeking how it might change you.

Pray that God will work that application into your heart and bless your seeking.

As you read through the Gospel of Mark over the next three weeks using the SOAP method, permit me to suggest four questions that might help illuminate the significance of what you read. For every story you read in Mark–or every chapter (whatever your reading method is)–ask yourself these questions.

  1. What amazes or astounds you in this story?  The Gospel of Mark uses several words which denote amazement or astonishment. Twenty-four (24) times Mark stresses this response on the part of observers in the story. Something new has broken into the world; something is different; something has changed. God is acting in an astonishing ways through the ministry of Jesus. Watch for the astounding, marvellous works of God in Mark’s story. How has God amazed you?
  2. What is faith like in this story?  Sometimes faith is absent;  sometimes it is weak; sometimes it even amazes Jesus himself. The disciples are learning to believe throughout the Gospel–they struggle with understanding Jesus’ teaching, they struggle with their own assurance of salvation, they struggle with embracing their mission, they struggle with loyalty and courage, and they struggle with trust. They struggle to believe. We are each those disciples.
  3. Who is Jesus in this story? Every story in Mark contributes to the total picture Mark is drawing concerning Jesus. Each story tells us something about the identity and/or mission of Jesus. As you read each story,  Jesus asks you, “Who do you say that I am?” What you believe about Jesus, whether you trust in Jesus, whether you believe God is truly at work in his ministry, will shape your life. Who do you say Jesus is?
  4. What is the good news in this story? The narrative Mark writes is a “Gospel”–it is good news. It is the good newss about Jesus, or the good news that Jesus brings. This stands in contrast with the “good news” of the Roman Empire which claimed to bring peace and security to the world; it stands in contrast with the “bad news” of the human situation where disaster, disease and death reign, where sin and violence dominate. The stories about Jesus in Mark accentuate the good news–God has come to his people to forgive, heal and redeem. How is the story of Jesus good news to you?

The story of Jesus, through the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, still lives. His story bears witness to the God who loves, the God who heals our hurts, and redeems our souls. The story of Jesus is good news. It is God’s response to the bad news which surrounds us and infects our hearts.  Jesus is the cure; he is the Messiah, the Son of God.

If we would know peace, joy and healing, if we would know ministry and service, we will follow Jesus. 

Immediately after Peter’s confession and Jesus’ clarification that his mission involves sacrificial suffering and service, he offers this invitation–an invitation for all.

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it (Mark 8:34-35).

***Sermon delivered at the Harpeth Community Church in Franklin, TN, February 8, 2009***

You can listen to the sermon here.

6 Responses to “Reading the Gospel of Mark”

  1.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    Thanks for this overview. I like your way of labeling the two halves between question and answer. I happen to be teaching through the gospel of Mark in the Sunday morning adult bible class where I preach. I have understood Mark’s gospel to be about what is means to be a community of disciples who follow after Jesus, the Messiah. But I am also still a learner, so it is nice to read other peoples perspectives. Thanks!

    Grace and peace,


  2.   randall Says:

    Hallelujah! Jesus is good news and he brings us good news.

  3.   rich constant Says:

    blessings john mark.


  4.   Matthew Says:

    Thank you for the insights into Mark’s powerful gospel.

  5.   Zach Cox Says:

    I’d be interested in your take on the the different perspectives of Mark and Matthew. It seems that Mark’s message is one of following the crucified Messiah in suffering and service with eager expectation of His return. Matthew, however seems to be more interested in the life of the church throughout time (much less immanence). It’s not that these are contradictory messages (they are in fact rather complimentary), but definitely a different emphasis. This distinction would receive further support if in fact as Metzger and others argue, Mark ends at 16:8. Then Mark would include no resurrection appearances, no promise of His continued presence, only eager expectation. Matthew, of course, takes a different approach to his conclusion. Mark, on the other hand would intentionally end with an enigmatic conclusion which beckons his community of readers to respond in discipleship and suffering service in expecation of His return.

    Anyway, good sermon.

    Zach Cox

  6.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    I see you points and would generally agree. Matthew is concerned about life in community as disciples whereas Mark concerned with the nature of the kingdom which the suffering servant brings into reality.

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