Introduction to Mark's Gospel

Mark  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 7
In the various and fruitful light of Scripture what fresh wonders do, at times, cast themselves forth under the eye of the soul! Its seed is in itself, like the trees of Eden. Its witness is in itself, like all the works of God. Its honors and its virtues are all its own—made ours, indeed, only by the power of the Holy Spirit. But such it is. Its worth and its excellency proceed from itself; and we want only the faith that walks in the light of it, apprehending and enjoying Him whose wisdom and grace it reveals to us.
That each of the four Gospels has its own character and purpose, under the Spirit of God, is now sufficiently familiar to us. And, indeed, this was a judgment among the people of God from the earliest days of Christianity. They perceived then, as we do now, variety in unity; so that some of them said, “It is not so properly four Gospels that we have, as a four-sided Gospel.” The one life is seen in different relations—the same Jesus passes through the same scenes and circumstances, in various characters.
This is variety in unity. And this leads me to suggest that, in like manner, the Book of God has also unity in variety. We see our world in all the parts of it, and ourselves in all the persons of it. We listen, for instance, to the grace which addresses us as sinners, and learn ruin and redemption now, as Adam learned them in the day of Genesis 3. When putting on the righteousness of God by faith we find ourselves in the family and fellowship of Abraham, as in Genesis 15. At the table of the Lord, spread in the midst of the redeemed every resurrection-day, we sit in one spirit with the congregation of God, as in Exodus 12. In the conflict of flesh and spirit we not only see what manner of people the saints in Paul’s day were, but we read our own well-known every-day experience.
Thus we are at home throughout the whole Volume, tracing our own world in all the scenes of it, and ourselves in the actors. And this is unity in variety. Such is the wondrous character of the Book.
Thousands of years are but one and the same day. The Book is one, though Moses and John, the earliest and the latest writers in it, were separated by centuries and centuries; and though kings and fishermen, scribes and herdmen, prophets and publicans, separated by all the habits of human life and human circumstances, were called to put their hand to it.
It is a Book of wonders, but the Book itself is a principal wonder, as this may show us. Its naturalness and its beauty are, with all this, admirable beyond expression. This quality of the Book of God once reminded another of a striking analogy in the kingdom of nature. “It is,” he said, as “a noble tree, of which the inward energy, the freedom of the sovereign vital power, produces a variety of forms, in which the details of human order may appear to be wanting, but in which there is a beauty which no human art can imitate.”
True indeed; and true also is what he adds after contemplating the materials which form and furnish this Book. “All combine to crown with divine glory the demonstration of the origin and authorship of the Book which contains these things.”
May meditation on it be mixed with faith, that the soul may be profited while the heart is charmed!
This Gospel, which succeeds that by Matthew, would, as a history of events, seem, at first sight, to be only a shorter account of the same circumstances; but, if the wakefulness of the eye is a little strengthened, the distinctness that attaches to it, and gives it its character, will not fail to be perceived.
The opening of it would seem to give it the last place in the series or succession of the four Gospels. But again, on a closer inspection of it, it will be deemed very properly to hold, as it does, the second place.
We have in it no genealogy of the Lord Jesus at all, either divine, human, or Jewish. We are introduced to Him at once in His manhood. We have no account of His birth, nor of the precursors of His birth; neither is mention made of His early days passed in subjection to His parents, or under the law; much less of His incarnation. All this, glorious and precious as it is, is left with the other evangelists.
John tells us of the incarnation. “The Word became flesh.” This is the first and highest thought. This gives the Lord to us as He was divinely, or from everlasting.
Luke then gives us the fact of His coming into this world, and relates the manner of that coming. He tells us of the birth by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. And then he leaves us in sight of Him, for a little while, growing in wisdom and stature, as in the midst of family circumstances, or at home at Nazareth in Galilee.
Matthew, taking up the wondrous tale in his turn, shows us this Child born, and this Son given, in His solemn presentation to His people Israel. Being come, Immanuel, God and man in one Person, He is presented in His rights and claims as the promised Governor out of Bethlehem-Judah.
Mark then, passing all this by, shows Him to us in manhood at once. His eternal glory; His incarnation; the manner of His entering into the flesh and the world; the claims which were made for Him by voices of prophets and sights from heaven, as soon as He got here; all is passed. He who was in the beginning; He who was, in due time, born in Bethlehem; He who, as a Child, had to be taken by flight into Egypt; who afterwards grew up in grace and in years at Nazareth, and, at the age of twelve, talked with scribes and doctors in the temple; such a One is passed by, and, at the very first moment of our Gospel, He is seen by us as girded in full strength and manhood for service. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” are Mark’s first words.
So then, as I observed, this Gospel might seem to occupy the last place in the order of the four. But this is only a first impression.
Characteristically, this Gospel is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus as a Servant, or as in ministry. As such it opens, as such it maintains itself throughout, and as such it closes.
But we are not to say of our Lord that He is our Servant. He is ever serving us, it is true; nevertheless, He is not our Servant, but God’s. To speak of Him as our Servant, as one once hinted to me, would be to make Him subject to our command, which could not be. So that, though in infinite grace He serves us, He is, all the while, God’s Servant, and not ours.
And hence it is that we can trace, in this Gospel, so many minute strokes and touches, such as adorn and perfect a life of service, which has its ornaments as well as its substance, its tenderness and considerateness as well as its devotedness and self-sacrifice.
I have already observed that, generally, the materials of Mark are the same as those of Matthew. The Lord is doing the same things, and is seen in the same circumstances. There is, however, this difference in purpose—in Matthew He is testing Israel; here He is serving Israel.
Accordingly, in Matthew, the Lord is introduced in all due form, again and again, that every advantage might be given them, while it was under proof whether Israel would accept Messiah or not.
In Mark there is the absence of all form and ceremony. There is no solemn introduction of the Lord, as the Gospel opens, beyond the things that were needed in order to set Him at His work; and, as soon as He is at His work, He passes from one service to another with all diligence. And these distinctions have real beauty in them. For service, in its very nature or genius, is informal and desultory. It answers occasions as they rise. It does its work, rather than sets itself to do it. But, in testing Israel, the Lord in Matthew carefully and duly sets Himself forth in forms foretold by their prophets; assuming, in the midst of them, all those characters which realized before them the words of their own Scriptures.
This variety is, surely, a part of the perfection that attaches to this Book. The One whom we get in each of the Gospels is carried through the same scenes and circumstances, because the history is true; but the Spirit lets Him pass before us, through those scenes, in different characters, all consistent, but one as well as another is needed, in order to present Him in His fullness. Here, in Mark, He is the Jesus who, having come not to be ministered unto but to minister, “went about doing good.”
The penman of this Gospel is, personally, as I may say, in company with his Gospel. It is Mark, or John Mark, whom Paul and Barnabas had “to their minister”; and of whom Paul, on another occasion, said, “He is profitable unto me for the ministry.” And as the apostle John was a fit penman to tell us of Him who lay in the Father’s bosom, because he himself lay in the Lord’s bosom, so we may observe here a like fitness in the penman to the subject.
I would now take up this Gospel, distinguishing the parts in which it naturally presents itself, and then noticing what is characteristic.
First Part—Mark 1-10.
These chapters give us the Lord’s services in the midst of His people Israel.
Second Part—Mark 11-13.
These chapters give us the Lord’s presentation of Himself, as their King, to His people, the immediate results of this; and then His prophetic word upon the times and fortunes of Israel, who had now rejected Him.
Third Part—Mark 14-15.
This portion of our Gospel gives us the scene of our Lord’s last sufferings.
Fourth Part—Mark 16.
This last chapter shows our Lord to us in resurrection.