I started a series on the Gospel of Mark a while back and have been planning to get back into it for a while. We barely made it through Mark’s introduction before we interrupted it by studying “Resolving Everyday Conflict”, went into the Advent season, and then spent a lot of time on the Foundations Series. Now we’re back into our study of Mark and that’s where – unless the Lord has other plans again – we’re going to spend our time until Christmas.
Mark’s Gospel to Hurting Christians
Let’s start with a quick review. [BTW - If you want to catch up on the series I can give you copies of the previous sermons.] Mark’s account Christ’s Life is different than those of Matthew, Luke and John. They don’t disagree with each other, but because they are intended for different audiences, Mark tells the story from a different perspective, and with a different emphasis.
The Gospel of Mark is all about action. Peter was, without a doubt, a straight-talking man of action who preached boldly and was powerfully changed by Jesus. He doesn’t concentrate on what Jesus said, but what He did. He was an eye witness to the power that Jesus had, and it affected him for the rest of his life. He couldn’t help but see Jesus as the obvious Son of God, the Saviour of the World, the answer to all of the most important questions life has – and this gospel reflects that.
The main purpose behind Mark’s Gospel (which was the first written) was to record the memories and sermons that the Apostle Peter had about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and then send them to the suffering Christians in Rome (and then have it distributed throughout the world) to give them instruction and hope to believers who were under persecution.
Mark Wrote this around 55-70AD and the political climate in Rome was volatile to say the least. It wasn’t a good place to be a Christian. Nero began his reign in 54AD and though his first few years were peaceful everything changed in 62AD. Nero showed himself to be a ruthless, brutal man, killing his advisers, many of the nobility and even his mother in an attempt to become more wealthy and powerful.
In 64AD fire destroyed a large part of Rome. It is most likely that Nero himself ordered the fire to be set so that he could have room to build a new palace, but he directed all the blame onto the Christians. Thus began a terrible time of persecution for the church. Christians lost their jobs, their families and their lives. They were tortured, executed, and sent to the Coliseum to be killed for entertainment. Some were covered in animal skins and torn apart by dogs, others were hung on crosses and set on fire to be torches at night for the city.
It was to this group of people that Mark’s Gospel was sent. And they didn’t need a gospel full of prophecy, genealogies, long teachings and theological explanations. They simply needed to know that their faith – which was costing them so much — was in the right Person. They needed to know what gave Jesus the right to be called the Christ, the Son of God. There were lots of gods in the pantheon of Roman culture. What made Jesus the One worth rejecting all their other gods and join a persecuted minority group?
Faith in Jesus wasn’t just a fad, a life choice, or something they did because they grew up in the church – believing in Jesus could cost them everything so they had to know for sure. So Mark writes the way I imagine Peter preached, with intensity and conviction, getting straight to the heart of the matter, showing that Jesus really is who He claims to be, and their faith was in the only person who could deliver them from judgement, secure for them eternity, and had the power to bring them through any trial or temptation.
Two Themes: Authority and Opposition
Last time we went through Mark we covered Jesus’ Baptism, Temptation in the Wilderness, and the Calling of the First Disciples. (If you would like to read these sermons, click here.) From this point on what Mark is going to do is weave together two important themes that will set up telling the story of the life of Jesus and will be the framework to help readers understand what makes Jesus so unique and special.
The first theme is the authority and power of Jesus. His authority over demons as He casts them out and orders them around, over sickness as He heals all manner of diseases, and over the laws of nature as He is even able to command the wind and waves to do what He wants. Without a doubt, the claim of the Gospel of Mark is that Jesus is God incarnate and has power that no one else has.
Every Christian at every time in history has needed to meet Jesus this way. They have asked the question: “Is Jesus enough?” They will go through a time of suffering, persecution, sickness, fear, doubt, trial, temptation or sin, and they will be forced to ask themselves, “Is Jesus the best option? Should I give my life to something else? Does He know enough to be Lord of my life? Is He strong enough to defend me? Is He wise enough to deal with this complicated world? Is He good enough to be trusted?”
We all have these crises of faith and it is then that we turn to the Gospels and read the stories of Jesus and are confronted with His supernatural, divine Authority. We are confronted with His God-ness. There’s no one that made the claims and did the things that Jesus did.
The second theme revolves around the groups who stand in opposition to Jesus and His ministry. These groups were primarily Jewish authorities. There were the Scribes who were the lawyers of the day, the Pharisees who were the well-respected religious leaders that had dedicated themselves to keeping the strictest interpretations of Mosaic Law and Jewish Traditions. Then there were the Sadducees who were the powerbrokers of the day — a group of rich, powerful families of priests and judges who abused their position of authority and were hated by most people.
Basically, the pattern that Mark gives us is this: Jesus teaches and lots of people listen – showing His supernatural wisdom and authority through words. Then He performs a miracle – showing His supernatural power in action. Then somewhere in the crowd is a member of one of those groups and they have a problem with what He’s done – and that creates conflict.
It’s the same conflict that each of us face in this world – before and after we are believers – “What do I do with Jesus?”.
The Apologetic Trilema
On the face of it this Gospel seems to simply be a record of what Jesus did, taught, and said. And we could read it that way – like a journal or a newspaper article. Interesting to read, but ultimately only information. But these power encounters between Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the religious and civic experts and authorities – and the demonic opposition as well – reflect the battle that is going on inside every one of us. These stories are weaved together to solidify among the hearers where they stand as disciples.
The question implicitly posed to every reader, in every encounter, is “Where do you stand?” – “Are you in or out?” It’s like he’s saying, “Here’s who Jesus is, completely unvarnished. It’s not cleaned up, edited for content, easy to swallow and kid-friendly. This is just what happened. Now, what are you going to do with it?”
You can’t do nothing. Complacency about the claims and person of Jesus is not an option if you have really listened to what He said and did. People call it the “Apologetic Trilemma”. Jesus is either a Lunatic who thought He was God, but really wasn’t. Or He was a Liar who knew He wasn’t God but told people that He was. Or what He said was the truth and He really is the Lord God. We can’t simply say that He was a good teacher and a nice person and leave it at that. His claims don’t allow us to. They don’t allow a middle ground.
His message was clear. “I’m God. I’m the only way you can have life, and unless you follow me you are damned.” That’s hard to listen to today because we don’t like bold, authoritative claims. We prefer people who beat around the bush, leave options open, and say things like “in my opinion” and “this is one of the ways you can get there, but there are lots of ways”. Jesus didn’t do that.
For Mark, the most important question is: Are you going to be a disciple of Jesus – and live your life by all that that entails? Faith is not just following some code of moral conduct, or giving intellectual assent to a series of historical facts, or a way of life guided by traditions, but having a personal relationship with a real, live person named Jesus. It is only when you meet Jesus, believe in Jesus, understand the person and work of Jesus, make Jesus your Lord and Saviour, let His Spirit live inside you, that you will be able to stand up under all the pressure and opposition this world is going to throw at you.
After reading this book, we are left with some pretty intense questions:
- What do I do about who Jesus claimed to be? Is He God or Not? And if He was, what ramifications does that have on my life and the way I live it?
- Is Jesus trustworthy? If I do put my faith in Him, and I start to get in as much trouble as He and the rest of his followers did, will he fulfil his promises, or will He let me down? Remember that the people reading this originally were already being persecuted for their faith in Jesus.
- Will I confess my faith in Jesus as my Lord, or will I be silent and deny that I know Him when people ask?
- In what ways do I need to modify my behaviour and thinking in order to come more in line with what Jesus has been teaching, and the way Jesus lived? If His way was the right way, how does my life measure up?
- How will I allow the Holy Spirit of Jesus, who lives inside every believer, to transform me? Will I give God all of me, or are there parts that I’m going to hold back?
These are just some of the questions that are going to up over the next weeks and months as we read about Jesus coming face to face with people who oppose Jesus. Mark will show us in no uncertain terms that Jesus is God, and will then show the response of the spiritual, moral and political leaders of the community. And we are asked to decide for ourselves what side we’ll be on, and what that will mean to us.
Jesus Our Lord and Standard
Those of us who have already made our decision will be presented with another side of the story – Jesus as our Lord and Standard. What I mean is that by meeting the God/Man Jesus Christ, we disciples are shown the heart of God and a perfect model of how to live life.
As Jesus meets people and situations we can learn about what drives and motivates Him. And because His Spirit is inside all Christians, we will learn about how He intends to change our hearts, our drives and our motivations too.
We will see Him as the standard for how we are to live our life. He is the perfect example of showing mercy when mercy is needed, when to use hard words and soft words, how to grow in spiritual power, how to deflect glory away from us and towards God, how to set our priorities, how to deal with suffering, and why evangelism sometimes doesn’t work. Studying His life in the Gospel of Mark will teach us so much about deep questions we have. We will learn why Christians get sick and how we are to respond, about what is happening all the time in the spiritual realm around us, what to do when we feel rejected, what it’s like to lose a friend, how to go forward in faith trusting in God’s provision, and how to be cautious about who get advice and teaching from… and so much more.
Jesus’ teaching addresses pride, sin, divorce, weakness, children, wealth, death, faith, prayer, worship, talents, love, serving, taxes and more.
I encourage you this week to read through the Gospel of Mark. If you read slow, it should still only take about 2 hours. Next week we are going to look at two stores of Jesus healing people and ask some important questions about how and why people get sick today.