Musing in Mark’s Gospel

While browsing recently on how Mark wrote his Gospel I became aware of three distinctive features: (1) what he considered was the start of ‘the Gospel’; (2) the speed of his story line; and (3) the clear shape that he had given to his book.

First things first – Mark begins at the beginning

In Mark 1:1 we hear the crack of the starter’s gun, and the race is on: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (all references from the English Standard Version unless otherwise stated). Mark then tells us very briefly where and how the gospel story was launched. John had been baptising repentant Israelites in the Jordan River in preparation for the sudden advent of God’s own Son as their deliverer, who then arrived, was baptised and straightaway exited the story for several weeks until after John’s imprisonment and death by beheading.

A phrase unique to Mark, that he repeated four times about Jesus is: ‘he began to teach’ (Mark 4:1; 6:2, 34; 8:31); and in 12:1 that ‘he began to speak to them in parables’. Was Mark implying students of different abilities, or several stages of the curriculum? Who can say?

Well, we do know that:

[] the classrooms varied – from synagogue (1:21; 6:1) to lakeside al fresco (4:1);

[] the pupils were sometimes a crowd who had gathered in a public assembly (6:34), at other times he taught his few disciples in a seminar setting (9:31);

[] the subjects ranged from the evidence that God’s kingdom had now arrived (4:1-2), to the foretelling of his own imminent death and resurrection (8:31);

[] and the style of his teaching was in parables to the crowd, but in factual explanation of them to his disciples (4:1-11).

Gospel fundamentals

In Hebrews 6:1-3 we find detailed six essential ingredients of Christian beginnings. ‘The word [or statement, Greek logos] of the beginning of Christ’ would be a literal word-for-word translation of the Greek text there in Hebrews concerning ‘the foundations of’ life in Christ. Strong foundations of any building are necessary for the stability of its superstructure, of course. Let’s revisit those few verses in Hebrews and examine their details and compare them with Mark’s narrative of historical new beginnings. He indicates that the Reign of God had now arrived with Jesus’ baptism.

The six matters itemised in Hebrews form themselves naturally into pairs.

  • Renouncing and Reliance

[] ‘Repentance‘ is detailed as ‘turning away from dead works’(The Passion Translation), and is perfectly twinned with ‘faith towards God’. The Greek prepositions apo and epi accord perfectly with this ‘heads and tails’ pattern. A saving encounter with Christ involves an active Renouncing of our independence and Reliance upon Christ’s work for us at Calvary and in us as new birth.

  • Relinquishing and Receiving

[] ‘A teaching [singular] of baptisms [plural]’ (literally translation) can lead to pointless speculation. I’m not convinced by the footnote in TPT giving information about seven baptisms; how could such knowledge be a strong Christian foundation? Immersion into and emergence out of water is a visual means of declaring the complete identity of oneself in the death and resurrection of Christ; this was consistently enacted by new Christians, as told throughout the New Testament narratives and letters. And the laying on of hands’ surely relates to one’s baptism in the Holy Spirit. Remember how Mark ends his Gospel by referring to ‘speak[ing] with new tongues and healings when they would ‘lay hands on’ the sick, twinned by Mark with, ‘be baptizedin water (Mark 16:17-18) – one refers to a Relinquishing and the other to a Receiving.

  • Resurrection and Review

[] ‘Resurrection of the dead ones’ [plural] is distinctively Christian (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-57) and coincides hereafter with the return of Christ at the end of this present age; followed by the last, and ‘eternal judgement‘ – they are mirrored in Christian beginnings – Resurrection and Review!

The speed of Mark’s Gospel

Over 40 times in the Greek text Mark uses a word meaning ‘immediately’ or ‘suddenly’, ‘at once’ that gives the impression that he’s in a hurry to reach the end! In our next musing we will focus on how Mark mentions – and omits to mention – geographical places. Of the four Gospels Mark starts in Galilee (Mark 1:9), and manages to end up there (Mark 16:7) – and seems quite his haste to get back there!

In summary:

We should introduce new disciples to these Galilean roots. According to Mark 1:9-20, true discipleship involves:

  • repentance +
  • faith in God’s good news (Mark 1:15) +
  • baptism in water (Mark 1:9) +
  • anointing with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:10) +
  • testing by Satan [even Mark admits that this only starts ‘immediately’ but it lasts for ‘forty days’ in the wilderness, paralleling Israel’s forty wilderness years! (Mark 1:12-13).

All these matters add together to spell discipleship! I’d do well to ask myself if I am living (a) a repentant life (John 21); (b) a life of faith (Mark 16:9, 13-14); (c) a baptised life (Romans 6); (d) an anointed life (Mark 16:15-16); and (e) a tested and proved life, so that (f) I can follow Jesus ‘in the way’?

[To be continued –see ‘Now do you get it?’]

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