Another one of our many “in progress” projects is a sermon commentary on the book of Mark. Each section is broken down into a sermon, complete with introduction, points from the text, application, and invitation.
Starting today, and following each Friday for the foreseeable future, we will be posting a sermon from this collection. It is ready to preach, so if you think it is worthwhile, preach it! (that’s why it’s being put here).
Sermon 1: The Introduction
Text: Mark 1:1 – The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The book of Mark is a biography of Jesus Christ that differs from each of the other Gospel accounts in the Bible (Matthew, Luke, and John) in some significant ways. (1) Its size—Mark is significantly shorter than any of the other accounts. (2) Its speed—Mark pictures Jesus constantly on the move doing the Father’s will, and uses the word euthus (translated “immediately” or “straightway”) over forty times in his short book. To put this in perspective, this word appears more times in the book of Mark than it does in the rest of the New Testament combined! (3) Its focus on Jesus’ final week—almost 40% of this book is dedicated to Jesus’ passion week. (4) Its starting point—Matthew and Luke both deal with the birth and some of the early life of Jesus; John goes all the way back to creation to show Jesus [the Word] was there; but Mark starts his record with the baptism of Jesus by John.
Mark most likely wrote his account of the gospel to a Roman audience. He had to interpret certain Aramaic [the spoken language of the Jews] words and phrases so that his readers would understand them (Mark 3:17, 5:41, 7:34, 15:22, 34). He also used several Latin words instead of their Greek counterparts; and Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire. “Bushel” (Mark 4:21), “executioner” (Mark 6:27), “tribute” (Mark 12:14), “farthing” (Mark 12:42), “scourged” (Mark 15:15), “Praetorium” (Mark 15:16), “band” (Mark 15:16), “centurion” (Mark 15:39). The Greek equivalents of each of these words appear elsewhere in the Bible, but God inspired Mark to use the Latin in those places instead, because this was written to a Roman audience. It is also said that Romans had a penchant for fast-moving reading, and didn’t want to be bogged down with explanations and commentary on a story—Mark definitely fits the bill on that as well.
The book of Mark is controversial among biblical scholars and commentators in two ways: (1) the absence of the last twelve verses of the book in two ancient manuscripts, and (2) the date of its composition. We will deal with the validity of Mark 16:9-20 when we cover that passage of inspired Scripture. The date is controversial because some want to make the claim that Mark wrote his first, and that Matthew and Luke simply copied from him and embellished it—in other words, they’re claiming that an apostle of Jesus Christ wasn’t able to tell the story of Jesus’ life without first reading it from someone else and plagiarizing it. The date of the original composition is truly irrelevant to its truthfulness (except that it obviously must have been written during Mark’s lifetime), but here are some things to consider about it.
- Mark records the prophecy of the destruction of the temple (Mark 13:1-2), but says nothing about it having been fulfilled, which places the writing of the book prior to AD 70.
- Biblically speaking, there is no evidence that Mark had any influence with Gentiles until Paul’s first missionary journey—which he abandoned (Acts 12:25, 13:13). Given his retreat to Jerusalem, abandoning the mission to the Gentiles, it would be difficult to believe that Mark’s writings would have been accepted among that same group.
- It isn’t until at least fifteen years after the conversion of Paul that Mark does any more missionary work (Galatians 2:1, Acts 15, especially verses 33-37). Until that point, he had been in Jerusalem among the Jewish Christians. This is usually estimated to be around AD 49.
- It isn’t until AD 60 or afterwards that Mark’s name appears in the Bible in any kind of authoritative way, (a) as a fellow-worker with Peter (1 Peter 5:13) and (b) as a “profitable” minister for Paul (2 Timothy 4:11).
Taking these biblical pieces of evidence into consideration, it would appear the book of Mark was written somewhere between AD 50-65, probably close to the latter half of that timespan. The book of Matthew, by comparison, was most likely written between AD 40-50; the early Christian writers unanimously stating that his was the first gospel account written. Mark was not written first.
Mark’s name has always been attached to this book, and no one among the early Christians had any doubt that he was the one who wrote it. To put it another way, there are no copies of the book of Mark that have another name put in his place as the writer.
The Text (Mark 1:1)
The apostle John starts off his account of the good news of Jesus Christ with the words “In the beginning was the Word.” Mark uses the same Greek word for “beginning,” but he isn’t speaking of the creation week that starts the whole biblical record. Mark’s focus is on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, culminating in His victorious death on the cross. It is when this gospel is believed and obeyed that people can be saved—this is the good news (Mark 16:15-16)! Mark doesn’t start with “Jesus died,” but with the beginning of Jesus’ work on earth.
It’s also worth noting that Luke uses similar wording to describe his written account of the life of Jesus. He says in his sequel (the book of Acts) that his gospel account recorded “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). This implies that there was still more to come. The book of Acts records more of the things that Jesus did and taught—through His servants. The same idea is apparent in Mark’s use of the word “beginning” as well. The death of Jesus on the cross was not the end—there was more to come. That great event still has powerful effects to this day to save souls!
Of the Gospel
The word “gospel” comes from the Greek compound word, euangellion, which is where we get the English word “evangelize.” It’s made up of two Greek words: eu, which means “good,” and angelia, which means “message” (see 1 John 3:11).
What makes the things contained in the book of Mark “good news”? The answer to that question can be found by cheating a bit and skipping ahead to see how the book ends. If you turn to Mark 16:15-16, you’ll see that the “gospel” [good news, same as in 1:1] is to be proclaimed to the whole world. So, from that, we know that the same subject is under consideration at the end of the book as at the beginning. But notice what this message has the power to do: he that believes [the gospel] and is baptized [obeying the gospel] shall be saved. Salvation? Being able to have all of our sins removed? That certainly is good news! Of course, the opposite is also true: he that does not believe [the gospel] shall be damned.
Mark introduces the book with “the beginning of the gospel [good news] of Jesus Christ,” and ends with the gospel being proclaimed to bring about salvation. So we have seen what the good news does, and why it’s good news. It’s the information between the beginning and the end of this book that shows what the good news actually is.
The apostle Paul described the gospel as that “which I preached…, which also you have received, and wherein you stand; by which also you are saved, if you keep in memory what I have preached [that is, the gospel] to you” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). He then states that the what he preached [the gospel] was “that Christ died for our sins…and that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day,” and that His resurrection is proof that we will be resurrected as well (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 12-28, 51-58). Is it any wonder, then, that Mark spends close to forty percent of his book describing the events surrounding the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus?
Some people have a hard time with the idea of “obeying the gospel,” because they see the gospel as a series of events, and not as any kind of command. But God’s inspired writers said that vengeance will come on those who “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:8). Thankfully, we are not left in the dark as to what it means to obey the gospel—to somehow obey the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
How shall we, who are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans 6:2-5).
The gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on our behalf; it is the good news about salvation that comes through Him; it is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we obey when we are baptized into Christ.
The phrase “of Jesus” is in the genitive case in Greek, which means that this is the good news that belongs to Jesus Christ. It is His gospel; He lived it; He revealed it; and He confirmed it.
“Jesus” is the name that was given to the baby born to Mary after she was impregnated by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-25). It is common to hear people say that “Jesus was at the beginning of creation” and that “Jesus created everything.” While those statements express truth, the wording could use some fixing up, because He did not have the name “Jesus” until He was born as a human. The name “Jesus” expresses His humanity. Prior to His incarnation [coming to earth as a human], He was known as “the Word” (John 1:1), as “Jehovah” (Isaiah 6, compared with John 12:36-41), and as “the Angel of Jehovah” (Exodus 3:1-6, see whose appearance caused the ground to be holy). But He was not known as “Jesus” until Matthew 1:25.
The name “Jesus” is the same as “Joshua” in the Old Testament. “Jesus” is from the Greek, “Joshua” is from the Hebrew. In fact, there are several Bible translations online and in print that use “Yeshua” (the Hebrew form of the name) instead of “Jesus.” The name itself means “Jehovah is salvation.” No other name captures the essence of who Jesus is and what His life and death means to the entire world. It is the perfect name for the Son of God!
Even after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, He is still called “Jesus,” showing that He retains His humanity, even after taking His place at the right hand of the Father.
The words “Jesus Christ” appear together so frequently in the Bible that a lot of people mistakenly think that “Christ” is part of Jesus’ name. It is not. The word “Christ” is a title, and it means “anointed one.” In the Old Testament, anointing was done to “consecrate,” “sanctify,” and turn men into God’s “minister[s]”—that is, to make someone a priest (Exodus 28:41). Prophets were also anointed to the position as spokesmen for God (1 Kings 19:16). And we must not forget also that kings were anointed to make their selection official (1 Samuel 10:1, 16:13; 1 Kings 19:16). Jesus of Nazareth was given the title “the anointed one” because He is all three: prophet, priest, and king (Acts 3:20-22; Hebrews 9:11; 1 Timothy 6:15).
The Hebrew word “Messiah” (Daniel 9:25-26) is translated “anointed” everywhere in the Old Testament except for the prophecy of Daniel. In that passage, it is given as a title—the one that the Jews had been waiting for would be known as “the Messiah” or “the Anointed One.” So when Peter announces by inspiration that Jesus is “the Christ” (Matthew 16:16), he proclaims that Jesus is the “Messiah” or “the Anointed One.”
It’s also interesting to look at Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost and notice that he’s discussing the “Christ” of prophecy, and showing how “Jesus” fits those prophecies. We tend to think “Jesus” and “Christ” are interchangeable terms when they’re not. Peter starts his sermon by proclaiming the murder and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God by miracles. He states that David prophesied this event, and then says “he…spoke of the resurrection of Christ [the Anointed One]” (Acts 2:31). Then he points out, “This Jesus, God has raised up, we are all witnesses of it” (Acts 2:32). The conclusion of his sermon is that the Messiah and Jesus are one and the same: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this same Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Most of the people there believed in Christ, believed in the Messiah, or the Anointed One, but they didn’t know that Jesus was Him!
A thousand years or so before Jesus was born, a king in a relatively tiny country along the Mediterranean Sea wrote these words:
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against Jehovah, and against His Anointed [Hebrew Messiah], saying “Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.” He that sits in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure, “Yet I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” I will declare the decree: “Jehovah has said to me, ‘Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give you the heathen [Hebrew Gentiles] for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’” Therefore now be wise, O you kings: be instructed you judges of the earth. Serve Jehovah with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him (Psalm 2:2-12).
The Old Testament prophesied that the Anointed One would be called “the Son” of Jehovah. From the very beginning of Mark’s gospel account, he makes that point clear: Jesus Christ [the Anointed One] is the Son of God.
There are some religious groups who maintain that since Jesus is the Son of God, He cannot also be God. What they seem to miss (some of them intentionally) is that this phrase is referring to the nature of Jesus the Christ. Jesus frequently refers to Himself as “the Son of man,” but not a one of these groups would dare use their same argument and say that Jesus cannot be human because He was the Son of man (the Greek word means “human”). The son of a human is human—that is his nature. Jesus, being the Son of God, is therefore God—that is His nature.
The Son is the heir to all that belongs to the Father. In the passage quoted from Psalms, the Gentiles are offered as an inheritance to the Son. When we come to Jesus Christ, obeying His gospel, we become fellow heirs with Him (Romans 8:16-17). He inherits all things that belongs to the Father, and He is willing to share it with us!
Of the God
Most English translations simply say “the Son of God” at the end of the verse, but the Greek says “Son of the God.” This is a very important point, especially when you realize that Mark was writing to a Roman audience. The Romans, like the Greeks, had a plethora of gods that they worshiped. The legends that sprang up around these mythical deities included having children with humans. For example, Hercules was the son of Zeus [Jupiter] in these legends; and he was not the only one. The Romans would have been very familiar with the idea of someone being as son of one of the gods, or the son of a god. But with the insertion of the word “the,” Mark immediately got his reader’s attention. With just this one word, he denied the entire worship system of the Roman culture. With just this one word, Mark said, “All the Roman and Greek gods are fake.” With this one word, Mark said, “There is only one God.” This would have grabbed his readers’ attention immediately.
Mark’s gospel account was probably written as an evangelistic tool. Written to people who believed in many sons of many gods, Mark tells them “Let me tell you about the good news of the one Son of the real God, and why it’s important.”
The Gospel is still good news!
For far too long, most Christians have been afraid to spread the “gospel” because they seem to view it as some theological concept that they would have to explain and defend. Instead, we need to recognize that “gospel” simply means “good news”! It’s not hard to spread good news to people—especially to friends and family, but even to strangers. Do you view what Jesus did for you as good news? Then share it as good news! Tell people “I’ve been saved from my sins and it is so wonderful!” It’s important that we remember that salvation through Jesus Christ really is good news.
The focus of the Gospel is Jesus the Christ!
The good news about salvation is that Jesus Christ—God in the flesh—came to this earth as a King, but lived as a servant; that He overcame temptation; that He lived His entire life without sinning even once; that His apparent defeat in being crucified was actually His triumphant victory over Satan; that though He was buried, He was raised up on the third day to live forevermore. The good news is about what Jesus did. Sometimes we focus so much on what our response should be (obeying the gospel) that we forget to focus on why it matters in the first place. Never forget that the gospel is first and foremost about Jesus Christ and what He accomplished.
The good news of Jesus Christ requires a response!
While Jesus Christ is the focus of the Gospel, He has also given us the opportunity to join with Him in His victory. It is good news for us as well! But it requires a response. Jesus told His disciples that the good news was to be spread to the whole world. The ones who believed the good news and were baptized would be saved. But the ones who refused to believe the good news would be damned. Those are the two choices that Jesus gave—there is no third option. You either believe the good news, and therefore obey it, or you don’t believe the good news.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ, as written by Mark, was designed to show that the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is truly good news. It is only through the gospel that there is salvation (Mark 16:15-16, Romans 1:16). But in order for the good news of Jesus Christ to do you any good, you have to believe it. In fact, before Jesus told His apostles to preach the gospel, He severely criticized them because they hadn’t believed the gospel when it was proclaimed to them (Mark 16:14). But believing it isn’t enough, you must also act on it. You must let the good news of Jesus Christ change the way you live—that is, you must repent of your sins. You must acknowledge that you truly agree that the gospel is good news—that is, confess that you believe the good news of Jesus Christ. And you must also obey the gospel of Jesus Christ—that is, you must be baptized.
The gospel is truly good news to those who will obey it. Won’t you?
-Bradley S. Cobb