Fragmentary Notes on Mark’s Gospel (Mark 1)

Series Note: As the post title suggests, this series of posts includes fragmentary thoughts on the gospel. It’s not intended as a commentary or full treatment of the texts. It’s some of the fruit of my own devotional reading offered for whatever small encouragement it might also offer others.

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet…” ().

In Mark’s theology, “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” is at least as early as the book of Isaiah! The gospel begins with the prophets–not with the apostles or the Incarnation. From the opening two verses Mark treats us to the supernatural unity of the scripture, one seamless story woven through centuries until it reaches its climax in the life and ministry of the Son of God.

We might think of the contents of happening on two planes: the spiritual and the physical, the heavenly and the earthly.

I. The Spiritual Debate: Is Jesus God’s Son?

Mark tips us off to that debate with his opening in . God the Father enters the debate with His declaration of paternity at Jesus’ baptism in .

Dhati Lewis comments in Sheep Among Wolves: “the most emphatic theological reality presented to us in the baptism account is that God is revealed as family. God is a Father and Jesus is His Son and the Spirit affirms that bond of love. So we may be theologically precise in our Trinitarian understanding, but are our churches faithful in expressing the reality that God is family” (pp. 48-49)

The demons also reveal that Jesus is God’s Son. Though Mark abbreviates the account, that’s precisely what’s at stake in our Lord’s temptation in the wilderness (v. 13; see and ). At the various healings recorded in , the demons seek to speak but Christ silences them (vv. 23-25, 34). The last time a demon spoke to humanity about God the entire creation was ruined (). Knowing that Jesus is the Son of God and the promised Savior, the demons would still have sewn confusion, doubt and outright lies. So, the “debate” regarding the Lord Jesus’ identity and ministry rages in the spiritual realm.

II. The Earthly Work: How does Jesus complete His mission?

Meanwhile, on earth, the Lord Jesus begins His ministry. Four actions summarize the Lord’s ministry:

  1. Jesus picks His disciples (14),
  2. Jesus preaches the gospel (17, 21, 38-39),
  3. Jesus prays to the Father (35), and
  4. Jesus performs miracles/provides needs (34).

A couple of pointsfrom Robert E. Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism” regarding this pattern seem pertinent:

“It all started by Jesus calling a few men to follow him. This revealed immediately the direction his evangelistic strategy would take. His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow. Remarkable as it may seem, Jesus started to gather these men before he ever organized an evangelistic campaign or even preached a sermon in public. Men were to be his method of winning the world to God.” (p. 21)

“Surely if the pattern of Jesus at this point means anything at all, it teaches that the first duty of a church leadership is to see to it that a foundation is laid in the beginning on which can be built an effective and continuing evangelistic ministry to the multitudes. This will require more concentration of time and talents on fewer people in the church while not neglecting the passion for the world. It will mean raising up trained disciplers ‘for the work of ministering’ with the pastor and church staff (). A few people so dedicated in time will shake the world for God. Victory is never won by the multitudes.” (p. 30)

“The multitudes can be won easily if they are just given leaders to follow.” (p. 31)

If Coleman is correct, then much of the ministry in our churches build on the wrong foundation.

III. Some Personal Reflections on

  • Popular Theological Debates Can Hinder the Work

There’s a spiritual debate raging around Jesus, but Jesus carries on the work. Jesus seems to treat the theological debates as a distraction from the real task. Thus he repeatedly orders the demons and the men to say nothing about Him or His mission while He works. And when men do speak out of turn, the Lord’s ministry is hindered (43-45). Really striking: Jesus gets more obedience from demons He rebukes than from the people He heals!

How many times has some online theological debate sucked up hours and hours of time while some more necessary service to the sheep or to lost souls gone neglected? We would do well to follow Jesus’ example of getting on with the work on avoiding the theological debates of our day that distract us. Some things may be safely left to the courts of heaven while we address the affairs of earth.

  • Spiritual Warfare Should Not Hinder the Work

The demons oppose Christ. Let that sink in: Demons oppose the Lord as He begins His ministry. We see the opposition in the demons’ desire to “call Jesus out” and in the spiritual oppression and sickness suffered by the people (v. 32). But the presence of spiritual warfare does not distract Jesus. Likewise, we should not allow spiritual warfare to distract us from our assignment and the means the Father has given us.

Don’t stop because Satan gets rowdy or because the needs are overwhelming.

  • Continue with the Work

Keep picking men, praying to God, preaching the gospel, and providing for needs. Let this be your resolution this New Year’s day and each day following.

Do the ministry the way Jesus did with His same focus.

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3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

16 To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. (ESV)

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Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile serves as a pastor of Anacostia River Church (Washington DC). He is the happy husband of Kristie and the adoring father of two daughters and one son. Holler at him on Twitter: @ThabitiAnyabwil

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