Expository Thoughts on Mark

10 Oct

It’s a good idea anytime you study a book of the Bible to begin by figuring out what it is about.

Check that.

Not what do I want the book to be about or what do you want the book to be about just plain old, what is the book about?

One thing you find studying the gospel of Mark is that the author, he’s normally kind of subtle. He’s definitely not subtle though about what he’s writing about.

He tells us in his introduction to the book, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus.”

In case we miss that, he makes Jesus the subject of every story in the book except two which are about John the Baptist whose entire ministry was to point people to Jesus.

And in case we miss that, he gives us other clues that this book is about Jesus.

One example, you read Mark straight through and you notice that he’s got these key pivotal questions scattered throughout. There’s one kind of question that especially stands out, it has to do with Jesus.

1:27, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey Him.“

2:7, “Why does this fellow blaspheme like that? He is blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God alone?“

2:16, “Why does he eat with sinners?“

4:41, “Who, then is this, that even the wind and water obey him?”

6:2, “Where did this man get this wisdom?”

7:5, “Why do your disciples not live by tradition?”

In other words, who is Jesus?  And it’s cool how Mark does this, all those questions lead up to this climactic moment in chapter eight, where Jesus turns to his disciples and asks…

8:27, “who do people say that I am?”

And he doesn’t leave it there,

8:29, “but who do you say that I am?“

Introduction, content, style…Mark, it’s about answering to the question: Who is jesus? Really?

The first answer to that question is given to us in the title of the book.

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…
That is a little vague for us though so Mark expands.

What does it mean that Jesus is the Son of God?

Just listen to John the Baptist.

Mark gives us a little introduction to John before he tells us exactly what he has to say about Jesus. I think maybe because he wants us to know why what he says is so important.
He takes us right to Old Testament.

Verse 2 and 3,

“…as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

If you are looking at this text for the first time and you are trying to figure out what it is all about the first thing you would notice is that it is kind of set off from the rest. That’s because it is a direct quote from the old testament, Isaiah.

Actually, technically it’s from three old testament books but the fact Mark highlights Isaiah tells us that is the part he really wants us to notice.

I don’t want to get too far ahead of you so let me ask you, what would you do if you wanted to understand what Mark was quoting Isaiah for.

I’d personally look at the text he quoted.

It’s from Isaiah 40.

If you know anything about the book of Isaiah you know that Isaiah 40 is significant because it marks a new section in the book as a whole. You can split isaiah into two sections, 1-39 and 40-66. 1-39 focuses on judgment, and broadly speaking, you can say 40-66 focuses on deliverance.

What I’m saying is Isaiah 40, it begins this big long section of great promises about the way God is going to deliver Israel…i mean, you start reading through these promises and it’s awesome, the first one being the quote Mark identifies, Isaiah 40:3-5, “a voice cries; in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill made low, the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

I want you to catch this, we’re looking at this quote from Isaiah 40 which is important because it is about this person who would come right before God delivers his people in this crazy, amazing way, and then what does Mark say next?

“John the Baptist appeared baptizing in the wilderness…”

I don’t know about you but I kind of sort of think he’s sort of trying to tell us John the Baptist is someone we should listen to.

Just practically, if I personally got the chance to hear from somebody whose ministry was prophesied about in the Old Testament as being the precursor to a complete world-wide revolution I would tend to think what he had to say would be important, and in case I didn’t mark adds a couple more reasons in verses 5 and 6, for the type A numbers sensitive people out there, you can keep reading in the text and you see after the O.T. quote, Mark highlights the impact John’s ministry had, ‘and all the country of judea and all jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river jordan, confessing their sins…’ and for the more poetic literary types, Mark shows the nature of John’s ministry with an allusion in verse 6, ‘now john was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locust and wild honey’; which is not a comment intended to show us that John’s a trend-setter out there in the wilderness, or something Mark added because he’s really interested in fashion and he just had to throw this out there, no, this is an allusion for those in the know, john’s wearing the same basic outfit as an old testament prophet who came thousands of years before him, 2 Kings 1:8, Elijah…who you can have fun searching this out on your own is supposed to come before…the great promised messiah-deliverer.

Mark tells us all this about Jjohn the Baptist as a kind of set-up because he really, really wants us to pay attention to what this really, really important person says about Jesus in verses 7 and 8.

“and he preached, saying, ‘after me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals i am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the holy spirit.’”

If you read those statements straightforwardly they are saying that Jesus is stronger and more valuable than John and that his ministry is more profound than John’s because he has the ability to do something John doesn’t, bestow the holy spirit on his followers.

If you go a step further and actually meditate on them a bit, I think you’ll see that John is saying something more, something really, really significant about what it means that Jesus is the Son of God.

I mean, he starts by contrasting himself with Jesus and saying, ‘i am not worthy to untie his sandals.’ A prophet like John, not worthy to untie somebody’s sandals, it’s not that John had a low self-esteem, it has to be that Jesus as a person, was inherently more important than him…which is like, how can that be? how can one person be qualitatively more valuable than another, well you look at John’s second contrast in the next verse, where he contrasts his ministry with Jesus and says that while he baptizes with water Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit, and you begin to understand and are floored, because there’s only one person whom up to this point in all our reading of scripture can bestow the Holy Spirit on anybody like that, and it’s God himself.

I’ll quote one of my favorite books on Mark, “this is an extraordinary declaration for in the old testament, the bestowal of the spirit belongs exclusively to God. John’s declaration, according to Mark, transfers the bestowal of the Spirit to Jesus, once again indicating that as the greater one, Jesus will come in the power and prerogative of God.”

Jesus is qualitatively more important than John because he’s not just another human being like john, and in case you think we’re a little out there, reading in to what John saying, you probably should go back and look at isaiah 40-66 once again, which is where we know Mark wants us to go because of the clue in verse two, I’ll just give you the short version of what it says there, isaiah 44:3 this is what God himself says he is going to do when He comes to rescue his people,

I quote,

“I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.’

Jesus baptizing with the Spirit, God pouring out the spirit, I think mark summarizes the entire message of John the Baptist (who said a lot of other words in his ministry I’m sure) like this because what’s important to Mark is that we get an idea from this really, really important person John about who Jesus is.

It’s like he’s explaining the title Son of God. This isn’t just a term for another human being. It’s a term designating the deity of Christ.

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