Themes. I can’t find a way to study the Bible without running into more of them. A few months ago I read a book that emphasized a few select passages from Mark’s Gospel. As I read, a theme came to mind that made the whole book of Mark sink in like never before. That night I put down the book I was reading and have not touched it since.
The next morning I began a slow and steady dissection of Mark in order to discover this new theme.
In all honesty, I have viewed Mark as the junior varsity gospel writer. It is believed that Mark was one of Peter’s right hand men near the end of his life (see Acts 12:12-14; 1 Peter 5:13). Mark also appears as an aside during Paul’s ministry travels in the book of Acts (see Acts 13:5,13;15:37-39 in that order) and at the end of some of Paul’s letters (Colossians 4:10, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 24). He was definitely a behind-the-scenes disciple in the Bible and because of that I felt like his gospel didn’t have as much merit compared to the others. It is the shortest of the gospels and seemed to have less details to it. It was almost like the SparkNotes version.
With this new perspective I see that Mark takes his reader on a journey of discovering the reality of who Jesus is AND presents the reader with a direct and challenging response to this reality. While a similar case can be made for any of the gospels, Mark wrote a simple message to all disciples that demands a response from the faithful. This message, largely shaped by the journey that God led Mark on, is this.
THE GOOD NEWS IS ABOUT JESUS AND WE ARE MEANT TO BE HIS WITNESSES.
I can show you this from three simple passages that signify the key moments in the flow of the gospel narrative.
To begin, the book starts with the first witness- John the Baptizer. About John, Mark wrote
And this was his message:
“After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie." Mark 1:7
Did you catch that? According to Mark, John the Baptizer’s whole message was undeniably about the person of Jesus. John, the last Old Covenant prophet, was anointed by God with two things:
- The revelation of who Jesus is
- An ultimate destiny of witnessing to who Jesus is.
John’s profound life was actually so simple- He knew and witnessed to Jesus!
As this theme plays out as Jesus begin’s His ministry, we reach the halfway point. Jesus has His disciples answer an important question. “Who is Jesus?”
This question was intentionally raised in one way or another throughout the first part of Mark (see Mark 1:27; 2:7; 4:41 to name a few). Peter spoke up with a clear and seemingly simple answer.
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Mark 8:29
The answer to this question signifies a transition in Peter’s journey from being Jesus’ mere follower to being His full-fledged, anointed disciple. This answer cleverly and intentionally echoes the very first verse of the book.
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. Mark 1:1
Mark spends eight chapters building up to a disciple clearly witnessing to who Jesus was. This is the first half of Mark’s glorious message. We must clearly know who Jesus is for ourselves. I would call Peter’s confession of faith the first climax of the book. Jesus’ crucifixion is the second climax that adds depth and context to Peter’s revelation.
Then, Mark 16:7 and 8 connect the reality of knowing who Jesus is to the challenging task at hand- WITNESSING to who He is. An angel, speaking to the first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, said
“But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” Mark 16:7
His command is followed by this sentence.
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. Mark 16:8
And so the book of Mark ends!
(A quick note: Mark 16:9-20 is not Mark writing. Early Christians unsatisfied by this ending added the text to help it have a “better” ending like a story. I think this is because they did not use Mark’s writings for its original purpose- as an inspiring challenge for the disciple to be a faithful witness of Christ.)
You and I both know that the women who left the tomb did in fact communicate to the disciples. In his writing Mark pulls us into those thoughts of the first witnesses to the resurrection. He forces us to ask ourselves the same questions they faced.
With such amazing news, will we succumb to this fear of sharing (dare I say proclaiming) the reality of who Jesus is, or will we choose from this point forward to live as a faithful witness of the good news that is Jesus the Messiah?
In hindsight, the answer should be an emphatic “YES!” But in reality, we all must make an active choice to commit our lives to be a faithful witnesses. Mark shows us that we need to do so much more than simply believe in the person and works of Jesus. Going to church gatherings and being people who believe God internally is not the full picture. If we are truly His disciples, we must commit our lives to be faithful witnesses just as He was the faithful witness to the One who sent Him.
We are all on a journey of growing in our witness, but Mark clearly reminds us that we must be faithful! I encourage you to read Mark while looking for this theme and allow God to challenge you, and don’t forget that Mark’s Gospel continues well after his last written words. This book is truly the beginning of the good news as it continues to be written by our lives through our witness to the the world around us of the amazing, glorious and transforming life of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.