The Gospel according to St. Mark
Mark 1: 12 “Immediately”
We launch out on the sea of a new book today and, straightway, let us drop down our nets for a big catch. This gospel, though short, is a unique account of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ Who is set forth by the author as the servant of Jehovah. As we proceed we will try to determine what there is here that, in the view of the Spirit, required a separate account from the other synoptics, Matthew and Luke.
There is no intrinsic evidence to identify Mark, a very common name, with reference to any other person of that name in the Bible. There is strong traditional thought that makes him an amanuensis for the apostle Peter and theorizes from 1 Peter 5:13 that probably Marcus (Mark) was a convert of his.
Andrew Jukes, who has written on the Differences of the Four Gospels says, “the heart must be hard indeed which sees nothing in the details peculiar to this Gospel,” and indicates that, “the best trained servant may continually draw some fresh lesson (from it)”. So, not wanting to be accused of having “a hard heart,” I, with you, eagerly look forward to some fresh and exciting thoughts in this study. Christ is the servant and since He is in me, I must continually be reminded to yield in servant-hood to Him.
You perhaps noted the word “straightway” in the first sentence. This word is found twelve times in this chapter though translated by several words into English. It is a favorite word and we are told that of the 80 times it is used in the Bible, 40 are in this book! Let us think of it as a servant’s word of response to our Master. The chorus says, “action is the key, do it immediately”(straightway).
Two interesting facts in the account by Mark of the Temptation occur in verses 12 & 13, that are not seen in any other Gospel. The Lord was “driven” into the wilderness by the Spirit and was with “wild beasts”.
Mark 2: 27 Lord of All
Though this story is found in the other synoptics, as is most of the content of our chapter, this verse is not, therefore we will focus upon it.
Certainly there were very strict laws governing the keeping of the sabbath, as seem in the story of the stoning of the man who was found picking up firewood on this day (Num.15:32). But, for example, we can easily see that a law stating that we are to stop at red lights is for our good while someone who breaks it may have to pay a fine. The purpose of the sabbath laws, while being beneficial to man were made primarily to show man that he is much better off when he sees things as God sees them. It took God’s interjection into every aspect of man’s life for him to learn, if he would, that God always knows what is best.
It is very interesting therefore, that the Lord Jesus, for Whom obedience to the law was His way of life, catches our attention by condoning a breach as serious as the case in Numbers first by David and then by the disciples. What is going on here?
As the disciples were listening to what Jesus said about the wineskins (v.22) they probably had no clue just how much things were due to change in the approaching dispensation of grace. Grace delivered David who was living dangerously (ask Uzzah) but now we begin to understand just how flexible the new skins will be. Look at it this way. His life is the new wine and we are the new skins (Christ in us, etc). Since He has completely fulfilled the law, as we yield to Him, the new wineskins will stretch and contract under His absolute control. He is Lord! - and every day is a sabbath!
Mark 3:5 “Being grieved...”
Those old wineskins, the pharisees, just about cracked up when the Lord Jesus healed the man with a withered hand on the sabbath day. No, they weren’t laughing, they were so stiff and hard that the powerful life of Jehovah coming through His Witness was more than they could stand. The Stone was about to crush them and grind them to powder (Matt.21: 44 & 45)!
Mark is the only one to record the deep emotion Jesus felt when he tells us that He was “grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” As Jehovah’s righteous Servant, our Lord viewed with great compassion each of these miserable creatures He met. Each one so damaged by sin and so far from being like Adam when that wonderfully created being rolled off the assembly line of God’s fingers. The halt, the maimed, the blind and deaf, all wreckage washed up on the shore of humanity and needing only the touch of His hand, the breath of His mouth, the power that so overflowed that it crackled to the very hem of His garment. He is here! Stand back and watch Him work! Rejoice and be glad to see that withered hand suddenly made whole!
But no, there are those whose thoughts are akin to madness (Lk 6:11) they will save their garment, rotten though it be, to cover the nakedness of their even more rotten flesh and evil heart.
Is it any wonder that our Lord was grieved at this sanctimonious hypocrisy which saw not the needy soul but waited to catch Jehovah Rapha in their little trap? They will soon find that they have a Lion by the tail.
Mark 4:33 “....as they were able to bear it.”
Let the preacher be a good story-teller and he will not lack an audience, moreover he will keep it awake and especially the men. Our Lord Jesus used stories (parables) very frequently (v.34). Some of them were pretty basic stuff. I think He was saying to the disciples in v.13 (only in Mark) “if you can’t figure this one out you are quite dense.” What an important lesson for us to learn, that we can expect a variety of responses when we give forth the Word of God. It seems that the first two types of soil represent unsaved peoples’ reaction. I can never get used to the second. How excited we get when someone receives with “gladness” and how disappointed when they quickly fall away. So many people have looked so promising - oh yes, they will be back next Sunday etc. - I could tell lots of stories! The 3rd and 4th class of hearers probably are representative of saved people. The second and third are often hard to tell apart, so we cannot judge.
In the next story, our Lord speaks of the wonder of that work that He alone can do (26-29) and I believe this is not found elsewhere. I like the words in v.27 “he knoweth not how.” We must always remember that salvation is God’s work (1 Cor.3:7) and let us not put in the sickle too soon. It is a lie to think that someone may be lost if we do not get them to say the sinner’s prayer. Fruit is often plucked before it ripens. When you can tunk a raspberry and it plops into your hand, it’s ready!
Finally, we would not have those wonderful words in verse 39 if it weren’t for Mark. “Peace be still.” The amplified N.T. says “hush now, be still (muzzled) - and the wind sank to rest as if exhausted by it’s beating” etc. What would our hymn writers do without these words from the lips of our Creator - Saviour? And what would any of us do without the knowledge that He is in control when we are being lashed by the storms of life? Praise His Name!
Mark 5:30 Just the right touch
There is remarkable similarity in the telling of these three stories by all three of the synoptics. The only things I could find in Mark not appearing in the others were: the number told of the swine that perished; the exact words spoken to Jairus’ daughter and the fact that she was twelve years of age. Of the Aramaic or Syro-Chaldaic words, J.F.B. tells us that Mark loves to give such wonderful words just as they were spoken, and cites two other examples, 7:34 and 14:36. This was the language spoken in Palestine.
Now, let us look at the other stories. To see a man so totally transformed as the demoniac, must have been marvelous beyond words. How touching that he wanted to get in the boat with the disciples and Jesus but was denied with the words “go home to thy friends and tell them how great thing the Lord hath done for thee.” Nowhere would his testimony be a more powerful witness to the presence of God with man than among those hard mercenary pig farmers who couldn’t tolerate Jesus, but who could not deny that He had visited their country. “Oh, Lord, people around me have hardened hearts as well and though my experience is not as dramatic as his, may my light shine as brightly as did that of this delivered soul.”
Concerning the poor lady whose experience sounds a lot like the horror stories of some of our modern medical miscarriages, we are struck by the fact that she only touched our Lord’s garment. The word “virtue” is transliterated from the Greek and forms the basis of our word “dynamite”. The encouragement here is that perhaps some of our slightest contact with needy souls may be accomplishing effects quite unrealized by us but that one day may testify of His presence having come through us who wear the clothes of righteousness. To such we may be “a savor” of either life or death (2 Cor.2: 14 & 15).
Mark 6:6 He marveled
In the story of Joseph (Gen.37) his brothers were so happy for their father that God had given him a son in his old age. They were happy, too, for young Joseph that his father had made him a special coat. Later when Joseph began sharing his dreams these brothers of his glorified God that one among them had been especially chosen to reveal to them the future. Is this the way you remember the story? If so, you had better go back and read that chapter again!
Now, take the account of Jesus coming back to His home town and doing His works and sharing His wisdom. Everyone was impressed, right? Wrong! They were offended. “Isn’t this the carpenter, son of Mary? Who does this guy think he is? We know he is not Joseph’s son and he thinks he can teach us the difference between right and wrong, forget it!”
Our Lord Jesus marveled at this attitude of unbelief as well might Joseph of Genesis earlier had done. (Mark alone records this). Whether it was “envy” or they attributed his powers to demons (G. Campbell Morgan) we do not know, but in His own country even the mighty God was handicapped unless He forced His will upon them and the time for that was not yet.
The problem with these townsmen who knew Him well was the same as that of the religious rulers who also “marveled saying, How knoweth this man letters having never learned?” (been educated) ( John 7:15). The basic problem as Jesus said is simply that men do not will to do God’s will, for if they did, they would know the truth (John 7:17). The fall has blinded their minds (Rom.1:21) and their foolish heart is darkened.
And there, but by the grace of God, go I.
Mark 7: 34 Ephphatha
In these two chapters (7& 8) we seem to get a glimpse into the soul of our Savior. It is
clear from 1:38 that He considered His main mission in His travels throughout the towns of Palestine was to preach as He said, “for therefore came I forth”. However, everywhere He went He was encircled by needy souls requesting His healing touch. Time after time He sought to escape the throngs (7:24 - “he would have no man know it”) or He would request that those healed keep it to themselves (7: 36 - “he charged them that they should tell no man”) but to no avail. We catch something of His feelings as “he sighed” at the healing here of the man who was deaf and dumb. These words and this story we get only in Mark! Let me tell you what I think.
Here comes The Lord of Creation to dwell among men. He has so much to tell them! He says to the Samaritan woman.. “if thou knowest....who it is” that is talking with you, you would have asked, etc. I see His great heart nearly bursting at times as, again, He stood out suddenly from the crowd and fairly shouted, “if any man thirst....” but sadly, so few did. As a prophet our Lord Jesus must have felt like Isaiah, for even His disciples were so blind that they couldn’t comprehend what seems so obvious (7:18 - “are ye so without understanding also?”) (Isaiah 59: 9 - 15 and many such passages).
Yet, He could not bear to pass by needy souls without touching them with His great power. Perhaps He was reluctant because He knew their need was far deeper and could really only be met by His substitutionary death, but as they reached out, (even the Greek woman) His over-riding tender heart could not bear to refuse.
Here only we have this Aramaic expression, this strange word, Ephphatha, “be opened” and I feel certain that as He said it His soul longed to say “hear what the spirit saith” but that must wait until a later day.
Mark 8:33 Savoring the Things of God
In this chapter there are so many things peculiar to Mark that we may not be able to speak of them all in the allotted space.
True, the story of the dual feeding of the multitudes is found elsewhere (Matt.16) but here only the number of baskets of fragments from each occasion in mentioned. Was there any significance? We know from Matthew’s account that the leaven represented Pharisaic doctrine and from Luke 12:1 that their doctrine was filled with “hypocrisy”. The numbers seven and twelve are so symbolic that I think they are given for a purpose. The relation of 12 to 5 or 7 to 4 yields no stupendous thought to me, how about you? But since 7 represents perfect timing and 12 perfect organization, perhaps the simple lesson is just this, trust Me and things will always be on time and done right and don’t we who have really learned to trust Him find it so! “They reasoned among themselves” and their reasoning was completely “off the wall”. He said in Matthew, “O ye of little faith,” implying , can you not trust Me in the little things as well as the great. What an important lesson!
As Jesus dealt with the disciples He asked them, “Having eyes, see ye not and having ears, hear ye not?” These are interesting questions seeing they come right in between two of His miracles which are recorded only in Mark, the healing of the deaf mute and that of the blind man of Bethsaida. In both of these, lay a common thread, the spitting on the defective parts. This occurred also in John 9:6 where He made clay from the dust of the ground etc., but otherwise these two blind men are unrelated. The picture here, too great to be missed unless we too are hard of heart (v.17), the great I Am has come to open the eyes of the blind and unstop the ears of the deaf. This He has done for us, Praise His Name!
Mark 9:42 “Little Ones”
Of course we all know that our Lord Jesus as the great Servant of God had a very tender
heart. In this chapter Mark alone records for us certain evidence of His loving kindness expressed to children, and later in chapter ten, verse sixteen.
First we note how He took the formerly demon possessed son by the hand as He gently lifted him up to present him to his father. But even more expressive, our Lord’s tenderness is seen in verse 36 as He took a child in His arms and taught the disciples a very important lesson. True, Matthew’s account in 18: 1-14 of the treatment of “ little ones” is longer and filled with much good teaching, but here only do we know that He took the child He was using as an object lesson and held him close in His arms.
The threat of a millstone around the neck of any one who offends a child and of being cast into the sea is given here in the context of our Lord’s using a little child whom He set in the midst of the disciples (Matt.18:6), though here in Mark one might miss the fact. The cup of water here seems directed to the disciples but since it is coupled with the millstone threat and the recipients in Matthew are called “little ones” one must assume that the Matt. 10:42 passage refers to children. The conclusion of the matter is that we should be extremely carefully how we treat a child! I have seen Christian men being gruff and unkind to children other than their own flesh and blood and there is a grave tendency to ignore them. Now on the next chapter.....
Mark 10:21 “Come, take up the Cross”
There are two unrelated instances in this chapter where Mark shares data not found in the other synoptics though the stories in which it is found are in all three. First, in the episode where the disciples rebuked those who were bringing little children to Jesus that He might touch them, we have already made reference in the last writing concerning the fact that He “took them up in his arm” as He blessed them. But, on closer inspection and comparison with parallel accounts it has been noted that our Lord “was much displeased” with the disciples’ action. This shows us that not only did He rebuke them perhaps as a matter of principle, but we get an insight into His feelings on the situation. This is found only in Mark’s gospel.
The second instance of Mark’s singularity appears in the familiar story of the so-called, Rich Young Ruler. Again, this is found in Matt.19:16 and Luke 18:18 but here only are the words (v.21) “come, take up the cross” etc. All of the other occasions of Mark’s “special touch” pales into insignificance compared with this one! Here is why.
The cross was referred to often by our Lord as He sought to teach the depth of commitment required to be His disciple. For example, Matt.10:38 and Luke 14:27. Further study on this subject would prove most profitable but I want to point out the significance of the fact that Mark alone placed this word in his text. Here we have an excellent example of what the cross represents. The young man was asked to leave all and follow Jesus. This is total commitment and it is likened to bearing the cross for this symbolized death. Christ’s commitment to His own cross was absolute and resulted in His death. Our path though not usually leading to physical death does require death to self and total surrender of our bodies to His service. See 1 Cor. 6:19 & 20; John 12: 24 & 25 and Rom.12: 1 & 2. Again, the heart of Jesus, (only here) “Jesus beholding him loved him,” etc.
Mark 11:1-10 Story for Sarah
Everybody loves a story. I hope you will enjoy this one that I wrote for a young friend named Sarah. Some license employed.
In the 23rd Psalm, the Shepherd Psalm, the whole monologue is from the point of view of the sheep. The Lord is my shepherd etc- I shall not want. The sheep is letting us know what a wonderful thing it is to have Jesus for its shepherd and now the story,
If Donkeys Could Talk
Mother, where are they taking us- should I be afraid?
Na---y my little one— let me tell you some donkey history.
In the story of Baalim- one of your great great great ..uncles once was employed to transport a man who was not willing to obey God. He saw an angel and experienced a miracle.
Not long ago—another of our cousins had a most wonderful experience. He gave a ride to a beautiful woman who was going to have a baby. He, of course, expected to be put in a stable,-- but he didn’t expect when he went to put his head into the manger, to find a baby there--and all the men coming to worship Him. He wished he could have talked so he could worship Him too. They called Him Lord Jesus.
And my little one, I think I heard right with my big donkey ears– that the men who came to our owner said “ the Lord hath need of them” (Matt.21:3) and it was only yesterday that I heard our owner reading from the book he called Zechariah (9:9).
My little one, I tremble to think that we may be the very ones of which it was written.
But mother, it is my nature to not want a man sitting on my back. I can feel it inside and I think I want to buck him off.
Sh--here we are— and oh what a wonderful day it was!
As the little colt walked away, he said:
The Lord sent for me, I was not afraid.
The Lord rode on my back and I did not buck him off. I did not want to, even though it was my nature. It felt comfortable and right for the Lord to be guiding me in the way He wanted me to go. I felt that it was for this purpose I had been born.
When the crowds cheered, I knew it was Him they worshiped not me, but I was just happy to be able to carry Him, to be His transportation. Just to think that on that very special day, He needed me,Wow! Yes and may I always be ready in case He needs to have another ride.
Mark 12:34 “Not far”
Most of what we find in this chapter is also found in Matthew or Luke or both, however, there is one section here that is not found elsewhere and perhaps it will yield us some good meat. The response of the scribe (v.32-34) to what Jesus said was the “first commandment of all.” Here only is the Deut. 6:4 introduction repeated Hear O Israel... The words of verse 30 are found in Luke but in a different setting as given in response to a question about eternal life.
Mark’s singular reference to the remarks of the scribe are what I wish to reflect upon. He saw clearly that to bring sacrifices to Jehovah but not obey the deeper thrust of the written law which is unchangeable was hypocrisy. These same thoughts are brought out in 1 Sam.15:22; Hos.6:6 and Micah 6:6-8.
May I quote from Vol.5 of the 1945 edition of J.F.B. Commentary published by Moody Press, pg.188. “‘ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God’, says the Law, ‘with all thy heart,’ or with perfect sincerity;. ‘with all thy soul,’ or with the utmost fervor; ... ‘with all thy mind’ or, in the fullest exercise of an enlightened reason; and ... ‘with all thy strength,’ or, with the whole energy of our being!” This, I feel, is an excellent comment on these all inclusive words and I wanted to pass them on to you.
The Luke passage, 10:25-29 introduces the story of the good Samaritan in response to the question “who is my neighbor?” In this account, which is certainly a separate instance of our Lord giving these two great commandments, the scribe, being duly impressed, is seen as being “not far from the kingdom of God.” Perhaps, as J.F.B. suggests, this upright scribe was among the company of Jewish leaders who were “obedient to the faith”soon after Pentecost (Acts 6:7). The law was a “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ that we might be justified by faith”( Gal. 3:24).
Mark 13: 33 “Watch and Pray”
There are two themes that I would like to address while in this chapter, the latter which is only found in Mark, and the former which is found in verse eleven. The material here is essentially found in each of the other synoptics, but, so far as I can see, in different contexts. This means that the statements made by our Lord Jesus were either repeated on three different occasions or the writer put them in where they thought they fit best. I don’t think it really matters as we are confident in the direct ministry of the Holy Spirit, and so much the more in light of this text. This promise which primarily pertains to the believer at a time of persecution is probably a clue to the probability that the Holy Spirit often works through us when we least suspect it. I think we will have many surprises relating to this concept when we get to heaven.
The second theme we will comment on is that found at the end of this chapter in verses 32-37. At first you might think that you have seen this mentioned elsewhere and there are several similar passages but each of them have different characters and/or different emphases.
We might call this passage the command to watchers for the root of this word porter is watcher and here we have a strong emphasis on that duty. In our KJV the word “watch” is found 4 times in the five verses in addition to being embedded in the aforementioned word. Nowhere else do we have this repetition. We do have two illustrations relative to watching in Matthew’s Gospel that would be profitable to read in this connection (24:42 & 43 and 25:13). Luke has one such illustration using this word (12:38) and we find it twice in the epistles (1 Thess. 5:6 and 1 Pet. 4:7). If you find time for it here would be a good place to read 2 Peter 3:1-18. I found several other occasions where the word watch is used, but not in the same sense.
Finally, let us be sure to “watch and pray.”
Mark 14:51 “A Certain Young Man”
Having very carefully examined all four gospels it is clear to me that almost everything in this exceptionally long chapter is found in the other synoptics and much also in John. There is, however, one brief and descriptive narrative found only in Mark. It is in verses 51 & 52. “To me,” says Olshausen, “ it appears most probable that here Mark writes concerning himself.” (So also Lange) J.F.B. commentary which records the preceding quotation also supports this theory because it seems by virtue of its details to be the account of an eyewitness. (He was probably roused from sleep having on his nightclothes, opines the commentator and demonstrating the terror of the scene, fled naked, as “fear conquers shame.”)
What I would like most to point out from this chapter is what is said here about the bread being used at the passover (v.22). It is unfortunate that these words are not used at the time of communion rather than those by Paul (1 Cor.11:24), for neither here in Mark nor in the other places where this event is recorded is it said “this is my body which is broken for you.” Here Jesus “brake” the bread and there is no application made to His body being broken. In Paul’s words as recorded in the Corinthian passage it may be taken either way but note ( in the KJV) the placement of the comma which, I believe, strengthens the position that he was not saying that Christ’s body was broken but only that the bread was broken agreeing with the account in Matthew (26:26) and Luke (22:19). Concerning the latter, there is no connection between the words given and broken. In fact we are clearly shown that the soldiers at the time of the crucifixion did not break his legs in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled regarding the breaking of His bones (John 19:31-36). Some in order to make their point will say that His skin was broken. This certainly is a stretch in my opinion.
Mark 15:21 Divine Compulsion
The only one to mention the sons of Simon, Mark, by doing so stirs our imagination. Several of our favorite commentators encourage us in this endeavor but I must say that even before I looked for encouragement my mind was conjuring up a scene that might have taken place that evening.
One can picture a husband and father sharing the momentous events of the greatest day, heretofore, in his life. He was coming in from the country (where he may have been gathering sticks) when attracted by a large and noisy crowd. Drawing nearer he “happened” to be the one selected by the soldiers to bear the weight of a heavy cross under which a seemingly unfortunate criminal was struggling to maintain footing. At first perhaps cursing his luck suddenly he became aware that this Man he was helping was no ordinary One. His task completed he stood around to watch the proceedings. Perhaps he had once heard this Man teach, finally recognizing Who He was though His appearance was greatly disfigured (Isa.52:14). Whatever else happened that day we may be quite certain that it resulted in Simon’s conversion and later in that of his household.
Commentators are quick to point out that the Cyrenian from a city by that name in North Africa, had several synagogues in Jerusalem and that many of this national group were later involved in spreading the Gospel (Acts13:1). They say that by the time Mark wrote, these men were obviously well known or he would not have mentioned them. There is an Alexander in Acts 19:33 and a Rufus in Rom.16:13. The mother of this Rufus was affectionately referred to by Paul as not only Rufus’ mother but also his own.
Meditating on this chapter describing the crucifixion on we cannot begin to imagine the crosses borne, the lives transformed, all the blessings derived, but one thing we know, our own story starts here.
Mark 16:7 Special Handling
Mark is the only Gospel writer that includes the words “and Peter” in verse 7. It is a tender touch in keeping with his emphasis on the humanness of our Lord. Its inclusion would be obvious if one agrees that Peter is the actual author of this record. There are two other verses that indicate the special handling of His over wrought disciple. In Luke 24:34 the testimony is that He had appeared already to Peter prior to any others of the eleven, and in 1 Cor.15:5 it is said by Paul that He appeared to Cephas (Peter) and then the other disciples. There is no actual narrative of this favored appearance only these references to it.
Perhaps it was the rank unbelief of all the inner circle (16:14) evidenced by the upbraiding lecture they received which, in reference, is peculiar to this Gospel and which required, in our Lord’s estimation, a special appearance as they huddled in fearful seclusion (John 20:19). My thought is that in their state they might never have gone to Galilee to meet with Him as the angel in our verse had instructed them had He not graced them with these preview sessions recorded in Luke (24:36-48) and John (20:19-29).
The tenderheartedness and compassion of our wonderful Lord is certainly demonstrated in His patient forbearance with His disciples and, particularly, with Peter. This disciple who apparently thought that it was all over for him (after his denial) decides that it is time to go back to his former trade. In this setting (John 21:1-22) the Lord confronts Peter, asking him if his affection for Himself is not more important than a whole net-full of fish (v.15) and indicating that His call of this “little rock” (Petra) to help build a Church on the Rock of our Salvation was still valid (Matt.16:17 & 18). It was not until after Pentecost that this blessed man received the power for this service of proclaiming “the Christ, the Son of the living God” in fearless and fruitful manner. Wow! Five thousand sheep to feed and this is only the beginning!