Reflections on Mark

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I (try to) post about what I’ve read. Other posts this month are on Joshua and Matthew. You can read all I’ve written on Mark here.

The shortest gospel has a structure that can be divided into 2 parts: Jesus’ ministry in Galilee in chapters 1:2-8:30; and His journey to Jerusalem, His death and resurrection in 8:31-the end. The second half can further be divided into Jesus training His disciples privately (8:31-10:31); the journey to Jerusalem (10:32-10:52);  the arrival at Jerusalem (11:1-11:11); teaching in Jerusalem and conflict with the religious leaders (11:12-14:9); the Last Supper, betrayal, arrest and trial (14:10-15:20); crucifixion and death (15:21-15:47); resurrection (16:1-20).

Mark’s gospel contains little teaching when compared with the other synoptics: Luke records about 25 parables, Matthew about 20, and Mark only 7. This is a gospel of action and vivid details whose main preoccupation is to answer the question, “Who is this Jesus?”

Mark answers this question in the opening verse: The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The question comes up in 1:27 and 4:41. People give varying answers (Mark 2:7, 3:22, 6:3, 6:14-15), but only the demons get it right (Mark 1:24, 5:7). When Jesus asks the disciples the question, Peter gets it (Mark 8:29). At this point Jesus starts to teach His disciples what kind of Messiah He is. (As an aside, if a human thought him/herself to be God, would they claim suffering to be a necessity as Jesus did in 8:31-32, 9:31-32, 10:33-34? Just another example of the counter-productivity of the Gospels, that is, if they were man-made inventions.)

Now for some tidbits here and there.

When the rich young man comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus quotes from the second part of the 10 commandments, those that are horizontal in nature. The man says he’s faithfully kept them. Jesus then gives him an answer which boils down to the first commandment, that of having no other gods. The thing is, when we break any commandment, we’re breaking the first one as well. When we keep the first, we’ll keep all the rest. So help us God.

The disciples just didn’t get it. Toward the end of chapter 9, they are arguing about who was the greatest among them, a discussion probably sparked by Jesus having chosen 3 of them to go up the mount of transfiguration. Jesus sets them straight, using a child as an object lesson (9:35-37). In the middle of chapter 10, the disciples rebuke people who were bringing little children to Jesus. He rebukes them back (9:14-15). James and John then have the chutzpah to ask Jesus to appoint them to plum jobs in the coming Kingdom. The other 10 are furious, probably because they didn’t get their bids in first. Jesus has to give them another dressing-down (10:42-45). I don’t always get it the first time, so there’s hope for me yet.

The woman who anointed Jesus at Bethany used perfume valued at almost a year’s worth of wages (Mark 14:5). Judas betrayed Jesus for the price of a common slave. The juxtaposition of the value put on Jesus is striking.

Speaking of Judas, the gospels give us no indication that he stood out among the disciples. He seems to have been just as well-adjusted as the rest of them, and not particularly under suspicion. Why else would each of the disciples ask Jesus if they would be the one to betray Him (14:9), instead of pointing an accusing finger at Judas? Why else, as per John’s account of the Last Supper, would they think that Judas was going to fulfill some charitable mission (John 13:29)? The false disciples among us may appear to be just as normal as, or maybe even nicer than, the rest of us.

And finally, my personal and less useful observations.

One thing I noticed was how much the disciples talked among themselves. This may be present in the other gospels as well, but it was in Mark that it jumped out at me. Examples: when Jesus calmed the storm (4:41); when He warned them of the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod (8:16); when Peter, James and John couldn’t figure out what ‘rising from the dead’ meant (9:10); when they were arguing about who was the greatest among them (9:34).

Along the lines of vivid description mentioned above, I noted two things in particular. I noticed the mentions of eating/hunger. When Jesus and the disciples were so busy, they didn’t have a chance to eat (3:20, 6:31); and Jesus appearing to the disciples when they were eating (16:14). Secondly, I noticed the descriptions of emotion. In chapter 10 alone, we have indignation, amazement, astonishment and fear and more indignation. I also liked the way Mark said that the crowd listened to Jesus with delight and how Joseph of Arimathea went boldly to Pilate.

Sources:  Covenant Life Church, The Proclamation Trust, Alistair Begg, D. A. Carson, Mark Dever