Mark 1: The Living Paradox
Most biblical scholars agree that the Gospel of Mark was written by John Mark, whom the Apostle Peter affectionately calls "my son" in 1 Peter 5:13. Because of their close relationship and many internal clues, we can surmise that the Holy Spirit used Peter's first hand accounts in shaping this gospel. It was probably written between A.D. 64 and 70, to a mostly Gentile audience. Mark likely wrote from fast-paced Rome, which may account for his condensed and action-packed approach, often employing words like "immediately". In any case, Mark is anxious to unveil to us who Jesus is, what His mission was, and how we are to respond to Him. In the first eight chapters, Mark focuses our attention on the power and authority of "the Son of God" who performs many mighty works. The second eight chapters reveal a Jesus with no less authority, but who is determined to take the lowly route of suffering and death, in order to fulfill His saving mission. As to our response, Jesus calls us to "repent and believe the good news" (1:15) and to endure suffering along with Him.
How would your friends describe you to someone who's never met you?
Well, Mark wastes no time getting to the "real deal" about Jesus. He skips any mention of Christ's birth or childhood and gets immediately to scenes from His ministry which reveal who He is.
Read verses 1-41.
[Optional: As the students read, sketch a map of Palestine on newsprint or eraser board, indicating the locations of the events described in the chapter.]
How long does it take Mark to get to the central message of his gospel?
[Rephrase if necessary: What monumental truth does Mark reveal in the first sentence of his book?] (The deity of Christ. Mark pulls no punches!)
Reread verse 2.
In the Isaiah quote:
Who is "I"?
(God the Father)
Who is "my messenger"?
(John the Baptist)
And who is "you"?
Someone rephrase it for us with names instead of pronouns.
(The Father will send John ahead of Jesus.)
For clues to John the Baptist's role, let's look at his wardrobe.
What was the brother wearing?
(A camel's hair coat and a leather belt.)
What do his clothes reveal beyond his lack of fashion sense?
(That's exactly what Elijah the prophet wore. John also ministered in the same area as Elijah had – in the desert near the Jordan River! He was obviously making a statement since he and everyone else was familiar with the Old Testament prophesy that Elijah would return before the Messiah came. Read Malachi 4:5-6 and Mark 9:2-5,11-13. Other parallels to mention if there is time and interest: Elijah passed on authority to his successor, Elisha, who received a double portion of his spirit. Christ's ministry obviously eclipsed his predecessor's as well. And Elisha's ministry didn't begin in fullness until after Elijah passed from the scene. The same was true of Christ and John.)
According to verses 4-5, what was John's ministry all about?
(Repentance and forgiveness of sin.)
Since baptism is associated with cleansing from sin, why in the world did the sinless Jesus get baptized?
(To identify himself with sinners, to be involved with God's work through John, and to be revealed by John as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.")
Name the persons involved in verses 10-11.
(Father, Son, Spirit. Once again, Mark is hard-hitting as he reveals the Trinity in his opening lines.)
What does the presence of all three persons of the Trinity at the baptism reveal about this event?
(The involvement of the Godhead accentuates its importance.) What was so important about it? (It's at this point that He received the Spirit's empowerment for the public ministry He was about to begin.)
Skim the passage and list every action which shows the power and authority of Jesus.
[Give verse numbers as hints if necessary.]
v.7 – John says Jesus is "more powerful than I". John also felt unworthy to even untie Christ's sandals, and that He would bring them a superior baptism.
v.10 – He saw the heavens open and the Spirit descend on him in the form of a dove.
v.11 – A voice from heaven spoke glowingly about Him.
v.13 – He overcame temptation, was unharmed by wild animals, and was attended by angels.
v.15,17,20,25,41 He gave crisp commands to people and demons, who all obeyed Him. Four fishermen dropped their nets to follow Him.
v.22 He taught in the synagogue without a degree and without permission. People were amazed at the authority with which He spoke.
v.34 He healed many diseases, cast out and shut up demons.
Although He had all power and authority, He was also humble.
Where do you see His humility in this passage?
[Give verse numbers as hints if necessary]
v.9 – He underwent baptism.
v.13 – He allowed Himself to be tempted for forty days, during which time He fasted. (We know this from Matthew and Luke.)
v.14 – He did not preach until John's ministry was completed. v.16 – He reached out to lowly fisherman.
v.35 – He got up very early after a late night healing service.
v.35-38 – He was not enticed to bask in the popularity of the crowds, but moved on instead.
v.41 – He touched a leper, and didn't say "Of course I can!"
v.45 – He stayed in "lonely places", not in plush accomodations.
v.48 – He told a man not to tell anyone that Jesus had healed him.
Reread verses 35-39, looking for ways we can emulate Jesus.
So how are Christ's actions (in verses 35-39) an example to us?
1. He sacrificed sleep to spend time with the Father.
2. He didn't skip prayer when tired or busy.
3. He listened to the Father in prayer, seeking direction for the day.
4. He obedient submitted to the Father's direction.
5. He didn't give into pressure from others.
6. He realized that an "open door" doesn't always reveal God's will.
7. If Jesus so needed time with the Father, how much more do we.
8. He spent considerable time in prayer, beginning "while it was still dark."
When do you ever see people who are both powerful AND humble? And he not only possesses both qualities, but infinitely so. Let's respond in prayers of worship to the Servant-King. Let's also ask for help to follow his example of spending time with the Father.