What was Mark's purpose in writing this book?
Mark wrote his gospel for the (Gentile) Christians living in and around Rome during the persecution under Emperor Nero. Mark sought both to encourage and to equip them by reminding them of who Jesus Christ is and what it means to follow him.
"The Gospel of Mark teaches about the person and acts of God as revealed in the words and works of his Son, Jesus Christ. In his ministry, defined as good news (gospel), Jesus as the Christ fulfills the promises of the Old Testament concerning the Davidic Messiah-King in a unique way as the Son of God."14 In Mark's historical narrative we learn that Jesus: was empowered by God's Spirit; proclaimed God's good news; announced God's kingdom; called for "repentance and belief in that good news"; suffered and died to ransom us from sin; and was raised back to life.15
Who is Jesus to you: A good man? A wise teacher? Lord? Why?
Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the Child of a peasant woman. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. ... While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a Cross between two thieves. ... When He was dead He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. ... Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today He is the Centerpiece of the human race ... I am within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life.16
What is the historical setting of this book?
The setting for Mark's gospel is the persecution of Christians under Emperor Nero in Rome, beginning A.D. 65.17
"In A.D. 64 a fire broke out at the Circus Maximus in Rome. It spread quickly, devouring everything in its path. Fanned by the wind, it raged for more than five days and devastated a large area of the city before being brought under control. At the time Nero was at Antium, his birthplace, some 33 miles to the south. He rushed to Rome to organize relief work. Because of his evil record, however, people put stock in the rumor that Nero had set the fire himself. Nero, in turn, found a scapegoat in the Christians, whom he charged with the crime. Many were persecuted."18 It was during this period that both Paul and Peter were put to death. As one source notes: "Writing in the last two or three years of Nero's life, when the Jewish rebellion was in its early stages, when persecution of Christians was severe, and when many 'prophets' and 'deliverers' were making themselves known, the Markan evangelist puts forward Jesus as the true son of God, in whom the good news for the world truly has its beginning."19
Describe a time you were falsely accused of something. What was the outcome? What did you learn from that experience?
William Shakespeare wrote that, "Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind." And C. S. Lewis noted how, "Suspicion often creates what it suspects."20 People are prone to see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear. Moral: Striving to live good lives will help us see the good in others (though they may or may not acknowledge it in us).
What type of book/literature is this?
Mark's book is a gospel narrative centering on the words and works of Jesus Christ. Jesus' public ministry began in A.D. 29 and ended in A.D. 33. Mark opens his narrative by placing the Gospel within its proper historical context: Old Testament prophets => John the Baptist => Jesus. The nation of Israel had long anticipated God's Messiah and the deliverance he would offer; the "good news" was that he had finally arrived. As one source summarizes:
Since the usage and associations of the term in the Synoptics coincide with those in Isaiah, it is likely that the meaning of gospel has its roots in this message of restoration and healing for the helpless. The preaching of the "good news" is collocated with the kingdom in both the Synoptics (Mark 1:14–15; Matthew 4:23; 9:35; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 16:16) and in Isaiah (Isaiah 40:9–10; 52:7) and so also with healing in both the Synoptics (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 11:5; Luke 7:22; 9:6) and in Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1; 26:19; 29:18; 35:5–6).21
Mark's is actually one of four separate but related gospels, the others having been written by Matthew, Luke and John. Because their subject (Jesus) is unique, in many ways theirs is a unique type of literature. Their basic style, however, reflects a type of biography popular at the time. These biographies of philosophers or writers (rather than generals or politicians) "were shaped over a skeleton chronology running from their birth, or entrance on the stage of public history, to their death, interrupted here and there by topical excursions."22 The gospel writers (or "evangelists") present us with a series of snapshots of the life and times of Jesus, culminating with his death, resurrection, and promised future return.
Mark's is "a biography charged with energy"23 - it emphasizes action and climaxes with Jesus' crucifixion.24 Mark's frequent use of the word "immediately" (40 x) "adds to the rapid flow of his narrative, which, dwelling more on Jesus' activity than on his discourses (in contrast to Matthew and Luke), shifts from scene to scene with hardly a pause."25 As one source puts it, it is as if Mark "rushes on in a kind of breathless attempt to make the story as vivid to others as it is to himself,"26 the end result being what has been called "essentially a transcript from life."27 Besides showing Jesus in action, Mark includes quite a number of details appropriate to an eyewitness account - "details of persons, times, numbers, and places."28 Although such intimate details may be unimportant in and of themselves, nonetheless they offer additional proof of authenticity since they are what an "eyewitness would have been likely to recall later when he related the mighty works and words of Jesus and the decisive reactions of those present."29 As one source puts it: "Mark's Gospel throbs with life and bristles with vivid details. We see with Peter's eyes and catch almost the very look and gesture of Jesus as he moved among men in his work of healing men's bodies and saving men's souls."30
Have you ever read the biography or autobiography of a famous person? What was the one thing about him or her that impressed you the most?
Not long ago I read Billy Graham's autobiography, Just As I Am. Here is a man who has shared the Gospel with literally millions of people around the world. Here is a man who has confronted presidents and kings with their need for a personal relationship with the King of kings, Jesus Christ. If anyone has a right to boast about his accomplishments, surely it would be Billy Graham.
And yet what strikes me most about Billy Graham's life is not his accomplishments, but his humility. Ask him why God has used him so greatly and Billy Graham will tell you he has no idea. All he knows for sure is that God is in charge and he is called to be faithful.