Introduction Preliminary Concern: Why bother with Bible study?



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How does Mark's gospel compare with the others (Matthew, Luke, John)?


The center of focus for all four gospels is, of course, Jesus Christ. And so there is quite a bit of overlap in the reports of Jesus' words and works. But since each gospel writer wrote with a particular audience in mind, each writer emphasizes or highlights themes targeted to his intended audience. Along these lines, it is important to keep in mind that Mark does not aim for a precise, detailed record - "a day-to-day diary of events in chronological and orderly sequence."31 Because Mark's gospel is more of a patchwork of different episodes from Jesus' life and ministry, "the unity to be found is that of a mosaic or collage of individual passages that together produce a pattern."32
Regarding the structure of his gospel, one source notes how Mark organized his narrative
according to a simple plan. The first eight chapters summarize the nature of Christ's public ministry by alternating stories that show his growing popularity with stories that stress the disapproval of the Jewish leaders. This first half of the book, while indicating some of the tensions created by Jesus' coming, gives the basic impression of success and general optimism. A significant shift then strikes the reader toward the end of chapter 8, particularly beginning with verse 31. At Caesarea Philippi, Peter has just confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, and now for the first time Jesus reveals that as Messiah he must die. The disciples become perplexed and discouraged and their pessimism mounts as this thought is brought home to them repeatedly (Mark 9:9, 31; 10:32–34; 14:17–25). In the end they desert their master (Mark 14:50).33
When added together, the four gospel accounts present a complementary (rather than contradictory) picture of Jesus.
Matthew: "Matthew's object was to exhibit the Gospel as the fulfilment [sic] of the law and the prophecies; to connect the past with the present; to show that Jesus was the Messiah of the Jews, and that in the Old Testament the New was prefigured, while in the New Testament the Old was revealed."34
Mark: Mark
is a chronicler rather than a historian. His narrative is the record of an observer, dealing with the facts of Christ's life without reference to any dominant conception of his person or office. Christ's portrait is drawn "in the clearness of his present energy"; not as the fulfilment [sic] of the past, as by Matthew, nor as the foundation of the future, as by John. His object is to portray Jesus in his daily life, "in the awe-inspiring grandeur of his human personality, as a man who was also the Incarnate, the wonder-working Son of God."35
Luke: As a physician, Luke had an eye for detail and a spirit of compassion. Among other things, Luke's gospel reflects:


  • contrasts (e.g., between good and evil)

  • "the freedom and universality of the Gospel"

  • the prized status of women

  • and the importance of prayer.36


John: John's gospel
is characterized by the profuse employment of symbolism. This accords with its Hebrew fiber, and also, largely, with the nature of its subject. For not only was John a Jew, familiar with the symbolic economy and prophecy of the Old Testament, but Jesus, the central figure of his Gospel was, pre-eminently the fulfiller of the Law and of the Prophecies. Christ's own teaching, too, was largely symbolic; and John's peculiar, profound spiritual insight detected in His ordinary acts that larger meaning which belonged to them in virtue of Jesus' position as the representative of humanity; and that unity of the natural and spiritual worlds which was assumed in the utterances of our Lord in which the visible was used as the type of the invisible.37
INTERACTION

What is your favorite painting? What do you most appreciate about it? 
INSIGHT

The story is told of three visitors to the Grand Canyon - an artist, a pastor, and a cowboy. Each one was amazed at the sight before them.
The artist exclaimed that the Grand Canyon would make for a beautiful painting.
The pastor saw in the canyon an awesome example of God's creative handiwork.
But the cowboy moaned, "Sure would be a mighty bad place to lose a cow!"38
Moral: Who we are is reflected in the way we see things. Being a follower of Jesus involves seeing ourselves, our world and God in a new and exciting way.

What are some key themes in this book?


Jesus came to save the lost and serve the least. "In contrast with the courtesans and the leaders of Galilee who attend Herod's court, aside from his final days in Jerusalem, Jesus is found in rural, rustic and rudimentary settings and in the company of the little people."39 Jesus' message of forgiveness and deliverance was/is for people - all people. Broadly speaking, Mark presents Jesus as:


  • The Son of God, as evidenced by his divine activity, including healings, exorcisms, and power over nature.

  • The Son of Man, a Messianic title used often by Jesus in reference to himself.

  • The Redeemer who came to die on a cross for the sins of the world, seen especially in Mark's emphasis on Jesus' passion: "Mark devotes a greater proportion of space to the passion narrative than any other of the gospels."

  • The Healer whose miraculous healings encouraged faith in Jesus.40

Christ and the Messianic Secret


Both "Christ" (Greek) and "Messiah" (Hebrew) mean "(God's) Anointed One." In the Old Testament, God promised to send someone to deliver Israel. In time the idea of such a deliverer took on a political connotation: the people began looking for an earthly king to deliver them from Roman bondage. The people forgot that God's deliverer would also be a suffering servant. And so by the time Jesus came on the scene, there was much expectation regarding an earthly king who would use force to overthrow the Romans. This popular misconception was one reason Jesus repeatedly told others not to reveal his true identity (demons [Mark 1:23–25, 34; 3:11–12], people he healed [Mark 1:40–44; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26], and the disciples [Mark 8:30; 9:9]).
Another important reason for the "Messianic secret" is that Jesus' was to be a spiritual reign and his followers would be a part of God's invisible kingdom. Jesus could become king only after he completed his mission of dying for the sins of the world. Ironically, the cross that was waiting for Jesus, popularly identified with defeat, actually served to inaugurate Jesus' rule over the hearts of all who personally identify with him. And so, knowing that the cross must come before the crown, Jesus told people to remain silent regarding his identify as God's promised deliverer. Only after the cross and his resurrection from the dead did Jesus commission his followers to take the good news to everyone everywhere.
INTERACTION

Describe a time (birthday, Christmas, etc.) when you totally surprised someone with a gift they really wanted.
INSIGHT

My wife carries a backpack virtually everywhere she goes. Being the frugal person she is, she refused to buy a new backpack, even after the one she had used for several years was in real need of replacement. And so one Christmas I totally surprised her with a new bag. She loved it and used it until it was completely worn out.
The funny thing is, I had tried before to get her to trade in her old bag for a new one - without success. She absolutely refused to give up her old bag. When I gave her the new backpack as a gift, however, she could not refuse. And, as she began to use and enjoy the new bag, soon the old one was completely forgotten.
Salvation is a free gift from God. We can neither earn it nor produce it for ourselves. But like my wife with her old, worn-out backpack, our natural tendency is to hold on to what we have and make do with that. And so we tell ourselves that, when it comes to God, we have enough to get by. What we really and desperately need, as Mark reminds us, is to throw out our old bag and accept the new one Jesus offers.

Spiritual Conflict


The earth has been the scene of a great spiritual battle ever since the first human pair, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God's rightful rule over their lives (Genesis 3:15a). Since then, Satan has been doing everything within his power to prevent us human beings from seeking God. Mark's Gospel shows Jesus casting out demons (members of Satan's army), which in turn demonstrates his superiority over their master, Satan (Mark 3:27). When anyone turns to Jesus for healing and deliverance, that person is freed from Satan's control - i.e., healed both physically and spiritually.
In the final analysis, we can choose to worship either God or Satan. There is no middle ground. And who we worship determines how we worship: If we worship Satan, we will serve self. If we worship God, we will serve others in his name.
INTERACTION

Is all conflict bad? Why or why not?
INSIGHT

The story is told of a heated encounter between Winston Church and Lady Astor. (Lady Astor was the first woman member of the British House of Commons).
Lady Astor: "If I were your wife, I would give you arsenic to drink."
Churchill: "And if I were your husband, I would gladly drink it."41
Conflict literally means "to strike together." Proverbs tells us that, "Just as iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other" (Proverbs 27:17, CEV). Provided it results in good, conflict can be a good and healthy thing. Often conflict is God's way of getting our attention and showing us something important that we should be concerned about. For example, it may be a situation we should seek to remedy, or a bad habit we need to break.

Miracles and Salvation


In general, miracles can be defined as: "an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs."42 Miracles are not intended to prove God really exists; miracles are intended to prove God really cares. In Mark's Gospel, miracles show that Jesus came from God 1) to help the helpless, 2) to offer salvation to those who could not save themselves (everyone), and 3) to announce God's kingdom. Not even Jesus' performing miracles directly in front of them was enough to convince hardcore skeptics - they attributed the miracles to Satan (Mark 3:22). Only those who had fully committed themselves to Jesus were able to see the miracles for what they were: proofs of God's saving love. Hence the repeated connection between faith and miracles: "Your faith has made you well" (Mark 5:34; 10:52).
INTERACTION

Have you ever seen a miracle? Describe what happened.
INSIGHT

Although we may use the word "miracle" to describe an event we don't understand, a true miracle is "a special act of God that interrupts the natural course of events."43 As revealed in the Bible, miracles attract attention; attests to the existence of God; promote good; help confirm God's truth; and open the way for people to hear God's message.44

Discipleship


A disciple is a student or learner who seeks to emulate his teacher or instructor. A disciple of Jesus is someone who seeks to live by his teachings.
What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? What kind of treatment should a disciple expect? What sort of priorities should govern his or her life? The answers to these questions, important in their own right, would have taken on new and vital significance for Mark's original audience - Christians being hunted down and put to death for their faith - since they help to point out the high cost of discipleship. Mark repeatedly presents Jesus' disciples as being filled with fear and doubt, two real and natural emotions. And that seems to be Mark's point: only through belief in and commitment to Jesus can we begin thinking and acting differently from those in the world around us. Like his or her master, a disciple of Jesus rejects worldly power and status in favor of "the way of suffering and the cross through servanthood."45
INTERACTION

Who was your favorite teacher in high school? What did he or she do that made you want to learn for yourself?
INSIGHT

Commenting on 2 Timothy 4:13, where Paul asks Timothy to bring him a cloak, books, and the parchments, Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote the following:
He is inspired, yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, yet he wants books! He has seen the Lord, yet he wants books. He has had a wider experience than most men, yet he wants books! He has been caught up into the third heaven, and has heard things which it is unlawful to utter, yet he wants books! He has written the major part of the New Testament, yet he wants books!46
Moral: Those who love to learn change and grow by learning, and they never outgrow their need to learn.

The Kingdom of God


The "kingdom of God" can be defined as "the sovereignty of God under which people place themselves by accepting the message of Jesus in faith and undergoing a spiritual rebirth."47 Jesus began his public ministry by proclaiming: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15, NASB). Thus Jesus linked together the concepts of fulfillment, God's kingdom, repentance, and personal belief in the Gospel. God's promises (regarding a Deliverer or Savior) were fulfilled with the coming of his kingdom (= rule) which could be entered into only through repentance (= turning from sin) and belief in (= commitment to) the Gospel (= good news concerning Jesus Christ).
INTERACTION

What image(s) come to mind when you think of the word "kingdom": King? Queen? Castle? Banquets? Battles?
INSIGHT

A kingdom is actually an individual country, and many parallels exist between a given country and God's kingdom.48 Take, for instance, the United States of America:


  • The U.S. is large and expansive.

  • Life here is festive and abundant.

  • By its very nature, the U.S. includes some people but excludes others—i.e., not everyone can be a citizen of our country.

  • It is by grace alone that we are born citizens of the U.S.

  • Our citizenship is very valuable. It entitles us to both privileges and responsibilities.
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