The Gospel according to Mark

Chapter 1

In the Introduction we imagined the church in Jerusalem asking John Mark to interview Simon Peter and write down as much as possible in view of the beheading of James, and Peter's narrow escape from death (Acts 12:1-5). Mark's gospel would therefore be the brief notes that Mark recorded.

1:1 He might have begun with the question "Why is Jesus so important to you?" Peter's answer was that he brought wonderful good news ( The Greek word euanggelion means any good news such as "I have good news from the battle against the Persians," or "the good news is that your wife has born you a son"). What was this good news about? It took Peter two years to see clearly (see 8:29) that Jesus is the Messiah (Greek Christos which translates the Hebrew mashiakh which means "anointed one" as in Psalm 2:2). And he is also the eternal Son of God. That means Jesus' life did not begin in Bethlehem (see comment on 1:15). Twenty years later Paul introduced his explanation of the Holy Spirit as the one who continued the work of Jesus with the words "I am not ashamed of the Gospel: it is the power of God for salvation" (Romans 1:16).

1:2-4 Then Mark would have asked about John the Baptist. The last of the Old Testament prophets had said the Messiah's coming among us would be preceded by a messenger (Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 3:1-2). And it is easy to see how John the Baptist fulfilled that role. Even before Jesus began preaching John was announcing good news about turning to God and his forgiveness.

1:5 Crowds of people came out from Jerusalem and the Judean countryside to the place John had chosen for his teaching. That was in Bethany beyond the Jordan (John 1:28, not the Bethany by the Mount of Olives) and people could come and camp there by the river, and stay for several days to hear what John was teaching. Similarly a hundred years ago camp meetings were a very effective way to teach large numbers of people. Both in the more recent camp and evangelistic meetings, and when people gathered to hear John the Baptist, individuals realized their sinfulness and need to come to a living faith.

1:6 John the Baptist was an awesome looking character. He wore a leather belt around a rough camel hair garment. It reminded people of Elijah's garment that dropped off as he ascended into heaven (2 Kings 1:8, 2:13). John was an ascetic who never bought food in the market, but he collected locusts (hopefully cooked) which he flavored with wild honey.

1:7-8 John never drew attention to himself, but kept pointing to the one who would come to empower his disciples with the Holy Spirit. There is a clear distinction between being baptized with water to enrol as a disciple of Jesus, and the subsequent baptism by the Spirit which enables us to fly on our own empowered and taught by the Spirit (as Jesus explained in John 14:12, 26, 16:12, and Paul set out in Romans7:19-8:9, see Galatians 3:3-5, 5:22-23).

1:9 Peter was probably present at Jesus's baptism All four Gospels record Jesus' baptism (Matthew 3:16, Luke 3:22, John 1:31-32). Several of Jesus' apostles had begun as disciples of John the Baptist (John 1:35). Now those who wanted to become disciples of Jesus were baptized (see John 4:1). It seems that Andrew and Peter, who had previously been baptized as disciples of John the Baptist, were to become disciples of Jesus the next day (John 1:32-35, 40-42).

1:10 Another who saw the heavens opened was Stephen just before he was martyred (Acts 7:56). The dove was used as a messenger of the Holy Spirit for Noah (Genesis 8:8-12). A lover thought of a dove's gentleness and beauty (Song of Songs 2:14). And Jesus said we were to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16). Wisdom and gentleness are certainly characteristic of the Holy Spirit. . This is why the dove was adopted as the symbol of the Holy Spirit in Christian art.

1:11 Matthew recorded the voice from heaven as "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17, as in Luke 3:22). We can imagine how this must have reassured the Lord of the Father's delight in him. It also impressed the disciples. When John wrote his Gospel he recorded some of the objections to this from Jewish leaders, and Jesus' explanation of his relationship to the Father (John 8:16-30, 48-59).

1:12 Immediately after the baptism Peter saw how Jesus was moved by the Spirit to leave his disciples and go out into the wilderness for what must have seemed like a long 40 days. When his teacher came back, Peter may have asked how he survived so long among the wild beasts of the forest, and Jesus answered "angels came to meet my needs." Matthew the tax collector seems to have written down verbatim some of the sayings (logia) of Jesus which are found in Matthew's and Luke's Gospels (usually called the document Q), and he may have asked what was the content of the three forms of satanic temptation (Matthew 4:1-11). When Luke wrote his Gospel he included these in a different order (Luke 4:1-12) perhaps for stylistic reasons or because Jesus was faced with these temptations to turn away from his ministry again and again.

1:14 As the interview proceeded Peter remembered the arrest of John the Baptist, and Jesus' move to Capernaum (as described in Matthew 4:13). The reason for this was partly that his home was in Galilee, but also because Jerusalem and Judea were dangerous places to begin his ministry. In any kind of missionary work it is good to begin in one's own neighborhood.

1:15 The Psalm writers knew that the Son of God was already reigning in Old Testament times as Sovereign King among the nations. "O LORD our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth" (Psalm 8:1). "The Lord sits enthroned forever, he has established his throne for judgment" (Psalm 9:7, 10:16, 11:4, etc.). Now Jesus the Son of God began announcing that his eternal Kingdom had come near. Twenty years later Peter was proud of the fact that he belonged to Jesus' "royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9, see Revelation 5:10). The word "repent" means to turn in a new direction (as in 1:4) and believing means acting in faith on the basis of the good news. But faith is never a proof (as in a mathematical theorem where "this and that and something else is true, therefore we can be absolutely certain about the conclusion). Faith is more the beginning of an exploration. There is always much more to learn, and we never know it all.

1:16-18 Simon Peter and his brother Andrew had been disciples of John the Baptist, and they had traveled down a week's journey to hear him as he preached across the Jordan (John 1:35-42). Peter and Andrew lived in Capernaum (1:29), but they had their boats and fishing business with James and John on the Bethsaida beach. It was there Jesus invited them to be part of his preaching and teaching team. There were two ways of fishing in the lake, by means of a hook and line (for bigger fish) or by using a net to catch smaller fish (an exception would be the 153 exceptionally large fish in the net after the resurrection, John 21:11). On the Day of Pentecost Peter was later able to draw in 3,000 people (Acts 2:41). The difference is that in ordinary fishing the fish are caught to die and be eaten. In Kingdom fishing people are given eternal life.

1:19-20 James and John, also accepted Jesus call to join them in the work of the Kingdom, and their father Zebedee was able to use hired men for their family fishing business in Bethsaida..

1:21-22 These four fishermen worked in Bethsaida on the east of the Jordan as it entered the Lake of Galilee. Capernaum, where Jesus made his home was on the west side. Peter remembered the four friends (see 1:29) crossing over (perhaps the short distance by boat) on the first sabbath day to hear Jesus speak in the Capernaum synagogue. They were astonished at the authority of his preaching, as opposed to the rabbis who depended on quoting other theologians.

1:23-24 As they were in the synagogue listening to Jesus a man possessed by an evil spirit started shouting. The spirit recognized that Jesus was going to destroy the power of the spirits (see the word "us") that held people in their grip in that city.

1:25-26 When the demonic spirit was cast out there was a loud wail and the possessed man was convulsed before he was freed from that evil power. The same occured when a dumb boy was freed from possession (Mark 9:20). Similar phenomena are reported in many missionary situations when the good news begins to impact a community (Mark 1:32-34, 39, see Acts 16:16-18, 19:13-16). But it seems that once a church is established in a city the physical power of evil spirits ceases to be so evident, and Satan relies more on lies and deceit to control people.

1:27-28 The crowd not only recognized Jesus' authority in preaching (1:22), but his authority over satanic possession. And that resulted in Jesus being known throughout Galilee. Matthew adds that he was invited to speak in many local synagogues (Matthew 9:35).

1:29-31 After the synagogue service the four men went to visit in Simon Peter's family home which was close to the Capernaum synagogue. Peter's wife's mother was in bed with a fever, and Jesus took her by the hand and as he lifted her up she was healed.

1:32-34 That evening a crowd gathered around the house bringing people for healing and deliverance from satanic possession.

1:35-36 Early the next morning Simon Peter saw Jesus had disappeared, and the four friends went out to look for him. They found him praying in a deserted place outside the city. We wonder what he was praying about? Was it his own need of renewal after being drained by the crowds that pressed upon him? Was it his concern to reach other towns and villages (1:38)? Or was he already thinking of a whole world to be reached with the good news (Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:18-20)?

1:37-39 When they wanted him to come back into Capernaum, and meet with the crowd who were still clamoring to see him, Jesus said they must go to the neighboring towns to proclaim the message. They immediately went and did this for several days before returning to Capernaum (2:1). When we are overwhelmed with demands from people pressing in on us we can learn from Jesus' example of moving on to a situation where we can effectively exercise our ministry.

1:40-42 We can imagine Mark asking if Peter remembered any special incident during that speaking tour. The first day there was a leper who came and knelt nearby saying that if Jesus chose to do so he could be healed. This was strictly against the law as lepers were required to keep their distance shouting "Unclean, unclean." To the horror of the four disciples Jesus went up and touched the leper and said "I do choose. Be made clean." And immediately the leprous patches and lesions began to disappear.

1:43-44 Peter also remembered the strict instructions for the healed leper not to tell anyone, but to go and show himself to a priest (as the law required) to obtain a certificate that he had been declared healed (Leviticus 14:2-3).

1:45-47 The man was too excited to listen, and he went around announcing his healing, and reporting Jesus' power and message of good news. The result was that Jesus had to avoid busy towns where they would be swamped by too many seeking healing. Instead they camped out in country areas, and people would seek them out. That enabled them to continue the ministry of teaching the good news as well as praying for the sick. From that time Jesus' wider ministry opened up all over Galilee.Turning to begin learning and exploring is one thing, but as in our day it is not easy for people to believe the astonishing good news that Jesus brought from heaven.

Chapter 2