It is interesting to notice the special object the Holy Spirit has in view in His presentation of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ in each of the four Gospels. In them we have four pen-portraits of our Saviour. It was given to Matthew to set Him forth particularly as the King, the Messiah of Israel, hence the genealogy proving Him to be the Son of David and Son of Abraham. This also accounts for the many references to and quotations from the Old Testament Scriptures. Luke presents Him as the perfect Man, the unique Son of Man who came to seek and to save the lost. A singular feature of his record is that of the table-talk of Jesus. Is there any function where a man relaxes and opens up his heart like a dinner-party? And in Luke we see our Lord on many such occasions. Luke traces His genealogy back to Adam through Heli, the father of Mary and hence the father-in-law of Joseph (Luke 3:23). John tells us plainly his object was to show that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, “believing ye might have life through His name.” John shows that He is the Eternal Word who became flesh for our redemption.
Why There Is No Genealogy in Mark
To Mark it fell by divine appointment to show us the Son of God acting in lowly grace and devoted subjection to the Father as the perfect Servant and Prophet of the Holy One. He plunges at once into his subject. In the short space of sixteen chapters he sets forth the busy Servant engaged in one work of mercy after another, hastening from place to place as He does His Father’s bidding. Because we are not concerned about a servant’s forbears, but rather about his ability, there is no genealogy at all in this Gospel, but a marvelous record of activity in doing good and in making known the mind of God. It has often been pointed out that Mark uses a word variously translated “immediatedly,” “straightway,” “forthwith,” and “anon,” over forty times, and this word is only found about the same number of times in all the rest of the New Testament. “The king’s business requireth haste,” and Jesus was ever busy in the great work for which He came into the world.
The sacrifice of the cross is presented differently too in each Gospel—and that in accordance with the Levitical offerings (Lev. 1 to 7). John tells of the death of the Lord as the burnt offering, the Son laying down His life to glorify the Father in the scene where He had been so dishonored by sin. Luke portrays that great sacrifice as the peace offering, Christ making peace by the blood of His cross that God and man may be reconciled and have hallowed fellowship together. Matthew, as becomes one whose theme is the government of God, clearly identifies the work of the cross with the trespass offering, where the Lord could say, as in Psalm 69, “Then I restored that which I took not away.”
But in Mark’s account we gaze in awe and wonder at the Holy One made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. It is the great sin offering that is before us, Christ dying not only for trespasses committed, but because of what we are as sinners by nature, which our practice but makes evident.
I dwell on these points because of the foolish things many have taught, as for instance that Mark’s was the first effort to try to recall and set forth the story of Jesus, and that this was amplified and altered by the writers of the other Gospels who may or may not be the persons whose names are linked with them. But we may be assured that all such speculations are idle and vain. The imprint of the divine mind is on every page of these records, and their very divergences (but never contradictions) as well as their agreements are but evidence of God’s inspiration.
The Object of Mark’s Gospel
Mark’s supreme object was to show the Gentile world the active love of God in Jesus the Christ serving needy men, seeking after sinners and saving all who trusted Him. If one had no other part of Scripture but this brief Gospel, there is enough in it to show to any troubled heart and conscience the way of life and peace.
That Mark may, from the human standpoint, have been indebted to Peter for much of the information conveyed, need not be questioned, but all that is written is arranged by the Spirit of God and that with a definite object in view.
It was given to Isaiah to prophesy of Messiah as the Suffering Servant of Jehovah (Isa. 52 and 53). Moses predicted the raising up of a Prophet whose word on all questions would be final (Deut. 18:15-19). Mark was the evangelist chosen by the Holy Spirit to portray our Lord in these two offices, as Servant and Prophet. But we are not to suppose that this means the ignoring of other aspects of His nature and character. He was never more kingly than when serving, nor more divine than when He willingly limited Himself.
Peter the Great, after he had built up at great cost the Russian Empire, decided he must have a navy. But no one in Russia knew the art of shipbuilding. So Peter vacated his throne for a time, appointed his consort Catherine regent, laid aside his royal apparel, and, dressed as a common laborer, journeyed to Holland and to England, in which countries he learned ship-carpentry by working in the great shipyards side by side with men who little dreamed of the dignity of the apparently uncouth artisan who toiled with them day by day. Peter was none the less an emperor when he wrought with hammer and adze than when he returned to his throne.
In studying any book of the Bible it is well to have clearly in mind its main divisions, or outline. The outline given here may help us as to this Gospel.
Christ’s prophetic ministry is emphasized throughout, but more particularly in the third division, where in Chapter 13—as in Matthew 24 and Luke 21—He carries us on to the last things, viewing with the eye of the Seer the conditions He knew would prevail until His return in glory to set up His kingdom. It is noteworthy that when He speaks in this servant-character as Prophet of Jehovah, He declares His self-limitation, “Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father” (13:32). As the perfect Servant He chose not to know what the Father was not pleased to reveal (Deut. 18:15, 18, 19).
John Mark was the son of a wealthy woman named Mary, probably a widow, whose home was large enough to serve as a meeting-place for many of the early disciples after the Pentecostal outpouring (Acts 12:12).
Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas, to whom he was related, to Cyprus, but later returned to Jerusalem, a proceeding which Paul thoroughly disapproved (Acts 12:25; 13:13; 15:37-39). Later, however, Mark redeemed himself and became a trusted minister of Christ and companion of Paul and Peter (2 Tim. 4:11; 1 Pet. 5:13). It is like God to select the one-time unfaithful servant Mark to tell the story of the ever-faithful Servant, His own blessed Son!
According to a well-known tradition of the early Church, Mark was referring to himself when he told the story of “a certain young man” who followed Christ right up to His entry into the house of the high priest and then, when the guards sought to lay hold of him, left the linen cloth that had en-swathed his body in their hands and fled from them naked (Mark 14:51, 52). The fact that no other Evangelist records this incident perhaps may not be sufficient ground for connecting it with Mark himself, yet, on the other hand, because of its wide acceptance in early days it may possibly be the truth. In that case it would imply that young John Mark had listened to the teaching of the Lord while he was in Jerusalem, and his heart had gone out to Him insomuch that he thought he was ready even to die with Him, but in the hour of testing he fled, as did the other disciples. How many there are who really love the Lord and yet lack that moral courage that enables them to go through with Him at all cost! As we think of this fine young man and the difficulties he faced in getting really started in the service of the Lord, and yet remember that later on he proved himself an efficient minister of Christ, we may be encouraged to rise above our own fears and shortcomings, counting on God to make us true ambassadors of the gospel of His Son. As we study the record of Him who said, “I am among you as He that serveth” (Luke 22:27), may our own hearts be bowed in lowly subjection before Him and may we truly yield ourselves unto Him as the One now risen from the dead, to serve in the same lowly spirit that characterized Him when He was in this scene, content with the approbation of the Father, even though we pass through this world comparatively unknown and unregarded.