It is interesting to notice the differing emphases of the Holy Spirit in His presentation of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ in each of the four Gospels. In them we have four portraits of our Savior. The Gospel of Matthew sets Him forth 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 found in Matthew. The Gospel of 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 Luke’s record is that of the table talk of Jesus. Is there any function better than a dinner party for allowing a man to relax and open up his heart? And in Luke we see our Lord on many such occasions. The book of Luke traces His genealogy back to Adam through Heli, the father of Mary and hence the father-in-law of Joseph (Luke 3:23). The Gospel of 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 20:31). John’s account shows that He is the eternal Word who became flesh for our redemption.
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. Mark plunged at once into his subject. In the short space of sixteen chapters he set 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 forebears, but rather about his ability, there is no genealogy at all in this Gospel. Instead Mark revealed Jesus’ marvelous record of doing good and making known the mind of God. It has often been pointed out that Mark used a word variously translated “immediately,” “straightway,” “forthwith,” and “anon,” over forty times, and this word is found only 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. Each writer had in mind a comparison to a different Levitical offering (Leviticus 1-7). John told of the death of the Lord as the burnt offering—the Son laying down His life to glorify the Father in the world where He had been so dishonored by sinful men. Luke portrayed that great sacrifice as the peace offering—Christ making peace by the blood of His cross so that God and man may be reconciled and have hallowed fellowship together. Matthew, as becomes one whose theme is the government of God, clearly identified the work of the cross with the trespass offering, because of which the Lord could say, ‘Then I restored that which I took not away” (Psalm 69:4).
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. The great sin offering is set before us—Christ dying not only for trespasses committed, but because of our sinful nature, which is made evident by our practice.
I dwell on these points because of the foolish things many have taught. For instance, some speculate that Mark’s Gospel 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 have been 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 differences (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, who served needy men, sought after sinners, and saved all who trusted Him. If one had no other part of Scripture but this brief Gospel, he would have enough to show any troubled heart and conscience the way of life and peace.
We need not question whether Mark may, from the human standpoint, have been indebted to Peter for much of the information conveyed. All that was written was arranged by the Spirit of God with a definite object in view.
It was given to Isaiah to prophesy of Messiah as the suffering servant of Jehovah (Isaiah 52 and 53). Moses predicted the raising up of a prophet whose word on all questions would be final (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). Mark was the evangelist chosen by the Holy Spirit to portray our Lord fulfilling these two offices of servant and prophet. But we are not to suppose that this means other aspects of His nature and character were ignored. 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 the Russian empire at high cost, 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 as regent, laid aside his royal apparel, dressed as a common laborer, and journeyed to Holland and England where he learned the art himself. He worked in the 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 no less an emperor when he wrought with hammer and adz than when he returned to his throne.
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 Barnabas (to whom he was related) and Paul to Cyprus, but later returned to Jerusalem, much to the displeasure of Paul (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 Timothy 4:11; 1 Peter 5:13). It is like God to select the onetime unfaithful servant Mark to tell the story of the ever-faithful Servant, God’s 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. When the guards sought to lay hold of Mark, he left the linen cloth that had enswathed 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 grounds for connecting it with Mark himself. 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. Mark’s heart had gone out to Jesus so much that he thought he was ready even to die with Him, but in the hour of testing Mark 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 costs!
As we think of this fine young man and the difficulties he faced in getting started in the service of the Lord, let us remember that later on he proved himself an efficient minister of Christ. May we 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. Let us yield ourselves unto the One now risen from the dead, that we may serve in the same lowly spirit that characterized Him when He was in this world. May we be content with the approval of the Father while we pass through this life comparatively unknown and unregarded.