How to read the Gospel of Mark

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Gospel of MarkAfter Matthew, our second version of the life/ministry of Jesus is that of John Mark. Unlike Matthew (which follows a basic chronological order and speaks to the Jews), Mark seems to be more a collection of snapshots taken from Jesus’ 3 year time on earth. There are clear signs that the audience for Mark’s gospel were Greek speaking – lending credibility that the recipients were originally the community of Christians in Rome.

So who was Mark? Papias of Herapolis was a 2nd century Christian author who recorded much of the original history of the early church. His following quote (recorded by Eusebius) provides us some rather concrete information about the author of Mark’s gospel:

 “The elder also used to say, “Mark, who had been Peter’s interpreter, wrote down carefully, but not in order, all that he remembered of the Lord’s sayings and doing. For he had not heard the Lord or been one of His followers, but later, as I said, one of Peter’s. Peter used to adapt his teachings to the occasion, without making a systematic arrangement of the Lord’s sayings, so that Mark was quite justified in writing down some things just as he remembered them. For he had one purpose only – to leave out nothing that he had heard, and to make no mistake about it.” History of the Church 3.39.15

 From this 2nd century quote we have it on pretty good authority (although not absolute) that john Mark was a disciple of Peter. Although Mark was not an actual disciple of Jesus, he obviously became a believer after hearing Peter. Mark would become Peter’s interpreter as he shared the message of Jesus in various cities throughout the Roman world. It is also known that Peter had a connection to the Christians in Rome (where he would eventually be crucified upside down). So we can surmise that Mark was with Peter, probably living in Rome, and wrote down the things he learned/heard from Peter about the 3 years of Jesus’ ministry and teachings.

As you read through the shortest Gospel – remember that you are reading a collection of things that Jesus did/said as remembered by Peter. You can trust them to be accurate because the Holy Spirit equipped Peter (and Mark) for the task. The Holy Spirit would bring different situations to Peter’s memory (as he taught) and then Mark would write them down (2 Pet 1:21). There is no reason to suspect that what we have handed down to us is in error simply based upon different details/order of events between what Mark wrote and what Matthew/Luke/John wrote. The reason for this is that Mark was a guy – who was recording what Peter (another guy) remembered. We can trust that the Holy Spirit helped Peter remember the important parts of what Jesus did and His message – all while allowing Peter/Mark to retain their humanity.

As we read about from Papias, Peter would “adapt his teachings to fit the occasion”. This doesn’t mean he changed them or embellished them, but he simply allowed them to breathe for the audience to whom he was speaking. This is the same as sharing a story and then applying it to those to whom you are speaking. Mark isn’t attempting to share an autobiography of Jesus’ life – but instead collecting the different things He did and taught as portrayed through the eyes of Peter (an eye witness). Think of it like you are looking at a photo album that Mark constructed of different pictures Peter had taken during his 3 years with Jesus. The details of the story may not be fully recorded – but the point is still the same.

 

Be Fruitful & Multiply,

PK

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Servants and Slaves – Matthew 20

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servant“Not so shall it be among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever desires to be first among you must be your slave…”– Matt 20:26-27 AMP

This statement from Jesus comes on the heels of some bickering and contention between the disciples after the mother of James/John (Sons of Zebedee) requests her sons be given a seat of honor next to Jesus. Jesus informs her that it is not His decision to make… and the other 10 disciples react against the two brothers with indignation (vs 24).

At this reaction, Jesus takes the opportunity to speak into the lives of His disciples. It is clear that Satan is attempting to disrupt the mission by sowing discord among the disciples. So Jesus draws up a picture of the true posture of a disciple – one of a servant and a slave.

A servant is a diakonos“one who executes the commands of another” – such as:

  • A servant of kings (Matt 22:13)
  • A servant at feasts (John 2:5;9)
  • An officer in civil government (Rom 13:4)
  • Those who serve in church (Matt 23:11; Mark 9:35; Rom 16:1)
  • Deacons/Elders in church (Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:10-13; Acts 6:1-7)
  • Used to describe Jesus (Rom 15:8; Gal 2:17; Matt 4:23-24; 9:35; Acts 10:38)
  • Used to describe Pastors (Matt 20:26; Mark 10:43)
  • Also describes servants of Satan as a counterfeit to true servants of God (2 Cor 11:15)

A slave is a doulos “one giving himself wholly to anothers will” – such as:

  • Bondslaves (Gal 3:28; Eph 6:8; Col 3:11)
  • Servants to kings (Matt 18:23-26; 23:1-14)
  • Civil Officers (John 18:18)
  • Sinners who serve sin (John 8:34; Rom 6:16-22; 2 Pet 2:19)
  • All disciples of Christ (Matt 10:24-25; Rom 6:16-22; Rev 19:5)
  • Christ, the servant of God (Phil 2:7; Isa 42:1)
  • Moses and the prophets (Heb 3:5; Rev 10:7)

Both of these categories of servants/slaves were listed in the bottom tier of society. They had no rights of their own (apart from those given them by their owners). They represent individuals who (both voluntarily and involuntarily) have offered their lives to the service of another. The owner was responsible for the servants’ well-being, provision, upkeep, protection, etc.

Jesus modeled this type of life Himself.

When we hear the invitation of salvation from Jesus – we hear a call into a brand new type of life. By accepting that call we take on the new name of “Christian”, and become a servant/slave to God. This means we give up our rights – our demands – our insistence toward our own way. This means we adopt the lifestyle of the one who purchased us (Jesus) – looking to Him alone for our sustenance, provision, protection, etc.

True Christianity involves becoming a disciple of Jesus – a servant/slave. It isn’t a suggestion from Jesus – it is a command. It includes pastors, politicians, truck drivers, electricians, house wives, lawyers – everyone.

  • There is no such thing as a Christian who does not serve.
  • There is no such thing as a Christian who looks to their own needs before those of others.
  • There is no such thing as a Christian who simply attends a church.
  • There is no such thing as a Christian who comes late and leaves early.
  • There is no such thing as a Christian who has no relationship with other Christians.
  • There is no such thing as a Christian who does not serve.

So… are you a servant and a slave?

 

Be Fruitful & Multiply,

PK

Why did Jesus teach in parables?

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Why in parablesIn the Gospel of Matthew, as well as the others, we are introduced to a very Jewish style of teaching made famous by Jesus, that of the parable. Creating stories using everyday situations, Jesus would teach deep topics in a culturally relevant way so that everyone would have an opportunity to learn and understand.

So what is a parable?

In Stories of Intent, Klyne Snodgrass nicely defines them as “a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought” (p. 7). It was never Jesus goal to think for people, but rather to force people to look beneath the surface for the Truth. As He many times said, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear…”, and that is still His goal today.

The parables achieve many goals, some of which are:

  • They illustrate truth and make it clear by comparison with something that is already familiar.
  • They impart instructions and rebuke without causing offense.
  • They create interest and hunger for more information.
  • The stories are always true (and some even happened)!
  • Their words and details should be interpreted both literally and spiritually.
  • The similarity between the point illustrated and the illustration itself should always be noted.

Quite early in Christianity (about 100 years in) – the Church started making a habit of over-allegorizing the parables. Classic theologians like Origin can almost be seen performing literary acrobatics in their attempts to formulate some deep spiritual meaning out of an otherwise very practical story.

So why did Jesus insist on teaching this way? Why not simply say what He meant in a direct manner so that everyone listening could understand?

  • By using parables, Jesus was able to reveal truth in more interesting ways that would cause the story to be repeated (even until this day!). (Matt 13:10-11, 16)
  • By using parables, Jesus was able to engage those listening to him. (Matt 13:11-12, 16-17)
  • By using parables, Jesus was able to convey mysteries by comparing them with things they already understood. (Matt 13:11)
  • By using parables, Jesus was able to conceal truth from disinterested hearers and rebels at heart. (Truth isn’t cheap!) (Matt 13:11-15)
  • By using parables, Jesus was able to offer truth to those who really were hungry and wanted more of it. (Matt 13:12)
  • By using parables, Jesus was able to take truth away from those who did not want to work for it. (Matt 13:12)
  • Jesus used parable in order to fulfill prophecy (Matt 13:14-17)

As you read through the Gospels and the teachings of Jesus, ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand the deeper things Jesus was teaching. Avoid making them more complicated, but look for the basic truth and allow the Holy Spirit to build off of that.

 

Be Fruitful & Multiply,

PK