Leading right up to Easter, we’ll be starting a new teaching series on the Gospel of Mark on January 4. The Gospel according to Mark is the oldest of the four Gospels (i.e., Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and in many ways poses the question to the reader: Who do you say that Jesus is? In fact, that's the most important question for every single person in the world! Our children will also be looking at the Gospel of Mark in the Kids' Talk, crèche, junior Sunday School, and senior Sunday School. Whilst Small Groups will have material every week, you might like to get a head start on week 1, by reading chapter 1 and the following reflections.
DAY 1: Read Mark 1:1-8
Mark makes some bold claims right up front. Namely:
- That this is really significant, life-changing news (i.e., gospel);
- This significant news is about ‘Jesus’;
- He claims Jesus is the Christ – that is, the Messiah – sent from God, for whom the Jewish people were waiting; and
- That he is “the Son of God” – the significance of which we’ll see as the account unfolds.
By way of a quote from the Old Testament, Mark immediately introduces John the Baptiser. The quote signals that this coming of Jesus and John has been expected and hoped for. The word “baptise” means to ‘dip’ or ‘drench’ and the Jews used this washing to welcome Gentiles who wanted to join them. It was radical of John to call Jews to repent and undertake this washing. Jesus however will offer drenching not with water, but with the Holy Spirit. ‘Repent’ means to have a change of mind towards God and will be a recurring theme in the book.
Two things to consider: repentance leading to forgiveness is always appropriate with Jesus – both for those starting out and for those going on with Jesus. And second – note John’s humility towards Jesus – he considered himself unworthy to untie his sandals. Repentance and humility will be two excellent aptitudes with which to read Mark’s gospel.
DAY 2: Read Mark 1:9-20
In the first part of the reading today (vv.9-12), we see two confirmations of Jesus identity: first, his empowerment by the Holy Spirit, and second, the voice from heaven confirming his identity as God's Son. It’s important to note that the designation of Jesus as 'God's Son' has royal connotations, often being a title reserved for a king. We also note here the Son is loved by the Father, echoing the prophecy of Isaiah 42:1-2. We see, in the baptism of Jesus, the entire Trinity at work.
From here, we should be quick to note the significance that Jesus has been baptised in the river Jordan (a place denoting freedom, marking the Israelites entry into the promised land) and how he undergoes a period of trial and testing, reminiscent of earlier prophets (e.g., Elijah in 1 Kings 19:8, Moses in Exodus 24:18) and symbolic of Israel’s own testing in the wilderness for forty years. Whilst, I will address it in the sermon, you might like to think about why was Jesus baptised when it was a baptism of repentance (for which he had nothing to repent!)?
Where Israel (and we) can fail in times of testing, Jesus is victorious. The tempting by Satan also indicates an extremely important theme in Mark’s Gospel: Jesus battling (and defeating) evil.
In the second part of the passage today (vv.13-20), we see that the very first words spoken by Jesus (in Mark’s Gospel) define the core of his teaching (i.e., the Kingdom of God, and a call to repent and believe the good news). What is this good news of God? That the long-awaited Messiah (who God loves and approves) has come to break the power of sin and death, and begin God’s reign on earth (remembering ‘Son of God’ and the title of king) for the benefit of all who repent and believe.
The disciples model the appropriate response to this news: follow Jesus. Whilst we may falter, we must strive to follow Jesus with all that we have, in all who we are, and everything that we do.
DAY 3: Read Mark 1:21-34
Throughout Mark’s Gospel, exorcisms and miracles are in great abundance! The very first action of Jesus after the temptation is the confrontation of evil. Mark wants to ensure that we understand the supremacy of Jesus’ authority. Note in verses 21-28:
- Jesus teaches with authority (in contrast to the teachers of the law – they quoted prominent Rabbis to gain authority, but because Jesus is God, he is THE authority).
- Jesus acts with authority (in this case, casting out the evil spirits).
- The evil spirits recognise who Jesus is: The Holy One of God (see Isaiah 41:14-16).
In verses 29-33, we read the first reference in Mark to the healing of many people. As you read the many miracles throughout Mark, you should note the extremely simple manner with which he writes. Mark does not rely on sensational language or exaggeration - his style is fast-paced and rests instead on the pure actions and words of Jesus. We will see that with the variety of people Jesus encounters – be they possessed, ill, or otherwise needy – he is able to deal with them all with his gentle and deeply effective authority. No wonder news would spread about him so fast! Yet, note how Jesus commands the evil spirits to be silent about his identity. There could be many reasons why he did this, but it could include that the more people who knew he was the Messiah, the less free he would be to go about his work. Always remember that when a person is healed, an exorcism takes place, or there is an encounter with earthly powers, there is always a bigger picture in Mark of Jesus’ battle against evil. The healing work that Jesus began in the synagogue would reach completion in his sacrifice on the cross – bringing those who trust him from death to life.
DAY 4: Read Mark 1:35-45
What an immense encouragement and inspiration it is to read that Jesus too would pray. I think that there is also great wisdom in setting aside a quiet time each morning, asking God to prepare you for whatever lays ahead. If Jesus needed to pray, then how much more do we! We also note, that despite the demands of people and life (imagine the queues of people who would have been looking for Jesus!) we must see prayer as an utmost priority in our daily lives. Note the importance that Jesus places on preaching – identifying it as the reason why he had come. It was critical to Jesus that people understood why and how they should turn back to God. In a similar way, we should never lose sight of the importance we have as disciples to understand the good news so we can live it out and share it with others. For this reason, we should take great effort to learn as much as we can of the Bible, in order that we can recall the stories about Jesus, his words, his actions, and ultimately what he achieved on the cross and in his resurrection. Whilst exploring Mark, you might like to try and intentionally memorise as much as possible.
Finally, we once again see Jesus’ authority over evil and his compassion for people in need. Whilst the people could not be fully cleaned by the law, here Jesus is able to cleanse the man with leprosy. In the same way, through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we can be completely cleansed from our sin.