If Luke’s gospel is like the Daily Telegraph, then Mark’s is closer to the Mail, the Mirror, or the Express (or maybe the Son!!!). It is written in a much racier, action-packed style, with short ‘scenes’ changing more rapidly than camera shots on a modern dance video. In Mark, actions generally speak louder than words, and his dramatic stories, packed with miracles, are linked together with momentum-keeping words such as “immediately”, “soon”, and “then”.
Mark was almost certainly ‘John Mark’, the cousin of Barnabas and a close friend of many of the original Apostles. Tradition has it that, after homesickness caused him to desert Paul and Barnabas on the mission field, he teamed up with Peter and became his companion and unofficial biographer; much of Peter’s preaching seems to have been preserved and repackaged by Mark in this gospel. By the end of Paul’s life, Mark was fully back in favour and it goes to show that, when weaknesses arise in our Christian lives, God uses them to direct us towards our true strengths and gifting. So don’t give up if you mess up at first – keep on seeking God!
It is likely that Mark wrote his gospel from Italy and for the benefit of the persecuted church in Rome – with many non-Jews reading it. So he gives emphasis to persecution, martyrdom, the cross, discipleship, servanthood, and – what the Romans really, really liked – some action! And controversy…
Mark doesn’t mess around with the niceties of Jesus’ birth; he works on the assumption that Jesus really is the Son of God, and he wants to portray him as the all-action hero and the submitted servant. He was prophesied 750 years beforehand by a variety of seers and he was preceded by John the Baptist, whose job was to prepare the people for the first appearing of their Messiah. It is now our job to prepare people for the Second Coming! John was a baptiser, but so was Jesus – who is now standing in the ‘river’ of the Holy Spirit, ready to immerse us fully.
Jesus’ own baptism and the forty days in the desert are described on ‘fast forward’. Heaven was ‘torn’ open, and the Spirit ‘drove’ him into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, in the company of wild animals and angels. Dull stuff!!!
John is then imprisoned, which seems to be the cue for Jesus to begin his ministry. The message is short and to the point: “The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Perhaps, for us, the key verse is 1:17. “Come, follow me – he said – and I will enable you to fish for people”. In Mark’s first word on discipleship, he emphasises the two actions we need to take to heart: follow and fish. If we ‘fish’ without first following closely, then we won’t catch anything of consequence; if we ‘follow’ without fishing, we become self-centred, self-indulgent believers. So, we ‘follow’ and in the process learn to ‘fish’, and we ‘fish’ in order that others might ‘follow’. Fishing is just a means to an end – we won’t be doing any in the Age to Come – but we do it so that God may have a Kingdom, and Christ a Heavenly Bride. The manner in which we fish is something that is quite personal and specific to each individual believer; God uses our strengths, personalities, and spiritual gifts to focus us on specific methods of evangelism. But the overall task is for us all, and for Christ’s entire church!
In almost breathless haste, Jesus calls his disciples to be WITH him, drives out an impure spirit, heals many people, including Peter’s mother-in-law, and cleanses a man with leprosy.
One key action occurred in the midst of this: He awoke early in the morning and went off somewhere alone to pray to his Father in Heaven. Jesus himself modelled the need to follow; only then did he return to fish and to teach his companions to do so also.