A ReMARKable Life Series

  • The gospel of Mark is a short, action-packed book that focuses on how Jesus Christ is the Messiah for every man, woman, and child.  Christ -- fully man, fully God.  But Jesus wasn't the rescuer God's people had imagined, and many didn't recognize Jesus as their answer to prayer.  We, too, can miss out on what God wants for us if we're only looking for answers that fit our expectations.  Join us for this series as we explore Jesus' heart for people and we can change the world by serving one person at a time and helping them connect with God.   
1. Preparing the Way for Christ to Shine (Mark 1:1-13)
  • Who is Mark, the writer of this gospel, and what is his approach to the gospel story? The messenger prepares the way for the Messiah. The Messiah is introduced, then tempted.
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance – What are the central ideas of the text?
  • Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Mark 1:1
  • God prepared the way for Jesus through John and his ministry of baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. Mark 1:2-8
  • Jesus came to earth for a purpose, to bring salvation, even in the face of opposition. Mark 1:9-13    
  • Implications – What questions should the listener be asking?
  • What does it mean to you that Jesus is the Son of God?
  • Are you prepared to hear and read about who Jesus is?
  • What was John's job, and how did he carry it out? Is John calling you to repentance?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide
  • Interpretation – What is the text telling/showing us?
  • Why does Mark start this gospel with the words of verse 1? What is he saying with those words?
  • What did the prophets speak about in verses 2 and 3? What were they saying about one who would come before the Lord?
  • Describe John's mission and purpose. How did he go about fulfilling that purpose?
  • Why do you think John stayed out in the wilderness?
  • What did John mean when he spoke of one mightier than he?
  • What is the difference between baptizing with water and baptizing with the Holy Spirit?
  • Why did Jesus come to John to be baptized?
  • What was the meaning of the Spirit descending on Jesus and the voice of God from heaven?
  • What was God saying about Jesus that speaks to us?
  • Implementation – What should the listener’s response be?
  • What does it mean to you that prophets spoke of future events like the coming of John and the coming of Jesus?
  • What does repentance mean? What does repentance have to do with the forgiveness of sins?
  • Why is repentance important?
  • In what ways is Jesus mightier than John?
  • What is the importance to you of Jesus being baptized?
  • What does it mean to you that Jesus was tempted by Satan?
  • What was Jesus' mission on earth, and what is your response to His mission and message?
Sermon Teaching Notes (as prepared by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation – What’s generally going on in this area of Scripture?
Today's notes are the first in a 14-part series that will cover the entire book of Mark, which is the second of the four gospels. It goes without saying that the book of Mark is about Jesus; but the series will look at the particular emphases that God the Holy Spirit through the author, Mark, has for us about Jesus – who He was and is, His message, the meaning of His life, and our response to Him.

By way of background and context, the book of Mark is not a biography which is clear from the first chapter of the book as it begins with Jesus already a grown man. Rather, the book is a compilation of activities and events in Jesus' life, of things He did and said as “proclaimer and bringer of God's kingdom,” of His interactions with people in general and with the Jewish religious authorities in particular, and of most importance of His death and resurrection. This compilation is historically accurate; we believe that everything in the book actually happened. But the book was written for a purpose, namely to tell the good news of salvation that is found only in and through Jesus, and in so doing, to speak as well to those who already follow Jesus and remind them that God is with them and hears their prayers even in the midst of persecution and suffering for their faith. This reminder was important as it seems the book was written principally to non-Jewish people who lived outside of Palestine, and especially in and around Rome, at a time after the great fire that destroyed most of Rome during the Emperor Nero's reign and following which there was significant persecution of Christians, specifically from 64-67AD.

It is generally and traditionally accepted that the book was written by Mark, though the book itself nowhere asserts such. It is also generally accepted that Mark is the John Mark referred to elsewhere in the New Testament (Acts 12:12 & 25; 13:5, 13; 15:37-39; Colossians 4:10; II Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24; I Peter 5:13). This John Mark was the cousin of Barnabas (who ministered alongside Paul on the first missionary journey), and was associated with Peter the apostle (I Peter 5:13). In that latter respect, the message of the book of Mark is in part thought to be based much on Peter's recollections and preaching concerning Jesus. As noted, the book was written to non-Jewish people, and as such Mark often adds explanations or more detail concerning one or another Jewish custom when mentioned (e.g., Mark 7:2-4; 15:42), only minimally quotes Jewish scriptures, and translates Aramaic words his readers would not otherwise know (Mark 3:17; 5:41; 7:11 & 34; 15:22). Mark's style is succinct and to the point, vivid and forceful. He uses hyperbole (e.g., “all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.” Mark 1:5) to heighten or “dramatize” the action, and seems to invite a response by his readers with the way he presents and portrays Jesus. One has the sense of immediacy and of “being right there” through his writing, as shown, by example, of his use of terms like “immediately,” (e.g., Mark 2:8. This Greek word is used 41 times in the book!) and “at once” (Mark 1:12), and “as soon as” (Mark 1:29) a number of times. In effect, this book is the “eyewitness news report” complete with action and movement and vivid scenes, all of which are designed to draw the reader in and bring a response.

So the entire focus of this book is Jesus; there's no doubt or mystery about who is the “hero” of the story. It is Jesus, and Mark lets the reader know that in the very first words of the book, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1) In this verse we see that the book is “good news” and the good news is Jesus, whose name means “salvation of Yahweh” (Yahweh is the transliteration of the Jewish personal name for God). Hence the good news is identified immediately with salvation and that is from the One whose name was given Him by God and which is descriptive of His mission (to “save people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21) Moreover, Jesus is the “Christ” (the word literally means anointed and is the basis for our English word, Messiah) which underscores that He came to earth for a purpose … He was anointed for His task of salvation. And then Mark adds that Jesus is the Son of God which is to say that Jesus is no ordinary man, but rather He is divine which is to state that salvation is from God Himself in the Person of the Son, Jesus the anointed One. And beyond that, Mark then tells us that this coming if Jesus was foretold in the Jewish scripture when it speaks of one who would be sent by God to prepare the way, which is a reference to getting ready for the coming of a king. Mark then paraphrases several scriptures, from Exodus 23:20a, Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. It's as if these Scriptures say, “Get ready, for the king is coming”

Who is the messenger? It is John the Baptist, whom Mark introduces in verse 4 with the simple phrase, “John appeared.” Mark gives no background about John (we get the background from the gospels of Matthew and Luke), but just brings him into the story as this messenger from God preparing the way for Jesus (cf. Acts 10:37). John appears in the wilderness (or “desert region”), which was west of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, and his message was one of baptism out of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, repentance meaning a turning from sin in response to God. John was a prophet, and dressed like one (Near eastern “holy men” would dress like John did, with camel's hair clothes and a leather belt) and ate off the land (locusts and honey). Baptism was practiced by Jewish people, and it was going under the water and coming out as a symbol of a total change. The Gentile convert to Judaism would undergo such a rite signifying a total break from the past and a new life as a child of God. So the rite was not at all unknown, but John was infusing it with new and fresh meaning in terms of one's coming to or returning to God and away from sin, thus being baptized in forgiveness. John's preaching was so effective that, as Mark puts it, “all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized in the river Jordan.” (Mark 1:5) Obviously not everyone in Judea and Jerusalem came to John; but his message caused such a great deal of excitement that it was as if everyone came to him. And it was no easy task to come as it took a trip of some 20 miles over rough terrain and from Jerusalem itself which was some 4000 feet in elevation above the Jordan river. John was preaching the coming of the Messiah, and being prepared for Him, and as there had been no prophet in Israel for some 400 years, the excitement and response was palpable as the Jewish people were waiting for and expected the Messiah. John didn't hold back, but proclaimed that the One who was coming was mighty, and that he, John, was not even worthy to untie his sandals. And beyond that, while John baptized with water, the coming One, the Messiah, will baptize with the Holy Spirit meaning the very presence and covering of God Himself. What an introduction to this Jesus to whom Mark referred in verse 1.

Verse 9 marks the entrance of Jesus onto the scene. The phrase, “in those days” in verse 9 is a transitional phrase used by Mark to connect stories, in this case from John the baptist to Jesus. Mark tells us that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee (We know from Matthew 2:23 that Jesus was raised in Nazareth by Joseph and Mary.) to be baptized by John in the Jordan river. Since Jesus was from God and we know He was sinless, why did He have to be baptized? It seems that Jesus was baptized to identify with man's sin and man's sin nature (cf. Philippians 2:5-7), not because He needed to confess sins. In short, He is the One through whom salvation is possible. So John baptized Jesus, and when Jesus came up out of the water, Mark tells us that He immediately saw heaven opened up (“torn open” Mark 1:10b) and the Spirit came on Jesus “like a dove” (Mark 1:10) signifying Jesus' anointing for ministry (cf. Luke 4:18), and God the Father said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) thus “approving” Jesus and His ministry and who He was, namely the Son of God. Interestingly, the Greek verb tenses in God's statement imply that the declaration of Jesus as the beloved Son expresses “an eternal and essential relationship” which underscores Jesus' divinity (i.e., Jesus is fully God), and that the second phrase implies a “past choice for the performance of a particular function in history.” (Note, the foregoing explanations are taken from The Expositor's Bible Commentary Vol 8, Mark, at p. 622). So in this scene we see the Trinity, God in three Persons, Father, Son, Spirit, in total unity and agreement on who Jesus is and on what His mission is. And it is this Jesus about whom Mark is writing and will show through his book (his “gospel”) that Jesus truly is the Son of God, the king, to whom response is required, whether of acceptance through confession of sin, repentance and forgiveness, or of rejection in which case the person who rejects will, in turn, be rejected by God.

Jesus has now been anointed into ministry on earth by God the Spirit, and been confirmed in His mission by God the Father. The scene for Jesus' ministry is set, but first He must be tested, and this to show that there is indeed a spiritual battle going on wherein Satan, God's enemy, is trying to thwart God's purposes by attacking the very Son. Thus, Jesus is “at once” led into the wilderness (literally, the desert) by the same Spirit who had just anointed Him. Jesus was in the desert for 40 days during which He was literally in the wild country with wild animals, and during the time was tempted by Satan. Why 40 days? Perhaps to reflect the 40 days the prophet Moses spent on the mountain (Exodus 24:18) or the 40 days the prophet Elijah spent in the wilderness (I Kings 19:3-9). In any case, the days Jesus spent in the wilderness were a time both of testing and preparation for the public ministry in which He was about to embark and tell us at the very least that there is spiritual conflict, that there is opposition to God's way and His purposes, and that Jesus, the Son of God, must pursue His course of ministry nonetheless.

What reader wouldn't want to continue reading this book. The questions – How will things turn out in the end? What will Jesus have to face? Just who is this Jesus? What does it mean that He is the Son of God? – are just the start; the answers await. For the moment, what we know is that Jesus is the anointed One whose purpose it is to bring salvation, that He is came to the earth and was a flesh and blood person, that He was baptized to identify with mankind and the sin problem of mankind, and that He is mighty and will baptize with the Holy Spirit. How will this all come to pass? The way has certainly been prepared for Jesus to shine! The rest of the story is exciting and life-changing.