Sermon text: Mark 1:1

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

I have three points that I want to bring to you this morning as we begin our series on the Gospel of Mark. Note (I) its distinguished author (II), its distinctive features, and (III) its dominant themes. (And just so you’re aware, the first point will be the longest.)

I. Its Distinguished Author

Now, nowhere does this Gospel specify its author, much less by name. In fact, it never mentions the name of Mark, not even once. And there is no doubt intentionality behind that. None of the Gospel accounts specify their author by name either. That’s because the authors were not interested in making themselves famous. Rather, their intention was to relay the truth about Jesus Christ in order to elicit faith in Christ as the Messiah. Their mentality was akin to that of the Apostle Paul, who wrote, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5).

There is one possible mention of Mark in this Gospel in chapter 14:50–52. The context is when Jesus was betrayed and arrested. It says, “Then they all forsook Him and fled. Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body. And the young men laid hold of him, and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked.” Scholars have argued that if Mark is not describing himself, why would this seemingly insignificant detail be inserted into the most sacred part of the Gospel account, right in the passion narrative?

So Mark is self-deprecating and Christ-exalting. He testifies to the truth of the gospel even to his own shame, because the testimony of Christ was more important to him than his own name and reputation. His style of Gospel writing evinces the spirit of John the Baptist who said, “I must decrease, but He must increase.” This is the first lesson we must learn in the school of Christ. When we see Jesus Christ for who He is, as the Son of God and Lord of glory, selfish ambition and earthly recognition are willingly sacrificed on the altar of the fame of the name of Christ.

Yet despite its anonymous authorship, this Gospel was attributed to Mark from the beginning. The original title was, “According to Mark,” and it was ascribed to the book very early after its composition. Ancient tradition is unanimous in ascribing this book to Mark’s hand. Church Fathers such as Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and the ancient historian Eusebius, all testify that Mark is its author.

And the fathers tell us that in the authorship of this Gospel, Mark was functioning as the secretary, or scribe, or recorder, of the words of Peter. It is true that Mark was not an eyewitness to events described in his book, but Peter was. And in writing this book, Mark was under Peter’s tutelage, and possibly (if not probably) under his direct supervision. So the early church held this to be in effect the Gospel of Peter as recorded by Mark. This explains its unanimous, widespread acceptance and rapid transmission throughout the entire church of the ancient world.

It was probably written in Rome during the final phase of Peter’s ministry. As Peter was preaching the gospel in Rome by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven,[1] Mark was inspired by the same Spirit that was upon Peter to record the preaching of the apostle and to organize the material into a permanent, written testimony for the ongoing use of the church after Peter’s death. So as we read Mark’s Gospel, we should think, “This gives us a taste of what it was like to sit under the preaching of the Apostle Peter.” There were no tape recorders or video cameras in that day, but God gave us something better. He gave us inspired words written on paper that we can read and study over and over again. These words constitute the very vehicle of divine revelation, and by receiving them, we receive the living Christ who makes His grace and power and glory known to us through the words of the Bible.

For the first two or three decades after the ascension of Jesus, the truth about the history of Jesus spread through verbal proclamation and oral tradition. But as the apostles were nearing the end of their careers, the Holy Spirit guided men to record their teachings in the Scriptures. Thank God for the Scriptures which are gifted to us as an infallible record of the truth about Christ! If we were left to the mercy of oral tradition alone, we could have no certainty that that truth would be transmitted faithfully over the ages. It would have become hopelessly corrupt if it depended on word of mouth alone. But because of servants of Christ like Mark, we can now sit down, as it were, with the Apostle Peter in our living room! And we can hear directly from the Holy Spirit by reading these words as if Peter himself were in front of us telling us all these amazing stories about Jesus! The 1689 Baptist Confession says,

“It pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.”[2]

So let’s treasure these words, dear brethren, and not neglect them in our daily reading and study and contemplation!

The man Mark was uniquely equipped to write this Gospel. Even though he was not an eyewitness to the events, he’s one of the only men to have ever had a close relationship with both Peter and Paul. So he was a close friend and associate of two of the most prominent apostles, and he also knew the other apostles from the earliest days of the church in Jerusalem.

Acts 12:12 says that after Peter was released from prison by the hand of the angel, “he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying.” We can gather a few things from this text. The house where Mark grew up was a meeting place for the Jerusalem church. Mark’s mother Mary was a believer in Jesus. Mark’s family was well known to the apostles, and they were probably wealthy, and therefore prominent in society, since the church tended to gather in large homes that were able to accommodate all the people, and only the wealthy owned large homes. And Mark also goes by the name John. John was his Jewish name, and Mark was his Graeco-Roman name. Over the course of time, he was probably increasingly called Mark rather than John because his ministry and influence spread beyond Jerusalem into the broader Gentile world.

Mark’s initial obscurity exploded into worldwide usefulness for the Kingdom of God because he was a man with a servant’s heart. He began his career as a servant to the apostles (Acts 13:5). Mark’s testimony and love for Christ were well-commended by the church. Colossians 4:10 says he was the cousin of Barnabas. In Philemon 24, Paul calls him “my fellow laborer,” that is, a man serving with Paul in the proclamation of the gospel. In 1 Peter 5:13, Peter called Mark “my son,” which is a metaphor for a spiritual protégé. Mark was not Peter’s literal son, but Peter was in some sense his spiritual father and mentor and dearly loved him like his own son.

Acts 12:25 records Mark’s initial sending as a gospel worker. It says, “Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark.” So the church in Jerusalem commended Mark to travel with Barnabas and Paul and to help strengthen the church in Antioch, where they went to. And when the Holy Spirit sent Paul and Barnabas as apostles to the Gentile world, Mark accompanied them on their first missionary journey. This speaks of his testimony, his giftedness, and his usefulness.

But Mark’s relationship with Paul experienced some strain early on. Apparently, Mark was a bit immature at that stage (he was a bit younger than Peter and Barnabas). And when he first went out, he wasn’t ready to endure the hardships of missionary life. So in the midst of Paul and Barnabas’s first missionary journey, Mark abandoned them and ran home to his Mom’s house in Jerusalem. We read in Acts 13:13, “Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John [Mark], departing from them, returned to Jerusalem.” This was a band of good soldiers of Jesus Christ on a mission, and Mark went AWOL: Absent Without Leave. Mark stumbled and sinned against his brethren. He didn’t take the Great Commission seriously enough. His faithfulness was questionable. And as far as Paul was concerned, Mark proved to be more of a burden and liability than he was a help.

But Mark came back! Apparently, he came to his senses and sought to reincorporate into the missionary band. And try as he may, Paul couldn’t get rid of him! So a couple of years after Mark’s initial abandonment, Paul and Barnabas geared up for their second missionary journey. And we read in Acts 15:37–40: “Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God.” This sharp contention was owing to a difference in perspective. Each man had their reasons which seemed right to him. Perhaps Paul thought Barnabas’s judgment was clouded because Mark was his nephew, and Barnabas thought Paul was being overly harsh. But the Lord in His sovereignty superseded their division to double the efforts of the missionary band as each went separate ways spreading the Word of God.

And over the years, Mark proved to be a genuine servant of the gospel. You can’t keep a good man down. Proverbs 24:16 says “a righteous man may fall seven times, and rise again.” And Paul did write in Colossians 3:12–13: “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” Galatians 6:1–2: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” There is no record of Mark ever abandoning the apostles again. He stumbled, but he didn’t stay down or fall away. And he proved his repentance through perseverance in well-doing.

So we read where Paul wrote later (in Col. 4:10): “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him).” So Mark was with Paul at that time and they were again co-laboring together. And finally, when Paul was approaching martyrdom, and it was exceedingly dangerous to be associated with the apostle, Mark was one of the only people who stood by his side. So Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry” (vv. 10–11). Mark started out bad, but he ended really well. Out of the thousands upon thousands of believers, he proved to be singularly one of the most faithful, trustworthy, dependable brothers to the Apostle Paul, and more so, one of the most faithful servants of Christ who wasn’t deterred even by the threat of death. And he went on to author one of the most important books of the Bible and is highly esteemed by the church for all time.

Mark is a lesson for us, brethren. Our God is a God of great mercy, a God of second chances, a God of amazing grace, forgiving grace, and restoring grace. Mark’s failure was real, but Christ received him back and He turned him into an exemplar of His grace. You may have heard the saying, “the Christian life is not a sprint but a marathon.” It’s not how you start, but how you finish the race. If you’re anything like the rest of us, you’ve stumbled, and there are times in which you’ve fallen. But learn from the mercy of Christ toward Mark! Don’t throw in the towel hastily! Don’t let your past mistakes prevent your present usefulness in the service of Christ. Occupy yourself in the station in which God has appointed you, and if you’ve been derelict of duty, then come to your senses, cry out for God’s mercy, and beg of Him strength to keep your hand to the plow. Instead of burying your “talents,” put them to use in whatever way you can to prosper the work of God’s Kingdom (see Matt. 25:14–30).

Don’t let your failures define you, discourage you, or dishearten you; rather, let them work in you a deeper resolve to depend on God’s strength. We should view our present challenges, temptations, and obstacles as opportunities to bolster our resilience and to work in us more Christ-like character if only we would persevere in reliance on His grace. Rather than letting your failures discourage you, let them empower you to grasp God’s promises with a stronger grip. Be bold and courageous in the cause of Christ; as Paul said, “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1). That’s what Mark’s example teaches us. So Mark is an encouragement to brethren whose faithfulness is blemished with failures.

II. Distinctive Features of Mark’s Gospel

The Gospel of Mark was written primarily to a Roman or Gentile audience. So he writes about Christ’s mercy toward Gentiles, such as the faith of the Syrophoenician woman and the confession of the Roman Centurion who declared Jesus to be the Son of God. Hence he teaches that the gospel is the power of God for salvation not for the Jew only, but also for the Greek.[3]

Most of the material in the Gospel of Mark is found in Matthew and Luke. We call these three books “the Synoptic Gospels.” The prefix “syn” means with, and “optic” means view or vision. Matthew, Mark, and Luke present the life of Christ from a similar point of view. The Bible’s testimony to the history of Christ fulfills the Deuteronomic principle, “by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established” (Deut. 19:15). The reason for the similarity between the Gospels is because they all arose from eyewitness testimony, and they all summarize the ancient apostolic oral tradition known as the kerygma (which is the apostolic proclamation of Christ). There was probably literary dependance as well, but which Gospel was written first is nearly impossible to figure out.

Skeptics have long sought to discredit the Synoptics by pointing out alleged contradictions between them. But there are no contradictions, only discrepancies that can be reasonably harmonized. To resolve these, we should keep in mind at least three things.

First, the authors of the Gospel accounts follow a theological arrangement rather than a strict chronological order. The order of events sometimes differs between one Gospel and another, but chronological precision was not the authors’ intended purpose. Other factors determine the order in which they arranged the events of Christ’s life. Often, they situate the stories according to thematic structure and theological message. The genre of the Gospels is best described as theological history. Each Synoptic Gospel was wisely, purposefully crafted to be a complete literary composition in its own right, and to have a distinct theological message with its own key emphases. Stories in Mark are spliced together so as to have a symbiotic and cumulative effect upon readers; each story builds upon another and together they form a beautiful mosaic that portrays the glorious image of Christ.

Second, the authors of the Gospel accounts provide different details of the same stories. The Gospel writers are highly selective; they include details only on a need-to-know basis according to their purpose. Mark mentions one demoniac in the tombs and Matthew says there were two. That’s not a contradiction, because Mark is only talking about one of them. He never says there was only one! None of the authors is trying to provide an exhaustive account. The Gospel of John ends saying, “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).

Third, no contradiction has ever been proven. Each alleged contradiction proposed by skeptics has a plausible solution that cannot be proven wrong. And as long as a plausible solution exists, no contradiction can be logically proven or sustained. There are commentaries written by authors ancient and modern that do a fine job harmonizing the narratives and explaining the discrepancies. The differences in detail between the accounts actually serves to bolster their credibility as historical records because that’s what we’d expect from the testimony of independent eyewitness accounts.

The Gospel of Mark is unique from the other Gospels in some ways, however. Its briefer than the others, but it’s not any less weighty in its testimony to Christ. It’s rather denser, meatier, thicker in its account of the awesome deeds of the Lord Jesus. There are less red letters in Mark than the other Gospels because Mark is more concerned with narrating the mighty acts of Jesus than on relaying His words. Jesus’s works are messages in themselves—they speak to His identity and grace and power and compassion and love as the Son of God who came to abolish death and bring life and immortality to light through the gospel.[4]

Mark is a master storyteller. In the Greek he flashes back and forth between the past and present tenses to convey the events with vivid imagery; he gives readers a sense of being present at the scenes as if they are watching the events themselves through the eyes of the apostolic eyewitnesses. And he gives vivid details not found in the other Gospels. In Matthew, when Jesus multiplies the bread and fishes by His creative power, Jesus says for the multitudes to sit down on “the ground,” but Mark says they sat down in the “green grass” (Matt. 15:35; cf. Mark 6:39). He tells some stories in greater detail too. Matthew describes the healing of the unclean woman and the raising of Jairus’s daughter in nine verses, but Mark tells it with twenty-two verses (Matt. 9:18–26; cf. Mark 5:22–43). All the elements of the best stories are in the Gospel of Mark: action, drama, mystery, thrills, horror, unpredictability, coherence, suspense, irony, paradox, a Protagonist and antagonists, heroic deeds, flashing scenes, apparent defeats, climax, and a surprise ending are all woven into the narrative.

And it’s action-packed. Mark flashes from one scene to another by the rapid repetition of the adverb “immediately.”[5] Christ is depicted as the Servant-King sent to conquer the curse. Miracle after miracle is accompanied by encounter after encounter. He casts out demons, heals the sick, raises the dead, cleanses the lepers. As Isaiah 35 says, the eyes of the blind are opened, the ears of the deaf are unstopped; the lame leap like a deer, the tongue of dumb sings, and the living water of the fullness of the Spirit bursts forth in the wilderness (vv. 5–6). Mark may be the shortest of the Gospels, but its conciseness accentuates its rapid, fast-paced presentation of the Son of Man in His earthly glory. Here is your King, willing and able to obliterate the curse, overthrow Satan, subdue the created order, destroy death, and heal your afflicted soul no matter how distraught, diseased, and dying it may be.

III. Dominant Themes of Mark’s Gospel

Many of the themes overlap with Matthew and Luke. Like them, “Mark’s primary purpose is to present in writing the witness of the apostles to the facts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.”[6] Mark says nothing of Jesus’s genealogy, since Greeks didn’t care much for that kind of thing. And he doesn’t relay anything about Jesus’s birth, infancy, or childhood either. When Jesus appears on the scene, He enters straight into the full-blown action of His ministry at the apex of redemptive history. But Mark does have some key emphases of its own. I’ll mention just five (and others we treat in due time):

(1) The gospel. Mark 1:1, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The whole Book of Mark is a Gospel; it’s the good news of what God has accomplished through the Person and work of Christ to rescue a fallen humanity. The whole book testifies to the reality of Christ’s Person and work as displayed on the scene of human history. Here we have the Son of God manifested in the flesh, in concrete space-time history, to flesh out by His mighty power the salvation of the people of God. The story climaxes with Jesus’s death and resurrection (granting the traditional ending). The cross is the great paradox of God’s plan. On it, Jesus is apparently defeated, but by it, He conquers sin and overcomes the devil. As Robert Gundry argues, “the suffering of the cross is subsumed into the authority and glory of God’s triumphant Messiah.”[7]

(2) Christology (the doctrine of Christ). One of the ways Mark depicts the identity of Jesus is through the use of lofty titles. Scholars speak of “the big four.”[8] In Mark 1:1, in the beginning, He is called “the Son of God.” And in chapter 15 verse 39, the Centurion proclaims, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” Jesus shares the essence and attributes of His Father and is praised and worshiped along with the Father, because all that the Father is, the Son is as well. He’s also called “the Christ,” in Peter’s famous confession at Caesarea Philippi. He is the One the prophets spoke about and He came to fulfill the Scriptures. He’s also called “Lord,” because He has all authority in heaven and on earth, even over the demons themselves, who tremble and flee at His word. And finally, Jesus is “the Son of Man.” This harks back to Daniel chapter 7, where the Son of Man comes in the clouds and approaches the Ancient of Days with full access to the divine presence. Then verse 14 says, “Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed.”

(3) The Servant of the Lord. Isaiah’s language and theology pervades the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is portrayed as Isaiah’s suffering servant, who came to serve with such vigor that He expends Himself in death for service of others. So He says famously in Mark 10: “But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (vv. 42–45).

(4) The kingdom of God. The kingdom that was forfeited in the fall of man in Eden, typologically portrayed in the theocracy of Israel, and long anticipated by the prophets is ushered in by Jesus Christ. Jesus begins His ministry in Mark by preaching, “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand…” (1:15). The sphere of God’s manifest dominion becomes a present reality through Christ. Salvation, healing, deliverance, and miracles are all manifestations of the heaven to come, intruding into the present age through Messiah. Thus the kingdom came with Christ in its “mystery” form, invisible to the eye of the flesh, but visible to the eye of faith that sees the eternal realities becoming tangible through the historic deeds of Jesus.

(5) Discipleship. Jesus is rarely alone in the Gospel of Mark. From 1:16 onward, He is accompanied by a band of μαθηταῖς: disciples, pupils, learners, imitators, protégés, followers. The call of this Gospel is not merely to observe and admire the awesome deeds of Jesus, but to believe in Him and follow Him in a path of total abandon to His cause. Jesus is the main character and the disciples in this Gospel are the observers who often flounder and fail miserably when they try to imitate Him. But later, after Jesus departs, they will become His primary witnesses to a fallen world, they will proclaim the truth about Him, and they will do mighty works in His name. He calls His disciples to be “fishers of men,”[9] to catch perishing souls in the gospel net and to bring them home to Christ. And so, as the original disciples followed Christ, we are to follow them as they followed Him.

So we should ask ourselves: am I a true disciple of Jesus, the Lord, the Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man? Do I believe in His power? Do I believe that the One who stilled the storm with a word can give peace to my troubled conscience? Do I believe that the One who raised Jairus’s daughter is able to raise me up to life and glory at the last day? Do I believe that the One who sent demons to flight with His Word can send my sins to flight, and give me power to overcome the forces of darkness? “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). While His mighty miracles were unique to that epoch of redemptive history, the spiritual realities they pointed to remain forever the same. He is still the Great Physician of souls. He is still the mighty Savior, the Christ who triumphs through crucifixion, the Lover of the souls of men, the Restorer of wayward Marks, the repairer of a shattered humanity, the healer of broken hearts, the Great Redeemer, the servant King, and the Lord of glory who comes on the clouds.


Lord, we cry out with the man in Mark chapter 9, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” We want to see the glory of our Lord Jesus through the eyes of a Peter and Paul. Grant us faith, that we may see and understand. Spare us from the unbelief of the multitudes, who seeing Jesus’s miracles and awesome deeds, failed to discern the spiritual realities. Help us to see you through the narrative of Mark’s Gospel, so that we may say with David in the Psalm, “I have set the LORD always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.”[10]



[1] 1 Peter 1:12.

[2] The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, 1.1.

[3] Romans 1:16.

[4] 2 Timothy 1:10.

[5] Gr. εὐθέως.

[6] R. C. Sproul, ed., The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015), 1729.

[7] R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002), 22.

[8] France, The Gospel of Mark, NIGTC, 23.

[9] Mark 1:17.

[10] Psalm 16:8.