Isaiah 40:1-11 – Comfort, comfort ye my people… Every valley… Thou who tellest good tidings to Zion… He shall feed his flock…
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 – Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him that his glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
2 Peter 3:8-15a – With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, The day of the Lord will come like a thief… The elements will be dissolved like fire… Therefore wait in peace with patience.
Mark 1:1-8 – Isaiah: The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord! John appeared in the wilderness. Many were baptized by him, confessing their sins.
The Beginning of the Gospel of the Son of God
This Sunday the gospel reading consists of the first eight verses of the Gospel of Mark. Here you have it:
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Before we dive into Mark’s gospel and pull it apart piece by piece, it might be good to step back and look at the whole. Here are a couple of outlines.
This is an outline of Mark’s gospel that I have used over the years, adapting it to various needs and group Bible studies. I honestly don’t know where it comes from. I probably robbed several New Testament scholars, renaming things along the way to help me get my mind around the gospel.
There are many outlines of Mark out there. Some are very long and detailed, allowing the reader no perspective on the whole. Some draw the lines in different places. For example, some outlines place 1:14-15 in the first section, as a summary of the preface. Others place 1:14-15 in the second section, as an introduction to Jesus’ Galilean ministry. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. The goal is simply to “see” the scope of the gospel: its plot and movement.
The value of an outline is the ability to see the sweep of the entire book. In Mark, that sweep moves us gracefully from Jesus’ ministry up north in Galilee, to his Judean ministry, then crucifixion and resurrection.
A few interesting things:
- Mark uses the phrase “and immediately” 42 times.
- Mark never uses the word “law.”
- Only Mark gives the healing phrases of Jesus in the original Aramaic: talitha cum and ephphatha.
- In Mark, Jesus is a carpenter (6:3). In Matthew he is the carpenters’ son.
- In Mark (6:3) Jesus names his brothers and mentions his sisters.
- In Mark, the disciples can carry a staff and sandals. In Matthew and Luke they cannot.
- Jewish customs are explained for an apparently Gentile audience.
- Jesus declares all foods clean (7:19)
Outline of Mark
I. Introduction (1:1-13)
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
- The beginning of the Good News: Forerunner John the Baptist (1:1-8)
- Jesus’ Baptism (1:9-11)
- Jesus’ Temptation (1:12-13)
II. The Ministry of the Hidden Messiah in Galilee (1:16-8:26)
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee…
A. The beginning of the Galilean ministry (1:14-15)
B. The Call of the Four (1:16-20)
C. Exorcisms and Healings in Capernaum
D. More Healing, and Conflict Stories (2:1-3:6)
E. Parables (4)
F. More Healing Miracles (5 and 7)
G. Double Tradition:
Feeding 5,000 Feeding 4,000
Crossing the Lake Crossing the Lake (8:10)
Debate with Pharisees Debate with Pharisees
III. Journey to Jerusalem (8:27-10:52)
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi…
A. Gradual Revelation of Suffering
(Predictions: 8:31, 9:31, 10:32-34)
B. Pattern 3x
C. Complementary Material
IV. Hidden Messiah to Jerusalem (11:1-13:37)
When they were approaching Jerusalem…
A. Judgment in Action (11:1-26)
B. Judgment in Words (11:27-12:37)
C. The Little Apocalypse (13:1-37)
V. Passion and Resurrection (14-16:18)
It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread.
A. Jesus Prepares for His Departure (14:1-42)
B. Jesus’ Arrest and Trial (14:43-15:20)
C. Jesus Crucifixion and Burial (15:21-47)
D. Jesus’ Resurrection, Appearances and Ascension (16:1-8, alternative ending)
Contents of Mark’s Gospel
For some, rather than an outline that attempts to identify the structure of the gospel, a list of the contents may be more helpful. I started with Gospel of Mark in Bible Encyclopedia but found this to be more thorough.
- John the Baptist (1:1–8, 6:14–29)
- Baptism of Jesus (1:9–11)
- Temptation of Jesus (1:12–13)
- Return to Galilee (1:14)
- Good News (1:15)
- Calling Simon, Andrew, James, John (1:16–20)
- Capernaum (1:21–39)
- Leper and Paralytic (1:40–2:12)
- Calling of Matthew (2:13–17)
- On fasting and wineskins (2:18–22)
- Sabbath observance (2:23–3:6)
- Multitude at the Sea of Galilee (3:7–12)
- Commission of the Twelve (3:13–19,6:7-13)
- Blind mute (3:20-26)
- Strong man (3:27)
- Eternal sin (3:28-30)
- Jesus’ true relatives (3:31-35)
- Parable of the Sower (4:1–9,13-20)
- Purpose of parables (4:10-12,33-34)
- Lamp under a bushel (4:21–23)
- Mote and Beam (4:24-25)
- Growing seed and Mustard seed (4:26–32)
- Calming the storm (4:35–41)
- Demon named Legion (5:1–20)
- Daughter of Jairus (5:21–43)
- Hometown rejection (6:1–6)
- Feeding the 5000 (6:30–44)
- Walking on water (6:45–52)
- Fringe of his cloak heals (6:53–56)
- Clean and Unclean (7:1–23)
- Canaanite woman’s daughter (7:24–30)
- Deaf mute (7:31–37)
- Feeding the 4000 (8:1–9)
- No sign will be given (8:10–12)
- Beware of yeast (8:13-21)
- Healing with spit (8:22-26)
- Peter’s confession (8:27–30)
- Son of Man (8:31-33, 9:30-32, 10:33-34)
- Those who want to follow should pick up a cross (8:34-37)
- Return of the Son of Man (8:38-9:1,14:62)
- Transfiguration (9:2–13)
- Possessed boy (9:14-29)
- Teaching in Capernaum (9:33-50)
Journey to Jerusalem
- Entering Judea (10:1)
- On divorce (10:2–12)
- The Little Children (10:13-16)
- Evangelical counsels (10:17–31)
- On the road to Jerusalem (10:32)
- Son of man came to serve (10:35–45)
- Blind Bartimaeus (10:46–52)
Events in Jerusalem
- Triumphal entry into Jerusalem (11:1–11)
- Cursing the fig tree (11:12–14,20-24)
- Temple incident (11:15–19,27-33)
- Prayer for forgiveness (11:25-26)
- The Wicked Husbandman (12:1–12)
- Render unto Caesar… (12:13–17)
- Resurrection of the Dead (12:18-27)
- Great Commandment (12:28–34)
- Teaching the crowd (12:35-40)
- Lesson of the widow’s mite (12:41-44)
- Olivet discourse (13)
- Plot to kill Jesus (14:1-2,10-11)
- Anointing (14:3–9)
- Last Supper (14:12–26)
- Peter’s denial (14:27-31,66-72)
- Arrest (14:32–52)
- Before the High Priest (14:53–65)
- Before Pilate (15:1–15)
- Crucifixion (15:16–41)
- Joseph of Arimathea (15:42–47)
- Empty tomb (16:1–8)
- The Longer Ending and Resurrection appearances (16:9-20)
- Great Commission (16:14–18)
- Ascension (16:19)
So now let’s go back to the introduction.
Luther Seminary professor emeritus Paul Berge points out that the first sentence of this gospel has no verb. He points out that this is probably Mark’s way of putting a title on his gospel. Keep in mind that Mark was written in Greek, with all capital letters, no punctuation, and no spaces between the words. This complicates things. You might not think it matters that much, but consider this phrase:
What does it say? Does it say, “God is now here.”? Or does it say, “God is nowhere.”? You could have two completely opposite interpretations, depending on how you divide the words. We know there is interpretation going on in the very act of translation, but keep in mind there is also interpreting going on even before translation begins, in the dividing of the text into words, and then the words into sentences and paragraphs, and inserting punctuation. By the time we are looking at Nestle’s Greek text, it has already been divided into words, put in lower case letters and filled with punctuation.
Someone once asked in a Bible study if their deceased loved one was in heaven right now. A member of the study quoted Jesus’ words from the cross, “Truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise.” Ah, but where do you put the comma? Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”? Or “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise.”? One indicates they’ll be in paradise today. In the other, Jesus is simply saying it today, that at some undefined time in the future they’ll be in paradise.
Enough of this tangent. The thief doesn’t even appear in Mark’s account. My point is that the gospel writer would not boldface and center his title giving a space in between. The missing verb clues us in that this is the title of his gospel:
The Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God
This is just the beginning. Son of God, yes, but throughout most of Mark’s gospel, Jesus will be the Son of Man, a clear statement of the theology of the church from a very early gospel. Jesus is truly human, truly divine. “Son of God” only appears four times in this gospel, I believe (1:1, 3:11, 5:7 and 15:39). The last one I consider to be the climax of the gospel. In 1:1 the author clues us in that Jesus is the Son of God. The second two references are by unclean spirits. No human person in the narrative recognizes Jesus as the Son of God until the very end, and then it is a pagan.
The Roman centurion at the cross, after witnessing, no, overseeing the crucifixion of a gentle, humble, innocent man – after seeing how he died – the Roman centurion is the one to confess who Jesus is: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Not just king of the Jews, as the authorities had posted above his head, as a sign of his insurrection, but Son of God. Sorry to be a spoiler, though I’m banking on the assumption that you’ve all read this short gospel.
I strongly recommend, if you are teaching or preaching on this gospel this year, sit down and read it straight through from beginning to end in one sitting. One feels more clearly the scope and content of the gospel. This is how it was meant to be read anyway.
I better not close without a few words about John the Baptist. John was an ascetic, living a kind of monastic lifestyle. Jesus was surrounded by people, and ate and drank with sinners. John preached a baptism of water, with repentance. He made it clear that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. In his words he points to a power that goes beyond repentance and purity.
I like John because he points to Jesus. In the famous altarpiece painting of the crucifixion by the German artist Matthias Grunewald at Isenheim, John the Baptist is pseudo-surrealistically painted into the scene. He is, of course, dead, so this is a marvelous work of dialectical art. John points to Jesus with an over-sized finger. “Him.”
The preacher might consider ways in which our lives point to Christ. Do our ministries point to Christ? Or to us? Do they say, “See how wonderful we are?” or, “See how wonderful Christ is?” How might we, like the moon, reflect the light of the sun? Luther said we are all “little Christs.” How might we, as a means of preparing for Christ’s coming, more fully reflect the glory of the gospel in the face of Christ, just as the glory of the law was reflected in the face of Moses?