As you probably know, we don’t just have one account of Jesus’ life and ministry, we have four. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John cover the same time period and recount some of the same details of Jesus’ life, but each book is incredibly unique. One of the greatest mistakes Bible readers make is trying to combine the accounts and smooth out the differences. We tend to be very concerned with knowing the order in which things happened, but the authors are concerned with theology, not chronology. We need to start appreciating the unique way in which each book is written. Here are some things that make Mark’s gospel account unique.
Mark focuses the majority of the book on the things Jesus did, rather than what he said. The book moves quickly from one event to the next. Jesus does one thing and then he is quickly moving to some other place and doing some other thing. It’s actually hard to keep up sometimes.
Reading the book of Mark is a lot like watching an action movie. In fact, like many action films, the book of Mark begins with very little introduction to the characters, the setting, or the plot. If there isn’t already some familiarity with the story, the reader would feel a little disoriented from the beginning. And I think, perhaps, that is part of the point.
Mark is not presenting a picture of Jesus that leaves the audience thinking, “What a lovely story. I will think about these things for a while. Perhaps someday I will follow Jesus.” Rather, the book leaves the reader saying, “What just happened?! I’ve got to know more about this Jesus. If these things are true, the world is totally different now and I need to become a follower of Jesus immediately.”
The first scene is that of John baptizing Jesus. As soon as Jesus is baptized, the heavens are “torn open.” Notice the heavens do not gently open but are “torn open” (as the curtain in the temple will later be torn open). And when the heavens are torn open, the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove. Mark leaves no doubt in our minds, heaven and earth are coming together in the person of Jesus in a powerful and action-packed way.
Cause and Effect
A person could not read the book of Mark and fail to notice his use of the word, “immediately.” In the ESV, the word “immediately” is found 35 times in Mark’s 16 chapters. Jesus says or does something and immediately something else happens. Or someone else says or does something and immediately Jesus responds.
It seems to me that it is all about cause and effect. The son of God coming into the world has an immediate effect on the people with whom he comes into contact. There are some who immediately receive him and others who immediately reject him. When Jesus gives a command, the result is almost always immediate.
Which, of course, leaves the reader feeling as if he or she must respond to Jesus immediately. There is no time to delay. Heaven has been ripped open, healing and salvation are being offered.
One of the major differences between the book of Matthew and the book of Mark is the less frequent quotations from the Old Testament. Certainly, the story of Jesus remains distinctly Jewish and Jesus’ claims must be understood in light of the story of Israel. But Mark does not seem to assume his audience is necessarily familiar with that story. In fact, several times, Mark parenthetically explains to the readers certain Jewish traditions or Aramaic phrases.
When Jesus cleansed the temple, he said, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” In Matthew and Luke’s account, you will not find the words, “for all the nations.” Mark is emphasizing the fact that the temple was always supposed to be a house of prayer for Jews and Gentiles.
And as the book of Mark comes to an end, Jesus tells his apostles to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” It isn’t just Jerusalem and Israel that will be affected by Jesus’ coming, but the whole creation. The curse is being lifted and all of Adam’s descendants, both Jews and Greeks, need to hear about it. “Whoever believes and is baptized,” Jesus says, “will be saved.”
Now that’s good news!
I love you and God loves you,