Jesus is the most famous man to ever live, as well as the most controversial even to this day. More books have been written about Jesus than anyone that has ever lived.
But who is Jesus? This is likely the most debated question in the history of the world. What did he do? What did he say? But most importantly, what do his words and actions mean?
If we are going to be able to answer these questions, we need someone to tell us what truly happened when Jesus came to the earth. And that is exactly what we have in the gospel account of Mark. Mark compiled an eyewitness account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Mostly drawing his content from his friend and ministry companion the Apostle Peter (who walked with Jesus), we can confidently trust that Mark’s testimony is faithful and true.
We will be studying the gospel account of Mark to get a good grasp of who Jesus is and what it means for us.
Mark doesn’t waste any time does he? Right off the bat he tells us exactly what he’s writing about—”the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This description is packed with meaning. Mark is saying essentially this: Jesus is the good-news-bringing Creator and King of the universe, come to bring salvation and establish a kingdom that will never end. After his introduction, Mark begins the story of Jesus with John the Baptizer—the one God promised would come and prepare people for Jesus’ coming. John the Baptizer’s main way of preparing us for the coming of Jesus the King, is to help us understand this terrifying truth: we have sinned against Him and need to be forgiven. There is, in the end, no small sin because all sin is against an infinitely huge and holy God. Sin is cosmic treason. We stand guilty before the King, deserving death and hell. Thanks be to God Jesus came so that we may be forgiven. Ultimately, Jesus has come to make peace between Holy God and sinful man. He’s come to restore our broken relationship, so that in the end we can have what we were intended to have all along—Him. But, in light of our sin, how we can have a right relationship with Jesus? The answer is this: He is no ordinary King. This King would one day go to a cross and die in our place, so that we could be forgiven and have a reconciled relationship with Him both now and forever.
As we look to Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism, we see all three members of the Trinity present—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. At the very foundation of everything that exists is a God who is relational and not in need of anything because He is perfectly fulfilled in Himself.
At His baptism we the Spirit clothing Jesus with power while the Father clothes Him with loving words of acceptance. But why was Jesus baptized? Ultimately, Jesus says it was to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:14). Jesus not only died for our sin on the cross, he also lived a perfectly obedient life so that when our faith is in Him we are counted righteous in Him. In Christ, your sinful debts are forgiven and His righteousness is credited to your account.
Directly after His baptism, Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Spirit so that He could be tempted by Satan in every way. He battles Satan’s attacks by quoting the Scripture and trusting God’s Word. Why was Jesus tempted? Hebrews 4:14-16 says He was tempted so that he could sympathize with our weakness, help us, and say “no” to sin and “yes” to God in every way as our perfect substitute.
In Mark 1:14-15, we see a summary of Jesus’ preaching ministry. This ministry started in Galilee and spread throughout most of Israel. From listening to Jesus, we learn what real Christianity truly is. Real Christianity is good-news-based, history-making, culture-renewing, and people-changing.
Immediately after Jesus begins His preaching ministry, He calls disciples to himself. This scene found in Mark chapter 1 helps us answer this essential question: Who or what is a real Christian? In this passage, Jesus reveals 5 key things about who a Christian is and what a Christian does.
First, a Christian has been called by Jesus. According to the Bible, becoming a Christian is not like a divine game of Where’s Waldo, with Jesus hiding or alluding us. Like these first disciples, we don’t “find” Jesus. Jesus finds us and calls us into a saving relationship with Him (Mark 1:17, 19-20). Second, a Christian repents from their sin and believes in the gospel of Jesus. A mark of a real Christian is that they repent and keep on repenting as they believe and keep on believing in the gospel (Mark 1:14-15). Third, a Christian follows Jesus, seeking to obey Him as their Savior-King (Mark 1:16-18, 20). Fourth, a Christian stops making Jesus a means to their end. By calling these men to leave their families, friends, and careers, Jesus is saying, “Follow me because I’m the Savior and King. I’m not calling you to add me to your life; I’m calling you to make me your life.” Jesus is not the one who gives treasures; He is the treasure! He’s not a divine genie who is obligated to give us everything we want. He is our sovereign King who graciously gives us what we need (Mark 1:17-18, 20). Fifth, and last of all, a Christian is a work-in-progress. Jesus doesn’t run away and tell us to “keep up or be left behind!” He walks with us, hand-in-hand, changing us from the inside out for our joy and His glory (Mark 1:17).
Directly after Jesus calls the first disciples to follow him, he begins his ministry by gathering with the people of God to teach the Word of God. In Mark 1:21-28, Jesus reveals his unrivaled authority through the way he teaches as well as the way he casts a demon out of a man by simply speaking! Those who heard Jesus’ teaching and saw his demon-exorcism were thunderstruck. They had never heard or seen anything like this.
We learn at least five things from this scene: 1) Jesus made it a priority to regularly gather with the people of God as they received teaching from the Word of God. So should we. If it’s important to Jesus, it should be important to us. 2) Jesus’ words had authority because He is God, and the people hearing were thunderstruck — so should we be every time we read or hear the Bible. 3) Religion can’t save you, free you, or change you. 4) Jesus can save you, free you, and change you. There’s no sin or enslavement that’s a match for his grace. 5) The One with unrivaled authority used it to sacrifice himself for sinners. “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18).
In Mark 1:29-39 we see at least three things that are at the heart of Jesus’ ministry: healing, praying, and preaching. Healing. Jesus had the authority to revers the curse of sin in these peoples lives because He would later become a curse for sin in His death. Furthermore, it’s clear there is no problem too small for Jesus to take notice of, and no problem too large for Jesus to solve. Praying. After a long night’s work, Jesus still awakes early in the morning to get alone and pray. If the Son of God needed to spend time alone with the Father, how much more do we? Preaching. Jesus didn’t remain in Capernaum and try to establish a mega-church. He kept going from town to town preaching “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
At the end of Mark chapter one, Jesus cleanses a leper—one who is physically, socially, and spiritually regarded as an unclean outcast. To our amazement, despite leprosy being highly-contagious and incurable, Jesus reaches out and touches the man. He touches him! Why? Jesus is showing us that he’s not merely the one who brings cleansing; He is cleansing. This is a picture of the gospel. Because of who Jesus is and what he’s done, when you come into contact with him, you’re cleansed. At the beginning of the story the leper was the outcast while Jesus was on the inside. At the end, Jesus is the one in desolate places while the leper is on the inside, restored. Jesus saved him by becoming his substitute, by switching places. This is another part of the scene that alludes to the heart of the gospel—the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. On the cross, Jesus switched places with us. He took all the judgement, all the wrath, and all the guilt for our sin on himself, dying in our place. He did this so that we could be saved. The gospel says that not only did Jesus die, he also resurrected for us as our champion. He conquered satan, sin, and death. He took the wrath we deserve so we could get the love he deserves.
The faith of the four men who carried their paralytic friend to Jesus is shocking. Though what is truly amazing in this scene is the reputation of Jesus—it lead these men to go to great lengths simply to get their friend near Him!
When Jesus saw their faith He made two claims that blew the doors off the place, leaving people stunned. He claimed He could forgive sins and that He is in fact God when He said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” The answer is no one. In order to prove to the people that He is God and thus had the authority to forgive sins, He looked at the paralytic and told him to get up and walk. Jesus’ words to the man did not return void—he was forgiven of his sins and then healed.
Jesus first dealt with this man’s sin problem because that was his true need. Oftentimes we desperately want things that are not what we truly need and Jesus loves us enough to say, “No. I have seen your suffering and I’ll deal with that later. You’ve got to understand that what you’re wanting isn’t what you need. I’m committed to giving you the best for your joy and my glory. Will you trust me?”
In Christ, we can be content in whatever situation we find ourselves, saying along with John Newton, “Everything is necessary that He sends; nothing is necessary that He withholds.”
What is grace? Grace is ill-deserved blessing, untamed and unexpected, free and costly, and upside down from the way of the world. Though Levi deserved judgement, Jesus gave blessing at great cost to Himself—He walked straight up to the betraying tax collector and called him into relationship. What does grace look like? Grace looks like being fully known yet fully loved at the same time. Jesus knows every square inch of our hearts, yet, if we belong to Him, He still chooses to love and redeem us. He a knew every bit of sin that was in Levi and the other tax collectors, yet He chose to feast with them. How can we get grace? It’s the simplest thing in the world, but for some it’s impossible—know you are sick with sin and trust the great Physician to heal you. Put your faith in Jesus’ life for your righteousness, death for your forgiveness, and resurrection as your Savior. He “came not to call [those who think they are] righteous, but [those who know they are] sinners.”
Jesus is like a Master of Feasts. He hasn’t come to make us miserable through fasting; He’s come to make us merry through feasting. Jesus is also like a Loving Husband. He graciously provides for, protects, cherishes, and nourishes those who belong to Him through the gospel. Furthermore, Jesus is like an Accomplished Tailor. He is not simply going to patch up the holes we’ve got in our clothes because of our sin—only for them to be torn again and again. Rather, He has come to give us completely new clothes through His life so we can stand before God the Father guiltless and righteous. And finally, Jesus is like a Generous Winemaker. He brings something radically different than religion (the gospel) based on something completely opposite of our works (His grace). How? The key is in verse 20 of Mark chapter two. “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away.” Jesus, the bridegroom, will have to leave the party so we can be brought in. On the cross, Jesus was forsaken by His Father as a sinner so he could give us a wedding feast as the Savior.
Why do the Pharisees want to destroy Jesus and why is Jesus so angry with them? In a word, Religion. Religion is various forms of “If I perform, if I obey, I’m accepted.” Therefore, the Pharisees had added multiple rules on top of the Sabbath command, in order to make sure they were very good and God would have to love and accept them. However, trying to achieve your own worth through who you are or what you do is like being on an endless treadmill of performance. We can never be good enough, open-minded enough, or tolerant enough for God to accept us through our works. Both religion and irreligion are endless, producing unrest. The gospel of Jesus is something else entirely. Because on the cross Jesus said “It is finished” we can rest in Him forever. He has lived the life we should have lived and died the death we deserve to die. Because through Jesus God is satisfied with you, you can be satisfied with life. Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, bringing deep rest and acceptance to all who’s faith is in Him.
In Mark 4, Jesus begins teaching in parables because he cares more about seeing the gospel take root in our hearts than drawing crowds. Within this first parable that Mark records, Jesus warns us of multiple reasons we might reject him. First, because of hardness of heart, likely because of self-righteousness. This is exactly like the Pharisees who outright rejected Jesus. Another reason is because being a Christian begins to cost something, worldly speaking. Those who, in the end, are pretending to be Christians will not stick with Jesus when suffering or persecution comes because of being a Christian. Lastly, Jesus teaches that some reject him because they care more about the world and the deceitful things the world offers.
What we really need is life because spiritually speaking we’re all dead as dirt because of our sin. This life is Jesus himself—he’s the sower and the seed. And the only way we can receive his life is because he died for us. We can receive Jesus’ abundant life that begins now and stretches into eternity because he endured our abundant death on the cross.
In verse 24-25 of Mark 4, Jesus is reminded us that His’ kingdom is vastly different from the kingdoms of the world. The world’s kingdoms essentially say, “the rich are in and the poor are out; the strong are in and the weak are out; the good are in and the bad are out.” However, Jesus’ kingdom says, “the humble are in and the proud are out.” It’s those who “pay attention to what [they] hear” and believe in the gospel who the “more will be added to.” In short, the kingdoms of this world are all about what you can do, whereas the kingdom of Jesus is all about what He does for us.
In verses 21-23, Jesus makes sure His disciples understand that though He’s set aside His glory by becoming a man—though He’s set aside His crown and people are rejecting Him—the crownless again shall be king. He is the Lamp that will be exalted for all to see, not hidden under a basket or bed. He was lifted up on the cross for our sins, from the dead for our salvation, back to heaven as our Advocate, and will finally be lifted up as the Lamp, shining in the new earth. “There we will see His face and never ever sin; there from the rivers of His grace drink endless pleasures in” (Isaac Watts).
First, we learn that the Christian life is organic, not mechanical. Jesus comes not to simply put pressure on our will, but to change our hearts—changing us from the inside out. Religious change is mechanical, so to speak. Religion says, “Change the outside and then the inside will be clean. Start doing more and trying harder, then you will have life.” Gospel change is far different. The Gospel says, “Trust Jesus and His work alone inwardly, and be cleansed freely by grace. Then watch how you will change outwardly.”
Second, the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. Jesus says once the gospel takes root in us, there’s a process by which we will grow and bear fruit. It’s not always immediate and flashy. Jesus is saying, “I’m not interested in making you something immediately flashy or what the world looks on as marvelous. I’m interested in changing you from the inside out, so you produce real, lasting fruit. You will be what I’ve saved you to be.”
Lastly, the Christian life is personal, but not private. We all need a personal relationship with Jesus through faith, but our relationship must not remain private. We are to “scatter the seed” by telling people the gospel, being public witnesses of Jesus to the world. Just as Jesus went public with His ministry, being killed for our salvation, so we should go public so others can experience the same transforming power of Christ.
There are at least two implications of Jesus’ teaching about kingdom growth in this passage: both kingdom growth within us and among us, though small as a seed at their start, will one day be as large as trees.
First, there will be kingdom growth within us. God’s aim for your life, Christian, is not simply to make you happy. His aim is to make you holy. The good news for us is when God aims for something, He doesn’t miss the mark. If He aims to make you holy, holy you will be. How much different will you be now compared with when Jesus perfects you in heaven? Jesus says you’ll be as different as a tree is from a seed.
Second, there will be kingdom growth among us. Jesus’ kingdom is a spiritual reality now, as He rules and reigns in the hearts and lives of Christians. But it is perpetually moving towards an all encompassing kingdom—spiritual and physical—and will be consummated when Jesus returns. This means the world we all want is coming. It will be ushered in by the one who “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins.” This is all for God’s glory and the joy of those trust the one who “by a single offering has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:11-14).
In every way, Mark 4:35-41 bears the marks of eye-witness testimony. Therefore Jesus’ power is real, not fictional. Yet His power is also limitless. “Sit down and shut up!” says Jesus to a hurricane, the same way you would rebuke a child. And what happens next? It bends and bows before His face. Interestingly enough, these disciples were afraid of the storm, but terrified of the One who controlled it. Why? To be in the very presence of God is terrifying because His holiness is so pertinent—so real you can taste it—it reveals our unholiness. If we’re honest, we’d respond the same way the disciples did when they beheld Jesus’ power. But Jesus came to bring us the gospel at His own expense. Though we deserve death, judgement, and banishment from God because of our sin, Jesus does something surprising with this real, limitless, and terrifying power. He, as the greater Jonah, cast Himself into to sea of God’s judgement so we could be forgiven (see Matthew 12:41). In the boat in Mark 4, Jesus saves His disciples by standing tall and flexing His power. Yet on the cross in Mark 15, Jesus saves His disciples by bowing low and being cast into the storm. If we’re with Jesus, we will pass safely through any storm. And one day He will calm all storms forever.
Jesus is not only Lord of storms, He is also Lord of demons. When a demonized man comes running, Jesus takes control of the situation and liberates the enslaved man by grace. He is a total, sovereign, and prodigal Liberator. Total, because He hasn’t simply come to make us nice; He’s come to make us new. Just like the demonized man here in Mark 5, Jesus hasn’t come to give us more chains; He has come to give us a nature change! Sovereign, because there is no evil that can match Him—even a legion of demons. The good news is there is more grace in Christ than sin in you. Prodigal, because He is recklessly spendthrift, lavishing His grace on the most ill-deserving and hopeless. In Mark 5, as well as today, Jesus deliberately goes where no one else would to redeem someone no one else wanted. But why are we liberated? We are liberated in order that we can walk out of the “tombs” and live a new life of holiness and faith in Jesus. In addition to that, we are liberated to “Go…and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” This is all possible because Jesus was the greater one who was stripped naked, cut open and bleeding, crying out, and thrown in the tombs. On the cross, Jesus paid for our sin so that one day He could destroy evil without destroying us.
Jesus has just proven Himself to be Lord of storms and even Lord of demons. But now He faces a foe more terrifying than a hurricane, more threatening than a legion of evil spirits—He faces death itself. Jairus begs Jesus to save his daughter who is on the brink of death, and Jesus goes with Him. But along the way a woman who is suffering on multiple levels seems to interrupt the one marching to save a dying girl. Jesus heals the woman, stops, comforts her, and restores her place among the people of God and the community at large. He is Lord of sickness! To Jairus’ horror, his daughter had died in the time Jesus took to graciously deal with the sick woman. Yet Jesus looks right at him and essentially says, “I know you’re scared, but don’t give in to fear. You’re with me! Trust me. Everything will be fine.” Jesus brings the dead girl back to life. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “When you’re with me, even death itself is but a nap from which I’ll wake you to eternal life.” We learn at least 5 things from this scene:
- Jesus doesn’t simply heal you to heal you. He heals you in order that He can know you and you can know Him.
- Jesus is willing to take our uncleanliness into Himself in order to make us clean.
- It doesn’t matter who you are or what you need saving from, Jesus is the Great Physician.
- We don’t have to question the timing of Jesus.
We can rest easy in storms, in the face of great evil, with sickness, and even in death, because Jesus is Lord of all and His timing is perfect. Even when things look out of control or Jesus’ timing seems off, he looks at you and says, “Trust me.” And because of what He did for us on the cross you know you can.
In Mark chapter 6, Jesus returns to His hometown and begins teaching. What we see is a heartbreaking response to the King come to save them—they reject Him. Some reject Jesus because of His claims, some because He’s familiar, and some because He’s offensive. However, we should not reject Jesus at all. Like His family eventually did, we should accept Him because He died for our sins and resurrected for our salvation. He’s our only hope, and the proof is in His resurrection. The good news of the gospel is not that we can accept Jesus. Rather, the gospel is good news because God can accept us because of what Jesus has done in our place. Jesus was rejected by God for our sin so that we could be accepted.
Mark 6:7-13 7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.
Mark 6:14-29 14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.
21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.”25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.