The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Mark 1:1

My congregation, like many others, uses a schedule of Sunday scripture readings called the New Revised Common Lectionary. This lectionary is a three-year cycle of readings which covers most (but not all) of scripture. Each of the three years features one of the four gospels as its primary gospel, with John’s Gospel appearing at different times all three years. This past Sunday we began a new year in this lectionary, Year B. This year the primary gospel that we will be hearing Sunday mornings is the Gospel According to Mark. So I thought it would be helpful to share an overview of Mark’s Gospel, and to share with you why I think Mark’s Gospel is so important.

When I am asked which of the four gospels is my favorite, I sometimes (jokingly) answer that this is like asking me which of my children is my favorite. They are all my favorites, but for different reasons. All four gospels are important, even necessary, to fully understanding the good news of Jesus. So what is particularly important about Mark’s Gospel? Let’s take a quick trip through Mark’s Gospel to find out.  

What’s Different About Mark’s Gospel?

As Christians, we believe that Mark’s Gospel is inspired by God, as are all writings in the Bible, but all of these writings also reflect the personality and writing styles of the authors. So what makes Mark’s Gospel unique? Among other things, it is the shortest of the four gospels in scripture, and most likely the first written. (It is thought to have been used by Matthew and Luke as a source for their gospels.) Mark’s Gospel is intentionally short, written in a deceptively simple literary style, and typically emphasises action more than teaching. What Jesus does is arguably even more important to Mark than what Jesus says.

Who Wrote Mark’s Gospel?

All four gospels were written anonymously, but the author of Mark’s Gospel has from the earliest days of the church been considered to be Mark, a disciple of Peter who recorded Peter’s recollections of the events of Jesus’ life. One theory that I find interesting, or at least amusing, is that the author of this gospel is the young man mentioned in Mark 14:51 – After Jesus is arrested, “a certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.” (Mark 14:51-52)

What Are Some Key Moments in Mark’s Gospel?

The Beginning

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Mark 1:1

The opening words in the Gospel According to Mark can be thought of in two ways. First of all, they serve as a title for the whole work. They tell the reader the beginning – the origin – of the gospel that has so changed their life. (Remember that the word “gospel” simply means “good news,” so Mark’s Gospel literally begins by saying “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”)

These opening words serve as a title, but they also reveal to the reader, right at the beginning, the secret of who Jesus is. This “messianic secret,” as it is called, is an important theme in this gospel. The question, Who is Jesus?, can be seen as a thread that runs throughout Mark’s Gospel. As the reader discovers, Jesus does not want to be known as the Messiah or the Son of God until his work is completed on the cross. In fact, Jesus does not even share who he truly is with his disciples until after Peter guesses (or confesses) the truth half-way through this gospel. 

The Half-way Point

Jesus asked his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Mark 8:29-31

Who is Jesus? The truth unfolds little by little throughout the gospel. Half-way through the gospel, Jesus is revealed to be the Messiah. But only those who follow him can see this, and they are told to keep it secret. Right after Peter confesses Jesus to be the Messiah, Jesus teaches them that “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31) Who Jesus is, in other words, is closely connected to what Jesus does, particularly on the cross. 

The Crucifixion

Now when the centurion, who stood facing [Jesus], saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son.”

Mark 15:39

The moment when Jesus is crucified is a key moment in Mark’s Gospel, arguably even more significant than his resurrection. It is exactly at the moment of Jesus’ death that a human being finally sees, for the first time, that Jesus is not only the Messiah, but the Son of God. (And that human being, interestingly enough, is not one of the disciples, but a Roman centurion!)

It is not the miracles or his teachings that reveal Jesus to be God’s Son – it is his death on the cross for the sake of the world. Another way to make this same point is to note that there is no account of Jesus’s birth in Mark’s Gospel, and a very short account of his resurrection, but two full chapters devoted to the Passion, Jesus’s suffering and death.

The Surprisingly Abrupt Ending

They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Mark 16:8

The Gospel of Mark ends abruptly, so abruptly that the early church added endings to it. In most Bibles they are called “The Shorter Ending of Mark” and “The Longer Ending of Mark.” But what if Mark intended his gospel to conclude with verse 8? No resurrection appearances from Jesus. No great commission. No Pentecost. Just women fleeing an empty tomb, saying nothing to anyone. If that is the case, if this really is the original and intended ending, then why would Mark choose to end his gospel this way? The interpretation that I favor is that by ending his gospel in this way, Mark wants us – the readers – to finish the story for him. The first witnesses of the resurrection didn’t say anything, for they were afraid, but how about us? We have heard the good news, and we have had our lives forever changed by God’s Son, our crucified and risen Messiah. Will we tell the story? Will we tell others the good news about Jesus? If not us, then who? 

Mark’s inspired, brilliant Gospel tells us “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” He leaves it up to us to finish the story.

7 thoughts on “What Is So Special About Mark’s Gospel?

  1. Hi !
    Great post.
    There is a winged lion statue in our village.
    I didn’t pay much attention until I saw a similar statue in Venice, at the Bascilica of St. Mark (Marco). The tomb of St. Mark is there.
    The winged lion is also a symbol of the city of Venice.
    John Cabot, (Giovanni Caboto ) who landed in our village in 1497, was from Venice.

    Hence, the winged lion statue is here.

    May the Lord continue to bless you, and your congregation this liturgical year, as we are inspired by the words of St. Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s interesting, Sally. The picture I used is hanging in our church entryway, along with pictures of the other three gospels. In a future post, I’ll have to share how these symbols came to be associated with each of the gospels. But what an interesting connection between your community and Venice!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm that’s a very interesting conclusion as to the ending. Our issues today may also be a lack much even close to the original manuscript. Maybe also Mark wrote this intending it to be used together with Matthew. Hence the entire Gospel is a shorter version better equipped as a tool for evangelism while Matthew fills in the details for discipleship. It actually worked out that way in my own life. Blessings

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, those are good possibilities. I suppose we won’t know the whole story this side of heaven, but we can be assured that the same Spirit who inspired these four gospels continues to use them to inspire and encourage us on our journeys of faith. Thanks for sharing a little of yours, and blessings to you.

      Liked by 1 person

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