Who is this man?

Scriptures: Mark 1:1; 1 Cor. 15:1-7

Today we are beginning a new sermon series. We are doing an exhaustive, or the seminary word is expository, study of the Gospel of Mark. We’ll be working our way straight through the book, by passages. Not a single verse at a time, even though today is a single verse. I plan on having the Tuesday Bible study, as I noted earlier, as a follow-up for the sermons. I pray that you would consider being there, so that you can learn more in-depth.

I was asked a question by a couple of people, since I’ve never done this here, and in fact it’s been over ten years since I’ve done the last series like this, “Why are you doing this kind of series? We kind of liked your topical one, on how to see God when there is trouble.” I’m glad you enjoyed that, but there is a need for this kind of sermon series as well.

Last week when I spoke on discipleship, I spoke of the need to study the Bible and become familiar with Christ and His teachings. All too often, with our busy schedules, it seems like Sunday is the only day that we really get in contact with the Word. That’s not a good thing, but it’s a reality of life. So we need, every once in a while, to begin to go more in-depth on things for people within the context of this service.

This kind of preaching has a long and storied tradition, throughout church history, and even today it’s pretty popular in most thriving churches, because it gives meat, versus milk, as Paul likes to say. While I don’t compare myself to them in any way, some of the better-known preachers that are out there, like Chuck Swindoll, Charles Stanley, John MacArthur, and a few others, preach this way always. You get some other equally good preachers like Erwin Lutzer that tend to preach topically, so there’s a variety. But even those that use topical series go through books on occasion.’

The third reason I think we need to do this kind of series is that hearing the story of Jesus in toto is important to understanding Him better. When we do it the way we normally do it, using the lectionary or using topics, we’ll get a piece here and a piece there, and I’ll preach on an epistle here, and I’ll preach on a Gospel there, and I’ll preach on an Old Testament passage here … and you don’t really get the whole story of Jesus. While you may have heard it overall, certainly over the course of your life in the church, getting to hear it as a straight run-through, I think, is beneficial to us, particularly as regards the Gospel of Mark.

So why use Mark? We have four Gospels. First of all, chronology – despite the fact that Mark is second in the New Testament, it was first in terms of when it was written. Well over 90% of the scholars agree with that, though there are a few that seem to insist Matthew was first. When you look at the evidence, it looks like Mark was first, not just in terms of the things that are mentioned, but also in terms of the fact that Matthew and Luke, which together with Mark make up the Synoptic Gospels, cover a lot of the same ground. While Matthew and Luke have their own things that are not covered by the other, Matthew and Luke both cover what Mark has. In many cases, though I’m not going to go into the number of verses, they do it word-for-word. So it just seems like Mark was probably used as a source.

Secondly, Mark, as the liturgist noted, was not one of the disciples, though he probably knew Jesus. He was more a follower of Peter, later on. That is important as we discover some of the roots of Mark and why we should pay attention to it. To give you an idea about who Mark was, he’s mentioned in the Bible elsewhere.

He’s mentioned in Acts. He’s the one that went along with Paul and Barnabas, and like Peter, he was a coward. He ran away, and he got Paul so mad that when they were going to go on the second missionary journey, and Barnabas wanted to bring Mark along again, Paul said no, and he and Barnabas split up.

Later on, Mark redeemed himself, because in the letter to Philemon, Paul calls Mark one of his valued workers for Christ. Peter refers to Mark as a beloved son. So Mark was very familiar with the Gospel story of Christ, even though he was not a “disciple.” (If you want to find out why being a disciple was so important, come to Bible study on Tuesday.)

We believe that the Gospel of Mark was actually the Gospel of Peter. Peter is the one that was the source for that. Mark is the one who wrote it down. It’s shown in the use of Aramaic words. It’s shown in the details that are there that aren’t in the other Gospels, details that Mark himself couldn’t have possibly known – private conversations between Peter and Jesus and James and John.

Another reason to do Mark is its length. It’s the shortest Gospel. I know that may sound like a terrible reason, but when we’re only preaching on a passage per week, it’s going to take about a year to get through the Gospel. That’s a long time to go through something. Those of you that have been in Bible study with me on Tuesday know that. How long did it take us to get through Hebrews? About nineteen months? Even the first and second and third letters of John took us eight months, and those are really short. We don’t want to pick something that’s so long that we’re in it for the next three years, at this point in time.

The fourth reason for selecting Mark is its audience. He wrote to Gentiles – Romans and Greeks. Each Gospel had a different overall intended audience. Matthew was written to the Jews. It’s full of Old Testament quotes and prophecies, that the Jews would have recognized. But Gentiles? They wouldn’t have had a clue. When it said, “this fulfills the prophecy,” they would have said, “Whatever.”

Instead, what we see in Mark is Mark actually explains some things for his audience. He says that they did this for this reason, usually in regards to a ritual process of the Jews. So it’s obvious that his audience was people not familiar with the Jewish faith and tradition. The authors of the Gospels each had a differing perspective and purpose. And Mark’s is the best place to begin.

Matthew wrote from the perspective that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and the King, and what are you going to do about it? Luke looks at the son of man and the physician and vulnerability of the humanity, and we see more about how Jesus feels in the Gospel of Luke. John was writing to the Christian church, and he starts all the way back at the beginning of the Bible. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was with God …” He emphasizes the deity of Christ. Mark’s perspective is that Jesus is the suffering servant. I’m going to talk about that a little bit later here, because it impacts the way that he writes and certain things that he covers.

So what is the overall structure of Mark? As noted by the liturgist, it reads kind of like a novel or newspaper – less dialogue, more action. “Immediately” is one of the words that Mark really likes to use. He also likes to change tenses. He’ll start out saying something in the past and then he brings it into the present, which while it might not be good grammar is a commonly used way to bring readers in to the story, when you’re telling a story.

It’s written in Koine Greek and Latin. Koine Greek was the language of the day, the trade language, kind of like English is for most of the world today. This is the Gospel that has the most Latin words in it, and it is the Gospel of haste and action, characteristics of Rome. As the liturgist noted, it was probably written in Rome, while Peter was in jail. But even with the sense of haste, there are also details that are not in other Gospels, which shows again, as I said earlier, the eyewitness source.

Also, in the Gospel of Mark, there is no child narrative. No genealogy, no angels visiting mom or angels visiting dad, no trips to Jerusalem. It starts with Jesus as an adult beginning his ministry. Because, again, the Gentiles wouldn’t have known or cared. Why would they have cared that he was the son of a carpenter? Why would they have cared that he came from Nazareth? That meant nothing to them. Mark starts with him and his ministry.

Almost half the Gospel deals with the Passion. Chapters 10 through 16 deal with him going to Jerusalem and experiencing the Passion. That ought to tell you how important the Passion is for the writer of this Gospel.

Another thing we may have to struggle with and wrap our minds around is miracles as teachings. A lot of times Jesus will do a miracle, and then people was say, “What is this teaching?” And we kind of go, “Huh? He didn’t say anything.” In those days, if somebody made a claim, as Jesus was making throughout the Gospel, then they proved it by word and/or deed, particularly deed. So in Mark, he proves what he says is true, teaches you, and what he does is miracles. John calls them signs; Mark calls them teachings.

In the structure of the Gospel of Mark there is, as I said earlier, a focus on the suffering servant Jesus. Jesus talks about dying more often than in any of the other Gospels. He also is the one who talks most about people having to take up their cross to follow him, to expect suffering. He uses apocalyptic language, which means end-of-the-world language.

He talks about the Second Coming. He talks about judgment, more than the other Gospels. He warns the church and the followers to expect the same. Being written when it was, when the church was under persecution, it’s not surprising. If you want to find out more, come to Bible study on Tuesday.

So what is the main point or focus of the Gospel here? The big question that runs all the way through Mark is “Who is this man?” Who is this guy? People ask it left and right in there, and there are a number of other passages that go with that idea. The thing is, Mark answers it right there in the very beginning, in the very first verse. “This is the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” There it is. That’s your answer. Then he spends the whole rest of the time showing how nobody could figure it out.

We know that this is his point because of the number of times people ask. We also know that this is the point, in part – and this is also what makes this Gospel reliable – because the disciples look so dumb. They were with Jesus three and a half years and they see all these teachings and these miracles, and they just don’t get it.

If they was just making this story up, chances are, with human nature, they would make themselves look better. This is why we know that this is a reliable exposition of what happened with Jesus Christ, sort of a biography. Think about your own life. When you tell stories about what has happened to you, don’t you usually gloss over parts where things were a little rough for you or you struggled a little bit. Anybody who’s told a fishing story loves to talk about how the time it took to pull the fish in but rarely talks about actually how big the fish was. So the disciples look dumb in here. Don’t be surprised

So many were amazed and dismayed by what they saw. And a paradox of sorts, something that is very difficult for us to grasp hold of, is that Jesus himself is constantly telling people not to tell anyone else who he is. Demons say, “Oh no! It’s the Son of God.” Jesus says, “Shut up.” They knew.

He does miracles for people, and as he does them, whether it be a leper or whether it be the daughter that was raised, he says, “Now don’t tell anybody about this.” Of course, they’re not very good at listening to that. Because that question is, “Who is he?” Who is he? Mark wants people to ask, who is this man? Jesus tells us, by his very existence. You don’t need somebody else naming his for you. The answer, as I said, is in the very first verse of the Gospel.

Mark has its own structure. As I said it starts with Jesus’ ministry. It starts with the Galilean ministry and goes through a bunch of miracles and teachings. He starts, in chapter 7, regularly talking about “I need to suffer and die.” Then chapter 9 has the Transfiguration, where he shows his deity to his disciples.

Then in chapter 10, he sets his face toward Jerusalem, and he heads into Jerusalem, and that’s where we begin to have the Passion week. It goes all the way through chapter 15, where he dies. Then in chapter 16 we have the resurrection. There is something special about chapter 16. There is what’s called a gloss, which means something added on. We’re not going to get to that for a while, since that’s at the end of the Gospel.

So why do we care? We’re here in church. You’ve been in church for years. Why do we care about this question, “Who is this man?” What is the point of having to go through this Gospel?

This question central to all people throughout all ages. Salvation itself hangs in the balance. It hinges on the answer you find. I believe it was C. S. Lewis who once said that you must look at Jesus. You cannot be neutral. He is either Lord of all things, a liar, or a lunatic. You may be able to ignore politics or keep out of conflicts, but you cannot ignore Christ. You have to take a position on Him. If you say, “I just don’t want to deal with Christ,” then you are essentially saying He is not Lord, he must be either liar or lunatic, and salvation is not yours.

Salvation is the most critical question. You must answer this question, “Who is this man?” for yourself, but then you must be prepared to defend it to others. In the second letter of Peter, he talks about you must be prepared to defend the hope which you have in Jesus Christ. You have to be prepared to defend the gospel.

This is a critical thing, because we lose so many people in the church today. Youngsters especially – millennials. “Nones” (that is, people who say “None” when asked about their religion) is the fastest growing group as I noted last week when I talked about discipleship. And you know why? They say that the biggest reason is because they say we cannot answer their questions.

Even if they were raised in the church, they were raised in a hothouse environment, they were raised to know Jesus Christ, but they never really thought about why, they never really thought about the proof, they’ve never really thought about how. They go off to college, and people just knock them down left and right. And they say, “You know what? This is for the birds.”

The early church had to prove it every single day. They had to argue it wherever they went. You need to be prepared so that you can teach others and prepare them to share the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

You need to listen to what Jesus says, as well as what He does, and learn the critical basics that inspired and drove the early believers in the church. The basics are here in the Gospel of Mark. The basics are here as to who Christ was, what He was here for, what He was about. And also, as Pauline noted to me in her own researches, the word “gospel” used outside of the church was news given by messengers when a battle was won. And Mark makes it very clear we have the victory in Jesus Christ.

So this will take you through the basics, so that you can take them in, and you can share them with others. We want to spend the next number of weeks going through this short but informative Gospel. One of the things I also love about this kind of series, by the way, is that there’s a passage in Timothy that says all Scripture is fit for reproof and education and uplifting. All Scripture. Every single verse. That’s why you want to go verse by verse sometimes, or at least passage by passage.

We’ll learn what God has to tell us about “Who is this man?” It’s our challenge, as we go through all of this, this week and the coming weeks, to take that question to heart, and figure out for yourself, who is Jesus. Who is Jesus to me? How do I share Him with others? Through that, may God get the glory for the wondrous things He has done in each of our lives, by the mercy and grace He has shown.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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