There are four Gospel accounts in the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each is different and each has its own themes. Sometimes Mark gets overlooked, perhaps because much of its content is found in Matthew and Luke.
But I ask my students to experience the entire Gospel According to Mark in one sitting. Why? Part of the reason is its brevity—it’s easy to experience this account of Christ’s ministry in one sitting. Another reason I love Mark is its powerful themes.
Theme of Service
Mark is fairly short. At thirty pages, it’s easy to read straight through—or better yet, listen to straight through. In the first century, most people who encountered the Gospel According to Mark were illiterate. They weren’t reading Mark, they were listening to it.
That’s why I love Max McLean’s performance of Mark’s account of the Gospel. Not only can you listen to the entire Gospel account in 90 minutes, but Max makes the passages come alive with his expressive performance.
Here’s a scene that came alive for me as I heard McLean’s reading: Jesus takes aside the Twelve and says, “We are going up to Jerusalem . . . and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise” (Mark 10:33–34, NIV).
How would you feel if you had been present? What would you say?
James and John had something to say, but it was rather strange. With an expressive voice to show their absurdity, McLean narrates their dialogue: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask,” they say to Jesus (Mark 10:35, NIV).
Jesus listens to James and John ask if they can sit next to Him in His glory (see Mark 10:37). While Jesus is telling them about His death, they are selfishly wondering who will get the best seats in heaven.
The Savior corrects James and John by teaching the importance of selfless service. He says, “Whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:44-45, NIV).
McLean’s performance helped me experience this scene anew. It reminded me that Jesus’s goal was to give, not to get. He served those around Him. Are we following His example?
Theme of Patience with Failed Disciples
Along with service, another theme of Mark is failed discipleship, and Jesus’s patience with the disciples. I discuss this theme in my book, Considering the Cross, using insights I gained from Julie M. Smith.
(Smith, a writer for BYU New Testament Commentary, has a blog post about failed discipleship. She also has a full book that’s packed with insight on the Gospel According to Mark, if you’re interested in a deep dive.)
The theme of patience is especially strong in the scene of Resurrection morning. The disciples are downhearted. Peter denied the Savior on the night of Jesus’s arrest. Yet, when the man at the tomb proclaims the good news of Christ’s resurrection, the man gives the women at the tomb a specific invitation: “Go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee” (Mark 16:7, KJV; emphasis added).
Drawing on Smith’s insights, I discuss this scene in my book, Considering the Cross:
The mention of Peter stands out to me. The last time we heard about Peter was when he denied the Savior three times. If we were reading this account for the first time, we might assume, “It’s too late for Peter. When things looked bad, he denied the Savior—there is no coming back now.” But with the specific inclusion of Peter by the young man at the tomb, we learn that it is not too late. In effect Jesus is saying, “Peter, you’re still on my team!” It wasn’t over for Peter, and it’s not over for us. Christ beckons us to join him, even when we stumble.
On numerous occasions in the Mark’s account, the disciples stumble—and Jesus still reaches out to them. This is important for us today because as modern disciples, we stumble—and Jesus still reaches out to us.
Some of our loved ones are stumbling, which can cause of pain—but we don’t need to worry, Jesus is in control. Sometimes admired church leaders or others will stumble, perhaps causing us to doubt. But are we being patient with ourselves and others? We can continue forward with hope and confidence, knowing that across the centuries many disciples have stumbled, only to be forgiven and make a comeback in the strength of the Lord.
Service and patience are but two of many powerful themes that appear in the Gospel According to Mark. I encourage you to find more. Listening to Max McLean’s performance of this inspired book will take less time than watching a Marvel movie. Give it a listen. Or, try a deep dive into Mark with a study of Julie’s book. Exploring Mark’s witness of the Savior will strengthen your connection with Christ.