|Come on, come on, come on, feel it!|
Here is a five minute video I made that covers introductory matters and the first chapters: Mark Video One
Or, if you don’t want to watch the video, here are the highlights:
Roadmap for Mark:
Mark’s gospel unveils the identity of Jesus for us in a systematic fashion, as his book can be divided into six parts that all highlight one identity of Jesus. They are:
Jesus the Teacher: Mark 1:16-4:34
Jesus the Prophet: 4:35-6:30
Jesus the Messiah: 6:31-8:30
Jesus the Son of Man: 8:31-10:45
Jesus the Son of David:10:46-13:37
Jesus the Son of God: 14:1-16:8
(I got this structure from Richard Peace's Conversion in the New Testament, page 123.)
Mark invites his reader to move with the disciples and the crowds as they discover who Jesus is, with an eye of course on getting them to recognize him as the Son of God (which he tells us up front!). Note that as the disciples and crowd discover these identities they find Jesus’ challenges to them grow as well. From following him, to trusting him, to serving his mission, to denying themselves, to risking arrest by being with him and beyond, there is a correspondence between knowledge of who Jesus is and responsibility to act on it.
In the first chapters of Mark Jesus is perceived by the crowd and disciples to be a teacher of great significance. The heart of Jesus’ teaching is the "Kingdom of God." Jesus announces that the Kingdom has arrived with his ministry, and that people who put their faith in Jesus' message can begin living in the kingdom through the process of repentance. In ancient history and biography, a character’s first words are often a summation of their core message, so we can assume that wherever Jesus goes in Mark’s gospel his focus is on sharing the message that the “Kingdom has drawn near” and that people can “repent and believe” to receive it.
Note: When we hear the phrase “Kingdom of God,” we should think “rule/reign of God.” God’s authority and rule is being revealed through the ministry of Jesus, and those who follow Him are given the opportunity to learn to live with God as their King. Of course, this was the hope and desire of faithful Israelites, who were waiting for God’s rule to be established in Israel in a definitive fashion.
From the very beginning the call to be a disciple of Jesus (someone following Jesus to learn to imitate him) was a call to mission. Jesus’ first words to his future disciples let them know they will “fish for men” (1:17) After Jesus draws a crowd at Simon's (Peter) house (1:29-39) he wakes up early the next morning to pray and leave. This is Jesus’ standard operating procedure. He is always going to people who have not received the gospel of the Kingdom, with an intention to reveal the Kingdom and invite them to receive it (reveal and invite are key words for us!)… and his disciples are always doing this with him! The point is, discipleship and mission cannot be separated. Mission is context in which discipleship happens, and discipleship equips disciples for further mission. To be a disciple of Jesus is to participate in the mission of Jesus!
Note: Many people associate the concept of "imitation" with discipleship, and rightly so. However, many people only consider this imitation along the lines of character. That is, we want to be like Jesus in terms of being merciful, generous, truthful, etc. However, imitation should also include actions! I would argue that the most common action that Jesus takes in the gospels is to be with, train, teach and empower his followers. The point is, that if we are trying to imitate Jesus, we also should be working to be with, teach and empower others to do the same!
A final takeaway from this first section is that understanding Jesus’ announcement about the Kingdom is a prerequisite to all that follows. If one does not understand the nature of the call then one cannot “repent and believe the good news.” So while many in the church are absolutely correct in emphasizing that faith is more than simply intellectual understanding, it is certainly a irreplaceable piece of discipleship.