The Memoirs of Peter: An Introduction to the Gospel of Mark

Selected Scriptures

Tom Pennington  •  June 1, 2008
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You don't have to know the Pennington family very long to know that in our house we love books. We have relationships with books in our home. And Sheila and I often when we're out will frequent book stores. In fact, we've been known to frequent three different book stores in the process of a 24 hour period, because we love books. We don't love all books however, and there are many books that you see in the book store that are absolutely ridiculous. I don't know if you've been recently, but you walk up to some of the displays there of some of the best sellers, and what you see are a number of biographies, and some of these biographies are written by people in their 30's. And I'm thinking, you know, my life wasn't done when I was 30, at least I hope not. I recently heard that there is a particular person who's well known on television and around who's going to write a biography and she's still in her teens.

Undoubtedly, the most famous biography that has been written is the biographical accounts of Jesus in the gospel records. They are not strictly speaking biographies, as we think of them, but they are intended to communicate the core, the kernel, the essence of who He was, and what He taught, and what He did.

And it's our joy tonight, it's my joy to come to the beginning of a journey; a journey through the life of Jesus Christ. Or more accurately, since we come to Mark's gospel, not even a journey through all of Jesus life, but rather a journey through just three and one-half years; three and one-half years of the most remarkable life that has ever been lived. In fact, it may take me as long to teach through this book as it took Jesus to live it.

Why four? Well, no one account can adequately exhaust the life and character of Jesus Christ. John ends his gospel by saying, "…there are … many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written." There's so much to be said, so no one account can adequately exhaust the person of Jesus Christ. And each account of the life and death of Jesus, that we have in our Bibles, was written in a particular audience and a particular purpose in mind. Each writer chose

the deeds and words of Jesus Christ that would best communicate his main objective or objectives.

As we begin "The Gospel of Mark" tonight, we need to understand several things. We need to understand who this man was, when he wrote, to whom he wrote, and most importantly we need to understand why. We need to fly above the forest, if you will, and get the picture from the treetops of this great book, before we swoop down and look at the individual leaves on each tree. So let's begin, then, to look at this great gospel.

The authorship of the second gospel is anonymous. That is, within the body of this gospel, no one claims to be its author. So the only way to determine the author is to carefully sift through the evidence. You come to the epistles of Paul and it begins, "Paul [to the elders at the church of] Ephesus…" and so forth. You know who wrote it; there's someone within the contents of that letter claiming to be its author. There is no one within the context of the gospel of Mark claiming to be its author. So the only way we can know who the author is, is to sift through the evidence.

I want to look at the evidence in two ways, starting with the external evidence that is evidence that is outside the book itself. Mark's name doesn't appear in the book, but the unanimous testimony of the early church was that Mark was its author. The earliest witness is the title itself. The title "According to Mark" is found in all of the earliest manuscripts of this book that we have. Most scholars believe that the book titles were added in the second century within 100 years or so of Jesus' death and resurrection. But it's possible, and some believe, they were added much earlier, shortly after the books themselves were written. What is clear is that by 125 AD, our earliest records outside the Bible, the early church believed that this second gospel had been written by a man named Mark.

So that's our earliest witness to who wrote this book. A second one comes from a man by the name of Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor. That's Hierapolis, I should say, in Asia Minor, from 70 to 100 AD. He was the first man to write about this. He wrote in a work entitled "Exegesis of Our Lord's Oracles", which we no longer have a copy of. But the church historian Eusebias in 325 AD and his history of the church, quotes from that work and this is what he quotes. So this goes back to around 130 AD. He writes, "And the elder (which is a reference in the context to John the Apostle) "used to say this, 'Mark became Peter's interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not indeed in order, of the things said or done by the Lord.' For he had not heard the Lord, nor had he followed Him, but later on as I said, followed Peter who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making as it were an arrangement of the Lord's Oracles so that Mark did nothing wrong in writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention to leave nothing out of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them." This goes back within a generation, within 30 years of the Apostle John's death.

Now notice four important facts in that quote: Papias' evidence came directly from the Apostle John, Mark wrote the gospel that in Eusebias' time, 200 years later was attributed to Mark, Mark was not an eyewitness, but got his information directly from an eyewitness, that is Peter, he was the interpreter of Peter, and Mark's gospel is written accurately, though not in a typical pattern of an ancient biography. We learned so much from that early quote.

A second quote rather comes from Justin Martyr, who lived between 100 and 165 AD. He argued this, "Mark wrote the memoirs of him and, in context, it refers back to Peter." Irenaeus, just a few years later mentions that both Peter and Paul had preached in Rome and then he writes this, "After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter." Clement of Alexander, in the same basic time period, after Peter had preached in Rome, "Those who heard him asked Mark to write out the messages," Clement said. Tertullian, "That which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter's, whose interpreter Mark was." Origen, again within such a short time of the end of the gospel record, "This second gospel is that according to Mark, who composed it under the guidance of Peter, who there in his epistle acknowledged the evangelist as his son."

And I think Peter may himself have given us a hint that he intended to leave his memoirs of the life of Christ. If you look at 2 Peter, turn there for a moment, Peter's second letter and it is just a hint, we can't be certain, but 2 Peter 1:12, Peter says:

"…I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them…" (so I'm going to remind you) "…as long (verse 13) as I am in this earthy dwelling, [I'm going] to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent…."

So he says I'm going to die, and as long as I'm here, I'm going to keep reminding you of something, but then he says this in verse15, "And I also will be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind."

Some scholars believe that that is a reference to the fact that he intended to record his account of the life of Christ before his death, so that after his death they would be able to remember them. We can't be certain, but when you look at all of the evidence, the conclusion is absolutely clear: from the earliest days of the church, Mark was recognized as the author of the second Gospel, he was known to be a close companion of Peter, and he was considered to be writing Peter's memoirs. There is not a single dissenting voice in the days of the early church. Not one person says otherwise from the very earliest days. That's the external evidence. What about within the book itself? Well, understand that we're talking about the man who is identified as John whose surname was Mark, in Acts 12:12. He appears often in Acts, he is mentioned in four of the New Testament letters and there are several pieces of evidence that link him to this gospel, that confirm the external evidence.

First of all, and this is pretty obvious, but there's nothing in the book that's inconsistent with Mark's being the author. No one else claims to be; it makes sense; his chronology fits the chronology of the book. Secondly, the detail of the accounts that he records points to an eye witness. This also is consistent with the external evidence that Mark wrote for Peter. It makes sense that if Peter was in fact dictating his memoirs to Mark that there would be the feel of an eye witness to the book.

Thirdly, the extremely critical way that the disciples are presented makes us think that an Apostle must of written the book. For example, (we'll see this as we go along) but the disciples are presented as hard hearted, as spiritually weak, and even frankly as a bit dimwitted, as you go through this wonderful gospel. I don't think anyone in the first century church but an apostle would have been so critical of the apostles.

A fourth argument that resides within is that Peter is prominent in the gospel, more than the other gospel accounts. This makes sense if Peter is the one recalling all of these things, because he would have been there. There are even some insights that could have only come from within Peter's mind himself. For example in chapter 11, Mark writes, "[Remembering this] Peter said to him, 'Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered." In chapter 14:72 when, after the denial, a rooster crowed a second time and Peter remembered how Jesus had make the remark to him, and it even quotes exactly what it was that he remembered. So there are those kinds of clues as well.

A fifth line of evidence is fact that this gospel emphasizes those events in Peter's life that show him in the least desirable light and it omits the positive ones. You don't get Peter walking on the water in this gospel. Instead you get Peter, inevitably, sticking his foot in his mouth saying the wrong thing at the wrong time; it's what you would expect from one who had learned humility as he describes it in his epistle. And finally the second gospel follows the flow of Peter's teaching about Christ. I'm not going to take you to Acts 10, but if you were to turn to Acts 10 and look at how Peter lays out the gospel for Cornelius there in Acts 10, you can lay onto that outline the gospel of Mark. It perfectly matches it, and in some of my resources it was interesting to see how clear the parallels are in what Peter lays out and is recorded in short form in Acts 10 as he witnesses the gospel to Cornelius and the entire book of Mark. So there is some real correlation there. So all of those arguments together, certainly the external evidence combined with these things supporting it leads us to believe that Mark is the author of this gospel and so it's appropriate for it to be called "The Gospel According to Mark". But ultimately remember as we go through, it is "The Gospel According to Peter", because Peter was the one who stood behind Mark in his writing.

Now let's briefly go through a biography of this man. He is identified, as I mentioned before, in Acts 12 as John, whose surname was Mark, by the way he's not John Mark, he's never referred to that way in the Scripture, he's either referred to as John who's surname was Mark or Mark but never John Mark. That's just a short hand way that we do it to differentiate him from the John the Apostle. John was a common male Hebrew name; Mark was Latin or the Greek form of the Latin Marcus. It was very common for Greek speaking Jews in that day to take a Latin name and there are a number of examples in the New Testament.

Though he was not an official disciple he was still acquainted with Christ and the life of Christ. Through his own first hand observation, he grew up in a very spacious home in Jerusalem. Apparently, it was a place that Jesus often came, because his mother Mary was a disciple of Jesus. It was Mark's home that was probably the site of the upper room in Mark 14 and in

Acts 1. Many scholars believe that the story that you find in Mark of the young man who fled, you remember, from Gethsemane on the night of the arrest; ran out of his clothes. Remember the story. That story makes no sense in the flow of the gospel. It's not recorded in any other, so most scholars believe that it is sort of little biographical hint that Mark, the author of this gospel, had been there, and had observed the events of that night.

He also had been exposed though not only through his first hand observation but through his companionship with the Apostle Paul. He'd been exposed to the life of Christ. He, you remember, traveled with Paul (we'll touch on that in a minute) and he knew Peter very well. In fact, it was possible that it was Peter who led Mark to Christ. In his letter, rather, he calls Mark "my son", which may be an indication he may be a spiritual son in the faith, and Peter was often a visitor in his home. In fact, if you go to Acts 12, and you read, you remember, when Peter gets out of prison, he's freed by the angel and he shows up at the house there, Mark's house, and the servant girl named Rhoda hears him through the locked door and recognizes Peter's voice and she's certain that it's him, even though they won't believe her. Mark was the cousin of Barnabas, Colossians tells us, and his childhood home, not only was the site of the upper room, but became a center of church activity in Jerusalem according to Acts 12:12.

And so it's not surprising, then, when Paul sets out on his missionary journey with Barnabas that, on that first missionary journey, Mark accompanies them. He had come to faith in Christ and he travels with them. But he soon returned home from Pamphylia in Asia Minor. We're never told why, but it's clear that whatever the reason, Paul didn't think it was a justifiable reason, because on the second journey Barnabas was determined to take Mark, and there was a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas over whether they should take him or not. And Paul said absolutely not, so Paul and Barnabas split ways; you remember, Paul took Silas with him and Barnabas took Mark.

Apparently, however, and this is good news, there was a reconciliation between Paul and Mark. Paul mentions Mark in Colossians. He says "Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas's cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you welcome him)…."

He also mentions him in Philemon: "Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers," he calls them. So at this point, there had been a full reunion and reconciliation and restoration between these two.

It's possible that Mark remained in Rome after Paul left, and joined with Peter when Peter came, and ministered there with Peter. John Mark or Mark whose surname was John is last mentioned in 2 Timothy 4 at the very end of Paul's life. (I love this) he says, "Only Luke is with me. [Timothy,] pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service." That's all we know about this man except for what he has written and we will study together.

When did he write it? Well it's really uncertain, probably before the temple was destroyed, because there's a mention of the temple that it will be destroyed but no record of it in chapter 13:2 which happened in AD 70. Most of the early church fathers have Mark writing during Peter's lifetime and under his direction. So likely in the mid 50's, could have been 65-67, the period when Peter died. We just can't be certain.

But to whom did he write this Gospel? What was his audience, because that makes a difference? It's clear that he wrote from Rome for Roman Christians. There are a number of ways that we know this, internally. There are a lot of Latin expressions instead of Greek ones in the book. He translates Aramaic, which anyone living in the land of Israel would have known, any Jewish person would have known, but he has to translate it because whoever was going to read this Gospel didn't know those things. He omits Jewish elements. He makes fewer references to the Old Testament. He uses the Roman system of time as he describes the various events that occur. He identifies Simon as the father of Alexander and Rufus. You remember at the crucifixion, Simon carries the cross, Simon of Cyrene, and he does that, possibly, for the benefit of the Christians in Rome because those are mentioned in Romans 16:13.

He explains things for us that no Jew would need explained. And he highlights Jesus as a man of action which is exactly the right fit for the Romans. The key word is "immediately". It's used 41 times in Mark's gospel, more than the other gospels combined. He did this immediately, and then He went here and did this immediately. Jesus is a man of action. He presents the Romans in a neutral light, unlike the other gospels, or sometimes even in a favorable light, as we'll see in a moment.

Those are some internal ways that we know to whom he wrote, but there's also an external argument. Clement of Alexander wrote, "When Peter had preached the word publicly in Rome and announced the gospel by the Spirit, those present, of whom there were many, besot Mark, since for a long time he had followed him and remembered what had been said, to record his words. Mark did this and communicated the gospel for those who made requests of him. When Peter knew of it, he neither actively prevented nor discouraged the undertaking, and other accounts say that he, in fact, encouraged it."

So we know who wrote, we know when he wrote as best we can, and we know to whom he wrote. But that brings us to the most important question, and where I want us to spend the rest of our time tonight, and that is why. Why did we need another gospel? What is Mark's purpose? Mark has only a little of Jesus' teaching. Instead, he seems to focus on Jesus' actions, especially on His miracles. D. Edmond Hiebert writes, "What He did (what Jesus did) proved who He was. What He wrought authenticated what He taught." And so he concentrates on what Jesus did. It is also a book keenly interested in the passion of Jesus. Martin Kahler described it, along with the other gospels, as a passion narrative with an extended introduction, which isn't a bad description at all.

But when you look at this gospel there are two primary themes that emerge; two primary themes that I want us to look at in overview tonight. The first is a Christology, a doctrine of Christ: who is He? And the second is the theme of discipleship. Let's look at those two together.

First of all, who is Christ? This book is about Jesus Christ, that's obvious. But it's interesting that when you look at it in great detail you learn that there are only two pericope's, only two paragraphs, in the entire book that are not about Jesus, and they are ones about John the Baptist, at the beginning of the book, and then later in chapter 6. It's about Jesus Christ and the Christology, the doctrine of who this person is, is laid out in the very first verse. Turn to the very first verse of Mark's Gospel. "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

Now look at how Jesus is described in the very first verse of Mark's gospel. He's called Jesus, so he's identified as the historical person who lived at that period of time, in that particular historical place. He's also called Christ. Now understand, I've said this to you before, Christ is not Jesus' last name. It's a word. It's a Greek word that means Messiah. Jesus Messiah is what it means. Mark begins with the very bold claim that Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Jewish Scripture. So the historical Jesus that you have known and heard about around the land of Israel is the Messiah and He is the Son of God. Wouldn't you say that's a fairly bold beginning? But that's where he starts.

So with that in mind, I want us to look at the book's presentation of Jesus Christ and how it hinges on four great confessions. If you want to know what Mark wants you to know about Jesus Christ there are really four great confessions that open up Jesus Christ and who he wants us to see Him as, in this great book. The first confession is Mark's own, here in verse 1,"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

Mark calls Jesus, "Israel's Messiah", and "God's Son". Where did he get that? Where did Mark come to believe that? Well, apparently, he did not before Jesus' death. But this is what His Apostle's, and in this case particularly Peter, believed about Jesus and taught this young man. So when he embraces this fact, when he opens his book with this expression we learn that he has come to embrace this confession as well. That Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. This is even, by the way, what the demonic world believed Jesus to be. Just notice one reference chapter 3:11, "Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, 'You are the Son of God!'"

Jesus demonstrated that divine authority in magnificent ways that we'll see as we go through this book. He is the divine Messiah, the Son of the living God. That was Mark's confession, that's how he begins. That's the thesis he sets out to prove.

There's a second confession and it's the confession of Christ Himself. It's in Mark 2:10. You remember the story of the paralytic being healed and we'll cover this in some detail when we get there. Verse 8: "Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning… within themselves, said to them, 'Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts?'"

What Jesus had done is He'd said to this man who needed healing, "Your sins are forgiven you." And their reasoning, "Wait a minute, He can't forgive sins." Verse 7, "Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?"

So Jesus understood what was going on in their hearts, verse 9:

"Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven'; or to say, 'Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" – He said to the paralytic, "I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home."

Now what's going on here? Jesus [don't miss this] Jesus here lays claim to the prerogatives that belong only to God, the forgiveness of sin. They understood that. Right here they're saying, "Wait a minute, only God can do that." Jesus said, "That's right, your sins are forgiven you."

He also embraces a title that they understood all too well: the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins. What was he claiming? He was claiming a divine title, because the Son of Man goes back to Daniel 7. You don't need to turn there, but this is how it reads, Daniel 7:13, and the Jewish leaders would have known this. Daniel writes,

I kept looking in the night visions,

And behold, with the clouds of heaven

One like a Son of Man was coming,

And He came up to the Ancient of Days

And was presented before Him.

And to Him was given dominion,

Glory, and a kingdom

That all the peoples, nations and men of every language

Might serve Him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion

Which will not pass away;

And His kingdom is one

Which will (endure forever).

Jesus lands on the scene and says, "I am the Son of Man and I have authority to act as God. I'm going to forgive this man's sins."

You say, "How do we know that that's what Jesus intended to communicate"? Well look at some of the other references as to how He uses this phrase, the Son of Man. Look at verse 28 of the same chapter. "So the Son of Man is Lord … of the Sabbath." I am higher than the Sabbath which God commanded you to keep.

Turn over to chapter 8:31: "…He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again." Verse 38, "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him (watch this) when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels."

Notice what He's claiming: He's associating Himself with God as deity. Chapter 9:9 speaks of His rising from the dead, and on it goes, illustration after illustration of how Jesus uses this expression "Son of Man" to speak of His great authority and deity. In fact turn over to one other one. Look at chapter 14:41. He says, "…the Son of Man, (He's still referring to Himself this way, the Son of Man) is being betrayed into the hands of sinners." But the capstone on all of this comes in verse 62 of the same chapter, "Jesus said, '…You shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.'" That is a direct quote from Daniel 7. Jesus is saying, "You know Daniel 7; you know the One who gets the authority equal with God? That is Me. I am the Man. I am the One." So Christ makes this dramatic confession about Himself. "I am that Person that you have read about and that was prophesied by Daniel."

The third confession comes from Peter. Turn over to chapter 8. This is a sort of watershed in the book of Mark. We'll see this when we get there. Mark sort of leads up to this; all of Jesus' public ministry leads up to this great affirmation by Peter. Notice verse 27:

Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, "Who do people say that I am?" They told Him saying, "John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets. And He continued by questioning them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered and said to Him, "You are the [Messiah, Hamashia, the Promised One]." And He warned them to tell no one about Him.

Here is Peter's great confession: "You are the Christ, the Messiah." This is, by the way, a crucial theme of Mark's. Not only does it occur in chapter 1:1 as we saw, and here in Peter's confession in chapter 8, in chapter 9:41, Jesus hints at it again, in chapter 12:35, in chapter 13:21. But the crescendo of it comes back in Mark chapter 14. Look at Mark 14. Here Jesus appears before the Jewish leaders. Verse 60 says:

The high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying, "Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?" But He kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him and saying to Him (very directly, here it comes), "Are You the [Messiah], the Son of the Blessed One?" (Couldn't be more specific than that. Are you the Messiah? That's what he asked Him.) And Jesus said, "I am; and you [will] see (and here's the combination) the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven."

Notice the response in verse 63: "Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, 'What further need do we have of witnesses? You … heard the blasphemy….'" He has made Himself equal with God. He is Israel's Messiah and just in case you aren't sure that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, look at what chapter 15:31 says,

In the same way (this is now at the scene of the crucifixion) the chief priests also, along with the scribes, were mocking Him among themselves…. (They wouldn't even talk to Jesus. This really tears me up about these guys, they won't even talk to Jesus. They are so pious, they're trying to protect their little purity, that they won't talk to Jesus, an innocent man they've just seen condemned to death. Instead, they're kind of talking among themselves about Him like a bunch of, you know, immature adolescents) saying, "He saved others; He cannot save Himself. Let… [Messiah], the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!" Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him.

Listen there is no question that this is exactly what Jesus claimed to be. He claimed to be the Messiah that was promised. But what was this Messiah, the Christ supposed to do? Where was His mission, what was His mission and where was His mission most clearly described? Well, it was in Isaiah's prophecy, in those passages called the songs of the Servant, where there He is called the Servant of Yahweh.

Jesus is prophesied throughout the Old Testament, but when you get to Isaiah's prophecy we finally understand what He's coming to do and it reaches its highpoint in the fourth song of the Servant, where He's called the Servant of Yahweh. And there we're told in Isaiah 53 that He is going to lay down His life as the innocent substitute and sacrificial offering for the sins of those who will believe. In the fourth of those songs, we learn that the Servant will lay down His life; the Messiah will lay down His life as a substitutionary sacrifice. That's why the key verse of Mark comes back to that very theme. He presents Jesus as the Messiah and he presents His mission in these words, Mark 10:45,"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and (to serve in this way) to give His life as a ransom for many."

By the way the word "for" here is a very fascinating Greek word. It's a word which only means "in the place of". He came to give His life, a ransom, in the place of many. That's why He came. That's the mission of the Messiah. And that's why Mark spends so much time dwelling on the crucifixion of Christ: because that's what the Messiah came to do.

That brings us to the fourth and final confession. It's the centurion, a Roman centurion. You see, every crucifixion was overseen by four seasoned veterans of the Roman army, and one of them was usually a centurion. Centurions were the backbone of the Roman army. They were men of courage, men of integrity; but they were career soldiers: hardened, profane men. This man had apparently joined the rest of the men at his cohort that morning, stationed there at the governor's official residence, in mocking Jesus, in striking Jesus, in spitting on Him. And then he oversaw the crucifixion, the driving of the nails into Jesus, he oversaw the whole process. This was one hard man.

But a lot has changed since then. He's watched the intense hatred of the crowd at Jesus. He's seen Jesus remain silent instead of cursing as the crucified usually did. He'd heard all seven of our Lord's last sayings on the cross. And he'd sat in that mysterious black darkness for three hours, thinking, wondering what message the gods might be sending. And then, he had listened, as Jesus had mysteriously just a few hours, six hours into crucifixion, something an ordeal that ordinarily lasted for many hours, even days, and he hears Jesus, after six hours, dismiss His spirit. And, sure enough, He's dead, and at that moment he had felt the earth quake beneath his feet. It's in that scene that we have the crescendo of Mark's gospel. What Mark has been driving to through his entire gospel, and it's left to a Roman centurion, (remember who he's been writing to: Romans), it's left to a Roman centurion to deliver the message. Mark 15:39: "When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, 'Truly this man was the Son of God!'"

He's not just speaking for himself. Matthew tells us the other three soldiers believed as well. Can you imagine what that was like? Can you imagine for a moment that you were that soldier, that you had just participated in the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, with that silly sign over His head, and all these people mocking Him? You have done it. And then, after the man dies. you realize who He really was. You have just executed God's Son. I think you have here a miracle of divine grace. I'm confident that we will see these four men in heaven.

What's amazing about this confession is, it comes from a Roman soldier and it comes only seconds after Jesus (think about this), only seconds after Jesus has died in humiliation and agony as the worst of criminals on a Roman cross, put there by this man. You know what Mark's message is? Nowhere is Jesus' divinity more clearly shown than in what happened in that six hours on the cross. A hardened soldier who crucified Him and watched Him die, by divine grace, came to see it. So Mark presents Jesus to the Romans as Israel's divine Messiah, the Servant of the Lord that Isaiah had prophesied. One who died as the ransom for their sins and was raised from the dead, the divine Son of Man and the Son of God.

It's not really unusual that Mark would present Christ this way to the Romans. The Romans loved seeing someone snatch the victory as it were from the jaws of defeat. Picture the gladiators. One almost overwhelmed by the odds, and then snatching victory as it were from the very mouth of defeat itself. That's exactly what Jesus did on the cross. One author writes, "It's not strange that this servant conception, this remarkable blend of strength and submission, achieving victory through apparent defeat, should appeal to Peter and, for Roman Christians, that heroic figure would have a particular fascination." So the major focus of Mark's gospel is Christ, and who He is, all bound up in these great confessions.

But there's a second theme that weaves its way through the book and I want to look at it just very briefly. It's the theme of discipleship. You see, Jesus was the Servant of Yahweh and you and I are to be the servants of Jesus. We are to follow Him as His slaves. In fact, we are to walk, perhaps, down the same kind of road that Jesus did with its humility and suffering and, possibly, even death. This is a theme to which Mark comes back again and again. And he does so at two strategic points. First of all, in calling his readers to embrace Jesus for all that He claimed to be, becoming His disciple. Look at Mark chapter 8, right after that amazing confession of Peter's. Jesus does something interesting. Verse 34, "…He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and [He] said to [the crowd], 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.'"

He must deny himself. You want to be my disciple? You want to be a true follower of Mine? This is another way of Jesus saying, "you want what I'm offering, you want forgiveness, you want salvation, you want Me, then here's what it costs: you must deny yourself." You see, salvation starts with a decision to say I want nothing to do with the person that I am; I give up my ambitions, I give up everything because I want to follow Christ.

Jesus described it you remember in the parables in Matthew 13, where He talks about the one who finds a treasure buried in a field and finding that treasure he goes and sells everything he has. He holds nothing back he sells everything because why, he wants that treasure that treasure has come to him to be so valuable that nothing else he has, has any value at all. That's what Christ is describing here. You see Jesus Christ and you want Him so badly that there's nothing you have you'll hold back. Deny yourself. You want to be My disciple? Then deny yourself, take up your cross.

It may cost you your life as you've heard it said before, the cross here is not your mother-in-law. The cross was am emblem of death, dying. Jesus was soon to actually be nailed to one. He's saying, "If you follow Me, it may actually cost you your life. It may be a path of physical suffering, but take it up and follow Me. 'For whoever wishes to save his life, will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.'" That amazing enigma, you want to truly save your life? Then give it over, give it to Christ. You want to keep it? You're going to lose it. Why? Verse 36: "For what does it profit a man [if you] gain the whole world, and forfeit [the real you, your soul, the real person]." Your body's just a tent. But you're going to give up your soul. What will a man give in exchange for his soul?

And then He says, verse 38: "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." Do you know what Jesus is saying? Listen, if you're ashamed of Me and My demands, the demands of discipleship that I've just laid out upon you, the words that I've just spoken, then it shows that you're not really wanting to be My disciple at all. This is how you become a disciple.

If you're here tonight and you've never become a disciple of Jesus Christ, you've got to be willing to follow Him, to give up everything to follow Him. That's the cost. But when God opens your eyes to see the beauty of Jesus Christ, it's not even an even exchange. It's not an exchange at all. Do you know what Paul said? He said I count everything I used to value as refuse. The Greek word is "skubalon". It's dung. Everything I used to value has no worth, because I see Jesus Christ. That's how you become a disciple. Many of you sitting here tonight claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ. How does a disciple, once you have become a disciple, how does the gospel of Mark impact our lives.

One last text: look at Mark chapter 10. Right after the whole incident with James and John and their mother, the ten are indignant. Mark 10:42 says:

Calling [the disciples] to Himself, Jesus said to them, "[Listen don't be like the Gentiles who exercise a sort of authoritarian leadership] … it is not this way among you … whoever wishes to become great among you shall [become] your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. (And here it is: this is the context in which that great theological statement occurs) For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

You see, Jesus was teaching us how to be disciples once we have become disciples. Don't think about what you can get. Think about how you can serve others. Become the slave of the people sitting around you and become the slave of Jesus Christ. That's the message of Mark in terms of discipleship.

We're going to see as we journey through this letter, this great book, written to to the Christians there in Rome, to tell them about Christ. We're going to see the beauty of Christ and we're also going to see the demands that He places on us who would follow Him. Let me just ask you as we close our service tonight: how are you really doing, as a slave of Jesus Christ, as His disciple, as His follower? Are you living your own life, making your own choices, even choosing sin? Or have you really freely and willingly denied yourself, taken up your cross, and are committed to following Him whatever the cost may be, and serving people around you. Let's pray together.

Father, we look forward to this journey. We are amazed already at the person of our Lord, at His wisdom, at His beauty, at His glory. Lord, we want so desperately to see Christ in such a way that we, like Paul, could say everything else is dung. Everything else is refuse. We just want Christ. Lord, help us to see Him like that, to learn of Him like that, to be changed as a result of our journey together. We pray in His great name, for His sake, Amen.