This year we are going to study the Gospel of Mark. Our theme for 2017 is “Who do you say I am?” Jesus asked his disciples this question about half way through the story. It is the turning point of the Gospel. All the stories of Jesus up to this question are then understood by who Jesus really is. So, we are going to begin to work through the Gospel gathering up stories about Jesus AND then we are going to be ready to answer his question… “Who do you say I am?”
I am excited about what we are going to discover in the Gospel of Mark. I pray that along this journey, who Jesus is will make a difference in our lives. I am anxious to get started.
But, before we can get started, there are some things you need to know. In order to get as much out of Mark as possible we need to have some background; some setting; some context.
This morning I have for you an Introduction to the Gospel of Mark. Excited? It is going to be a bit boring. So, pretend you are in high school history class and you need this information for a test.
Let’s start with the Who…
Last week, I became John Mark. Nowhere in the words of the Gospel does Mark identify himself as the writer. I think the only mention of himself is the kid who ran away naked.
Here is why I think John Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark…
Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis, in 140 AD quotes from an earlier person named the Elder…
The Elder said this also: Mark, who became Peter’s interpreter, wrote accurately, though not in order, all that he remembered of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had neither heard the Lord nor been one of his followers, but afterwards, as I said, he had followed Peter, who used to compose his discourses with a view to the needs of his hearers, but not as though he were drawing up a connected account of the Lord’s sayings. So Mark made no mistake in thus recording some things just as he remembered them. For he was careful of this one thing, to omit none of the things he had heard and to make no untrue statements therein.
The simple answer is… the early church fathers, in the 2nd century, believed John Mark was the author. That is not very long from the actual writing… I trust them.
--It is unlikely that the early church would have assigned the authorship of a Gospel to a person of secondary, and even “questionable” history as John Mark since he was not an apostle, unless he actually wrote it.
--Luke may have developed John Mark in the book of Acts not only for his role in history, but because he was a source which Luke used. I makes sense.
So, John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, the traveling companion of Paul, the one who deserted them and then redeemed himself, was the writer of the Gospel of Mark.
Who?? John Mark.
Now let’s do the… When.
Follow the logic.
--If Mark wrote for Peter and Peter was martyred by Nero in 68 AD. Then it most likely was written about that time or shortly after.
--I think Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source for their Gospels and they were most likely written around 70 AD, then 68 works.
--I going to say 68 AD because that was a cool year. You can’t argue with that.
So we have the who?? John Mark
We have when?? 68 AD
Look how much you’ve learned already. We are just getting started.
Let’s do the… Where.
It was written in Rome to Romans, sort of.
ESV 1 Peter 5:13 She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.
Babylon is the code for Rome. Before Peter’s death, Mark is there in Rome writing for him.
If you read the words of the Gospel of Mark carefully, looking for this kind of stuff, you would find… That it was written to a Roman, not a Jewish or even Greek audience…
1. Aramaic expressions are translated. There are a half a dozen of these, such as…
ESV Mark 5:41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, "Talitha cumi," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise."
2. Jewish customs are explained a few times.
ESV Mark 15:42 And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath,
3. Roman reckoning of time is used in several places.
ESV Mark 6:48 …about the fourth watch of the night he came to them,
4. Mark, alone, identifies Simon of Cyrene as the father of Alexander and Rufus.
ESV Mark 15:21 And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.
ESV Romans 16:13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord;
5. There are only a few Old Testament quotations or references in Mark. Roman Christians would not have cared much about the Old Testament. Not like Matthew’s Jewish audience for sure.
6. Mark does not include a genealogy as Matthew and Luke do, because that would not mean much to a Roman audience.
7. The tone of the Gospel is encouraging to Roman believers who were encountering persecution.
ESV Mark 8:34-38 And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
It was written in Rome to Romans, sort of.
Let me tell you why I say… sort of.
The very nature of a Gospel is to be shared. It is good news. It is the good news of Jesus Christ the Son of God! At the core the Gospel is meant to be taken to the whole world. 1 Peter, which was written a little earlier than Mark, pretty much just tells the same audience to be brave under persecution, Because it is a gospel and not a simple letter, means it has a bigger audience in mind. The whole world needs to take up the cross and follow Jesus.
So, let’s say, it is written in Rome to Romans… it is also written the whole Roman world… it is also written to survive beyond 68 AD. It is also written to the folks in Los Alamos, New Mexico in 2017… The message to be a fearless disciple, because of who Jesus is, still resonates today.
Who?? John Mark
When?? 68 AD
Where?? In Rome to Romans, sort of. That sort of includes us.
Now let’s do the… Why.
On a hot and windy night in July of 64 AD a fire broke out in a crowed suburb of Rome. It burned for 9 days. The fire spread through the narrow, twisting, closely packed together apartments. In this lower area of Rome there were no open areas or temples, the fire spread out of control. Nearly half of Rome was destroyed.
Nero heard the news from his Palace at Antium. Nero rushed back to Rome just in time to see his Palatine Palace in flames. His newly built mansion, the Domus Transitoria, was nothing but a pile of smoldering ashes. Nero immediately organized a team of firefighters and provided shelter for the panic stricken people who had been left homeless.
Some say Nero ordered the fire in order to build a new palace.
Some say arsonists started the fire to be able to loot.
It was most likely just an accident.
But Nero needed a scapegoat. The Senate was suspicious. The people pointed their fingers at Nero. So, Nero blamed the already unpopular Christians. Nero rounded up Christians. Some he imprisoned. Some he murdered. Nero persecuted Christians in Rome. Accounts differ, but evidently many Christians were killed over the next four years.
--Paul was among those killed. Paul was a Roman citizen, so he was beheaded.
--Peter was crucified upside down in the last year of Nero’s reign… in 68 AD.
--Just after Peter’s death, because he could not change people’s belief that he had set the fire, Nero, at age 30, took his own life… with a knife to his own neck… in 68 AD.
Perhaps, there is one more thing you should know, to help with the why…
In 66 AD, two years after the fire and two years before Nero’s death, the Jews in Israel rebelled against Rome… against Nero.
According to Josephus…
The First Jewish Revolt was the result of a long series of clashes in which small groups of Jews resisted the Romans. In the fall of 66 AD the Jews combined in revolt, expelled the Romans from Jerusalem. The Jewish army ambushed the Romans in the pass of Beth-Horon. The XII Roman Legion was destroyed. The Jews won a great victory. A revolutionary Jewish government was then set up which extended its influence throughout Israel.
But the rebellion was short lived. Vespasian, a Roman general, was dispatched by Nero to crush the rebellion. He was joined by his son, Titus, and together the Roman armies entered Israel. They crushed the Jews.
By the year 68 AD, Jewish resistance in the north was crushed. Vespasian methodically proceeded to cleanse the country of the rebellion. Based on numbers from Josephus, the historian, it has been estimated the Romans killed or sold into slavery 100,000 Jews.
68 AD was a year of instability in the Empire after Nero’s death. 3 men attempted to be the next Emperor unsuccessfully. Vespasian returned to Rome in 69 AD to take his shot at being the next Emperor. Vespasian took several years to gain control as the Emperor. It was a scary time for Christians.
Titus finished up his work in Israel by sieging Jerusalem. In 70 AD Jerusalem fell. It was burned to the ground. The Temple was totally destroyed.
The first Jewish War had several consequences for the Christians in Rome.
--Christians were often lumped in with Jews. They were hated like terrorists by the Romans.
--Rome was upset with all of them, Jews and Christians.
--This struggle fully separated the Jews and Christians into separate religious groups.
--Jerusalem was on the edge of being destroyed when Mark wrote his Gospel.
So... Why did Mark write his Gospel? The Christians in Rome who were experiencing hatred and active persecution needed the message of Who Jesus is… so they could be fearless disciples.
The Who?? John Mark
The When?? 68 AD
The Where?? In Rome to Romans, sort of.
And the Why?? Christians were being persecuted in Rome.
Now, let’s add the… What… What was it like to be Christian in Rome in 68 AD?
--The church in Rome began immediately. We know there were people in Jerusalem from Rome on the day of Pentecost when the church began. They went home to begin the church there.
--We know from Paul’s letter to the Romans that the church was doing well, years before 68 AD.
--We know that there were both Jews and Gentiles as part of the Roman church.
--We know the church was mostly the lower classes of society. There were some nobles, but mostly, the church in Rome, were slaves and lower class subjects.
--We know they were called atheists.
Because they would not participate in public games, in public sacrifices, or willingly in the military, and because they steadfastly maintained a monotheistic approach to religion, Jews and Christians in Rome were seen as not merely antisocial and unfriendly but in fact atheists. It is unlikely that the Romans overlooked the political and military problems associated with the Jews of Palestine in the development of their opinions about Christians. It is this dark and dangerous context in which Mark wrote his Gospel to Roman Christians. --Ben Witherington III
--We know they were accused of being cannibals… “Drink the blood and eat the body of Christ” was misunderstood.
--We know they were blamed for offending the gods.
Christians were despised by most Romans.
Christians were an easy scapegoat for Nero.
The Who?? John Mark
The When?? 68 AD
The Where?? In Rome to Romans, sort of.
The Why?? Christians were persecuted in Rome.
What was it like?? They were despised by most Romans.
Let’s wrap up our introduction to Mark with this summary.
In the tumultuous year of 68 AD, John Mark, at the death of Peter, wrote a Gospel about Jesus Christ in order to encourage persecuted Roman Christians to be fearless disciples.
Now we are ready. Next week we begin in chapter one of the Gospel of Mark, with a challenge to answer… Who do you say I am?
January 15, 2017
Los Alamos Church of Christ