Down and Dirty
the second living creature was like an ox(Revelation 4:7)
As we open the pages to the Gospel of Mark, we notice something immediately. There is no Genealogy. No nativity narrative, no miraculous birth, no reference to Bethlehem, or adoration of the wise men, as in Matthews Gospel. There is no childhood appearance at the Temple in Jerusalem, no childhood at Nazareth, no subjection to His parents, no increase in wisdom and stature, as in Lukes Gospel. In fact, there seems to be absolutely no interest in Jesus pedigree or royal lineage. There is no reference to His pre-existence and Divine glory, as in Johns Gospel. No, none of these things are of primal interest to Mark. Mark has no time for lengthy discourse like that of Matthew or Luke, there is too much to be done, or rather too much to be written about what Jesus has done.
The Gospel of Mark is more like a shooting script, a graphic perspective of eyewitnesses: names, times, numbers, locations. It is the Gospel of vividness. Graphic, striking phrases occur frequently to allow the reader to form a mental picture of the scene described. It is the Gospel of action, moving rapidly from one scene to another. The Gospel of Mark is like a motion picture of the life of Jesus. Marks frequent use of the Greek imperfect tense, denoting continuous action, also moves the narrative at a rapid pace. It is believed that Mark wrote down the contents of this Gospel as it was dictated to him by Peter. Peter was a man of action, and as such, the portrait that we are presented with consistently and thoroughly throughout this Gospel is that of Jesus, a man of action, a man of service, a beast of burden, i.e. the ox.
As Mark puts his brush to the canvas, he begins by painting Jesus and the importunity of service. The scene opens on the riverbank of the Jordan, to capture the motivation of all that is about to be played out before us. As the lights come up on the stage, we hear the voice of one crying in the wilderness. It is the voice of John the Baptist, quoting the testimony that One was coming, who would baptize not only with water, but with the Holy Spirit. Theres no panoramic view of all those who had came out to the desert to be baptized, as is shown in the other Gospels. No tax collectors, no Sadducees, no soldiers, there stands only Jesus, the true servant of God.
Without further prologue, Mark passes directly to Jesus own ministry, in accordance with his opening line, The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1). As Andrew Jukes points out, It is this "Gospel, this ministry or service, which St. Mark is about to draw; and, omitting what does not bear on this, he comes straight to the details of this ministry. Then here is no Sermon on the Mount. The laws of the kingdom would be out of place, for the Servant, not the King, is here manifested. Here is no "Our Father," which, so full of character in St. Matthew and St. Luke, as illustrating the wants and relationships both of the Jew and Gentile, is here omitted as having no special bearing on the path of service. For the same reason we have here no lengthy discourses, and but few parables; for the service here is rather doing than teaching. There are both, but the mind of the Spirit seems to be occupied more with the former of these than with the latter. Doing, and toiling, and serving the needy is far humbler work than teaching.
As such, there are only four parables in this Gospel, each of which fits precisely with Marks emphasis on the servant, his actions, and his heart. Interestingly, though the amount of discourse, teaching and parables are significantly fewer compared with the corresponding chapters of the other Gospels, the details of service are given far more meticulously.
Mark portrays Jesus as a man of great action. Yet, in the midst of all the motion, Mark is very intentional to make sure that we dont miss the action-behind-the-action. It is of unprecedented importance to Mark, that we understand the motivation to and the power of the service rendered by Jesus. Therefore, before the first task is embarked upon, the first act of service in progress, he pauses for a snap-shot into the heart of the servant, his primary motivation for the actions that will follow. And acts of service to this multitude can only effectively be accomplished as one fully understands that it is not by service that we are made sons, but by sonship that we become servants. To this end, as mentioned, the opening line states, The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Notice, then the climax of the opening scene down by the river as Jesus demonstrates his dependence and surrender in baptism. Then a voice came from heaven, You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. For Jesus, it was the approbation, acceptance and the approval of the Father that was the central motivation and influencer of His acts of service. This is an essential principle for all of us to orient our lives from: My acceptance by the Father produces my action for the Father; rather than my actions for the Father produce my acceptance by the Father. Though this principle is the only sure footing for our works, actions, ministries, and service, it is a challenging one, because it is the exact opposite of most of the earthly models presented to us.
Deep inside, almost automatically it seems there is an intense desire and a secret longing to hear the words, This is my beloved son/daughter, in whom I well pleased. Yet, how many of us have strived at petty accomplishments to obtain the attention, approval and admiration of others? Many are they that strive and strive only to never hear or feel such qualities emanated from another. Even if acceptance is achieved through such measures, the energy expended to maintain it is that of keeping a house of cards standing during a sand storm. Few are they that escape the entrapment of this addiction to approval and praise of others. In fact, it sometimes seems, the more successful we become, the more susceptible to entrapment we become. Listen to what one of Americas most affluent, influential and popular voices confessed,
I discovered I felt worthless, and certainly not worthy of love, unless I was accomplishing something. I suddenly realized I have never felt I could be loved just for being.(Oprah Winfrey)
Or, perhaps what one of the most famous icons of the Twenty-First Century,
My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. Thats always been pushing me, pushing me. Because even though Ive become somebody, I still have to prove that Im SOMEBODY. My struggle has never ended, and it probably never will.(Madonna)
Jesus operated from a different paradigm. He didnt die on the cross to prove Himself the Son of God, He died because He was the Son of God. Jesus was able to endure the cross because He knew He was beloved of the Father. And, now His desire is to silence the subtle-unconscious voice that echoes deep within many people heads telling them that if only_______ people would love you and God would be pleased with you.Portraits of Jesus
Take a few moments and do the following exercise.Circle the letter (A or B) to indicate which statement you believe to be true:
1. A. Justification is a single act of God for us.
B. Justification is an ongoing work of God in us. ,
2. A. Justification means "to make righteous." B. Justification means "to decl