Many commentators believe Mark wrote his Gospel to Christians who were suffering (or about to suffer) persecution at the hands of the Roman emperor Nero. Perhaps they were struggling with questions like those above. If so, then Mark’s Gospel was written to give them a basis for faithfulness to Jesus. In this context we may phrase the theme of Mark’s Gospel this way: Following Jesus is worth any cost. Using this week’s Explore the Bible lesson passage, let’s think about the reasons that statement is true. Three key emphases of Mark are introduced in the first chapter of this Gospel.
1. The Person
We follow Jesus for the sake of Jesus. He is worthy of our love and obedience simply because of who He is.
Mark’s Gospel opens with the announcement that Jesus is “the Son of God” (1:1). A few verses later, at the outset of Jesus’ public ministry, God Himself affirmed Jesus is His eternal Son (1:9-11). Look at a few of the details surrounding this event:
- Jesus was “baptized in the Jordan by John.” If John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1:5), and Jesus had no sin, then why was He baptized? It was a way for Him to identify with the sinners He came to save, but also a symbol of the death and resurrection by which He would save them. The full significance of Jesus’ baptism will take the whole of the gospel story—His death and His resurrection—to explain.
- Jesus “saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” The same word translated “torn” is used again at His crucifixion when God tore the temple curtain from top to bottom, signifying that the way to God was opened for all people through Christ (Mark 15:38). Like bookends at the beginning and end of His earthly ministry, “the heavens being torn open” reveal that God’s plan for the salvation of sinners was Jesus.
- “A voice came from heaven: ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased.’” The phrase, “You are my beloved Son,” is an allusion to Psalm 2:7, a messianic psalm describing the coronation of a king. The nations are His inheritance and the ends of the earth are His possession (Ps. 2:8). “Pay homage to the Son” (Ps. 2:12) says the psalm, because He is worthy. The second phrase spoken by the voice from heaven, “with you I am well-pleased,” alludes to Isaiah 42:1. Isaiah 42 describes the suffering servant who would be “pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5).
At Jesus’ baptism, the divine voice from heaven declared Jesus as God’s Son, our Savior, and eternal King. He is worthy!
2. The Message
Jesus’ identity is one major theme of Mark’s Gospel; Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God is another one. The phrase “kingdom of God” is used 14 times in the Second Gospel.
Jesus started His public ministry “proclaiming the good news of God” (1:14). He proclaimed good news and He is the good news. The content of Jesus’ gospel was that in Him “the kingdom of God has come near” (v. 15). Many who heard Jesus preach misunderstood what kind of kingdom He came to establish (John 18:36). Jesus didn’t come to establish a political kingdom but to rule hearts and to change lives. The foundational proclamation “Jesus is Lord” is a proclamation of Jesus’ kingship.
On the basis of His authority, Jesus has the right to call for a response—“repent and believe.” The right response to Jesus’ kingdom message is not only to believe its truthfulness but to submit to the authority of the King. He is worthy!
3. The Calling
A third theme of Mark is the nature and requirements of discipleship.
In Mark 1:16-20, Jesus invited Simon, Andrew, James, and John to follow Him. The call of Jesus to “follow me” is not merely an invitation to live by a new code of moral conduct. It is a call to a relationship—“to be with him” (3:14), to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (8:34). The first disciples responded without hesitation, leaving everything behind because they were persuaded Jesus was worth it.
Jesus is worthy of being followed. This is the theme of Mark’s Gospel. As we walk through this study, may we see with greater clarity not only what it means to follow Jesus but why He is worth it.
Mike Livingstone works at Lifeway Christian Resources as content editor for Explore the Bible materials.