Motivations from Mark

Here's an interesting event that happened in a youth group. A young man was taken out of a room of other teens, blindfolded, and told that when he returned he could do anything that he wished . Those in the room had been told to shout instructions to him from their seats.  When he entered the room, there was lots of noise as all the other young people tried to persuade him to do something. The blindfolded young man was confused and stood paralyzed not knowing what to do or who to follow.  Then the young man was removed from the room, and a new challenge was explained to those in the room.  This time, only two other young people could speak to him, and they could stand close to him, but they could not touch him.  One of them was trying to get the young man to climb up some stairs and then give a hug to an instructor who was standing at the top.  The other person tried to get the young man to do anything else but climb up the stairs.  This time the blindfolded young man clearly understood that two different sets of instructions were being given, but he didn't know who to trust.  Sometimes he would start heading to the stairs, and then stop and go in an opposite direction.  After more indecision, he was removed out of the room again.  This next time, one slight change was made: the person who was trying to get the young man to go up the stairs was permitted to touch him.  When he entered the room again, the same people as before began shouting opposite instructions.  Again he vacillated until the person telling him to go to the stairs came up and put his arm around him on his shoulder, spoke directly in his ear, and started walking and nudging him toward the stairs.  The young man yielded immediately to his instruction and guidance. After getting about half way to the stairs, all the other young people in the room began shouting in unison, “Don't go! Don't go! Don't go!”, but the guide kept urging him on.  He paused for a moment, but then kept going and began to climb up the stairs. When they got to the top of the stairs, the guide told him to hug the instructor that was before him.  He did so, and the room exploded with clapping and cheers.  Here's the point in the instructor's words: “ ... it became apparent that if our message [of the Gospel] is to be heard, we cannot shout it from the ... confines of our church buildings. We must venture out and draw close to those with whom we wish to communicate.  If we really seek a life-changing commitment from our young people, we also must reach out where they are and in love, gently touch them, and [guide] them to that commitment.  We must reach them, touch them, and guide them!  An instructor asked the volunteer why he followed the one with the vital message, the one who touched him.  After a few moments he said, 'Because it felt like he was the only one who really cared'" (K. Davis).

The Gospel of Mark begins by saying that it is “the good news” about Jesus (1:1), and it ends by showing that this “good news” is being preached everywhere by Jesus' disciples (16:20).  Here's some background about Mark that might be helpful.  Mark was written to a Gentile audience.  This can be affirmed because Mark translates Aramaic terms in 7 passages and explains Jewish customs in 4 passages; this would not have been necessary if he had written to Jews.  There are 9 passages where Latin terms are used, and there are 5 verses where Latin idioms are translated into Greek, and this again points to Mark's readers as being Gentiles.  Early church tradition has references to Mark writing for the Romans or for the Egyptians.  Some scholars think that the reference to Rufus in 15:21 (maybe the same Rufus mentioned in Romans 16:13) and the reference to Roman coins in 12:42 tips the scales towards a Roman audience more than Egyptian one.  Early church tradition also says that John Mark was Peter's helper in Rome and that Mark's gospel is based on Peter's preaching.  When you compare Peter's sermons in Acts with Mark, you find some interesting similarities!  So what was the purpose of Mark's gospel?  This is difficult question to answer because Mark does not explicitly say why he wrote, unless “gospel” is an assertion.  Since this is the case, all kinds of reasons have been given by scholars: some think he wrote to correct a false doctrine; some think he wrote to try to calm a controversy; some think he wrote to encourage Christians under persecution.  A few scholars believe that Mark wrote to provide an evangelistic tool to try to convert Gentiles—the good news about Jesus in a written form that provided a new way for Christians to share their faith.  It would be the first attempt then to share the Gospel through writing.  This scholar's comment is accurate: “The purpose of the gospel seems to be primarily evangelistic. It is an attempt to bring the person and work of Christ before the public as a new message ... without assuming much knowledge of theology or Old Testament teaching on the part of the hearer. [There are very few references to the Old Testament.]  Its brief [stories], its [memorable] sentences, its pointed applications of truth are just what a street preacher would use in telling Christ to a promiscuous crowd. ... it gives a picture of Christ that is factual and inescapable” (Tenney).  Mark also wants his readers to be evangelistic. How does he communicate this?  Well, it's interesting that one of the most used words in Mark is the word “disciple”.  The disciples follow Jesus almost immediately as this gospel opens.  Then throughout the rest of Mark's gospel, we see them always in the background “watching, learning, reacting, and gradually being molded into the focused community who will become the spearhead of the new movement of the kingdom of God after Jesus has gone” (France).  You see, Mark “sets those first disciples before his readers as a guide to their own following of Jesus” (Ibid).  In Mark's gospel, those disciples see many miracles; hear Jesus tell them over and over that He must die and rise again and that they will abandon Him when He is arrested.  Jesus had predicted this; Mark 14:27 states: “Then Jesus said to them, 'All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: “I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”'” And then He adds something very interesting: “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”  Jesus not only predicts their downfall but also their regrouping!  The disciples probably didn't grasp what He was saying because they were too busy defending themselves that they would not stumble.  After Mark shows that Jesus' death is an injustice brought about by envious religious leaders, and the disciples are scattered, and Jesus is buried, we come to the conclusion of Mark's gospel in chapter 16.  In the previous parts of the Gospel, Jesus has been seen as the misunderstood Servant and suffering Servant predicted by Isaiah, but now He is about to be seen as the Triumphant Servant, and His disciples are brought back into the picture again, which provides some profound teachings or motivations for those Christians who first read Mark's gospel and for us as well!

Note the words in 16:6-7: “But he [an angel] said to them [the women who had come to the tomb], 'Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.'”  Tell His disciples, and be sure to tell Peter.  This is a new fraternity!  Oh yes, they had all known each other before, but now all of them had something in common.  They had all experienced Jesus' forgiveness!  Jesus was calling them again to regroup, despite their desertions and denials.  They all knew that they didn't deserve such grace, but what an exhilarating feeling it was to know that He was calling them again and welcoming them back to be with Him!  And Peter probably shed some quiet tears!  That new fraternity that Jesus offered those disciples can be yours as well.  Have you deserted Him?  Have you even denied Him?  Has He been about as dead to you as He was to those disciples?  Take heart, just as He welcomed His disciples back, He's ready to welcome you back as well!  Now if Jesus forgave like that, aren't we as disciples to imitate Him?  Paul answers this way in Ephesians 4:32: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”  In the new fraternity, forgiveness must be a continual reality because, like those disciples of old, we too have all fallen short of the glory of God and done those things contrary to what Jesus would have us do.  A new fraternity—a forgiving people!

He is going before you into Galilee,” and here's a new continuity. Just as He had always led them in the past, so He was now ready to lead them into the future.  And what had Jesus displayed in the past?  That He was the one who came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).  The Triumphant Servant was ready to lead them once again in paths of service.  He was ready to take up where He had left off and serve once again.  Other gospels show us how He ministered to these disciples during the 40 days before His ascension: He reassures Thomas; He explains the prophetic Scriptures to them; He challenges Peter; He makes them all breakfast; He makes great promises.  Now the disciples also needed to imitate the Triumphant Servant and serve one another.  As He had ministered to them, now they must learn to be good ministers to all as well.  And isn't that our calling as well?  Aren't we to be servants of one another and to all?  For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use your opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13), and “do good to all” (Galatians 6:10). “Make me a servant, Lord, make me like You.  For you were a servant; make me one too.  Mold me and shape me, do what you must do.  So make me a servant, Lord, make me like You.”  A new continuity—a serving people!

Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene, but when she told the disciples, notice the response in verse 11: “And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.” Then Mark tells us that Jesus appeared to two disciples, and when they reported to the rest of the disciples, notice their response again in verse 13: “but they did not believe them either.”  In verse 14, Jesus appears to the eleven while they were eating and rebukes them for their hardness of heart and unbelief!  Now here's a new credibility!  It is interesting that after Peter's confession in chapter 8 that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus began to tell them several times that He was going to die and to rise (8:31; 9:30-32; 10:32-34). One commentator rightly observed: “Mark's paradoxical story thus invites us to think God's thoughts, not human thoughts, and when we begin to do so it will come as no surprise to find that the end was not after all the end, and that the promise of resurrection which was the barely noticed [ending] to each of Jesus' passion predictions is the only possible way forward.  The story has only just begun” (France). Yes, the disciples had heard those statements time and time again, but only now with Jesus' rebuke did they begin to register.  His death, which seemed to be the end, was really the beginning!  The new era of His promised kingdom was about to start!  All His prophetical predications about His resurrection were accurate and believable now.  Now all his other predictions would also come true: there would be false teachers (13:5 and 22); the Holy Spirit will help them to speak up for Jesus (13:11); Jesus will come again in great power and glory so they much be watching (13:26 and 35)!  Now just as sure as He was alive and standing before them all regrouped, exactly as He had predicted earlier, so all those promises in chapter 13 would be fulfilled as well!  His prophecies are now truly believable!  This is why I say a new credibility.  What about us?  Do we really believe Him?  Do we believe that He will help us in our efforts and that He will come again one day to gather together all the righteous?  Do we believe that He can offer us the best quality of life here and the greatest eternal reward in the hereafter?  If He fulfilled His prophecies with His disciples, He can certainly fulfill His prophecies to us as well!  A new credibility—a believing people!

And then Jesus tells His disciples something truly incredible in verses 15-16: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”  So many times in Mark's account, He tells the disciples and others NOT to tell about Himself and His work (1:44; 5:43; 7:36; 8:30).  They had viewed His being Messiah as political and limited to Israel.  Now they were beginning to understand that it was spiritual and international!  This was a new responsibility!  Now they were to speak up and tell all people the good news!  And what good news it was: Jesus is the triumphant Servant, death does not have the last word, God's kingdom will win over the forces of evil, divine forgiveness is real, and eternal life is possible!  Jesus states a truth here that is very plain—there are only two kinds of people in this world according to Him—a person is either saved or condemned.  There is no middle ground.  They are followers of Jesus or followers of Satan.  They are in God's kingdom or the Devil's kingdom.  Our job's are to be proclaimers and rescuers, to help others escape from the kingdom of darkness and evil and become a part of the kingdom of light and righteousness.  Preach the gospel—that's what Peter did, that's what Mark was doing with his new “gospel” message, and that's what Jesus challenges His disciples to do, and it is our challenge as well!  How can we sit Sunday after Sunday in this building and not share with those around us that great news that we mentioned just a moment ago? As I asked in a recent previous sermon: “Are we going to be fishers of men or keepers of the aquarium this year?” A new responsibility—a preaching people!

Now read the next exciting information in verse 19: “So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God!”  The Bible says that Enoch was “translated” into heaven, and Elijah was “taken up” into heaven, but only one human has ever ascended and been received up into heaven—and that's Jesus!  He truly is the King of Kings!  This is the ultimate political statement; Jesus is in “the White House” of all the universe!  God is still reigning over this world, and Jesus is right there beside Him in the seat of imperial authority.  And He's just waiting and longing to help those who will call on Him!  This is a new sovereignty!  And with such a sovereignty on our side, what can we do?  We can dream big things!  Didn't Peter say in his first sermon: “Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17)?  What are your dreams for the Prescott Church of Christ?  Do we want more members?  Do we want more ethnic groups?  Do we want to help others through more service?  Do we want to have more missionaries?  Do we want to be more evangelistic?  Do we want to have more influence for good?  “Oh, Bro. Paul, now don't get carried away there.  Having all those things would be almost impossible!”  O beloved brethren, remember this truth: Jesus' specialty of the house is impossibility!  Think about His miracles in Mark: power over nature, power over demons, power over diseases, power over distance, power over death!  If He arose from the grave and is now seated next to God's own throne, would anything be impossible for Him?  Brothers and sisters, dream big dreams and pray big prayers for the Exalted One wants to become involved in our world!  The apostle Paul puts it this way: “I pray ... that you might know ... what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named ... Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think [are you dreaming yet], according to the power that works in us [yes, it can work right here and right now], to Him be glory in the church [that's us] by Christ Jesus [that's the exalted One] to all generations, forever and ever! Amen!” (Ephesians 1:18-21 and 3:20-21).  A new sovereignty—a dreaming people!

And then Mark finishes with this great passage: “And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.”  Bless their hearts, those disciples obeyed the Lord and started proclaiming that great news everywhere.  And then notice the next five words: “The Lord working with them!”  Remember what “grow” means: God Rewards Our Work.  When we will be obedient to His marching orders and do our part, you can always count on Jesus to jump in and do His part.  Evangelism is always a team effort!  Now that's a new security!  Those apostles in the first century faced some tough audiences; they stood before the Jewish Supreme Court, before kings and proconsuls, before pagans who worshiped Zeus, Mercury, Artemis, and other Roman gods, before die-hard synagogue rulers and hostile Jews, before philosophers, before magicians and fortune-tellers, and before common people who had little faith (that sure sounds a lot like the diversity of people that we work with too, doesn't it?).  And Jesus was right there along side them in every situation.  “And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age or all history” (Matthew 28:20).  It's hard sometimes for us to remember His presence since we can't see Him, but He promises us that He will be present to help work with us as well.  A new security—a trusting people!

What good news Mark shares with us in this last chapter through the disciples!  A new fraternity—a forgiving people!  A new continuity—a serving people!  A new credibility—a believing people!  A new responsibility—a preaching people!  A new sovereignty—a dreaming people!  A new security—a trusting people!  The disciples didn't let Jesus down; they went everywhere proclaiming the good news!  Will we?  Will we accept that challenge presented in this sermon's introduction?  Will we reach out to others, touch them, and [guide] them to that commitment to Jesus that they need to make in order to be saved?  Will we recognize Jesus' kingship, authority, power, and closeness and be the evangelistic disciples that Mark challenges us to be?  The old hymn has it right: “Go, labor on, spend, and be spent; your joy is to do the Father's will.  It is the way our Master went.  Should not His servants tread it still?  Go, labor on, it is not for naught; your earthly loss is heavenly gain!  Men will not heed you, love you, or praise you.  The Master will praise you, what are men?  Toil on, faint not, keep watch and pray.  Be wise the erring soul to win.  Go forth into the world's highway, compel the wanderer to come in.  Toil on, and in your toil rejoice!  For after toil, comes rest.  After exile, home!  Soon shall we hear the Bridegroom's voice, the midnight peal: 'Behold, I come!'”  Do you need to be more forgiving?  Have the fires of serving grown cold?  Do you need prayers for a greater faith?  Are you fulfilling your responsibility to reach and to teach others?  Do you need to dream once again?  Are you trusting daily that Christ will be with you?  Do you need to believe in Jesus and to be immersed in His name in order to be saved?  Whatever may be your need this morning, the Triumphant Servant wants to help you!