3 Reasons to Preach through the Gospel of Mark
Preaching the Gospel of Mark as early as possible into my ministry may be the best advice I have ever received as a pastor. Admittedly, pastoral advice is hard to quantify. But since proclaiming Christ is the preacher’s highest priority, such a strong sentiment is well justified. Mark’s Gospel, after all, unpacks who Christ is and what it looks like to follow him. Furthermore, it captures these themes in memorable ways. Mark communicates Christ and discipleship through the messiness and vividness of stories, not just through the precision of propositions.
As such, this narrative Christology provides a plethora of practical benefits for the pastor and his people. This article, however, will only address three reasons for preaching Mark, with a special eye toward how it benefits some of the most prominent categories of members in your church: new believers, growing believers, and mature believers.
NEW BELIEVERS – ACCESSIBILITY
Many new believers in our day follow Christ fighting against the culturally strong undercurrents of pluralism and nominalism Because of this, young Christians need crystal clarity concerning who Christ is and what it looks like to follow him. In turn, Mark’s gospel uniquely assists believers to embrace the two great cultural conundrums of Christ’s authority and costly discipleship.
Topics like divine and absolute authority are especially distasteful to the popular, pluralistic, and post-Christian palate. And yet, Mark serves up generous portions of Jesus’ exclusive authority over demons, death, disease, natural disasters, and man-made religion. In fact, he actually presents these truths in an appetizing and appealing way. There’s something especially savory amid Mark’s portrayals of the authoritative Christ gently leading his bumbling disciples. The authority of Christ proves to be something beautiful for the new believer, not burdensome. Even though the followers of Jesus will repeatedly fail, the authoritative Christ holds on to them until to the end.
What’s true of Mark’s teaching concerning Christ’s authority equally applies to his writings on discipleship. New followers of Jesus especially need to embrace the extreme implications of following Jesus. That’s why Mark presents the task of following Jesus as a harrowing one. This can be especially discouraging since, by default, we tend to think of the original followers of Jesus as men of strength and daring. Inaccurate impressions of discipleship can make following Jesus should like a fool’s errand, something outside the realm of possibility. Mark, however, enables the new believer to see past this by reminding his readers that the twelve disciples were not born as the twelve apostles.
This Gospel reminds us that Jesus’ first followers were reared in sin like the rest of us and had to come to Jesus in repentance and faith the same way we do. The candid recounting of the disciples’ frequent failures assures believers that following Jesus does not demand perfect faith and repentance, but persevering faith and repentance.
The new believers in our churches must obey the radical demands of discipleship while at the same time accepting that struggling is an unavoidable part of the journey. Clearly, Mark assists with both these things.
GROWING BELIEVERS – FLEXIBILITY
All believers are “growing,” but Mark’s Gospel particularly benefits those who have moved beyond spiritual infancy but are not yet mature enough to have a dynamic impact upon others. I don’t want to legitimize this category. But honesty compels us to acknowledge that some (if not most) in our congregation experience growth while still falling short of their potential. So, assuming the reader will grant me this assertion, I want to affirm that Mark benefits the ordinary believer as it provides a smorgasbord of theological and practical truth—truths that will be essential for taking the next stages in spiritual maturity.
The Gospel of Mark contributes to our basic understandings of soteriology, anthropology, Christology, missiology, and eschatology. Theologically speaking, it’s like a Swiss Army Knife on a camping trip or a seven iron on a golf course. Faithful, sequential exposition will provide opportunities to shore up a variety of theological truths that may be deficient in your congregation.
Even biblical theology plays a prominent role in Mark as it frequently invites us to consider the meta-narrative of Scripture. This means the preacher will have multiple opportunities to show the significance of the Old Testament. While this Gospel tells a particular story, it sets us up to showcase the greater story. Mark’s regular allusions to significant narratives, psalms, and prophecies provide windows into the Scripture as a whole. The prudent pastor will then capitalize upon these connections to develop his people’s understanding of biblical theology.
Mark gives us not just the story of Jesus but the story of Jesus and his disciples. The Markan scholar R. T. France points out, “It is in their discovery of and response to who Jesus is that the disciples occupy our attention; discipleship is the proper outcome of a healthy Christology” (France, 28). Thus Mark prompts believers of all stages to grow in their own faith and to share it with others. As story after story recounts Jesus’ power and authority, the anxious believer will be assured. Paragraph by paragraph, the lukewarm will be stimulated and challenged further to emulate Christ and to engage in the advance of the gospel. It is hard to study Mark while remaining neutral, lukewarm, or unengaged. Preaching Mark will move the mediocre to maturity.
MATURE BELIEVERS – LONGEVITY
Finally, Mark, provides special benefits for the mature believer. By “mature,” I’m not referencing older saints or even those who have been in Christ for a long time. Rather, I’m referring to believers who have matured to the point of maturing other believers (Eph 4:13–16; 2 Tim 2:2). Once the mature saints in your congregation grasp a more confident handle on this book, they will have the confidence to work through it on their own with non-Christian friends or other newer believers.
While your own sermon series should be enough to engender this confidence, there are several resources that could supplement your teaching and structure your people’s discipling efforts. For example, some members could begin using Mark by hosting an evangelistic program like Christianity Explored, which is based on this book. I enjoy seeing members use Mark in one-on-one settings, following the guidance of David Helm in his One-to-One Bible Reading (see chapter 11 in particular). Also, the manual produced by St. Helen’s Bishopsgate assists in this as well.
Imagine the longevity and utility of your series on Mark if your people were encouraged to use it with others in this way. What pastor doesn’t long to see his people using the Bible itself to advance the gospel? We have seen amazing fruit from this in our own congregation, and, as a bonus, the accessibility of using Mark one-to-one has emboldened some of our members to branch out to other books of the Bible as well.
If you haven’t done so already, take advantage of the wisdom passed on to me from some of the wisest pastors I know: preach the Gospel of Mark. New believers will benefit from its accessibility. Growing believers will be challenged to maturity. And mature believers will be able to leverage the confidence gleaned from your teaching to use Mark in their discipling efforts with others.
Author’s note: In regard to commentaries, my personal approach is to mine a few of the best ones deeply as opposed to skimming many frenetically. These three gave me the most consistent results.
Technical: France, R. T. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2002.
No one captures the nuances of the narrative and exegesis so aptly. France enables us to see the unique message of Mark by resisting the popular penchant to conflate Mark with the other three gospels. Although it is a technical commentary, it is actually exciting to read.
Pastoral: Edwards, James R. The Gospel According to Mark. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002.
If you are not feeling confident in the original languages but want to go deeper than a study Bible or someone else’s sermon, Edwards is a great reference. Also, sprinkled through the commentary are some insightful excursuses on key topics such as “Christ,” “Son of Man,” “Women in the Gospel of Mark,” etc.
Homiletical: Ferguson, Sinclair B. Let’s Study Mark. Let’s Study Series. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1999.
The constant temptation in any preaching endeavor is missing the forest for the trees. Ferguson’s penchant for simplicity shines brightly in this volume providing guidance for the expositor who may be struggling to see the overall point of whatever pericope he may be preaching for Sunday.