In AD 64, a fire destroyed much of Rome. It was rumored the fire had been ordered by the emperor to make room for a new palace. As a distraction, Nero blamed the Christians, who were then arrested, tortured, and condemned to death. It was not for the crime of arson; Christians were already being ridiculed and their humiliation was permitted.
In this climate, frightened Christians might decide God had abandoned them, seek to hide their identity, choose to believe He would not let them be harmed, passively await arrest and death, or continue to worship together with bold commitment to Christ. John Mark of Jerusalem responded to the needs of Christians to be strengthened in their faith. Just as Jesus accepted suffering and death and was strengthened by His Father, so too must Christians obey and persevere as a church, trusting in the sure knowledge that Christ is the living promise of God’s salvation.
At the outset of Mark’s account of the life and ministry of Jesus is the gospel. In Mark 1:1–45, Mark acknowledged Jesus is fully God who willingly chose to identify Himself with sinful man.
In Mark 2:1–6:6, Jesus showed He knows our needs before we know them ourselves. He was not indifferent to the material needs of His children but He also never lost sight of their deeper need for repentance and faith.
The message is clear in Mark 6:6–9:13: The call of discipleship is a call to suffer. There’s a cost to following Jesus. As the world lies about what’s truly important, Christians realize they deserve nothing from a good and holy God except His wrath—yet He’s given us everything! Jesus walked the path of suffering that led Him to take up a wooden cross and die for our sins.
Jesus called for a life of faith in Mark 9:14–13:37. Faith is a gift from a good God. We need to ask Him to help us have faith and place our faith in Jesus alone, not in ourselves or in others.
In Mark 14:1–16:20, Jesus fulfilled His mission. He willingly went to the cross. He died for the forgiveness of sins and then victoriously rose from the grave. The gospel is the good news of victory that is found in Christ alone. We, as His disciples, are called to proclaim this gospel to all nations.
The four Gospels are the authoritative testimony of the apostles to the life of Jesus. They were written, according to John, in order that we might believe in Him and be saved (John 20:21). They were also written so we might know what Jesus was like and how He lived, because we are to be imitators of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1; Eph. 5:1). The Gospels are a kind of specialized biography written to explain the most important periods of Jesus’ life. You’ll notice very little is said of Jesus’ childhood or life prior to His public ministry that began around age 30. The Gospels are mostly a “biography” of Jesus’ final three years. They don’t answer every question we have about Jesus, but they do tell us all we need to know!
Each Gospel presents a portrait of Jesus that complements the other three. The Holy Spirit inspired Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to include or omit features of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teaching to give us a fuller picture of the Savior. Matthew, Mark, and Luke gradually show us who Jesus is as the Son of God, the Messiah sent from God to be the Savior of the world.
John’s Gospel starts differently by describing Jesus as the eternal Word and then showing us through various signs and “I AM” statements that Jesus is the innocent God-Man who dies in the place of sinners and then rises again to appear to His disciples.
All four Gospels assume and teach that Jesus has come to fulfill the Old Testament promises and that Jesus is the promised Messiah sent from God come to earth, the One who will also come again at a future date at the end of history.
In interpreting and applying the four Gospels:
Let Jesus be the Hero. Remember that the main point of the four Gospels is to create and strengthen faith in Jesus. Interpret everything in that light.
Keep it in context. Always interpret everything in context. What comes before and after a given passage is important. So is the overall flow of the book. It’s also important to remember that Jesus comes to fulfill God’s promises to Israel. This is the historical context in which we must read the Gospels: God sends Jesus to fulfill God’s promises to Israel by rescuing ruined and rebellious people and to create something new: a worldwide, multi-ethnic people of God, His church.
Parables usually have a punch line. Parables were Jesus’ most frequent form of teaching. They are stories that work a little bit like jokes or stories with a moral. Usually, a parable’s punch line comes at the end. Some of Jesus’ hearers get the parable; some don’t. Jesus was a master teacher, and it seems He chose parables for that reason.
Parables, by and large, aren’t allegories, and we should never read anything into the parables of Jesus that is not evident in the text. In many cases, Jesus Himself interprets the parables, and when He does, His interpretation is what the parable means—no more and no less. On occasion, He turns the parable into an allegory, with a point of meaning assigned to each element in the story; when He does, that’s what the parable means. Usually, however, we should look for the point or points that Jesus is making in the context of the larger story of the Gospel.
We should not impose anything on the parable that’s not found in the context, and we should not press the details of the story that fall outside the main point or points being made.
In the Gospels, most people around Jesus got it all wrong. There are occasional exceptions—like Mary in the story of Mary and Martha—but these exceptions are rare. Don’t assume we’re meant to follow the examples of those around Jesus, unless they match a clear point of teaching.
He is risen! Read everything in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The end of the story casts its light back on everything that comes before.
Two questions to ask: When you read the Gospels, you probably won’t go wrong if you focus on asking these two questions:
- What does this passage teach me about Jesus?
- What does this passage teach me about becoming and being a disciple of Jesus? (And what kind of people Jesus saves!)
1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. . . .5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake
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