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by Henry Allen Ironside
It is interesting to notice the differing emphases of the Holy Spirit in His presentation of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ in each of the four Gospels. In them we have four portraits of our Savior. The Gospel of Matthew sets Him forth as the King, the Messiah of Israel-hence the genealogy proving Him to be the Son of David and Son of Abraham. This also accounts for the many references to and quotations from the Old Testament Scriptures found in Matthew. The Gospel of Luke presents Him as the perfect man, the unique Son of man who came to seek and to save the lost. A singular feature of Luke’s record is that of the table talk of Jesus. Is there any function better than a dinner party for allowing a man to relax and open up his heart? And in Luke we see our Lord on many such occasions. The book of Luke traces His genealogy back to Adam through Heli, the father of Mary and hence the father-in-law of Joseph (Luke 3:23). The Gospel of John tells us plainly his object was to show “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31). John’s account shows that He is the eternal Word who became flesh for our redemption.
To Mark it fell by divine appointment to show us the Son of God acting in lowly grace and devoted subjection to the Father as the perfect servant and prophet of the holy One. Mark plunged at once into his subject. In the short space of sixteen chapters he set forth the busy Servant engaged in one work of mercy after another, hastening from place to place as He does His Father’s bidding. Because we are not concerned about a servant’s forebears, but rather about his ability, there is no genealogy at all in this Gospel. Instead Mark revealed Jesus’ marvelous record of doing good and making known the mind of God. It has often been pointed out that Mark used a word variously translated “immediately,” “straightway,” “forthwith,” and “anon,” over forty times, and this word is found only about the same number of times in all the rest of the New Testament. “The king’s business requireth haste,” and Jesus was ever busy in the great work for which He came into the world.
The sacrifice of the cross is presented differently too in each Gospel. Each writer had in mind a comparison to a different Levitical offering (Leviticus 1-7). John told of the death of the Lord as the burnt offering-the Son laying down His life to glorify the Father in the world where He had been so dishonored by sinful men. Luke portrayed that great sacrifice as the peace offering-Christ making peace by the blood of His cross so that God and man may be reconciled and have hallowed fellowship together. Matthew, as becomes one whose theme is the government of God, clearly identified the work of the cross with the trespass offering, because of which the Lord could say, ‘Then I restored that which I took not away” (Psalms 69:4).
But in Mark’s account we gaze in awe and wonder at the holy One made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. The great sin offering is set before us-Christ dying not only for trespasses committed, but because of our sinful nature, which is made evident by our practice.
I dwell on these points because of the foolish things many have taught. For instance, some speculate that Mark’s Gospel was the first effort to try to recall and set forth the story of Jesus, and that this was amplified and altered by the writers of the other Gospels, who may or may not have been the persons whose names are linked with them. But we may be assured that all such speculations are idle and vain. The imprint of the divine mind is on every page of these records, and their very differences (but never contradictions) as well as their agreements are but evidence of God’s inspiration.
The Object of Mark’s Gospel
Mark’s supreme object was to show the Gentile world the active love of God in Jesus the Christ, who served needy men, sought after sinners, and saved all who trusted Him. If one had no other part of Scripture but this brief Gospel, he would have enough to show any troubled heart and conscience the way of life and peace.
We need not question whether Mark may, from the human standpoint, have been indebted to Peter for much of the information conveyed. All that was written was arranged by the Spirit of God with a definite object in view.
It was given to Isaiah to prophesy of Messiah as the suffering servant of Jehovah (Isaiah 52:0 and 53). Moses predicted the raising up of a prophet whose word on all questions would be final (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). Mark was the evangelist chosen by the Holy Spirit to portray our Lord fulfilling these two offices of servant and prophet. But we are not to suppose that this means other aspects of His nature and character were ignored. He was never more kingly than when serving, nor more divine than when He willingly limited Himself.
Peter the Great, after he had built up the Russian empire at high cost, decided he must have a navy. But no one in Russia knew the art of shipbuilding. So Peter vacated his throne for a time, appointed his consort Catherine as regent, laid aside his royal apparel, dressed as a common laborer, and journeyed to Holland and England where he learned the art himself. He worked in the shipyards side by side with men who little dreamed of the dignity of the apparently uncouth artisan who toiled with them day by day. Peter was no less an emperor when he wrought with hammer and adz than when he returned to his throne.
John Mark was the son of a wealthy woman named Mary, probably a widow, whose home was large enough to serve as a meeting place for many of the early disciples after the Pentecostal outpouring (Acts 12:12).
Mark accompanied Barnabas (to whom he was related) and Paul to Cyprus, but later returned to Jerusalem, much to the displeasure of Paul (Acts 12:25; Acts 13:13Acts 13:13; Acts 15:37-39Acts 15:37-39). Later, however, Mark redeemed himself and became a trusted minister of Christ and companion of Paul and Peter (2 Timothy 4:11; 1 Peter 5:13). It is like God to select the onetime unfaithful servant Mark to tell the story of the ever-faithful Servant, God’s own blessed Son!
According to a well-known tradition of the early church, Mark was referring to himself when he told the story of “a certain young man” who followed Christ right up to His entry into the house of the high priest. When the guards sought to lay hold of Mark, he left the linen cloth that had enswathed his body in their hands and fled from them naked (Mark 14:51-52). The fact that no other evangelist records this incident perhaps may not be sufficient grounds for connecting it with Mark himself. On the other hand, because of its wide acceptance in early days it may possibly be the truth. In that case it would imply that young John Mark had listened to the teaching of the Lord while He was in Jerusalem. Mark’s heart had gone out to Jesus so much that he thought he was ready even to die with Him, but in the hour of testing Mark fled, as did the other disciples. How many there are who really love the Lord and yet lack that moral courage that enables them to go through with Him at all costs!
As we think of this fine young man and the difficulties he faced in getting started in the service of the Lord, let us remember that later on he proved himself an efficient minister of Christ. May we be encouraged to rise above our own fears and shortcomings, counting on God to make us true ambassadors of the gospel of His Son.
As we study the record of Him who said, “I am among you as he that serveth” (Luke 22:27), may our own hearts be bowed in lowly subjection before Him. Let us yield ourselves unto the One now risen from the dead, that we may serve in the same lowly spirit that characterized Him when He was in this world. May we be content with the approval of the Father while we pass through this life comparatively unknown and unregarded.
Introductory Notes by Arno C. Gaebelein
Submitted by H A Ironside on Mon, 04/14/2008 - 05:00
* Henry Allen Ironside
The Gospel of Mark is the briefest of the four Gospels. The traditional view, which holds that the apostle Peter dictated this record and that Mark was only an amanuensis, has been proven erroneous. Equally incorrect are other theories: the Gospel of Mark was written first and Matthew and Luke copied some material from it; or there was an original record, a common source, that all the Evangelists used. All these opinions are mostly the inventions of men who disbelieve the inspiration of the chosen instruments of God in giving a fourfold picture of His blessed Son on earth. An unswerving faith in the inspiration of the four Evangelists solves all the supposed difficulties and discrepancies of which we hear so much in our days. Inspiration makes error impossible.
Mark was not an apostle. Two apostles were chosen to write Gospel records: Matthew and John. The other two writers, Mark and Luke, did not belong to the twelve. Mark’s and John’s Gospels give us the chronological account, while Matthew and Luke were led by the Holy Spirit not to pen the events chronologically, but to arrange them in such a way as to bring out the distinctive features of their respective Gospels.
The Servant of God
While Matthew described the Lord Jesus Christ as the King, and Luke described Him as the Son of man in His perfection, and John described Him as the true God and eternal Life, Mark described Him as the Servant of God.
It had been announced by the prophets that He would appear as a servant. Isaiah had beheld Him as the Servant of God (Isaiah 53:11). Through Zechariah, the Spirit of God had proclaimed, “Behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch” (Zechariah 3:8).
After Christ had been on the earth in the form of a servant, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to tell us that He who had ever existed in the form of God “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7).
Mark, himself a servant, was graciously called to give a pen picture of this blessed Servant and to record His toil, His service of love and patience, as well as His mighty works. All that is not definitely related to our Lord as the Servant is carefully omitted by him, and many things omitted by the other Evangelists are added to describe the manner and perfection of the Servant’s work.
The Gospel of Mark begins by emphasizing the deity of our Lord. The Servant is “the Son of God.” This great truth is fully attested by His obedience in always doing the will of the Father who sent Him and by His mighty miracles, which accompanied His loving service. If He were not the Son of God, He could not have rendered perfect service.
Sonship and service always go together. Only a son of God can be a servant of God. Grace makes us, if we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, sons of God. True service for God is the result of the enjoyment of our sonship. A deeper realization and enjoyment of our sonship will be followed by more obedient and constant service.
When Jesus was baptized and anointed by the reception of the Spirit, He “saw the heavens opened” (Mark 1:10). What an encouraging sight for Him who had taken the lowest place! All God’s servants need the vision of the opened heavens.
God’s Servant, who was absolutely sinless, showed a perfect willingness to take the sinner’s place in death. “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
A Pattern for Service
Well may we call the book of Mark the neglected Gospel, for it is the least studied. But we should study it, for God gave it that we His redeemed people might as His servants see in Christ a pattern for our service. As A. Jukes wrote:
Blessed be God that such service has been seen on earth; that there has been such a hand, such an eye, and such a heart here, among the sons of men. And blessed be God, that by the same Spirit He waits to mold us to His pattern, yea, that He has predestinated us to be conformed to the image of His beloved Son. And if the Head was content to serve thus… shall not we whom He has purchased, in whom He seeks to dwell, who are His witnesses in a world which knows Him not, wait upon Him until His mantle fall on us, and His Spirit, “the oil which was upon the Head,” run down even to us also; till we catch the mind of heaven, and are made like unto the angels, children of God and children of resurrection, called to stand in the presence of God, and yet to serve, as ministering spirits to them who shall be heirs of salvation? God is serving,-“the Father worketh,”-Oh! what works of love, from the rain and fruitful seasons up to the mighty work of raising man from earth to highest heaven; and Christ has served and is serving; and the Holy Ghost is serving, taking of the things of Christ, to reveal them to us, and then to work them in us; and angels are serving, and saints are serving, and the Church proclaims her call, that she too because redeemed must be a servant here, and that her rulers are but servants, yea, servants of servants; and heaven is serving earth, and earth the creatures on it. So let us, after our Pattern, being redeemed, go forth to serve also. “Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily, He shall gird Himself, and make them sit down to meat, and He will come forth and serve them.”
Outline Of The Book Of Mark
I. Christ Ministers To Human Need And Distress (1:1-5:43)
A. The Presentation of Jehovah’s Servant (1:1-13)
B. The Work of the Divine Servant (1:14-5:43)
II. Christ Is Opposed, But Continues To Minister (6:1-10:45)
A. Development of Opposition (6:1-56)
B. Tradition versus Revelation (7:1-8:9)
C. Intimations of the Coming Glory (8:10-9:8)
D. The Path of Discipleship (9:9-10:45)
II. Christ Is Rejected, But Is Serving Still (10:46-16:20)
A. The Rejection of the Servant-King (10:46-13:37)
B. The Supreme Sacrifice (14:1-15:47)
C. The Resurrection (16:1-20)
Chapter Two The Work Of The Divine Servant Part One
Submitted by H A Ironside on Tue, 03/11/2008 - 05:00
* Henry Allen Ironside
Healing of the Palsied Man (Mark 2:1-12)
The Lord’s early Galilean ministry was still in progress, the events of Mark 2:0 following closely upon those of Mark 1:0. Capernaum was the center from which Jesus worked out to other parts of Galilee in the early summer or late spring of a.d. 28.
The presence of Jesus in any particular place soon became known, as on this occasion when the word went out that the great healer was again in the city that He had chosen for His home. Crowds filled the house where He was staying and pressed about the door as He proclaimed the message He had come from Heaven to deliver, the word of the kingdom. This was His chief mission during His three and a half years of ministry. Healing sick bodies was secondary, though to the people it doubtless seemed to be the most important. But sickness of the soul is far more serious than physical ill-health, and to bring to men the message of life is far more important than delivering them from bodily ailments.
“One sick of the palsy, which was borne of four.” Without help, this poor helpless paralytic could not make his way to Jesus, but he had four friends who were apparently firmly convinced that the Lord would give strength to the palsied limbs of the sick man. These energetic friends were determined not to fail in their endeavor to bring the afflicted sufferer directly to the wonderworking, compassionate Savior. Since they found all ordinary access to Jesus blocked by the crowd surging about the door, they carried him up onto the flat roof, generally reached by an outside stairway. There they lifted off the tiles and thatching and made a space so large that by passing cords under the pallet on which the paralytic lay, they could let the sick one down to where Jesus was teaching. One can imagine the stir and excitement of the people as the reclining man was carefully lowered to the very feet of Jesus. To Him it was no rude or unwarranted intrusion or interruption, but mute evidence of the faith of the five, who counted on Him to exercise His power on their behalf.
“When Jesus saw their faith.” Faith is evidenced by works. The four friends of the helpless man showed their faith by their works. Their persistence and energy demonstrated the reality of their faith in Jesus’ readiness to meet the need. Assured that their sick friend needed Jesus, they were determined that nothing would prevent his coming into the Savior’s presence. Are we as much concerned about bringing our unconverted friends to Jesus as they were? It was a joy to Christ when He saw the faith of these men, for faith always glorifies God. He recognizes its presence in every honest, seeking soul and is ever quick to respond to the desire of the believing heart. He recognized the faith of the friends, and seeing that the paralytic needed something far greater than healing of the body-namely, the forgiveness of his sins-”He said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” It was a dramatic moment, and His words must have amazed the listeners, for never had they known man to speak like this.
“Certain of the scribes…reasoning in their hearts.” These were legalists who knew nothing of grace and who denied the claims of Jesus to be the Son of the Father. They did not go to the Scriptures for light, but they debated among themselves what it could all mean. Filled with prejudice and determined not to believe in Jesus, they at once took issue with Him. To them it was the rankest kind of blasphemy for anyone to pretend to have authority to forgive sins. This prerogative belonged to God alone. They did not know that God revealed in flesh stood in their midst!
“Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves.” They did not speak aloud, thus audibly expressing their indignation and objection to His words, but Jesus knew their thoughts (Psalms 94:11) and He answered them accordingly. “Why reason ye…in your hearts?” To be able thus to read the inmost secrets of their thought-life was another evidence of deity, for only God knows our thoughts “afar off” (Psalms 139:2).
“Whether is it easier?” So far as they were concerned, they could no more heal the sick than forgive the sinner. Jesus could do both. He chose to do the more important first.
“That ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins.” He would perform a miracle to reveal His authority to deliver from both sin and its effects. He therefore turned to the still helpless paralytic and commanded him to rise up and carry his bed- a pallet easily rolled together-and return healed to his home. There was power in His word. As He spoke, strength came to those limbs and the man arose, to the astonishment of all who were looking on.
The palsied man had been literally “without strength” (Romans 5:6). In his weakness he pictures all men in their sins. The word of Christ spoke strength into his paralyzed limbs, just as that same word gives new life to the one who receives it in faith.
As the people saw the paralytic rise to his feet and go away carrying his bed at the command of Jesus, they realized that divine power was active in their midst, and they gave God the glory for working so wondrously through His servant Jesus. Doubtless many wondered if He were not indeed the promised Messiah as they exclaimed, “We never saw it on this fashion.” It was a new and striking exhibition of the grace and power of God.
Calling of Matthew (Mark 2:13-17)
Leaving the house where He had healed the palsied man, Jesus “went forth again by the sea side,” and there taught the multitude who followed Him. He revealed to them the great truths connected with the forthcoming kingdom of God, for which Israel had waited so long.
“He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom.” Levi, otherwise called Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13), the author of the first Gospel, was a member of the despised publican class. He was one of the tax-gatherers in the service of Rome. They were hated because they farmed the taxes, grinding down their Jewish brothers to enrich themselves. At Capernaum there was a Roman customhouse, where all the fishermen had to bring their catches and pay a certain percent as tax. Levi was perhaps connected with this office. Evidently he had heard Jesus before and was convinced in his heart that He was the Messiah; so when the call came, he responded immediately. There was instant surrender to the claims of Christ. We see in the ready obedience of Levi, an example of what should be characteristic of all whose hearts have been won by Christ.
Christ is not only our Savior. He is also our Lord. Redemption involves much more than salvation from the guilt of and the judgment due to sin. Redemption includes our deliverance from the power and authority of Satan, the god of this world, and our glad subjection to the One who has purchased us with His own precious blood. We read, “Ye are not your own… ye are bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Because of this, we are to acknowledge the Lord Jesus as the supreme Master of our lives. Gratitude to Him for all His grace has done would in itself demand our wholehearted recognition of His dominion over us. We are not saved by following Jesus, but because we are saved we are exhorted to follow Him.
Loyalty to Christ demands that we surrender our wills to His and seek to glorify Him in all our ways. We often hear it said that our wills must be broken, but that is poor psychology and worse theology. A broken-willed man is no longer capable of making definite decisions. Tennyson wrote, “Our wills are ours, / To make them Thine.” And this is what Scripture emphasizes. We are voluntarily to yield our wills to Him who has given Himself for us, that our service may be the glad, happy obedience of those who delight in the will of God above all else. We need to beware of calling Jesus “Lord” if we are slighting His commands. It is by obedience that we prove our love for Him (John 14:15), as did Levi.
As he began his new career, Levi made a feast to which he invited many of his former friends and Jesus and His disciples. It was his way of testifying to the new allegiance, and this testimony must have made a great impression on his old associates.
“The scribes and Pharisees saw him [Jesus] eat with publicans and sinners.” In the eyes of these religious formalists this was a very serious offense. But it showed how little they understood the nature of the mission of Jesus. As a physician ministers to the sick rather than to the well, so Christ came to bring the message of grace to needy sinners rather than to seek out those who fancied they were already good enough for God. Actually, “there is none righteous” (Romans 3:10), but there are many who pride themselves on a righteousness they do not really possess. For such there is no blessing. It is the confessed sinner who finds mercy.
Defending His Disciples (Mark 2:18-22)
A question arose concerning fasting. Jesus took occasion to open up important truth in this connection. It was the disciples of John and those of the Pharisees, the orthodox party in Judaism, who raised the question as to why the disciples of Jesus did not follow their example in regard to fasting. Both groups evidently thought of refraining from food at certain times as meritorious, or at least advantageous in producing holiness of heart and life. It seemed therefore to them that Christ’s disciples, in this respect at least, moved on a lower plane than they. Jesus answered them by putting a question: “Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.” Jesus was saying that there was no occasion for His followers to mourn before God and to afflict their souls while He Himself, the source of all blessing, was with them. But Jesus foretold the time when He, the bridegroom, would be taken away from them, and then they would fast in a very real sense. Their fasting would be characterized by abstinence from the follies of the world-that world which was to be arrayed against them in bitter opposition to the teachings of their Master.
Moreover, those who raised the question about fasting did not realize that Jesus had come to introduce an altogether new order. We are told elsewhere that the law was given by Moses-and there was much in the law that had to do with fasting-but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. It was not in accordance with His program to call men and women to subject themselves to legal principles. To do so would be but to attempt to sew a piece of new cloth on an old garment, which would only result in making the tear worse. Or it would be like putting new wine into old skin bottles; when the wine began to ferment, the bottles would burst and the wine would be lost. It is not possible to put the new wine of grace into the forms and enactments of the law; the one necessarily nullifies the other. As we read in Romans 11:6, “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” By His answer our Lord clearly distinguished between the legality of the past and the grace He had come to reveal. This was in measure illustrated in the incident related next.
Answering Questions on Sabbath Day Observance (Mark 2:23-28)
As the disciples walked through a grainfield on the sabbath day they began to pluck some of the heads of grain, rub them in their hands, and eat the grains. This was in full accord with the provision made in the law, for God had said through Moses, “When thou comest into the standing corn of thy neighbour, then thou mayest pluck the ears with thine hand; but thou shalt not move a sickle unto thy neighbour’s standing corn” (Deuteronomy 23:25). But the Pharisees immediately found fault because the disciples were plucking the grain on the sabbath day, and so those legalists immediately objected.
There was nothing in the law that declared this act contrary to anything that God had commanded, but the Pharisees had added so many traditions to the law that the disciples seemed to be violating a divine precept. In reply Jesus referred to what David did when he and his men were hungry and came to the tabernacle in the days of the high priest Abiathar. David asked for food for himself and his retainers. The priest Ahimelech, the father of Abiathar, replied that they had no bread at hand except the shewbread that had been taken from the holy table and was the food of the priests (Leviticus 24:9; 1 Samuel 21:6). At David’s request, however, the shewbread was given to the hungry men, and no judgment followed. When God’s anointed was rejected, it was far more important to minister to him and to the needs of his followers than to preserve punctiliously the order of the tabernacle, for after all, men are more important to God than ordinances.
After referring to David Jesus declared, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.” With these words He was announcing His own deity, for again and again the sabbath is called “the sabbath of Jehovah.” When Jesus declared Himself to be Lord of that day of rest, He definitely confessed Himself to be the God of Israel, revealed in flesh. If the Pharisees had ears to hear, they would have understood.
I do not here go into the critical question as to the expression, “in the days of Abiathar.” This has been discussed by many, and perhaps it will never be fully explained until we know even as we are known. We should remember that it would be a simple matter for some copyist to substitute by mistake “Abiathar” for “Ahimelech.” On the other hand, there may be some divine reason for setting the father to one side and recognizing the son as the rightful high priest at that time.
We have noticed already that our Lord performed miracles in order to relieve human misery and to authenticate His messiahship. We would also emphasize the precious truth that these miracles were intended to reveal to men: the grace and tender compassion of God. Through Christ God demonstrated His deep concern for those who had brought such dire trouble and affliction on themselves by turning away from Him. The entire human race was suffering because of sin. Israel in particular had been promised immunity from disease if obedient to the law of God (Exodus 23:25). Every blind, deaf, crippled, or diseased person among them was a witness to Israel’s failure in this respect (Deuteronomy 28:15ff.). In healing the sick, Jesus was undoing the work of the devil (Acts 10:38) and fulfilling what had been predicted concerning the Servant of Jehovah, Israel’s promised Messiah-King (Isaiah 35:4-6). When Jesus was on earth proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, it was specially fitting that the blessings of the coming age should be revealed. Through Christ’s ministry the people were given a sample of what Israel and the whole world will enjoy in its fullness when God’s King reigns on mount Zion and blessing goes out to all the earth.
Physical healing and forgiveness of sins were intimately connected in the Old Testament (Psalms 103:3; Psalms 67:2; Isaiah 58:8). This connection between healing and forgiveness was equally true in our Lord’s earthly ministry, as Mark 2:1-12 makes clear. John prayed for Gaius that physical health and prosperity of soul might go hand in hand (3 John 1:2). And there is a sense in which the connection is still true, even though our blessings now are spiritual (Ephesians 1:3) rather than temporal. Where physical health does not accompany spiritual health, we may be assured it is because God our Father is working out some hidden purpose of blessing. But we are always free to pray for one another that we may be healed (James 5:16).
Every form of disease healed by our Lord Jesus seems to picture some aspect of sin, which is like a fever burning in the soul, a leprosy polluting the whole being, a palsy making one utterly unable to take a step toward God, and a withered hand incapable of true service. Whatever form sin may take, Jesus can give complete deliverance from it.
All healing is divine, whether it be by miraculous power, by means of properly controlled physical habits, diet, and exercise, or by direct medical treatment. It is God alone who can give renewed health and strength. He whose power brought us into being and gave us these marvelous bodies with all their wonderful functions, is the only One who can keep us well or restore us from illness.
Eve of Ascension