Mark is the story of what Jesus did for us. The author, John Mark, wrote this book based on the apostle Peter’s memories of Jesus’ words and deeds.Mark is the second Gospel (an account of Jesus’ life and ministry) in the New Testament. Like the other Gospels, Mark records Jesus’ life: His miracles, betrayal, death, resurrection, and commission. However, Mark’s Gospel is very brief (nearly half as long as Luke) and focuses more on things Jesus did than things Jesus said. Mark’s stories are not arranged chronologically; instead they’re put together to give us a quick, accurate view of Jesus.This Gospel emphasizes two important characteristics of Jesus Christ:
His authority as the Son of God
His compassionate service to people (particularly in miracles)
As you read Mark, you’ll see the word “immediately” repeated often: Mark is a quick, urgent, bold message about who Jesus is and what He did.
Theme verse of Mark
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45)
Why Mark was written
Mark opens with a quick overview of what the book is about: “the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1:1). Every passage in Mark, every miracle, every conversation, every deed, points back to Jesus’ authority as the Son of God.
Mark is a brief synopsis of Jesus, and could have been meant for reading in one sitting—or aloud to an audience. It’s an exciting account of the Son of God that could speak to the Jews and the non-Jews of Mark’s day.
Mark 4:30–32 30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”
This short parable of Jesus is packed with significance for us. In attempting to explain the nature of God’s Kingdom (ie. God’s “rule and reign”), Jesus used the picture of a mustard seed.
The mustard seed indigenous to the land of Israel is extremely small. To the naked eye a single mustard seed seems trivial.
What possible significance could come from something so small?
Indeed, it’s difficult to image that from just one mustard seed a tree like this could emerge:
Many sermons have emphasized the point of Jesus’ parable to be that God’s kingdom begins small–almost imperceptively so–but grows large. That is an important (and encouraging!) dimension to this teaching. But there’s another aspect to this parable that sometimes goes unnoticed.
In the first-century laws were in place that placed strict parameters on where mustard seeds could be planted. Why? Because the aggressive, fast-growing nature of the mustard plant caused some to view it as a “malignant weed”with “dangerous takeover properties” (Michael F. Bird, Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission, Continuum, 2006, pp. 73–77).
Pliny the Elder (Roman Naturalist and philosopher) , in his Natural History (published around AD 78) writes that “mustard… is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.”
The significance of this fact is incredibly important for us to understand. Jesus wants his disciples to understand that although the kingdom starts small, it’s growth is inevitable and unstoppable. Regardless of where it’s planted, God’s kingdom is a offensive, encroaching, non-domesticated force that quickly overwhelms the ecosystem around it with God’s power, joy, love, grace, and truth.
Last Sunday about 60 people gathered at our church to worship, share communion together, pray, and learn more about following Jesus. By Sunday afternoon I found myself reflecting on the the future of our church within the broader Nelson community. To the naked eye our church seems trivial.
What possible significance could come from something so small?
And I realized in light of this teaching that I was asking the wrong question.
If we are sincerely following Jesus and allowing God to establish his kingdom within our lives, growth and impact will materialize. The question I should have been mulling over was, “What possible significance will come from something so small?”
Because the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. It has takeover properties. Despite its meager beginnings, life-giving impact to the surrounding ecosystem is inevitable and unstoppable.
I’ve been reading a lot of commentaries and teachings on Mark 2:23-3:6 over the last two weeks. Here’s a snippet from a Timothy Keller sermon. It begins with a powerful quote by NT Wright that Keller uses to offer a piercing reflecting on what it means to respond to Jesus’ authority:
“How can you live with the terrifying thought that the hurricane has become human, that fire has become flesh, that life itself … walked in our midst? Christianity either means that, or it means nothing. It is either the most devastating disclosure of the deepest reality in the world, or it’s a sham, a nonsense … Most of us, unable to cope with saying either of those things, condemn ourselves to live in the shallow world in between.” NT Wright
He’s right, because if you have a shred of personal integrity, you’ll know you can’t like anybody who makes claims like this. Either he’s a wicked or a lunatic person and you should have nothing to do with him, or he is who he says he is and your whole life has to revolve around him, and you ought to throw everything at his feet and say, “Command me.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, but do you live in that sort of misty world between that N.T. Wright is talking about, that he says no one with integrity can live in? Do you pray to Jesus sometimes, maybe not a lot, but sometimes? When you’re in trouble you pray to Jesus, and then sometimes you kind of ignore him because you get busy. Is that right for you?
Listen. Either he can’t hear you because he’s not who he says he is, or else how dare you check in occasionally with this person? You can’t just pray to Jesus occasionally. Either he can’t hear you, he’s not who he says he is, or else he has to be the still point in your turning world, he has to be the thing around which your entire life revolves.
Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.