One of my favorite debates during the Christmas season centers around the validity of the Die Hard movies being Christmas movies! I personally think those movies are great Christmas movies since they were released around the Christmas season but nevertheless, I digress!
Whether the Die Hard movies are in fact Christmas movies are not, is absolutely debatable. What is not up for debate is the fact that they are action movies; they are movies that have lots of fast-moving action built into their storylines and the same is true of the Gospel of Mark.
While Mark’s gospel does not necessarily follow a geographical or chronological timeline, it does “use action-packed narratives to focus on the powerful ministry of Jesus” as he moves “inexorably toward the cross” of Calvary.2 John Mark, the one whom Peter calls “his son” (1 Pet. 5:13), the one who was known to be Peter’s ghost writer, the one who was known to be Barnabas’ cousin (Col. 4:10), the one who abandoned Paul and Barnabas during their first missions trip (Acts 13:13), the one who was ultimately the cause of Paul and Barnabas’ separation (Acts 15:36 – 41), and the one whom Paul asked for at the end of his life (2 Tim. 4:11), this John Mark, wrote this gospel as an action packed narrative with his eye set on accurately describing Jesus as the Son of God who is the point of the gospel (1:1 – 15), the one who invades the both the country and the city with the good news (1:16 – 8:26), and the one who also invades the hostile city of Jerusalem with the good news of the gospel as well (8:27 – 15:47).3
So, while you may not be convinced that the Die Hard movies are Christmas movies, or even that they are good action movies for that matter, is not important. What is important, especially during this Christmas season, is to see that Mark’s gospel is an action-packed narrative about the person and work of Jesus Christ. This can be plainly seen in Mark’s use of the word “immediately” throughout his writing.
Mark uses the word “immediately” roughly forty-two times throughout his gospel to highlight the sense of action and movement in the narrative as he describes the power and effects of Jesus’ ministry.4 The significance of Mark’s use of the word “immediately” is amplified even more when you notice that the other gospel writers rarely use the word; it is found one time in Luke, three times in John, and seven times in Matthew.5
So, overall, it is easy to see that God is fully active in the immediately urgent work of providing a way of salvation for mankind through his one and only Son as he comes into this world as the suffering servant for all mankind. Although Mark’s central theme is presenting Jesus as the Suffering Servant who is a man of action as he heads intentionally to the cross for the sake of the lost, he is also careful to present Jesus as the Son of God. Look at some select readings from Luke’s gospel with me…
1:1The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
1:16Passing along the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in the boat mending nets. 20And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
1:23And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!”
10:42…“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
14:61Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witness do we need? 64You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death.
15:33And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachtani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold he is calling Elijah.” 36And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
#1: JESUS IS THE SON OF GOD (1:1-3, 9-11)
In 1:1, Mark gives us the “headline to the gospel”6 when he says that he wants to begin with, “…the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” And he does not stop there, in 1:9 – 11, he describes Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist when he says that “when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descended on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.’” You may have noticed the use of the word “immediately” in conjunction with the Father’s proclamation over Jesus as his one and only Son with whom he was very well pleased.
It is almost as though we get the sense of urgency as God affirms Jesus to be his Son. In this title “Son of God” we can see the striking balance between Jesus as a fully functioning 100 percent human while at the same time retaining 100 percent of his divine nature; Jesus is the Son of God, a man of action, who came to set the world free. Jesus is not a fairy tale. He is not a copy of a quote unquote Greek god. He is not a passive god, and he is not a distant god. Jesus is the Son of God who actively came to set the world free. But he is not just the Son of God, he is also the Fisher of Men.
#2: JESUS IS THE FISHER OF MEN (1:16-20)
Shortly after his baptism and affirmation as the Son of God, Jesus is traveling along the shores of the sea of Galilee where he stops and calls his first disciples to come and follow him so that he could make them into “fishers of men” (1:16 – 20). Twice in this episode, Mark uses the word “immediately”; he uses it once to describe how quickly Jesus calls the disciples to come follow him and then he uses it a second time to describe the speed with which the fishermen began to follow Jesus to become fishers of men.
The bottom line here is that Jesus is the Master Fisher of Men who makes disciples who are Fishers of Men as well and to do the calling and to do the responding, requires that the caller and the responder both be action-oriented people. Following Jesus requires an active calling and an active response. Inaction has no place within the category of making disciples.
We also have to notice that Jesus did not say “Follow me and I will make you healthy, wealthy and wise.” Jesus’ call to discipleship was much less about what he would do for his disciples, though he would do much for them including dying for them. Jesus’ call to discipleship was much more about what he would do in and through them.
In Mark’s gospel, discipleship for Jesus and his disciples is much more about the contribution they will make to the kingdom then it is about the benefits they will receive from being in the kingdom. This is a crucial aspect of discipleship; the truth that Jesus makes disciples who are contributing, fishers of men rather than consumers of products and experiences. This challenges our western notion of doing church!
The fact that Jesus did not come to make consumers but to make contributors can be underscored by looking ahead to Mark 10:45 where Jesus says that he “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” While this passage (10:45) “may be the most important verse in the gospel in summarizing his [Mark’s] emphasis on Jesus’ road to the cross” it also highlights one of the fundamental aspects of discipleship; namely that discipleship is about active servanthood.6 Servanthood is not true servanthood if it is not filled with meaningful action.
For the church to embrace discipleship according to Mark’s gospel we must recognize that we are powerless to become disciples of Jesus much less make disciples of Jesus without God’s sovereign, transforming power and help in becoming active servants.7
We will often fail just like the disciples did (4:11 – 13; 33 – 34; 40, etc.) but thankfully Jesus doesn’t call perfect people to become his disciples. He calls broken, rebellious and ignorant people to become his disciples so that he can transform them into “fishers of men” who desire “not to be served but to serve” in the active and immediate advancement of the gospel.
So, already we have seen how Mark’s gospel is full of action as he describes Jesus as the Son of God and the Fisher of Men. But there is still more action to be seen because Jesus is also the One Who Commands Silence.
#3: JESUS IS THE ONE WHO COMMANDS SILENCE (1:23-24, 40-45; 4:11-12; 8:29-31)
When speaking of Jesus as the one who commands silence, it is easy for us to remember how he silenced the storms or silenced demons from their antagonism of their subjects. But Mark describes some interesting episodes of Jesus sometimes commanding silence or secrecy regarding his identity, his power, or his mission here on earth. These episodes can leave us wondering why Jesus would command silence or secrecy regarding these things. Why would Jesus do this? Why would he sometimes command silence or secrecy?
In 1:23 – 25, Mark tells us that “Immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent and come out of him!’” In this episode, it seems like Jesus commands silence because he does not want to be associated with a demon who is speaking truth. Why would Jesus want to be associated with a demon even if he is speaking the truth? We could learn a lot from Jesus here on the importance of resisting the syncretistic blending of the holy with the unholy in our pursuit of ministering among the lost and broken. What association does the holy have with the unholy?
In another episode, Jesus heals a leper and then he immediately charges the healed leper in 1:44 – 45 to “See that you say nothing to anyone (v. 44)… But he [the leper] went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter (v.45).” In this episode, Jesus commands silence so that he could simply get some rest from the heavy weight of ministry. But of course, we know that since the healed leper could not keep his mouth shut, Jesus was driven out of town and even overwhelmed in the country by the sheer needs of everyone being brought to him.
Sometimes we would do well to shut our mouths for long enough to rest and to enjoy the presence of God in our pursuit of ministering among the lost and broken in our society. Overworking is an idol that most Christians will cheer for instead of resist. At the very least, we give stars on charts to hard workers who are really workaholics in hard working uniforms. It should not be this way!
We must also learn to wrestle with the fact that not everyone is ready to hear the truth. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to open hearts to the truth of the gospel and sometimes it is ok if someone just does not understand the gospel. This is why Jesus said in 4:11 – 12, that “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but to those outside everything is in parables, so that they may indeed see but no perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand.”
Jesus knew the balancing act of resisting the urge to cast pearls before swine while engaging in the fruitful work of proclaiming the gospel to hearts that were receptive. He not only knew how to command silence, but he also knew when to be silent! We would do well to build a better relationship with silence so that when we open our mouths, the words we speak might be fruitful and winsome!
Finally, and probably the most perplexing episode under this bullet point, is located in 8:29 – 30 where Jesus asked his disciples, “But who do you say that I am? Peter answered him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.” Why would Jesus not applaud his disciples for getting the answer right and then encourage them to shout it from the roof tops?
I think the answer lies in a better understanding of the maturity of the disciples. At this point in Mark’s narrative, the disciples were still wishy, washy, fence-sitters, who could not agree on anything, much less not get caught up in petty arguments over who would sit on Jesus’ right side in Heaven. The bottom line is that while their answer was right, it was probably all they had right.
If they had made that bold statement right now in public, they were not yet equipped to answer the follow up questions about Jesus or his Kingdom; it would be better to stay silent until they were fully trained. This would be like telling a 6mo medical resident that he should not perform surgeries until he is properly trained and possesses the right degree before doing a bunch of damage to another human being! Even the basic truths of the gospel can become a destructive weapon in the hands of an immature believer. We should all be intentional about being fully trained.
All in all, Jesus does command silence sometimes for the purpose of not associating with evil, or for protecting a period of needed rest, or for not casting pearls before swine, or to ensure that the message bearer is fully trained and equipped to communicate the gospel winsomely, courageously, and faithfully.
The reason this point is so important is that we are not only talking about the subject matter of Jesus as the Son of God, or Jesus as the Fisher of Men, or Jesus as the One who has the authority to command silence, but we are also talking about Jesus as the Suffering Servant/Savior. We would do well to study to show ourselves approved of being able to proclaim Jesus as our Suffering Servant/Savior in ways that are not destructive to the point of the message.
#4: JESUS IS THE SUFFERING SERVANT/SAVIOR (8:31; 10:33-34, 42-45)
The fact that Jesus is our Suffering Servant and Savior probably does not come off as a great surprise to anyone. But it is worth noting that this theological theme is probably the central theme of Mark’s gospel: Mark sees Jesus as being the Supernatural Suffering Servant and Savior of sinful mankind.
He makes this point in 8:31 when he says that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Jesus is the Suffering Servant and Savior who is in full control of his destiny; he was never a helpless victim even in his perfection.
Further on in 10:33 – 34, Jesus reminds his disciples again that “the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” Once again, Jesus knew the full details of what it meant for him to be the Suffering Servant and Savior and he never shrank back from that identity; he ran headlong towards the cross with all the energy of a man on a self-sacrificing mission. Thank God for Jesus, our Suffering Servant and Savior!
If ever there was a key text by which to interpret all the gospel of Mark, 10:45 would probably be that text. In it, Jesus says that “even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In context, this verse is a great case study for servant leadership in contrast to the kind of leadership the world around us champions (get to the top, attain power, and wealth, and prestige at any cost to those below you). Jesus turns this on its head by being the Supernatural Suffering Servant and Savior who comes to ransom and to redeem the lost and the rebellious.
When you live out your identity in Christ in a way that challenges the world’s way of doing things, there will inevitably be some rejection. This should not surprise us and in fact, we should embrace it because rejection is part of identifying with our Rejected King.
#5: JESUS IS THE REJECTED KING (11:15-18; 12:10-12; 14:61-64; 15:2, 12-13)
Rejection is painful. But rejection is part of what we are promised if we truly follow Jesus because he was the Rejected King. In 11:18, after flipping the tables in the temple and confronting the hypocrisy of the money changers, Mark tells us that “the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.” These religious rats who should have embraced Jesus with open arms and should have affirmed Jesus as the true King over Israel, those religious rats chose to reject Jesus instead.
Further on in 12:12, after Jesus points out that these religious rats do not understand his identity as the cornerstone, Mark tells us that “they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So, they left him and went away.” So, not only were these religious folks a bunch of whitewashed tombs, a brood of snakes, and a bunch of rats who deserve nothing but total judgement, but they were also a bunch of cowards who hid in the shadows while they did their dark deeds of rejecting their true King.
Once the rejection began, there was no way to turn back the clock. The rejection only gets stronger and stronger as Mark’s action-packed narrative unfolds. At some point, Judas betrays Jesus, Peter denies Jesus, and at the cross everyone abandons Jesus. Immediately following his unlawful arrest, Jesus is standing before the high council of religious rats in 14:61 – 64, where Mark says that “the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ And the high priest tore his garments and said, ‘What further witness do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?’ And they all condemned him as deserving death.”
Jesus’ answer to the line of questions from this unruly mob was an answer of eternal Kingship. By his own confession, he was the King, and that confession was the central reason for their rejection. These religious rats – these cowards – did not want to bow their knees before Jesus. So, instead, they condemned him to death in their rejection of him.
And as they rejected their true King, they passed him along to the Gentile courts where Pilate asked Jesus in 15:2, “‘Are you the King of the Jews.’ And he answered him, ‘You have said so.’” Jesus’ answer leads Pilate to press the point further in the next public hearing in 15:12 – 13 where he asks the religious rats, “‘Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ And they cried out again, ‘Crucify him.’”
If you have ever experienced the pain of rejection, please know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus experienced the pain of rejection too. This was necessary for Jesus (and usually necessary for us too in God’s wisdom) because without rejection, Jesus could have never walked into his full identity as the Crucified, Risen, Son of God.
#6: JESUS IS THE CRUCIFIED, RISEN SON OF GOD (15:33-39; 16:5-7)
As we draw near to the end of the gospel of Mark, we must step back and notice that Mark begins in 1:1by describing Jesus as “the Son of God” and then he moves on to describe Jesus as the Fisher of Men, the One who Commands Silence, the Suffering Servant and Savior, and the Rejected King and then he closes up his description of Jesus by coming full circle back around to Jesus being the Son of God. But in closing, he attaches the words Crucified and Risen to the description and he does it through the lips of a Gentile Centurion on the hill of Golgotha and the grieving women who visit the empty tomb.
After the horror of the crucifixion, once Jesus had breathed his final breathe, Mark tells us in 15:39 that “when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” The lips of a Gentile guard confirmed the truth about Jesus! He is the crucified Son of God!
Mark also tells us in 16:6 – 7 that when the women who visited Jesus’ tomb on the third day, found it empty with an angel sitting there, they stood in fear and the angel said, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has 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 to Galilee. There you will see him just as he told you.” Jesus is the Crucified, Risen, Son of God! He has been victorious over Satan, Sin, and Death in the cross and the empty tomb!!
In conclusion, what began as a proclamation of John Mark in verse one of our text becomes the undisputable declaration of a Gentile guard and a group of grieving women at the closing of our text. Jesus is the undisputed crucified, risen, Son of God. He is the active Fisher of men who makes more fishers of men. He is the One who commands silence so that we may resist partnership with evil, find rest in God’s presence, resist throwing pearls before swine, and grow in our ability to communicate the gospel faithfully. He is our Suffering Servant and Savior who is not afraid to wash our filthy hearts with his broken body and shed blood. He is our Rejected King who empathizes with us when we feel the pain of rejection and more than that, he embraced that rejection so that he could be our Crucified, Risen, Son of God.
This Christmas season, let me encourage you to draw close to this Jesus. The Jesus of Mark’s gospel. There is no doubt in my mind that we all need a massive dose of the action sequences of this story – more than we need to watch reruns of Die Hard or the same old Hallmark movies we have seen over and over again.
What we need, this Christmas season, is to draw close to Jesus according Mark’s Gospel, to be reminded that in Christ we have the Son of God walking with us, teaching us how to fish for the lost, inviting us into the silence and solitude of his eternal peaceful presence, showing us how to suffer and serve well, empathizing with us in the pain of rejection, and ultimately strengthening us through the power of the bloody cross, and the victory of the empty tomb! Now that is an action movie worth watching over and over again! – Amen?!
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).
2 Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey, 2nd Edition (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 129. (This paper is based largely on this citation in the context of pgs. 128 – 142.)
3 Walter A. Elwell and Robert W. Yarbrough, Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 87 – 90. (This paper is based largely on this citation in the context of pgs. 87 – 96.)
4 Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey, 2nd Edition (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 129.
6 Ibid., 133.
7 Ibid., 134.