Mark in 2 Acts

One of the most amazing things about the Bible is that you can read the same books over and over again throughout your life and each time make new discoveries, draw new connections, see more truth.

One piece of advise I have found helpful in order to glean more insight from books you have already read a number of times is to ask the question “why did the author tell the story in that particular way?” This is a great question to ask especially as you are reading the gospel accounts. In other words, why does Matthew or Mark or Luke or John put one particular story next to another one? They can seem sort of random sometimes. Are they? Or do the authors have a master plan guiding the story they are telling of Jesus’ life? That master plan, the overall flow of the narrative, very often has important implications, important insights the author wishes us to understand.

The Gospel of Mark is a great example.

If you have been keeping up in your Bible Reading Plan, you are about halfway through the Gospel of Mark. Something fascinating happens almost exactly halfway through the Gospel of Mark. There is an abrupt change of tone, a change of mood. The story gets darker. Mark is divided into 2 parts, 2 Acts of a story really.

Act 1, Chapters 1-8, tell the story of Jesus’ authority and power. As the narrative progresses, it is revealed that Jesus has authority over more and more of the created order…

1:29-34: Mark reveals Jesus has authority over physical health, able to heal illness.

1:40-45: Even over leprosy, the most unclean of all diseases.

2:5: Over not just physical illness, but spiritual illness as well, the disease of sin.

2:23-28: Authority over the Sabbath

3:1-6: And all Old Testament law

4:35-41: Mark reveals Jesus has authority over nature as he calms a storm.

5:1-13: Over demons and the spiritual realm.

Mark is painting a picture, exposing a man – a God-Man – that is the ultimate authority and has ultimate power over every experience of our existence. “Jesus is God” is Mark’s message. We stand in awe, we are amazed, we are afraid.

In Act 2, however, the tone changes, the mood darkens. It is not a story of power and authority and victory (though some of those themes do carry over at times), but primarily a story of suffering, abandonment, pain, and death.

The change of tone and emphasis is evident immediately. You can put your finger on the switch. It happens in the middle of Chapter 8. Jesus heals a blind man in 8:22-26 and in the very next ‘clip’ Jesus begins to teach his disciples that “the Son of Man must suffer many things be rejected by the elders and chief priest and the scribes and be killed, and after 3 days rise again” (8:31).

The announcement lands on deaf ears. The disciples have no category for this news. They are following a man of victory, of authority, of power. They don’t know how to make sense of a suffering, dying, savior-king.

But more and more of Jesus’ suffering is revealed throughout Act 2, chapters 8-16…

9:31: Jesus explains, again, he will be killed.

10:33: A third time he ties to drive his point home (but the disciples still managed to be surprised when it finally happens)

10:35: The disciples begin to angle for more honor from Jesus over and above the others

10:41: The other disciples bicker back.

14:1: A secret plot to kill Jesus is revealed.

14:10: Judas volunteers to betray him.

14:34: Jesus prays in sorrow as his disciples fall asleep.

14:51: As Jesus is arrested, a follower abandons him so entirely the disciple flees naked through the garden.

14:66-72: Peter, the boldest and bravest of Jesus’ disciples, denies his Lord 3 times in a row, once to a small slave girl his fear is so deep.

15:15: Jesus is sentenced to crucifixion.

15:17: He is mocked,

15:19: beaten,

15:21-32: and executed.

The 2 Acts could not be more different. Act 1 is a story of power and victory over evil, sickness, demons, and sin. Act 2 is a story of suffering and defeat in the hands of the very forces Jesus had defeated earlier in the Gospel of Mark.

And it is the juxtaposition between Act 1 and Act 2 that grabs our attention, startles us into asking the question: “why?” Why would Jesus, the God-Man, the one with power and authority to do anything, defeat anyone, let himself be subjected to what he had to endure? To be abandoned by friends, tortured, and killed alone.

The beautiful message of the Gospel of Mark that is highlighted so brightly in the overall structure of the narrative is that Jesus is a suffering God – a God who let himself be subjected to the worst this world had to offer, not because he didn’t have a choice, not because he was impotent to do anything about it, but because he voluntarily chose to suffer and die for us.

His love drove him to the cross, not some human scheme of evil and hate. He went there. He chose it. He did it to redeem his children.

I pray as you read the Gospel of Mark and every other book of the Bible for the rest of your life, new insights, new truth, new life would continually flow from the pages of the Word into your heart and change you from the inside out.

Thanks for reading.

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