Preach, The Seed


Mark is one of the three gospels which are collectively known as the ‘synoptic’ gospels. ‘Syn’ means together, ‘optic’ refers to vision, so synoptic quite literally means ‘see together’. In other words, they have significant similarities. They are Matthew, Mark and Luke. John is VERY different in all sorts of ways. Even though Matthew Mark and Luke are viewed as very similar, each has a particular style. Matthew clearly appears to have been written to a Jewish audience, Luke to a gentile one. Mark’s gospel is generally believed to have been the first which was written, and on the face of it is the simplest, most straightforward account of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. Mark is the ‘least developed’, the least academic of the gospels in terms of the Greek it uses and the christology it teaches.

This morning’s message is somewhat different, because I want to make some background and foundational comments and thoughts about Mark before diving into the text itself. I believe that this will increase our confidence in the accuracy and efficacy of the gospel.

So, the place I am going to start talking about Mark’s gospel is not actually Mark’s gospel at all. It’s Luke’s Gospel, and his other book: Acts. This is because they gives us information and insight into Mark. Luke opens the book of Acts by saying, “in my first book, Theophilus” (Acts 1:1 niv). That book is his gospel, and in his gospel he gives the reason he writes at all: (turn to Luke 1:1,2).

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught”.

One of the accounts that Luke mentions here is generally understood to be the account we have and know as the gospel of Mark. It’s not necessary to delve too deeply into the textual and documentary evidence for this, but I do accept this conclusion. You must decide for yourself if I am right.

The reason I am starting in Luke is that the evidence from Luke and from Acts gives us information about Mark’s gospel which will lay a foundation over the coming weeks as we look at it.

  1. Firstly: Mark is an eyewitness account. Luke says it straight, he says the things he writes are: “handed down to us by those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the Lord”. The eyewitness that historians and the church fathers accept was behind Mark’s gospel is the apostle Peter. Written probably through the process of Peter dictating to Mark, who wrote the gospel down. Similar to Luke (who says it out loud), Mark is merely the author and not the source of his gospel.
  2. Secondly: (This argument comes from J Warner Wallace). Luke makes a very interesting statement, he calls his account an ‘orderly’ account. J Warner Wallace says that people choose words for a reason, and he points out that when Luke takes pains to point out that his account is orderly, he is making a point about the other accounts (including Mark) – that they are ‘disorderly’. When Paul says disorderly, the commonly understood meaning for his readers would be regarding chronological order, not accuracy. In other words, Luke’s account will read more like a journal, following sequentially through Jesus’ life. Mark’s will read more like a conversation where perhaps the timeline will ‘jump about’ a bit as things come into the mind of Peter as he dictates to Mark.
  3. Thirdly: It flows from Luke’s referencing of Mark’s gospel that Mark pre-dates Luke (he wouldn’t be able to reference it if it didn’t). So, dating Luke comes through the following thought process: We can be fairly confident about the date of Acts, because it doesn’t contain reference to certain historical events we do know about which Luke would have referenced had they happened. Think of events as cataclysmic as the assassination of JFK or Martin Luther King, or the terrorist attack on the two towers in New York. These are such events as: the death of Peter (AD64-67); death of Paul (AD64-68); siege of Jerusalem and subsequent destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans (AD70-72) would ALL have made it into Acts. So we can reasonably confidently place Acts BEFORE those events happened. With regard to Luke’s gospel, we also have at least two quotes from it elsewhere in the New Testament writings that we CAN date:

    1. Paul writes 1 Corinthians to the church in Corinth in the mid 50s AD (the generally agreed on dating is late 53-early 54AD). In it he gives instructions the the believers about what we know as Communion. We especially note 1 Corinthians 11 which is read out regularly during this part of our services. In his instructions about communion here, he uses an unusual term: “do this in remembrance of me”. This term appears in Luke 24, and Christian and non-Christian scholars alike agree that Luke’s gospel is almost certainly Paul’s source material for this part of his letter.
    2. Paul also writes a letter to a young pastor called Timothy. Some scholars agree that the letters were written to Timothy before Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea in AD57, others place the dating around AD62-64. In any event, this is early. In his first letter to Timothy, he writes that Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain”, and “The worker deserves his wages” (1 Timothy 5:18). The first of those quotes is from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 25:4), but the second comes from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 10:7).

We can reasonably deduce, therefore that Acts was written before AD63. Luke, which is referred to in the first verse of Acts as ‘my former book’ clearly pre-dates it. Given the evidence from 1 Corinthians, a reasonable conclusion is that Luke is written in the early to mid 50s.

This helps us to date Mark’s gospel, because Mark predates Luke. So, it is reasonable to conclude that Mark is likely to have been written sometime before the early 50s. Some scholars argue it was written VERY early. Perhaps as early as the late 30s which is within 10 years of the events it describes. But even if it only predates Luke by a matter of months, Mark is written well within the memory of many people who would have witnessed the events (certainly more recently to the writer than the terrorist attack on the two tower in New York are to us today).

Why is this important? We can start to answer this question by considering this: Why did the Nazis burn books? Because if you can destroy, re-write, or cause people to question their history, you can more easily control them. Re-writing history is a common means of controlling or manipulating a population.

We are experiencing a modern pruning, culling and re-writing of historic books and history before our eyes today.

We live in a culture where people are currently banning books from libraries, some classics are being re-written, others are just plain being disregarded. We have ‘trigger warnings’ being added to the front of classic films. Watch a modern version of Gone with the Wind for example. Some people are even trying to re-write history and in some cases, erasing it altogether in our education system. An example would be the ‘1619 project’ in the United States which is seeking to re-write the history of America. Claiming it was not founded on the Declaration of Independence (1776), but over a hundred years earlier with the arrival of the first slaves. If they succeed, what will American children be learning in two or three generations time?


Was history re-written by the gospel authors like the 1619 project are seeking to re-write American history? Did they invent stories or distort what really happened to promote their newly-fledged belief? Can we trust what they say to be an accurate account of the life and ministry of Jesus. Is it a late fabrication which is, at best, an untrustworthy embellished account of the life and ministry of Jesus? If it is, we can’t trust it. I have met people who believe exactly that. They argue that we can’t trust the Bible because it was written in the second or third century. That it records a series of legends and folk stories which developed around who he was. Such people believe that the Bible is no more accurate than the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.

It is important that we are confident about the dating of the Biblical books. Because if we cannot trust their dating, we cannot be confident about the message they convey. This throws doubt on the message of the gospel itself. Luke claims that his account is written after talking to ‘eyewitnesses’, and that he ‘carefully investigated’ what they said. If you believe the gospels were written late, at best you are claiming that Luke is ignorant about the sources he is using, and at worst, you are calling him a liar. You are accusing him of deliberately misleading his reader by claiming that his sources are eyewitness testimonies. In either case, Luke becomes an untrustworthy document. The same is true of the other NT documents.

I don’t believe the gospels are written late, I believe that Luke and the other New Testament documents are written early and are trustworthy. They were completed within the first few decades of the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. They are written within living memory of eyewitnesses. Early dating and eyewitness testimony of the New Testament is important because there is simply not enough time for any legend at all to have developed. Legends take two or three hundred years to develop, and if the Bible is written early, this is simply an untenable belief. If we accept early dates of writing, then we can be confident that people who witnessed the events described would still be alive at the time (in fact Paul actually says this in 1 Corinthians 15) and any inaccuracies in what was being reported would have been vulnerable to challenge.

My point this morning (a ‘take home’ if you like), is that we can have an exceptionally high degree of confidence in the authenticity of all the gospels. Mark’s gospel is an accurate (if not orderly) account of the life of Jesus. We can trust it.

Right all that said, let’s dive into Mark …

📖 Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.
I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”


V1 – A New Gospel?

Mark starts his gospel by describing it in two ways:

  1. He describes it as ‘the beginning of the Good News’ . This reminds me of the openings of Genesis which states ‘in the beginning God created’ AND John’s gospel which also says ‘in the beginning was the word’.
  2. Mark’s gospel is, by his own witness, NOT the gospel of Mark, it is the gospel of Jesus the Messiah.

If we read Mark thoughtfully, we will see that it is full of descriptions of ‘new’, we have the reporting of how the people looked at Jesus: “what is this? A new teaching?” (Mark 1:27), We read about how New and Old don’t mix, especially when we think of wine and wineskins. It is quite common for people nowadays to make a distinction between the Old and the New Testaments. Some will even dismiss the Old Testament in its entirety. Many will only adopt those parts of the Old Testament laws which are specifically affirmed in the New.

I do not follow that rule. I believe that the Scriptures in their entirety reveal to us who God is, and the Old Testament is pregnant with Jesus. Jesus himself says of that the Scriptures are about Him. In John 5 he is talking to the Jewish Leaders and in v39 he says to them: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me”. Paul writes of the Scriptures that they are able to make us wise for salvation through Jesus Christ. The frequency with which the New Testament witnesses to the importance and efficacy of the Scriptures, the times Jesus said to people who asked questions of him: “what do the Scriptures say?”, the times we read about people explaining the gospel “from the Scriptures”, and the many references in the epistles to the scriptures as well give us a high degree of trust that the New Testament does not supplant the Old in any way. The numbers vary depending on what source you use, but there are, conservatively, nearly 300 Old Testament quotes in the New Testament. As far as prophecies go, one scholar believes that there are 574 Old Testament prophecies about Christ. Most believe there are around 450, and even conservative scholars identify at least 300.

My point here is that the ‘newness’ of the Gospel is all about the mechanism through which we gain access to God. The Old Testament reveals the same God as the new does, and His nature, his values haven’t changed, the SAME God of the Old Testament brings the offer of salvation in the New.

The Newness of the Gospel is NOT because God is different or changed in some way, it is rooted in a person. It is a new gospel because the mechanism for dealing with our sin and separation from God is no longer found in a sacrificial system, but in a person. The newness is the offer of salvation in Jesus Christ rather than the blood of bulls and goats. That’s (partly) what Hebrews is all about, explaining to us how Jesus is the mediator of a New Covenant:

“Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Hebrews 9:15 niv).

V2 – A voice calling in the wilderness.

Mark then moves on to John the Baptist — he takes pains to point out that John the Baptist is someone who is prophesied in Isaiah. He quotes Isaiah 40:3. Sometimes we focus so much on the prophecies about Jesus himself we forget that John the Baptist was also prophesied.

The thing which Mark does is note about John the Baptist is this: He is “the one calling in the wilderness”. We talk a lot about living the gospel, but for Mark, the one preparing the way for Jesus, he is preaching and proclaiming the good news. Verbally.

I believe we need to take this on board. There is a resistance, in fact I’d go so far as to describe it as a distaste of preaching the Gospel which is epitomised in a meme which periodically does the rounds and irritates me somewhat when I see it. It says:

“A Christian is what he lives, not what he preaches”.

This is a very close relative of the saying attributed to Francis of Assisi, “preach the Gospel, use words if necessary” (though there is no evidence he actually said it).

What irritates me is that it actually does the opposite of what it intends. Rather than increasing our witness, it changes it, it takes the heart out of it.

I think I get the real intent, which is “Let your actions match your words.” Sadly however, it plays to the attitude many have, which is they want the Christian in their midst to “Love me. Be kind to me. But don’t spew your intolerant rhetoric at me — keep the words of the message of the Gospel to yourself.”

The world wants our love.
They want our acts of kindness.
They want our generosity.
They desire our patience, tolerance, and good works.


They do not want the truth.
They do not want their wrong actions and attitudes to be called out.
They do not want to be challenged to think about their eternal destiny.
They do not want to come to a place to make a choice (not realising their inaction is itself a choice).
And they certainly do not want to hear the ‘s’ word (=sin).

But there is far more to love than simply being good to someone. Proclaiming the Gospel of love requires far more than just doing good things. If that were true, John the Baptist wouldn’t be a voice crying in the wilderness and Jesus could’ve easily just walked the earth healing people, driving out demons, handing out food, performing miracles, comforting the hurting. Loving with His actions.

But did He do only that?


He spoke. He challenged people. He called out sin. He forgave. He made people think. He questioned people. He told stories. He quoted Scripture.

He used WORDS.

So, we must preach the Gospel….and do it USING WORDS…but make sure our words are backed up and not contradicted by our actions.

Evangelism is

  1. Feeding the poor, the homeless, the naked, the hurting.
  2. Declaring the love of God to the hurting.
  3. Calling out anything which would separate men from the God who loves them.
  4. Proclaiming the mechanism, the pathway which brings us to a place of peace with God.

Next week, we’re going to unpack that a bit. We’ll look at the next few verses and consider the message that John the Baptist preached and how, or if, that applies to us, today in the 21st Century.