Gateway to the Classics: St. Mark by J. Paterson Smyth
St. Mark by  J. Paterson Smyth

Lesson I


St. Mark I. 1-13.

"The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ"

I T is important to divide this Gospel clearly into Introduction, i. vv.  1-13;  Part I., Christ's public ministry in Galilee, ch.  i.-x.;Part II., His ministry and death in Judæa, ch.  x.-xvi. Mark those divisions in the children's Bibles.

In teaching the importance of the Church in God's plan for the world, avoid all arrogant talk about our separated brethren. Try to impress the idea of a divinely guided Society of baptized people, who should all be one—that separations are weakening and injuring it, and displeasing Christ. Our Church has been to blame as well as Dissenters. Our duty to ask Christ to help us to bring all together again, so that the sin of separation may cease, and the Church of God be strong and united, as He desires.

The game of word-picturing here suggested, if not overdone, is very interesting to children. If the teacher has any vividness of Imagination, he can hold them spell-bound, and can impart warmth and life and colour to the Bible story, that will make it most interesting to them.

§ 1. How Were the Gospels Written?

Meaning of "Gospel"? How many Gospels? One. How many separate accounts of it? Are all exactly the same? Why not? Illustrate four separate boys telling of an accident. Would they say exactly same things? Each tells from own point of view what struck him most. One notices something that another does not, etc. So different. But their stories in the main are the same. Show gain of four accounts of our Lord's life and work. Like four pictures of Him from different points of view.

Which came first, the Church or the Bible?  Which first, the telling  or the writing  of the Gospel story? Which would come first to-day in China? Of course, the Church comes first. The Lord first founded a Divine Society, and then through that Society gave the Divine Book. Men come first and tell the story of Christianity, and teach and baptize converts. Then after some years they begin to prepare written or printed Bible. Thus in China to-day. Thus also in early days. Gospels did not begin by Evangelist sitting down one day to compose his Gospel straight off, as we write books. The Gospels are just the stories told in their preaching by the apostles and disciples everywhere, and gathered together and written down after several years had passed. Every day St. Peter, St. Matthew, St. John, and other teachers sent by the Church were telling the stories of Christ's life. St. Matthew told it to Jews in Judæa; St. John to Gentiles at Ephesus. So told in different ways. Each told what he knew best, and what was most suited for his hearers. By constantly telling same things they got to tell them well—to leave out what was unimportant—to dwell on what was most powerful for touching men's hearts. Thus the guidance of the Holy Spirit was preparing for the writing of the Gospels.

The Gospel, therefore, was first oral,  or spoken. Then people began to write down the separate stories, lest they should be forgotten. Probably many accounts. (See Luke i. 1-3.) But the greatest and best and most perfect were those four which we now have—the Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John, written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and chosen by the Church,  under His guidance, to be preserved and taught, while the other accounts gradually vanished away. Remember it was through the Church that God gave and preserved the Bible. Remember, then, that the Church of Christ is a very sacred thing, and very important to be kept in mind. It is God's appointed means of helping the world. It is the Divine Society founded by Christ. It existed many years before a word of the New Testament was written. It prepared the Gospels under the guidance of the Holy Ghost. It bore witness to them. It preserved them through all the ages. It taught them to the world. It was the instrument used by the Holy Ghost for helping men everywhere to the knowledge of Christ. As far as we can see, there would be no Bible if there were no Church. People nowadays forget the sacred position of the Church. They think it means separate individuals, not one Divine Society. They split it up into hundreds of different bodies, who will not worship together; and then they ask, Where is the Church? Some people don't believe in the Church or its mission at all. (See Lesson on Acts II.)  They do not understand what grand purposes the Church has accomplished, and what grand purposes God has still for it. Be you careful to remember it. Do all you can firmly, lovingly, prayerfully, to heal its unhappy divisions, for its Master's sake.

§ 2. Who was St. Mark?

Would like to know something of writer of this Gospel. Look at Acts xii. 12. We hear of Mary, the mother of Mark, who had a house in Jerusalem. She seems to have been a person of some means and influence, whose house was a meeting-place for the early Christians in those dangerous days. Probably the Lord Jesus used to go there. Perhaps Lord's Supper instituted in its upper room. Most probably it was the upper room where the Pentecost miracle took place. So the boy brought up in a Christian home. Knew the chief men of the Church.

We read that Paul and Barnabas quarrelled about this young Mark (Acts xv. 36-40). Yet he was with Paul afterwards at Rome (Colossians iv. 10;  Philemon 24). But Peter seems his especial friend and spiritual father. Came straight to his house to tell of escape (Acts xii. 12). And long years afterwards mentions Mark affectionately as being with him (1 Peter v.  13): "Marcus, my son." Early Church writers soon after Apostles say that Mark was the "interpreter" of St. Peter—that he put down what Peter taught him of the life of the Lord. So that we might almost call this the Gospel of St. Peter. Pleasant to think of the aged Apostle talking so warmly to his young comrade about all the pleasant memories of the Lord, whom he so enthusiastically loved, and the young Marcus who, as a boy, had probably seen Jesus, and heard the people talk of Him in his mother's house, writing down what Peter told him. Here is the account of a very early Christian named Papias, who is said to have been a hearer of St. John:—"Mark, having become Peter's interpreter, wrote accurately all that Peter mentioned. He did not, however, record in order either the things said or done by Christ, for he neither heard the Lord nor followed Him, but subsequently followed Peter, who used to frame his teaching in accordance with the needs (of his hearers), but not as though making a methodic narrative of the Lord's discourses. So Mark made no error in writing down some things as Peter narrated them."

§ 3. "The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ"

To-day we have the introduction (ch.  i. to v.  14). Then comes Part I. (chs.  i. to x.)—an account of our Lord's ministry in Galilee; and Part II.—His last visit to Jerusalem, with His death and resurrection. Repeat these divisions. Mark in Bible. Remember them. St. Mark seems a very eager, hurrying writer. He makes his stories, like pictures, very bright and clear, and interesting, and always every picture with Jesus in the midst. But he crowds them in so fast that we can hardly keep up with him. Like a magic lantern where the pictures are run in very rapidly one after another. In chap. i. he has run in ten separate little pictures, each a perfect and beautiful little story in itself. (See Revised Version, where they are marked by separate paragraphs.) We have only time to look at the first three to-day, and see THE LORD PREPARING FOR HIS WORK (vv.  1-14). This portion is the "Introduction to the Gospel," Now shut your eyes, and let me throw the pictures upon the screen.

(a)  First is thrown upon the screen—the picture of a wilderness land, with its gloomy rocks and trees, and a rapid river running between the green, reedy banks. There is a crowd of all sorts of people—soldiers, and publicans, and Scribes, and Pharisees—some with anxious looks, some with mocking sneer; and, above them all, a pale, earnest face, and thin, worn form, with a hairy robe and a leathern girdle about his loins. His eyes are flashing sternly; his speech is eager and passionate; he looks like an ancient prophet of God; he makes them think of "Elias, who was to come." And the gay courtiers of Herod, and the rough soldiers of the Empire, and the sneering Pharisees, and the proud Sadducees have to listen to his terrible threats and warnings against sin. He tells all who are sorry for their sins to come down into the river to be baptized, that God may forgive them, and help them to be good. But he says: "I am only a poor humble preacher; I am but preparing for the Great Coming One whom the prophets told you of. He will baptize you with the Holy Ghost." So ends the first picture.

(b)  Now shut your eyes again for the next. (Here picture after the same manner the baptism of Jesus; prepare your description carefully beforehand. Watch to see if the interest is kept up; if not, let the game of picturing stop. Otherwise, go rapidly on to the third picture.)

(c)  A dreary desert plain, with the wild beasts swarming about it, looking for their prey, yet passing peacefully and lovingly about the feet of their Lord. Make your picture at the close of the forty days of awful struggle, and temptation, and hunger, when He is pale and wearied with the strain; when the devil has departed, and the angels are ministering to Him. Take trouble to bring out the feeling of awe for the infinite purity and majesty of the Lord. John, before whom the greatest quailed, yet felt himself unworthy to loose the thong of His shoe, so wonderfully was he touched by that majesty of goodness—the fierce, wild beasts forgot their fierceness in His loving presence—the great, strong angels of God, who with a touch could destroy Jericho, were bowing at His feet, rejoicing to do Him service, and wondering that He should stoop to this poor life. What means it all? That the King of the strong angels—the Creator of all things—had come down to poor, humble, sinful men and women, to be their brother on earth, to save their souls, to help them to be good. "God so loved the world." (John iii. 16). Thus our Blessed Saviour prepared for His ministry. Next day we shall see Him fully engaged in it.

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