Studies in Mark: the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God

Mark 1‑8  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 10
I.— “The Gospel Of Jesus Christ, The Son Of God” (1:1)
It is both interesting and instructive to observe what guards are set in holy Scripture to prevent our misapprehension of its main object. For while all divine communications are didactic and disciplinary (2 Timothy 3:16, 1716All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:16‑17)) in a general. sense, their supreme characteristic, in the New Testament at any rate, is that they constitute the revelation of the Father and the Son, and on this account such precautions are rendered the more necessary. In that sacred monologue to which we are graciously made privy in the Fourth Gospel, the eternal Son, speaking to the holy Father concerning His followers, said, “I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me” (John 17:88For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. (John 17:8)). How shall we not then prize such utterances, given by the Father to Jesus, given by the Son to us, that we might know both the Sender and the Sent One! But then we are in danger of missing the lofty nature of these communications.
Do we on all occasions realize the personality of the Author, speaking Himself and of Himself to us as we read the Bible? This, however, is the aim of our spiritual education—that we should, above the din of controversy and the bustle of the marts, hear habitually the voice of Him who saw us “under the fig-tree.” We shall find an abundance of smooth stones in the stream, with which our Goliaths may be smitten down. But we cannot slake the thirst of our spirits with pebbles. We need to drink “of the brook in the way,” of the water of the well in Bethlehem. Truly, the power of God can make such stones bread; but we are not entitled to expect that Christian vigor will be maintained by perpetual miracle, and in order to live we need “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” as our Lord Himself said.
And the construction of the phrase just quoted is highly significant. This vivifying power of the word of God is here intimately associated with its reception direct from “the mouth of God.” It was the breath of the Almighty that infused the spirit of life into Adam's inanimate clay at the beginning. Through grace we have been created afresh in Christ Jesus, and it is the theopneustic scriptures which sustain the new man. And their special value in this respect lies in the fact that in them we receive a personal communication from Him who is the Life.
Men labor zealously, but fruitlessly, to invent a definition of the inspiration of the Scriptures which shall be alike agreeable to the “honest doubter” and to the simple believer. But light and darkness may be as readily reconciled as doubt and faith. And after all, the definition of a fact is of negligible importance in comparison with the fact itself. And while few are qualified to judge of the adequacy or otherwise of a proposed definition of inspiration, it is within the power of the humblest saint to hold to the invincible authority and the incorruptible truth of God inherent in the Scriptures, both being qualities which are inseparable from a communication made by God to man.
The foregoing remarks have been necessarily somewhat abstract in character. It is proposed, therefore, to illustrate their general drift by examples from the Bible itself—one from the Old Testament and one from the New.
Abraham was a man who understood what it was to receive personal communications from God. One such instance in his career of faith is recorded in Genesis 15, and this will suffice to indicate the principle involved. Abram had arrived at a critical epoch in his history. For nearly ten years he had now been wandering as a pilgrim and a stranger in a land definitely promised to his seed, he himself to become the channel of blessing to all the families of the earth. After all those years of patience, these promises still seemed but a mirage of the desert. Abram was a childless man of eighty-five, the apparent heir to his possessions being Dammesek Eliezer.
It is at this juncture that the word of Jehovah comes to Abram in a vision, “Fear not, Abram; I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward.” But this reassurance only awakens a fretful plaint from the man of deferred hopes as though he had failed to judge Him faithful who had promised. And how is this flickering flame of faith rekindled? It is significant to note that again we read, “The word of Jehovah came unto him [but not in a vision this time], saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.” This, however, was not an impersonal word, but such a communication as brought Abram into personal intercourse with Jehovah Himself; for it is added immediately, “And HE brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them; and HE said unto him, So shall thy seed be.”
This was a confirmation in amplified terms, though not yet with the oath given on mount Moriah (Genesis 22:16-1816And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: 17That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; 18And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. (Genesis 22:16‑18); Hebrews 6:13-1813For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, 14Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. 15And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. 16For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. 17Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: 18That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: (Hebrews 6:13‑18)), of the initial promise to Abram, whose faith and hope now needed “encouragement.” How it would revive and strengthen his faith to hear the voice of Him who had promised, and to be assured that though long years had passed He had not forgotten! Moreover, to accomplish this result the more thoroughly, the Lord Himself conveyed this reassurance to His patient but not perfect servant. Accordingly we gather that the desired end was attained. The faith of Abram, impressed by the authority and faithfulness of Him who was speaking, laid hold of the living God, so that we find it written, “He believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” And here we have the cardinal principle, which must ever underlie the life of the just, as the New Testament fully shows, wrought in the heart of this ancient saint by the word as it proceeded out of the mouth of God.
In Mary of Bethany we have a New Testament instance of one whose inner life received sustenance and nourishment by personal communications from the lips of the Lord Himself. On a memorable occasion she sat at His feet, and heard His word (Luke 10:3939And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. (Luke 10:39)), selecting this attitude of her own free choice, impelled thereto no doubt by some sense within her of the real personality of the lowly Prophet of Nazareth. She received His words at first hand, choosing in this “the good part"; and they were not received in vain. Living, as we thus see her, by every word proceeding out of the mouth of God's Spokesman, she learned what most seemed to have missed, that the way of the Lord to the hill of glory lay through the valley of death. Six days before the Passover Mary came to the house of Simon the leper to anoint His body beforehand for the burial. Neither did she undertake the vain errand of seeking that body at Joseph's tomb on the first of the following week. She knew He was not there, but risen as He had told her and many besides. But was not her superior intelligence due in great part, if not entirely, to the fact that her teaching was viva, voce, while she, realizing in some degree who the august Person her teacher was, received His instruction in all faith and reverence?
Only in like manner can the maximum value be obtained from the Scriptures to-day. Those alone who humbly and prayerfully seek Him who is the Author and Subject of the Bible will hear His voice. To seek Him apart from the word is to be cheated by the vain imaginings of our deceitful nature. To read the word apart from Him is to expose ourselves to a similar cheat. He who is the Truth is to be found only in the word which is truth.
These reflections have been awakened by the phrase standing at the commencement of Mark's Gospel— “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Its abruptness has occasioned much divergent opinion as to its exact meaning, though in this particular it accords perfectly with the terse and staccato style of Mark. The simplest and most acceptable view seems to be to regard it as forming the inspired title to the whole book that follows.
For what is the object of an inscription to a given volume? Is it not to prepare the reader for what is to be found therein? And this divine title to the Second Gospel is preparatory, informing the reader of its sacred contents, that with reverence and godly fear he may receive the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is easy to forget that it was Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came forth from Nazareth in Galilee, who ate with publicans and sinners, who was accused by the scribes of blasphemy and of casting out demons by Beelzebub, who was mocked, scourged, and crucified. But can any believer doubt the deeper significance these facts assume to us as we read them in the remembrance of the eternal Godhead of the holy Sufferer, and even more so when in the communion of the Holy Spirit we receive them as it were from His very lips?
Jesus Christ is presented in this Gospel as the Servant of Jehovah, who, according to the ancient prophecies, was to come into the world. How fitting before we read an account of His ways in lowly service that we should be reminded of His Deity, lest we should in heart detract from His glory! He who emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, learning obedience by the things He suffered, was Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Philippians 2:6-96Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: (Philippians 2:6‑9); Hebrews 5:88Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; (Hebrews 5:8)).
But adequate testimony to His Sonship is recorded in other parts of this Gospel. There is a double witness from on high. At the baptism in Jordan a voice out of the heavens declared, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (1:11), a testimony repeated from the “excellent glory” on the Mount of Transfiguration (9:7). There was also a double witness from beneath. Unclean spirits fell down before Him, saying, “Thou art the Son of God” (3:11). So also Legion says, “What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God that thou torment me not” (5:7).
We may also refer to His own recorded witness before the high priest. When the latter asked Him, “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” and received the reply, “I am,” he understood the nature of the claim thus made.."The high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses? Ye have heard the blasphemy; what think ye? And they all condemned him to be worthy of death” (14:61-64).
The remarkable expression of the Roman centurion at the crucifixion is also given in this Gospel. “When the centurion which stood over against him saw that he so cried out and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God” (15:39). There has been some discussion as to the exact sense in which the soldier used these words, and whether he is to be regarded as a confessor of Christ like Simon Peter (Matthew 16:1616And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. (Matthew 16:16)). But it is sufficient to see that he rebutted the charge of the Jews who said to Pilate, “We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God” (John 19:77The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. (John 19:7)). After witnessing the portentous signs of His death, the centurion was constrained, impartially if not unwillingly, to declare, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
Thus we see that in this Gospel which portrays the Servant of Jehovah in His ways of perfect obedience, His eternal Sonship is jealously guarded, and that this character is given Him from its opening sentence. Incidentally, we also gather that there is cogent internal evidence for the retention here of the phrase, “the Son of God,” which some critical editors of the text have rejected on insufficient external grounds.
[W. J. H.
(To be continued)