Christ the Perfect Servant in the Gospel of Mark (1): Introduction

God has been pleased to give us four gospel records. It is manifest also that He had a purpose and design in so doing. It is good for us to discover the design in the gospels and the peculiar characteristics of each one of them. Matthew presents our Lord Jesus as the King of the Jews. Luke pictures Him as the pattern man, as God would have us to be. John portrays Him as the unique Son of God. Mark presents Him as the perfect servant.

Since the early years of Christianity the four gospels have been linked with the four faces of the four living creatures in Ezekiel 1, especially verse 10. They each had four faces: the face of a man, the face of a lion, the face of an ox, and the face of an eagle. The lion answers to the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord as King. The ox answers to Mark, the Lord as servant and sacrifice. The face of the man answers to Luke, the Lord as the ideal man. The eagle answers to John, the Lord’s heavenly character as the Son.

W. Graham Scroggie (in his excellent book A Guide to the Gospels) points out that there is only 7% of Mark that is unique to Mark, while 93% of Mark is found in at least one of the other gospels. The Gospel of John is the exact opposite with 93% of John unique to John. Even though one may question those exact figures, it can be said dogmatically that Mark is the least unique of the gospels and John is the most unique. Brooke Foss Westcott has similar figures to those of Scroggie. However, we shall see that Mark has beautiful touches about the Lord’s service in the 7% that is unique to Mark.

When the Holy Spirit wanted to write of One Who is in the bosom of the Father He used John who leaned on His bosom. When the Spirit wanted to write of God’s only perfect Servant He used one who was himself a servant, John Mark. The little history we have of him in the New Testament should be an encouragement to all of us.

The first time we read of him in Acts should be an encouragement to mothers and would-be-mothers. In Acts 12:12 when Peter was miraculously delivered from prison we read, “He came to the house of Mary the mother of John whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.” Since so many saints were gathered together in her house praying, Mary most likely had a good influence on her son spiritually.

Mark had a humble service to do, but he failed in it. In Acts 13:5 on the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas we read, “They had also John as their attendant” (RV). He probably prepared meals and lodgings for them, but sadly, he failed in his service for we read in Acts 13:13: “They came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.” Paul felt the defection keenly. Seven years later he objected to taking John Mark with them to visit their brethren in every city where they had preached – “But Paul thought it not good to take him with them, who departed from them in Pamphylia and went not with them to the work” (Acts 15:38). This disagreement led to the separation of Paul and Barnabas.

John Mark was restored and later Paul wrote good things about him. In Colossians 4:10-11 (about 31 years after Acts 15:38), Paul wrote to the Colossian church to receive him. He refers to John Mark as “a fellow worker” and one of the only ones among the concision who had been a comfort to Paul. In Philemon verse 24 he refers to him as “a fellow laborer.” And especially in 2 Timothy 4:11: “Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.” What an encouragement is the brief account we have of John Mark in the New Testament. He had a humble service to do and he failed in it but God restored him and used him to portray Christ, the only perfect Servant, Who never failed or faltered in His service.

There are profitable things about service in the gospel according to Mark that are not found in the other gospels. This article will not deal with all of them because we want to concentrate on the needs that Mark emphasizes. There are six: 1) the need of a right relationship with God; 2) the need of preaching the gospel; 3) the need of activity; 4) the need of prayer and retirement (to balance the need of activity); 5) the need of courage; and 6) the need of love, patience, and compassion.

The very first verse emphasizes this: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Because He was “the Son of God,” He could render this perfect service. We often think of the words of the Father at His baptism: “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). Notice, however, the words recorded in Mark: “Thou art My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased” (1:11). They are words of encouragement directly to our Lord Jesus Christ. The Revised Version is even more emphatic in its last phrase: “In Thee I am well pleased.”

No person ever becomes rightly related to God by serving, but, when a person is born again only then can he serve God acceptably. “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8:8).The need of a right relationship with God is also emphasized in the last part of Isaiah, which has a lot to say about Jehovah’s Perfect Servant in chapters 40-66. William Rodgers of Omagh, Northern Ireland, points out the preciousness of how Isaiah was inspired in his use of the word “servant” in Isaiah. From chapter 40 through chapter 53 we read of “servant” singular 20 times, 14 of them “My servant,” usually either of Christ directly or of Israel as typical of Christ. Never once in those chapters do we read of “servants” plural. But after chapter 53 never again do we read of “servant” singular. Instead we read of “servants” plural 11 times and 6 of these, “My servants.”

The account of the temptation is much briefer in Mark than in Matthew or Luke. A servant must be tested, but it is of a private nature. Yet, even though he has only two verses, Mark has four details not recorded in Matthew or Luke. Only Mark tells us that it was “immediately” after the words of His Father at His baptism. The Father didn’t hesitate to refer to Him as His beloved Son because He knew He was impeccable. He would never yield to any temptation of Satan. Mark is the only one who records that the Spirit “driveth” Him into the wilderness. Our Lord Jesus was completely submissive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Mark alone refers to the tempter as Satan. W. E. Vine writes, “In the NT the word is always used of Satan, the adversary.” The fourth detail (that only Mark records) is that, “He was with the wild beasts.” The wild beasts were in subjection to Him Who was the “Second Man” and the “Last Adam.” These two verses are enough to give his chief purpose showing that Satan is out to stop all true service for God. In view of that it is very important that we pray one for another.