The Perfect Servant in Mark’s Gospel: His Identity

Mark was an imperfect servant. While on a missionary journey with Barnabas and the apostle Paul, he lost his courage and, leaving his companions in Perga, returned home to his mother in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas, continuing on to Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, experienced assault and stoning before returning eventually to Jerusalem. There they rehearsed what God had done with them. Many had been saved; God had “opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles” (Act 14:27).[1] As Mark heard the report of their exploits, he must have wished he had never deserted his post.

God is, however, the God of grace. He placed in close companionship with Mark three men who would leave their own impression on his life. These men were Paul, Barnabas and Peter. Paul was straight-talking; he soon let Mark know what was expected of him. Tender-hearted Barnabas drew alongside Mark to encourage him. Peter exemplified to Mark what true restoration to useful service for God was like.

As a result, Mark was a changed man. A decade after his failure he received commendation from no less a servant than Paul. But far greater even than Paul’s recommendation was this fact: Mark was sovereignly selected by the Spirit of God to write the Gospel of the Perfect Servant.

The God of grace uses bruised reeds – there are no other reeds available to him, apart from Christ. We must never forget: failure need not be final.

However, while failure marks us all, it is not what we should aim at or be content with. Mark, an imperfect servant, has put on record the career of the Perfect Servant who has left us an example to follow (cf. 1Pe 2:21). Occupying our minds with this Servant speeds us in our own service.

“No broken service, Lord, was thine
No change was in Thy way
Unsullied in Thy holiness
Thy strength knew no decay.”

In this series of articles we will consider together Mark’s portrait of the Perfect Servant. It divides into the following four sections:

  1. The Servant’s Identity (Ch.1:1-13)
  2. The Servant’s Activity (Ch.1:14-8:21)
  3. The Servant’s Itinerary (Ch.8:22-10:52)
  4. The Servant’s Destiny (Ch.11:1-16:20)

Isaiah contains four Servant Songs which correspond to these sections of Mark’s Gospel. The first is in Isaiah 42. God identifies His Servant: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him” (Isa 42:1). God directs our gaze to one Servant in whom He finds infinite delight.

The Servant’s Identity (1:1-13)

Mark likewise commences his Gospel by identifying the Servant who is truly delightful to God. In fact, he gathers together a number of testimonies to this Servant. His own testimony (v1) is followed by that of the Old Testament prophets (vv2-3), John the Baptist (vv4-8), and God Himself (vv9-13).

The Testimony of Mark (1:1)

Mark’s own perspective on the Lord is confirmed by the title he chose for his book: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (v1).

Each of the four Gospels has a particular emphasis. Matthew presents the Lord Jesus as the King, Mark as the Servant, Luke as the Man, and John as the Son of God. However, no Gospel writer loses sight of the truth communicated by the other Gospel writers. Mark, while presenting to us a Servant, ensures that we are left in no doubt that this Servant is “Jesus” the true Man, “Christ” the glorious King, and the divine “Son of God.”

But why did Mark include in his title the word “beginning”? Does he not incorporate into his book all the good news concerning this Servant? Mark, who wrote his Gospel before all others, intentionally leaves open an invitation to investigate further. There is more to be discovered about this Servant than Mark records.

Mark says little about the future glory awaiting this Servant. Reading the Servant Songs in Isaiah will reveal wonderful truth concerning the position He will occupy in the future, the people He will bless, the pleasure He will afford to God, and the power He will exert in His restoration of Israel and rule over the nations. Mark’s record is true, and it should warm our hearts, thrill our souls and change our lives. However, it is just the beginning of the good news.

The Queen of Sheba said about Solomon: “It was a true report that I heard.” It was true, but not the whole truth. She continued: “The half was not told me: thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard” (1Ki 10:6-7). As we view the Lord Jesus who “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant” and became obedient to the point of death, “even the death of the cross,” we should never forget that there are anticipated glories Mark says little about. Paul tells us that to this Servant “every knee should bow” throughout all of creation, and “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Php 2:5-11).

So Mark intends the readers of his Gospel to begin their journey with a rich, full-orbed view of his subject. The Servant he presents is also the King; He is both man and God. Not only so, but the brief record of His service in this world, precious and delightful as it is, is the introduction to untold honours that await Him in the future.

As true believers approaching the subject of the Lord Jesus we must also maintain this full-orbed view. Examining His past suffering, let us not forget His future glory. Considering His selfless service of sacrifice for us, let us not forget that He is worthy of our sacrificial worship and undying adoration in return.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.