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Introduction

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Shortly before He left this earth and ascended into heaven, Jesus told His disciples, “...All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you...” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV)

Jesus’ disciples took His instructions very seriously. They remained in Jerusalem as Jesus commanded them until the Holy Spirit empowered them. Then, in the power of the Spirit, they began boldly proclaiming to all that Jesus is the Savior through whom God redeems mankind from sin.

Right from the beginning, thousands responded to this message and became dedicated followers of Christ. On the first day, alone, the Apostles baptized 3,000 people from fifteen different countries or provinces. In a little while, the number of men in the city of Jerusalem who believed grew to 5,000 (Acts 4:4). At the start, everyone who became a follower of Christ was Jewish.

At first, the common people had a high regard for this new faith. In time, incited by their religious leaders, their attitude changed and they began to persecute the followers of Christ. No doubt one reason for the persecution is the nature of Christ’s teaching. The Apostle John explains, “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:20 NIV) Jesus told His disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also...” (John 15:18-20 NIV)

The persecution led to two important developments. The first is that most of the followers of Christ fled from Jerusalem. The Bible records that for a while none of the believers remained in Jerusalem except the Apostles (Acts 8:1).

The second important result of the persecution is that the new faith spread even more rapidly. Those who left Jerusalem told others about Jesus wherever they went. Some even began to speak to people who were not from a Jewish background. As a result, a great number of people, both Jews and non-Jews believed and began to follow Christ in places such as Antioch in Syria (Acts 11:19-21).

Several years later, when the church in Jerusalem was strong once again, another persecution broke out. This time, instead of targeting church members, the authorities struck at the Apostles whom Christ chose to carry on His work. King Herod executed John’s brother James. When he saw that this pleased the people he arrested Peter and intended to kill him, too. God miraculously opened the prison and allowed Peter to escape. However, this made it necessary for Peter to go into hiding (Acts 12:1-17).

All of these events presented the church with a tremendous difficulty. How was it to teach and train the many, many thousands of new believers who were scattered in many places far from Jerusalem, many of whom did not have personal knowledge of Jesus’ life and work? In addition to the numerical and geographic problems, James’ death made it clear that those who knew Jesus and His teaching the best, would not live forever. How could the church preserve Jesus’ teaching and instruction once the eyewitness were no longer available?

One answer to these problems was to write the teaching down. Luke records, “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.” (Luke 1:1-2 NIV)

The Bible does not tell us where Peter went when he fled from King Herod. He would not have been safe anywhere in Palestine where Herod ruled. One church tradition says that Peter traveled to Rome and stayed there until Herod’s death a few years later. Though Peter apparently knew some Greek, it was not his mother tongue. So, he took a young man named Mark along with him to act as his interpreter. The believers in Rome asked Mark to write down Peter’s teaching to preserve it for them. Peter allowed Mark to do so. After Herod’s death Peter and Mark returned to Jerusalem. From there Paul and Barnabas took Mark with them to Antioch in Syria. Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 12:25, 13:5).

Many years later, near the end of his life, Peter wrote to the followers of Christ, “...I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.” (2 Peter 1:15 NIV) In light of this it is quite possible that Peter encouraged Mark to organize and write out the notes he had taken of Peter’s teaching. Church tradition says that in addition to serving with Peter, Paul and Barnabas, Mark traveled to Egypt to tell the people there about Christ. While at Alexandria he compiled and wrote out in final form, the book in our Bibles which we know as the Gospel of Mark. (See Robinson, John A.T., Redating The New Testament, The Westminster Press, 1976, pp. 107-114.)

The Apostle Matthew wrote his account of Christ’s life primarily for those from a Jewish background. Mark wrote for those who were not Jewish. He explains Jewish customs and ideas for his readers. His language is not polished. He wrote for the common, working-class man of the street and marketplace. Though he recorded some of what Jesus said and taught, Mark does not explore difficult philosophies, instead his focus is on what Jesus did. He shows Jesus as the model whom we should follow in the way we live. Mark does not record the events of Jesus’ life in the order in which they occurred. Instead the book is organized around Jesus’ teaching of sacrificial service to others. “...whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44 NIV)

In summary, Mark shows that the message of Jesus is for each one of us, no matter what our background or how humble our birth and circumstances.