It was a sunny afternoon shortly after Kevin and I had bought our first house together. I had just made my third IKEA run of our marriage, and I had purchased a beautiful, blue wing-back chair for our living room. Now, if you’ve ever bought furniture from IKEA that requires assembly; you know where this is headed.
IKEA sends you home with tightly-packed boxes, and the whole way home you wonder if you forgot a box that contains the other half of your sofa, or bookshelf, or whatever you purchased back at the store. But with high hopes you get your boxes home, unpack, and pull out the instructions… Only to find that where the directions should be… there are no words. The assembly manual literally contains no written directions. Just pictures modeling how to assemble it.
For me, the picture manual was no problem because I didn’t plan on consulting any instruction manual anyways. I am the daughter of a carpenter, who is the son of a carpenter, and putting things together is in my blood.
But as I sat there with the 6 pieces to my beautiful, light blue, wing-back chair attempting to assemble it all by myself; I realized an hour into the ordeal that there was no possible way I could build that chair without the instructions. Even for the daughter of a carpenter, who is the son of a carpenter… I could not for the life of me figure out how to assemble that beautiful, blue wing-back chair.
Begrudgingly, I decide to open the stupid picture manual and look at picture #1…
FULL DISCLOSURE: I totally let Kevin put together my IKEA chair
after my grand struggle with it.
Starting in the Gospel of Mark when you have never read the bible before is a little bit like assembling furniture without the instruction manual.Although many of us prefer to just dive right into the bible; it truly is good to take some time and understand the context of the stories. If we choose to put ourselves into the shoes of an ancient Israelite/Roman (with their preconceived notions about the way the world worked, what was acceptable and valued in their society, and what formed and shaped their lives) then the Gospel of Mark takes on a new richness for us as readers. Although we do not share their culture and may not immediately understand the significance of Mark’s writings, we can ask good questions of the text. When we look for repeated words and ideas, this provides insight into what Mark meant for his original audience. When we take time to research the scripture references that Mark uses, we are able to piece together a comprehensive view of who Jesus is.
As you begin to read Mark chapter 1, I want you to be on the look-out for a few specific things.
First, look for bible words.
As a new reader to scripture, there will be many church-ey sounding words that we need to take time and define. For example, how often have you heard the word gospel outside of church circles? That is not a term that most people are using in their everyday lives; but it’s central to Mark’s gospel. The word gospel comes from the Greek word euangelion which means good news. In the Old Testament there was a story about a King who had surrendered his throne and fled his kingdom because his son was trying to overthrow him. This King fled his kingdom and sent his army back into the kingdom to fight for him. When his armies had defeated his son’s rebellion, the commander of his army sent a messenger back to this King out in the wilderness. When they King saw the messenger at a distance, he said, “this man is a good man; he must be bringing good news! So that’s our context. Mark is the messenger running through the hills saying, “this story about Jesus is really good news!” And it’s our job to discover why.
Second, look for the Kingdom of God.
If you’re not familiar with the words, Kingdom of God, that is totally ok! The term’s origins were planted in the very beginning of scripture and they slowly grow into a vibrant, living organism as you follow the bible narrative. The Kingdom of God just begins to blossom in Mark’s gospel, and we can learn so much from the flowers. So be sure to notice what Mark says when he mentions the Kingdom of God. There are many Kingdom activities taking place, and we want to discover why this theme is so important!
Third, look for Jesus’ character witnesses.
I would like you to look for the characters in Mark’s gospel who confirm that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. There are three specific instances in this chapter when someone says, “this is the son of God!” I want you to be on the lookout for who makes these claims.
Last, look for the words Mark uses a lot, a lot, a lot.
Mark frequently uses the word immediately (some of your translations may say At Once). He uses it seven times in chapter one alone. We need to ask ourselves why. What is so urgent about what Jesus is doing that Mark chooses to use immediately so often?
Now, without further ado, I’d invite you to read Mark chapter one and then complete your study guide!
John the Baptist Prepares the Way
1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.[a]
2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,[b]
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare[c] the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
The Baptism of Jesus
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son;[d] with you I am well pleased.”
The Temptation of Jesus
12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
Jesus Begins His Ministry
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand;[e]repent and believe in the gospel.”
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”[f] 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
Jesus Heals a Man with an Unclean Spirit
21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out,24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
Jesus Heals Many
29 And immediately he[g] left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
Jesus Preaches in Galilee
35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Jesus Cleanses a Leper
40 And a leper[h] came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus[i] sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.