The verse that is almost universally acknowledged to be a kind of thematic capsule of Mark’s Gospel is 10:45:
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
If you read through the first nine chapters and came across this verse, you would not be surprised. Mark is a Gospel of action—the action of the Son of God among God’s people. Mark does not portray Christ through several long teachings, but through his action. There are parables in Mark, but they are all short. By the time the reader is settled into the first chapter, Mark is already into the life and deeds of Jesus. The word “immediately” shows up more than 40 times in this short Gospel. And though it is significantly shorter than every other Gospel, Mark records more miracles.
It is true - Mark wants us to know that God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, came to serve.
Jesus Christ also came to give his life so that we might live. As The Message puts it, Jesus came, “to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.” A full half of the Gospel is dedicated to Jesus’ journey to the cross. In the middle of chapter 8, Jesus begins to make his way to Jerusalem in the last physical journey he will take with his disciples. Mark devotes a great deal of time and space revealing to us how Christ walked to the cross, and what it means to follow him there.
When we picture Roman persecution of Christians, the images we conjure up are typically dominated by mass arrests and innocent families in the Coliseum preparing to meet the wild beasts. Those images represent a small fraction of the actual persecutions of the early church, but Mark writes to the Christians who do represent that persecution. Nero burned Rome to the ground, and in an effort to curry favor with the angry masses, turned their hatred on a common enemy, the despised and misunderstood Christians. During this persecution the Christians who were not driven into the catacombs were arrested in droves and tortured to turn in their fellow believers. As the Roman historian Tacitus put it, “their deaths were made farcical.” They were dressed in animal skins and torn to pieces by wild beasts; they were crucified; they were turned into torches to light Nero’s garden by night.
Jesus not only came to serve, he came to be the Suffering Servant. Jesus willingly walked into Jerusalem toward the cross so that in this life and the next we might live.
There is one more element that is crucial to the purpose of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus is not only the Suffering Servant, he is sovereign. Jesus is never out of control of events and their consequences. The Son of Man has power over sickness, disease and death, and the cross does not take him by surprise.
The cross is not a moment of failure for Jesus, but the defining event of his sovereignty. Even that level of hatred and suffering does not diminish the power of a savior who came to serve and give his life so that I might live.