My Companions Through Mark

Concluding any sermon series is always a bitter-sweet affair. The sadness of leaving the study of a book of the Bible is only balmed by the excitement of venturing into another one. There is one moment in particular that cements this transition. At the beginning of every series, I take my core resource books off the shelf, remove dust jackets, and place them upon my desk. At the end of series, I do the reverse.

A few weeks ago I placed my books on the Gospel of Mark back on the shelf, replacing them with books on Exodus for the new year. Again, the moment is bitter-sweet because these have been my companions in studying Mark’s Gospel. Though many are already with the Lord, the writing down of their own study through Mark enables me to have a certain degree of fellowship with them. Indeed, that is the wonder of the written word in general; it enables us to actually hear from the dead. No necromancy required! Consulting and, at times, debating the books of these men makes my study communal. It reminds me that I am not coming to a text of Scripture in a vacuum. Of course, the other equally important side of studying in community is the local church, where insights can be shared, sin confessed, and the text applied. The great blessings of these written and personal communities are what I pray for every Christian, though especially every pastor, to know intimately well.

As for my core literary companions through Mark, they are below, along with a brief thought on the benefit of each and a quotation I loved that did not make it into a sermon or other post. You will notice that most of these are not detailed, exegetical commentaries but collected expository sermons or lectures. That was intentional. I consulted technical commentaries when needed, but I primarily sought the companionship of those who wrote with a similar intent as my own: to clearly explain God’s Word and to apply it to the heart of those listening or reading. This, of course, is not always the case. If I ever make a post like this one on my Exodus resources, you will notice several technical commentaries because books like Exodus are a bit more demanding in that regard.

MARK: AN EXPOSITIONAL COMMENTARY BY R. C. SPROUL

Although I certainly knew of Sproul before his passing in 2017, I had only read a bit of his book, The Holiness of God. Over the last several years, however, I have finally discovered why he was such a beloved teacher and theologian. His ability to discuss complex subjects simply and understandably was a remarkable gift. And it is certainly on display in this collection of his sermons on Mark’s Gospel.

Far more than what we confess with our lips, how we worship God shows what we really believe about his character. If we worship the God of the Bible, we can never worship Him in a cavalier manner. Worship can never be an exercise in entertainment. When we walk through the sanctuary doors, we understand that we are coming into the presence of God, our worship will have an element of gravitas, of holiness, of reverence, of adoration. The fun and games will end in the parking lot.

P. 144

EXPOSITORY THOUGHTS ON MARK BY J. C. RYLE

I had heard great things about Ryle’s writings on the four Gospels, and from working slowly through this volume I can affirm that they are all true. While Ryle does give a handful of technical comments by way of footnotes, these expository thoughts are almost entirely application and exhortation. It would certainly make for a great personal and devotional reading through Mark.

Let us never forget that wicked men are often fulfilling God’s predictions to their own ruin, and yet know it not. In the very height of their madness, folly, and unbelief, they are often unconsciously supplying fresh evidence that the Bible is true. The unhappy scoffers who make a jest of all serious religion, and can scarcely talk of Christianity without ridicule and scorn, would do well to remember that their conduct was long ago foreseen and foretold.

P. 265

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MARK BY G. CAMPBELL MORGAN

Morgan’s sermons on Mark are a treasure. The only thing better than cracking open a new book for the first time is opening up a book that was well-used by a previous owner. So it is with my copy. The markings and margin notes of another pastor whom I never met in this life are yet another reminder of the work that God is doing through His Church beyond any individual’s lifetime. Campbell’s writings themselves are also wonderful. Very often, after reading this book, my eyes would be opened to the larger themes being developed by Mark. His sermons on the widow’s offering and on Gethsemane were particularly noteworthy.

This is not the picture of a vacillating soul, but that of the soul of the Shepherd, yielded to God, knowing the pain that lay ahead, the mystery, and the darkness; feeling the weight of the stroke as it fell upon Him; resolutely declaring the sense of shrinking; and yet pressing closer, into fellowship with God, and cooperation with Him. Personally I can go no nearer. The light is “too bright, for the feebleness of a sinner’s sight.”

P. 299

KING’S CROSS BY TIMOTHY KELLER

While this book is not as detailed in its exposition as the previous books, Keller’s ability to pierce through the modern secular worldview with Scripture is worth the reading alone.

The only way that your children will grow beyond their dependency into self-sufficient adults is for you to essentially abandon your own independence for twenty years or so. When they are young, for example, you’ve got to read to them and read to them–otherwise they won’t develop intellectually. Lots of their books will be boring to you. And you have to listen to your children, and keep listening as they say all kinds of things that make for less than scintillating conversation.

And then there’s dressing, bathing, feeding, and teaching them to do these things for themselves. Furthermore, children need about five affirmations for every criticism they hear from you. Unless you sacrifice much of your freedom and a good bit of your time, your children will not grow up healthy and equipped to function. Unfortunately, there are plenty of parents who just won’t do it. They won’t disrupt their lives that much; they won’t pour themselves into their children. They won’t make the sacrifice. And their kids grow up physically, but they’re still children emotionally–needy, vulnerable, and dependent. Think about it this way: You can make the sacrifice, or they’re going to make the sacrifice. It’s them or you. Either you suffer temporarily and in a redemptive way, or they’re going to suffer tragically, in a wasteful and destructive way. It’s at least partly up to you.

All real, life-changing love is substitutionary sacrifice.

Pp. 142-143

THE CROSS FROM A DISTANCE BY PETER G. BOLT

This book is not a commentary nor a straight-forward exposition; rather, this is a study on the major theme of the cross in Mark’s Gospel. Thus, while I did not consult Bolt each week, his insights flavored my own study of Mark enough to warrant a place on this list.

In the first-century world, conversation about crucifixion generally repelled people. But the message of this cross rang out through the ancient world and changed it. In a repulsive cross, which human beings both ancient and modern may wish to put at a distance because of all its shame and horror, God has come close.

P. 145

Three other books are worth mentioning in brief. I purchased R. Kent Hughes’ sermons on Mark only a few months ago and greatly wish that I had done so sooner. Though he became one of my regular companions only at the end of this study, I will certainly consult him in my intended study of Hebrews later this year.

Sam Storms’ book on amillennialism, Kingdom Come, was also tremendously helpful during my five-week study through the Olivet Discourse of Mark 13, which very much felt like a series within the series. Although I did not ultimately agree with his every conclusion, I highly recommend the book.

Finally, throughout preaching the passion narrative, I have been reading Calvin’s sermons in the book Crucified and Risen. The sermons are actually on Matthew’s Gospel, but both Gospels are so closely related that nearly all of it applied to our study through Mark. Calvin’s commentaries, alongside Henry’s, are always before me, but reading Calvin’s sermons is a particular treat. Though he was one of the greatest theologians to ever live (as even those who disagree with him testify), Calvin was primarily a pastor. These sermons on the passion of Christ are a great introduction to his preaching.

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