Seven Ways Discipleship is Shown in Mark’s Gospel
Throughout the Gospel of Mark, there are several great examples of Jesus calling people to discipleship. Mark gives us a clear picture of what Jesus means when he calls people to follow him.
How is discipleship shown in Mark’s Gospel? Discipleship is shown throughout Mark’s Gospel in a variety of ways from the beginning to the end of the book. Seven ways discipleship is shown is through:
- Jesus Calling His First Group of Disciples
- The Calling of Levi
- Discipleship in the Parable in the Sower
- Jesus Sending Out the Twelve
- Jesus Defining Discipleship in Mark 8
- Jesus’ Interactions with Both Mary’s and Salome
- The Book of Mark Itself is an Example of Discipleship
- Discipleship Expanded in the Gospel of Mark
These seven points teach us what discipleship is. They are examples of how Jesus called and lead his disciples, giving clear pictures of how we are called to disciple others, and how we can put discipleship into practice.
1. Jesus Calling His First Group of Disciples
In Mark chapter 1, Jesus is calling his disciples. He is following the system of the first century when many rabbis would recruit young men to follow them. The hope was that the rabbi would then train up the young men so that once they had died or retired they could teach his theology and philosophy. Jesus is doing what many rabbis had done before him.
He was resurrecting young men to come and learn how to be teachers themselves so that they could go into the world and teach his theology and philosophy that was certainly supreme over all other theology and philosophy.
In Mark chapter 1 verse 15, Jesus says, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news”. Jesus foresaw that the Kingdom of a God was being inaugurated into the world. This was so God’s ideals, values, and truths were now ready to break into all societies and cultures across the world. Jesus came to turn things upside down.
However, Jesus’ disciples were the key instruments in this process. Jesus says the Kingdom of God is coming and immediately after, he recruits people to help him with the mission. Ultimately, that is how the Kingdom of God is spread, through people recruiting others to follow Jesus and spread the ideals of the Kingdom of God.
We see from the start of Mark that discipleship is how the Kingdom of God will be spread throughout the world. It all starts with us recruiting others to join us in having a relationship with Christ. Discipleship is calling others to repent and believe the good news.
2. Calling of Levi
In every gospel, we see Jesus calling his disciples. We see a unique interaction in the book of Mark, between Jesus and Levi, who was later called Matthew.
Levi was a tax collector. He was a Jewish man who had chosen to be employed by the Roman government. As an employee for the Romans, he would collect taxes from the Jews. Therefore, he was hated by many of the Jews because he represented the Roman government that had oppressed them for centuries.
However, because he was Jewish, he was hated by the Romans. No matter how good he was at his job, he would never be loved and fully accepted by the Romans. Matthew is a unique person because he was hated by every group of people he interacted with.
By recruiting Levi to be one of his disciples, Jesus is showing the acceptance of following God. Jesus is showing that the family of God transcends ethnic and political barriers. He sets the precedent that we don’t just offer the invitation of the love of God to people we like or those that we want to correspond with, but that we even offer it to those we consider to be our enemies.
This would have been extremely controversial in the first century, a Jewish Jesus asking a Roman tax collector to be one of his disciples. It would have been disgraceful in the minds of many people. Jesus presents that his gospel transcends the norms of society. We need to set aside our differences and invite people to join the Kingdom of God, even when it goes against societal norms.
3. Discipleship in the Parable of the Sower
In the parable of the sower, Jesus gives us examples of people who respond to the gospel in different ways. Some people hear God’s word and respond, some hear God’s word and its sits and doesn’t take root, some people hear the gospel and it seems to take root but then Satan takes it away, and some people have hearts so hardened the gospel cannot take root in any sense.
Jesus is telling us there are four different types of people when hearing the gospel. To help disciple these people, he gives us ways to help them receive the gospel. For those who are hard heartened, we cannot do anything in the natural sense, so we pray for God to soften their hearts.
For the case of those who may have the Word of God beginning to take root, but Satan takes it away, as Jesus says that we need to protect them. We are to protect them from the schemes of the enemy. Jesus is giving us a blueprint for discipleship when we see people in our churches begin to receive and respond to the gospel.
Furthermore, Jesus helps us understand that the most efficient way to help people become disciples is to effectively preach the Word. Mark is giving us an understanding of how to do discipleship: an effective means of discipleship is making sure that the Word of God is alive and active in their lives.
4. Jesus Sending Out the Twelve as Discipleship
One huge component of discipleship is missions. If you are training people to love Jesus but you never send them on a mission, they will become self-centered. Discipleship and mission go hand in hand.
Jesus explains and models this in Mark 6 when he sent the twelve disciples out. He gives them clear instructions and he takes care of the logistics: how to think about food and lodging and other needs that may arise. He reminds them he will be with them to empower them and he gives them practical wisdom as to how to handle people who mock or persecute them in their refusal of the gospel.
Mark is highlighting this as an example of how we are to do discipleship. He sent them on a mission and gave them practical wisdom and advice on how to do it well. We are to teach them how to interact with those they may encounter. All the while we continue to encourage them and remind them God will be with them as they go on their mission. This is how we spread the gospel to the whole world.
5. Jesus Defining Discipleship In Mark 8
One of the most famous interactions Jesus has with his disciples comes in Mark 8. This is on the heels of Jesus asking Peter, “who do you say I am?” Peter makes the confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. Jesus then gives a clear definition of what it means to be a disciple. Jesus says in Mark 8:34, “If anyone would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for me and for the Gospel will save it.”
Jesus makes it very clear: to be a disciple is to deny yourself. He uses the termology “pick up your cross.” Cross was a symbol of death and execution. Similar to the electric chair or a gas chamber in our society. Jesus is telling people if you want to be my disciple you must die. Your way of doing things and the way of life your opinions, your preferences, your desires, your mind, must all be subject to the ideas taught in the New Testament.
You being the number one must be put to death. Control. Jesus wants to reign and if you want to be a disciple and you must allow that in your heart and mind. You must lay down your own life. If you seek to persevere your life where you are number one Jesus says you will lose your life. Jesus says then you will lose your life, separated for eternity with God. Either you can have your life now and be separated from eternity or you can lose your life and spend eternity with God.
If you are willing to lose your life, and if you do this for the gospel, Jesus promises you will be saved from the end. This is the clearest definition of discipleship and the clearest understanding of the high standards Jesus has for those who seek to be disciples.
6. Jesus’ Interactions With Mart, Mary, and Salome
Immediately, after Jesus was raised from the dead, he had an interaction with Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of Jesus, and Siloam. They had come to the tomb to put spices on Jesus’ body, assuming he was still dead. However, Jesus rose from the dead. They find that Jesus is not in the tomb.
They then are encountered by a man in a white robe, who was actually an angel. The angel tells them, “‘Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He has risen from the dead'” (Mark 16:6). Right here, the angel gives the specific instructions to go tell the other disciples the good news, and specifically to go to Peter.
Here we see clear instructions given when we are disciplining other people; whenever someone has an interaction with Jesus, we should tell other people about it.
This is still relevant in discipleship today. Whenever we have an encounter with the Holy Spirit, we should share it with others boldly and clearly. By sharing what Jesus is revealing us, we are able to encourage other disciples. We see this clearly with the angel and the women. This is a precedent for us all; when we encounter Jesus’ truth, we boldly tell others about it.
7. The Book of Mark Itself is an Example of Discipleship
The very fact that the Gospel of Mark is included in the cannon is remarkable evidence that discipleship was taking place. Mark was originally recruited by Paul and Barnabas to go on missions with them, but Mark deserted them and quit during the first missionary journey (see Acts 13). Later, Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance to bring Mark on the second missionary journey but Paul significantly disagreed. Paul didn’t believe Mark had what it took. So, they ended up parting ways. Barnabas took Mark on a missionary journey to a different location than where Paul went (see Acts 15).
Church history teaches us that Mark is very successful with Barnabas and eventually made his way back to Israel where he served under the apostle Peter. In fact, most scholars believe the gospel of Mark was written mostly when Mark was serving under the apostle Peter. In essence, the gospel of Mark is in some ways Peter’s gospel as well.
The very fact the Mark is included in the Bible shows that even when giving up, even when we fall, even when we desert our mission, even when great leaders like Paul don’t believe we have it what it takes to be successful, Mark shows us that we can still do great things for God. If we are willing to be disciplined and mentored by those stronger in the faith, we can overcome these faults. In this case, Peter and Barnabas, end up giving great discipleship to Mark.
8. Discipleship Expanded in the Gospel of Mark
Mark goes on to be a great preacher and evangelist throughout the course of his life. In fact, the apostle Paul later acknowledges this we see in 2 Timothy chapter 4 where Paul makes the comment that Mark has become helpful to him and his ministry. Paul, who had limited confidence in Mark originally. Paul did not believe Mark had what it took because he had quit earlier in his life. Paul had somehow written Mark off, but because of discipleship leaders like Barnabas and Peter, Mark developed into who he was called to be.
Even Paul later acknowledges later in life in his ministry. The gospel of Mark was wildly circulated the First century it was the first gospel written and the most popular gospel beige read. It was largely used by Matthew and Luke as a source.
God had plans for Mark. Even though Paul had written him off, He was not done with him. Peter and Barnabas were able to disicple him and look at what Mark was able to do for Christ. When we disciple people, we should remember that we are doing it so that God would be able to use that person in a mighty way for his Kingdom.
The gospel of Mark goes on to be one of the most influential writings in world history. Written by a man who had quite and even the apostle Paul believed did not have what it takes. But because of mentorship and discipleship, he was able to turn it around. God was able to work through Mark. This is evidence that discipleship is effective for even people we don’t think we have what it takes.
In closing, the gospel of Mark teaches us all about discipleship. Jesus teaches us that the Kingdom of God is spread by people recruiting others to follow Him.
We see how Jesus called Levi to be a disciple, even when he was Jewish a tax collector and hated by the Jews. Jesus broke societal norms. That is what God’s love transcends political barriers. Jesus shows us how we are called to share the gospel with those who are our enemies. We learn to pray for people who’s hearts have become heartened to the gospel. It gives us an understanding of how we need to protect new believers, as Satan will try and take their roots away.
Jesus also shows us that missions are at the center of discipleship. You cannot have discipleship without missions. We learn that we need to share what God is doing in our hearts. In the end, we see that God can use anyone as a disciple for his Kingdom. All through the Gospel of Mark, we see examples of how Jesus disciples others and how we are called to do the same.
Lastly, let us remember this Scripture when we face hardship while growing and learning in discipleship:
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27
Kenneth E. Ortiz (M.Div.) is a professor and recruiter at Bethlehem College and a pastor at Cities Church. He has 15+ years of vocational ministry experience. He’s also a podcaster, author, and Ph.D. student. Kenneth lives in Bloomington, MN with his wife Malaina, they have one daughter.