Precious little is written about John Mark in scripture, but what is recorded is fascinating and instructive. His story actually begins with Peter, who had been arrested by Herod as part of a pacification program, probably intending to kill him as he had James. But God had other plans, miraculously releasing Peter the night before his trial. Upon his escape, Peter went to a local house-church overseen by Mary, John Mark’s mother. From there, Peter went into hiding as Herod continued to search for him, hoping to please his Jewish subjects who were agitating for Peter’s arrest and conviction for blasphemy. (Acts 12:1-24)
Shortly thereafter, Herod was struck dead by God for his own acts of blasphemy. Mark, however, went on to become involved in another adventure. (For someone with so little recorded about him in detail, adventure seems to define a lot of what is recorded. The very first, very brief mention of Mark possibly coming in the gospel bearing his name. Church tradition holding that at Jesus’ arrest, “…everyone deserted him…” Except, “A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.” Mk. 14:51,52This “young man” believed by many to be John Mark.) Shortly after Herod’s death, disciples in Antioch heard about a severe famine occurring in Judea and responded by collecting money to send to Jerusalem to help alleviate the suffering there; sending Paul and Barnabas to deliver their offering of aid. (Barnabas having been sent to Antioch by the Jerusalem church to investigate the rumors of a fast-growing church there, he in turn recruiting Paul – who was in partial hiding in Tarsus – to accompany him. Acts11:19-30) Upon completion of their task, they returned to Antioch, taking Mark with them. (Acts 12:25)
Later, after being set apart to minister in the field of missions by the Antioch eldership, they left for what is traditionally called Paul’s 1Missionary Journey, Mark accompanying them again as their “helper.” (Acts 13:5) Part way through the trip however, he “…left them to return to Jerusalem.” Whether from fatigue, disillusionment, flagging enthusiasm, etc., he quit. Which did not sit well with the hard-driven nature of Paul, creating repercussions for all involved. (Acts 13:13)
Upon completion of the 1journey, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, where they reported on God’s blessing and the subsequent success of their endeavors; remaining in Antioch, “…a long time…” (Acts 14:26-28) When word of their efforts reached Jerusalem, it stirred up concern and controversy between the more traditionalist Jewish believers and their Hellenistic counterparts – particularly over Gentile circumcision. The result being a call for a church council to be held in Jerusalem to debate the concerns raised by Paul’s ministry; to which Paul and Barabas were invited to present their reasoning to the elders of the “mother Church.” At its conclusion they returned to Antioch with the blessing of the elders and apostles who had ruled favorably on Paul’s behalf, with few exceptions. (Acts 15:1-35)
Ready to get back to work, Paul invited Barnabas to accompany him on a follow-up visit to the recently established churches of their 1journey. Barnabas agreed to go on the condition that Mark came along as well. Barnabas – which means Son of Encouragement – wanted to give Mark a second chance, to finish the job of training him for service that obviously didn’t happen on their first trip. Paul, who demanded the utmost from himself and expected nothing less from those associated with him, wouldn’t budge in his refusal to allow him to accompany them. “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.” Barnabas taking Mark to Cyprus, where he evidently succeeded in his mentoring of Mark – as he had initially with Paul – while Paul recruited Silas to accompany him on his 2missionary journey. (Acts 15:36-41)
Barnabas’ success with Mark is born out in Paul’s tempered attitude toward him in later years. Writing from prison, Paul lists Mark as one of his companions. (Definitively identifying him as Mark, Barnabas’ cousin in Colossians 4:10. Referring to him in similar circumstances in Philemon 2:4) In his second letter to Timothy, Paul – still or once again imprisoned – laments that he has been abandoned by some while other members of his “crew” are away on business, “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is useful to me in my ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:11
What a turn-around, demonstrating how time, patience and effective mentoring worked to mature both parties, allowing for reconciliation and multiplied ministry. Mark and Silas’ efforts at some point, expanding beyond Paul’s endeavors to include participation in Peter’s ministry in Rome. (1 Peter 5:12,13) Peter referring to Silas as “a faithful brother” and Mark as “my son.” Church tradition holding that Mark became Peter’s “amanuensis”, a position similar to a secretarial assistant capable of taking dictation or a copyist able to collect and prepare oral history and previously recorded material for circulation. Mark’s gospel considered by many as a compilation of remembrances and teachings of Peter relating to Christ; a pamphlet for hard times, focusing on Jesus’ faithfulness to God’s will regardless of opposition and encouraging the persecuted church to do likewise.
Church history later recorded Mark’s exploits in Alexandria, Egypt; where he purportedly founded a thriving and influential church in that cosmopolitan city. The pagans there retaliated by tying a rope around his neck that was then attached to the back of a chariot, dragging him through the city until he died. His body now lying in a Coptic Christian crypt in Alexandria commemorating his efforts there.
Mark’s largely unreported on life never-the-less impacted scores of people during his lifetime and beyond. Putting a face, however briefly depicted, on the Hebrew writer’s characterization of those who diligently work behind the scenes, often barely noticed and rarely reported on; but who none-the-less keep on keeping on. Of them, it is said, “…the world was not worthy...” Hebrews 11:38
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