This is the story of a young man that failed the Lord miserably, and was later given a second chance.
In Acts chapter 12, the apostle James was captured and beheaded by king Herod, and Peter was also imprisoned, facing a similar fate within a matter of days. But the Lord had other plans. He sent an angel to release Peter from prison, and Peter went to the house where the early church was having a prayer meeting on his behalf:
Acts 12:12 And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.
As most reading this no doubt know that the apostle Paul (first called Saul) is a very prominent figure in the New Testament. Much of the book of Acts is taken up with him and those who were involved in his three missionary journeys. He was in Jerusalem with Barnabas. When they left there to head back to Antioch, Barnabas’ nephew went with them:
Acts 12:25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.
From Antioch, Barnabas and Saul were sent on their first missionary journey to Asia Minor:
Acts 13:2-3 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
It is interesting to note that the Word of God refers to their ministry as work. God didn’t call them in order for them to take it easy and relax – He had some work He planned for them to do.
Acts 13:5 And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister.
They took young John Mark with them to be their minister. The word used in this passage indicated that Mark was their assistant – possibly brought along to carry supplies, help with the menial tasks, etc.
But before too long we read this sad account:
Acts 13:13 Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.
This verse in itself doesn’t explain what happened, other than to let us know Mark no longer went with them, that he turned back to Jerusalem. But in Acts 15, we read:
Acts 15:38 But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.
The word for departed here is a stronger word used than in chapter 13, and means “to remove, i.e. (actively) instigate to revolt; usually (reflexively) to desist, desert, etc.” Mark deserted them in the ministry! He abandoned the work! Perhaps he found it too hard, perhaps he got a glimpse of some of the hardships that they might have to endure in the ministry, perhaps it was just too much work after all – something which he may not have had in mind when the idea of travelling and preaching to far off locations originally presented themself to him. Either way, he abandoned ship, and left Paul and Barnabas, and headed home where the way was much easier for him.
The first missionary journey started approximately in AD 46 or 47 – now three or four years later, Paul and Barnabas travelled back to Jerusalem to give their accounts of the wonderful works God had done through them in the years they were gone. After that, they headed back to Antioch to preach and teach the Word of the Lord. Then Paul started to think again about the churches he had planted and the new believers that he had come to know:
Acts 15:36-40 And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.
Barnabas wanted to take his nephew along with them – and Paul flatly refused. Perhaps this verse came to Paul’s mind:
Proverbs 25:19 Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint.
Perhaps Paul’s refusals went like this: “John Mark is simply not reliable; we can’t take him along; he will just fail us again! No, he is NOT going with us! We do not need to have someone tag along who is just not committed to the ministry. If he deserted us once, he will do it again. I will not take that risk!” The disagreement over this young man was so strong, that they went their own separate ways, and Paul travelled on his second missionary journey with Silas instead.
That is the last we hear of both Barnabas and John Mark in the book of Acts – and perhaps Mark would have faded completely off the scene if it wasn’t for the grace of God – the God of second chances!
In Peter’s first epistle, we hear about this man again:
1 Peter 5:13 The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.
John Mark was now with Peter in Babylon – and Peter wanted to let them know that his spiritual son greeted them as well.
In approximately 62 AD, we hear Paul making mention of Mark in several of his prison epistles:
Philemon 1:23-24 There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus; Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.
Hm, Mark was now a fellowlabourer with Paul, working together with Paul – involved in the work once again…
Colossians 4:10-11 Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;) And Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me.
Paul was now telling them to look out for Mark if he came their way, to receive him and take care of him. Some things had changed – both in Mark’s committment to the ministry, and in Paul’s impression of him. Now, Paul was saying Mark was a comfort to him – someone who came alongside and gave him strength!
But what touches me most are Paul’s final words about John Mark. In what was probably his last letter written before he faced his own martyrdom at Roman hands, his thoughts went out to this man whom he now considered a friend and partner in the work:
2 Timothy 4:11 Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.
Mark had learned the lesson he had failed before. Now, he knew what it meant to be a servant, ministering to the needs of others, ministering faithfully – being used by the Lord!
Timothy, bring Mark with you. Oh, he has been such a help and a blessing to the ministry – I can really use him here!
Praise the Lord for His forgiveness – for His grace – for His second chances!
One final note I want to end on, which ties this devotional together directly with Behold: A Fivefold Picture, and the reason why I wanted to include it as my last devotional in this series:
John Mark – the man who failed the ministry, failed his fellowlabourers, failed in the work and turned back in defeat – learned at last what it meant to be a servant…
Mark 10:42-45 But Jesus called them
to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
…And was used by God to write the Gospel that truly presented the Lord Jesus Christ from the perspective of a Servant.
John Mark – who by the grace of God (which is what John means: “Gift or grace of God”- see 1 Corinthians 15:10) – became a faithful servant and was used by the Lord to teach us about what servanthood really means, from the perspective of the Greatest Servant of all time:
Behold My Servant!
Preached August 26th/07
Written August 30th/07