Mark the Man: Biographical construction
The story of John Mark scattered through a handful of verses in the New Testament is actually a beautiful picture of failure and restoration. In this brief biographical sketch I outline his story using five pictures, drawn from the New Testament evidence. Mark story shows us how God can use even the unassuming and unimpressive individuals for his purposes. Lets take a moment to look at five pictures of Mark.
1. A Church kid.
- John Mark’s (John being his Jewish name and Mark his Roman one) family was part of the early church in Jerusalem.
- The early church gathered in his mother Mary’s house to pray for Peter when he was in prison. “he [Peter] went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying.” (Acts 12:12)
- Barnabas was his cousin (Colossians 4:10).
- Mark likely knew the gospel from an early age. He experienced a house shake with prayer, He heard first hand about an angelic jailbreak and saw men value the message over their own lives. I can only imagine what his vacation bible school was like.
2. A Gifted Helper
- Early in his life John was gifted in helps. Mark was describes by Luke as a “helper” or “assistant” (13:5)
- Mark was clearly known for exercising his spiritual gift of helps.
- Paul wrote, ‘Mark…..is useful to me for ministry (2 Tim. 4:11). The word ministry (diakonia) stresses not the office but the service rendered.
- Mark had demonstrated his practical usefulness, so Paul felt that Mark was just the man he now needed with him in Rome.
- When Paul wrote 2 Timothy, Mark was likely middle aged at that point and he was happy to playing second fiddle. He had learned to be more concerned about Jesus getting glory than him making a name fore himself. Maybe why he did not clam authorship of his Gospel.
- By his humble service, Mark is modeling of Biblical greatness. The one who is the greatest is the one who is the servant. A theme that is very prevalent in the gospel that bears his name.
3. A Failed Missionary
- Luke reports that John Mark accompanied Barnabas and Saul back to Antioch after the two had brought famine relief to Jerusalem (Acts 12:25).
- Mark then accompanied the two on their first missionary journey (13:5), but then left them suddenly and returned to Jerusalem (13:13).
- Apparently the challenges and dangers of missionary work had become too great for Mark. Due to this Paul seemed to consider him a problematic quitter.
- When the Paul and Barnabas discussed returning to visit the churches started on their first journey, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark again, but Paul refused because of the previous desertion. (Acts 15:36-38, Context in Acts 13:4-5, 13.)
- Luke described it as a “sharp disagreement” the two eventually parted ways, with Barnabas taking Mark with him to Cyprus (15:36–39).
- Church tradition loosely clams he remained in Cyprus and was discipled by Barnabas before helping to plant a church in Alexandrea. After a few years he returned to Rome during Paul’s first imprisonment.
- Mark went from being a problematic quitter to becoming a polarizing figure. Consider the guilt and shame Mark felt with knowing he was the reason for such a sharp disagreement. Such a complication would compound anyones’ sense of failure.
- For all of us, as for Mark there are times when we fail and need a Barnabas in our life to hang in there with us, because God does not give up on us.
4. A Tested and True Minister
- The later Pauline letters suggest that the two eventually reconciled. Mark is with Paul in his first imprisonment in Rome. “You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.” (Philemon 24) In Col 4:10, Paul sends the Colossian church greetings from Mark and says, also mentions similar greetings from Mark and other associates of Paul.
- Paul, in his second imprisonment near the end of his life, wrote to Timothy, “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11). This letter, written approximately twenty years after the dispute between Paul and Barnabas over Mark, indicating that in the intervening years, Mark had become critical to Paul’s ministry.
- Mark story teaches us that Failure does not define us, but how we handle failure will defines us.
- Mark would make it back to Rome and sit under the teaching of Peter, likely becoming Peter’s interpreter in His ministry at Rome.
5. A great storyteller.
- Anyone who’s actual life has a redemption arc like Mark is someone who will naturally understands story. So we can see God’s providence behind Mark’s journey.
- An example of his skill can be seen throughout the gospel He wrote.
- Mark weaves interesting facts into the Gospel stories to hold interest as well as more theological purposes (like highlighting Jesus emotions in a narrative that teach Jesus divinity to give a balanced christology).
- Another example is His ability to take two apparent unrelated stories and sandwich them together to make a theological truth stand out.
- Mark was a natural storyteller able to make key theological points through narrative construction.
- Sometime while Mark was with Peter in Rome, or shortly after Peter’s death, Mark wrote the gospel that bears his name. God used both Peter’s eye witness testimony and Mark’s storytelling ability to write the story of His Son. The Gospel of Mark is Peter’s testimony yet in John Mark’s voice (writing style). It was Peter’s preaching but Mark’s pen that makes us the gospel of Mark.
In the final analysis, Two observations highlight God at work in Mark’s life to make him into a Gospel author. First, God was at work making Mark’s life experience gospel shaped. God’s providential hand is evident from his youth. Mark was a church kid. He had seen the power and suffering that the gospel demands. Yet he was a church kid who couldn’t cut it when things got real. God was not caught off guard by Mark’s departure. Like a good Father, God had made provision for his failure and discipleship for his immaturity. Through the rest of Mark’s journey God taught him the value of weakness and the honor of service. He was a man touched by personal failure but not destroyed by it. A man who learned early that kings and ordinary men alike, have a cross to carry in following Jesus. A man who worked diligently in obscurity and found helping others fulfilling and fruitful for God’s mission. In the end, his journey was providentially overseen by God to shape selfless-gospel-service into the reflexes of his character.
Second, God was at work making Mark’s life gospel saturated. We see this in God’s educational provision in the people around him. Mark’s mama likely taught him the gospel from an early age. Also Mark, the natural storyteller, was trained by the best. Just let this sink in, Mark was taught theology by Paul, discipled to maturity by Barnabas and got his PHD in ‘JESUS’ from Peter. Now that is a resume!
Mark’s life was overseen by God to make him into the kind of man that could shape without distortion and organize without ego, the witness of another. God transformed him into a humble pen to write another man’s story. His mark on history was never about himself, but that kind sounds like something Mark would do, because that’s the kind of man God made Mark to be.
John Mark (as His mama would say) was one of the most pivotal figures in the New Testament era yet Mark was never the man upfront in the spotlight. John Mark did the thankless task but without his willingness the New Testament would be very different. In writing the first gospel he defined the genre and inspired others to do the same. Without him we might not have a Gospel of Matthew or a Gospel of Luke. We definitely would not have them in the form we have today. Mark’s exploits may have been forgotten but his pen was touched by God and His words will never pass away.
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