Key Texts: Acts 12:12; Acts 12:25; Acts 13:1-4; Acts 15:36-40; Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24; II Timothy 4:11; I Peter 5:13 and maybe Mark 14, 51, 52.
We all know the name of Mark who is also referred to as John Mark. Mark was his Roman name and John was his Hebrew or Jewish name. He wrote the gospel that bears his name. He messed up in his early ministry and had it not been for Barnabas who came to his rescue, he may have been lost to the early church. Barnabas gave him a second chance and as a result Mark turned failure into success and became a significant and trusted friend of Paul and Peter.
The first mention of Mark is easy to miss because it does not really deal with Mark as such. In Acts 12 we have the account of the imprisonment of Peter and the prayer meeting that was held on his behalf. Acts 12:12 tells us that this prayer meeting was held in the home of Mary who was the mother to John also called Mark.
The home of his mother was a common meeting place for the early church. People seem to have instinctively gone there when trouble broke out. While we cannot be sure, tradition records that this is the same home used for the upper room Passover and it was in this room that the disciples waited on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Wouldn’t it be great if every Christian home were known as a home of prayer?
That Mark’s home was large enough and comfortable enough for a group to meet in is an indication that his mother was reasonably well off financially. Colossians 4:10 records that she was the aunt of Barnabas and we know he was well off financially until he gave it all to the church (Acts 4:36). The wealth of both may have come from land on the Isle of Cyprus.
Such a home would have been a place of tremendous influence for the early church. We have no age timeline to put on Mark’s life except that at this point he was a relatively young man. Can you imagine coming home from school or playing with your friends and finding Peter and James in your living room praying and sharing stories of the life of Jesus and the ministry they were involved in? We are not told how John Mark became a believer but in I Peter 5:13 Peter refers to him as “my son” a term most often used to relate to those that an individual led to the Lord. We can only imagine what those early conversations were like and the challenges that a young man like Mark would have received.
There is a strong tradition that Mark was the unnamed “young man” he wrote of in Mark 14:51-52 who followed Jesus when Jesus was arrested and fled when confronted by guards. Mark wrote that he fled “leaving behind his linen garment.” Given the strong tradition and the fact that Mark. who was otherwise extremely careful to note details in his gospel, omitted the name has convinced many he was that young man. A linen garment in those days was an expensive garment and would indicate that the owner, was well off. That would fit John Mark very well.
Mark took hold of Jesus in a very real way and did not merely lived off the faith of his mother. Barnabas and Saul were in Jerusalem, having brought an offering for famine relief from the church in Antioch. As they prepared to return to Antioch, we read in Acts 12:25 that Mark returned with them. Evidently the two saw in Mark a real potential for leadership and they asked him to return with them to help in the ministry. That tells us something about this young man’s spiritual development to that point.
John Mark surfaced again when Paul and Barnabas were about to head out on their first missionary journey. Mark was invited to go along as a helper (Acts 13:5). After a time, Mark chose to leave them and return to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). No reason is given by Luke for this sudden departure. We would have thought nothing of it had Acts 13:13 been the final word on it. But when Paul and Barnabas prepared to set out on their second journey and it was suggested that Mark go along, according to Acts 15:36-40, Paul vigorously objected to the point that Luke reported that they had had a sharp disagreement. Barnabas then took Mark and went to Cyprus and Paul took Silas. We have no clue to the reason and since God has long since forgotten it, we can do the same.
From that point on neither Barnabas nor Mark’s names appear again in the book of Acts. It was between 10-15 years before Mark is heard of again. Fairly strong tradition has it that Mark at some point went to Egypt and had a good ministry there, founding the church in Alexandria. Mark resurfaced in two of Paul’s prison letters. In Colossians 4:10 and again in Philemon 24 it is noted that Mark had somehow found his way to Rome and was ministering there with Paul. The Christians in Colosse were instructed to welcome Mark should he come. His name appears again in Paul’s letter to Timothy, written 5 years later at a time when it appeared to Paul that he may not have much longer to live. Paul wrote “Only Luke is with me, Get Mark and bring him here, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (II Timothy 4:11).
We can only speculate again as to when and where Paul and Mark got together again and what kind of a reunion that was. It is obvious at that point any differences between them had long since been forgiven and forgotten.
There are many lessons that could be learned from this. There are lessons for all of us who have somewhere along the way blown it and been less than faithful to a responsibility, the lessons of picking up and going on after we have failed. There are lessons to be learned about forgiveness and a willingness to accept back those whom we once viewed as less than faithful. There are lessons to learn about God and His faithfulness to us even when we are less than faithful.
Mark’s name appears next in I Peter 5:13 where we read “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, as does my son Mark.” The location of Babylon is not known. It may have been the literal Babylon in Mesopotamia but that seems least likely of the options. Babylon was used in early Christian circles to refer to a sinful place under judgment as seen in its use in Revelation so it could have been any sinful city. Options for that include Egypt, Jerusalem and Rome. Since Peter was later associated strongly with the church in Rome it is quite possible that this was the city from which Peter wrote, although there is no other mention of Paul and Peter being in Rome at the same time. The important thing is that Mark and Peter were together at that point.
The significance of Mark being with Peter at that point is not merely to place him somewhere but specifically to see the relationship between Peter and Mark and subsequently the relationship between the Gospel that Mark wrote and Peter. There was almost universal agreement in the early church that while Mark wrote the Gospel, he did so with the encouragement of Peter and quite possibly with Peter as his primary source of information. In II Peter, Peter wrote of reminding the believers of the things of God and his commitment to speak of them as long as he was alive. Peter noted in II Peter 1:15 “I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.” Many see this as Peter’s desire to commit to writing the things he had been teaching and preaching. The way this was to happen was to commission Mark to write a life of Christ. Dr. J. Vernon MaGee wrote that he believed Mark got his history from Peter and his theology from Paul and combined both in his gospel.
John Mark was as important an individual in the early church as anyone. Certainly, two major factors that influenced him as he grew in the Lord was the home in which he was raised and the mentors that were a part of his life. As parents and grandparents, we need to ensure that our home is a place of testimony and prayer. As older and hopefully more mature Christians we need to make it a practice to lovingly mentor younger or newer Christians. Our lives should be characterized by encouragement and loving instruction.
In Acts 13:5 Mark is described as a helper to Barnabas and Paul. Few roles are more important in the church than that of a “helper” that can be counted on to be there no matter what the task. Helpers are not always up front, but they are the most vital part of any church.
The church today could definitely use more people like Mark and more Christians who would encourage them.