Summary: How God redeems those who are committed to Jesus for life.
John Mark, the Famous Quitter
John Mark, a favorite name for many boys, is not exactly a household name of Bible heroes. Many of us have named our son this name. While scripture is not abundant about, what we learn and piece together can be instructive for the growing Christian.
John Mark had a great heritage of faith. His mother’s name was Mary and it was their home that was used as a meeting place for Christians. He may have been the nameless man carrying a jar of water (Mark 14:13) that led the disciples to the Upper Room where Jesus hosted his last Passover meal. It was at Mary’s house that the Christians gathered to pray when Peter was in prison (Acts 12:12). In spite of the danger of persecution, she provided the meeting place for the new church. Her home was large enough to host them and she had a servant who guarded the door. Can you imagine John’s opportunity to learn to know the apostles and perhaps Paul when he visited with the Christians there?
His uncle was Barnabas, Mary’s sister. Barnabas was a respected, trusted leader in the new church. His generosity led him to sell his personal land and finance a benevolent ministry by the church. It was Barnabas who befriended Saul (Paul) after his conversion and urged the Apostles to accept him. When news came to the Jerusalem church about the new, different church in Antioch, Barnabas was sent there to see if it was a trusted group. It was Barnabas who found this new church worthy of support and brought Paul (Saul) from Tarsus to help him lead the church. It was Barnabas that was chosen with Paul to be the first foreign missionaries sent out by the church.
Simon Peter called John Mark “my Son” (I Peter 5:13) inferring he may have been the person who led him to trust Jesus or he had assumed a spiritually father role in his life.
John Mark had a great opportunity.
When the church in Antioch was led to send out the very first missionary team to the pagan world, Barnabas and Saul (Paul), John Mark was asked to join them.. At that point Barnabas was the team leader and Acts 13:5 makes note “John was with them as their helper.” Though it is obvious he was to be their “goffer”, he was aboard that first mission trip. He would have the opportunity to learn and serve. He was fortunate to be among them. When they sailed to Cyprus, John Mark observed the power of God at work in the Governor’s house. He saw this important leader embrace Christianity.
John Mark faced his greatest challenge at the next stop on the trip. Something had happened on this first leg of the journey that was a challenge to John Mark, and he quit the team and went home. It has been suggested that John got homesick for home and mother or he tired of his helper role on the team. It has also been suggested that he looked ahead to the next part of the journey, a long hike through rough and dangerous mountains, and chose not to go.
However, the most realistic explanation is there was a change in leadership in the mission team. The journey started with Barnabas being the leader. In the events on Cyprus, Paul emerged as a powerful and persuasive leader and assumed that role. In Acts 13:13, the scriptures say “Paul and his companions sailed.” John Mark was not comfortable with the change of leadership. Of all the reasons why members leave a local church, the most dominant one is a change of leadership. While this is most likely in a change of pastor, there are lay leader changes and conflicts of leadership that cause others to leave. Paul’s style of leadership was radically different from that of Barnabas and his expectation of team members was demanding. Mark chose to go home. Can you imagine the emotions of that trip home? Relief from the stress of Paul’s demands soon changed to sorrow of a failed mission. He would sail and think for many days. Then he must sail back into Antioch where he would be met by those church leaders who sent him off. He would then make his way to Jerusalem to his Christian friends and his mother. While the stoic’s axiom is “don’t explain, don’t complain”, it would be hard not to do both.
What would he do next? The scriptures are silent about the next two years. Did he go to church or drop out? Did he assume leadership roles or take a back seat? Did anyone understand and reach out to him? Perhaps Peter did. Perhaps he came to John Mark for help. After all, the stories of the gospels were distributed only orally. One Apostle had been killed, others would die off and the gospel story, the story of the life and ministry of Jesus, would die with them. This needed to be written down while these were still alive. Perhaps Peter enlisted Mark to be his scribe and told him about all Jesus had said and done. Perhaps they read portions of the writing to the other disciples and gathered their input. However it happened, this may have been the time Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark, the first written record of Jesus’ ministry for others to copy and distribute. Matthew and Luke would use this manuscript as they were led to write their books of the New Testament. This may be why Paul, twenty years later, asked that John come to him because “he was useful to him” (II Timothy 4:10).