Summary: Paul and John Mark, a study in maturing relationships. John Mark starts out young and conflicted; he is insecure around the powerful Paul; but Paul grows to accept him and think of him as useful.
The Scripture texts I will be using today are scattered through several chapters in the Book of Acts, plus other locations in the New Testament. And so instead of simply reading passage after passage, let me put together a vignette, a character sketch, in order to make the life of John Mark available to you.
As you remember, I am working with the theme, "Broken People for a Broken World". I am building messages on the lives of people in the New Testament who seemed to be failures in one way or another, or who seemed to have insurmountable obstacles in their lives. But each of these found that Christ in their lives made the difference between failure and success.
Each one of these is being anchored in a different verse of the hymn, "Just As I Am". This hymn, authored by Charlotte Elliott in 1834, is both the testimony of a broken spirit who became disgusted at her own excuse-making and is also a wonderful collection of insights into the human condition.
So we’ve looked at Paul, without one plea; and at the woman at the well in Samaria, stained with one dark blot. Today we study John Mark, fightings within and fears without.
We first meet John Mark in chapter 12 of Acts, where he is closely associated with Peter. Peter had been arrested by King Herod, but had been miraculously released from prison. Peter’s first move after his release was to hurry to the home of a woman simply named Mary and her son, John Mark. Clearly Mark, as we generally call him, was tied in to the founders of the Christian movement very closely. In fact, Peter calls him "My son" in the first letter of Peter, and very strong tradition, in fact, very strong internal evidence, tells us that the young Mark recorded and shaped the memories of Peter into what we know as The Gospel According to Mark.
But the heart of our story concerning Mark is found in Acts 13. Two of the early church’s leaders, Barnabas and Saul ... Saul whom we know better by the name Paul … Barnabas and Saul were sent out on a missionary trip, and took John Mark along as their assistant. They went to the island of Cyprus and began preaching.
On the island of Cyprus at a town called Paphos, Saul encountered a magician named Elymas at work, and especially at work on the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, who had become a Christian. The missionaries were afraid that the magician would corrupt this Roman officer, and so Saul sternly rebuked the missionary, brought down God’s judgment on him so that he was blinded, and stabilized the officer Sergius Paulus.
The story then continues in Acts 13:13-14 with the ongoing work of Saul, now consistently called Paul, and his companion Barnabas ... but all of it without John Mark.
There isn’t much else about Mark in the New Testament, but what there is is quite significant. For this failure, this deserter, in the mind of Paul, is not forgotten. He may be an abandoner, but he is not abandoned.
How long does it take to grow up? How many years before a child becomes an adult, how much time before an immature person becomes mature?
I suspect there isn’t any mathematical answer to that question. It can’t be answered simply in terms of years. We used to look at age 21 as the time when you were supposed to be grown up ... when you could vote and buy alcohol and hold property and could accept that most wonderful of adult privileges, getting into debt!
Then we woke up to the fact that voting and drinking and creating debts were not the only adult things to do … and that we had been allowing people to do very grown-up things like drive a car at age 16, or get married, in some states, even earlier than that. And the most grown-up thing of all, to take a rifle in hand and go on to the battlefield, we let you … we made you do … at 18.
Obviously we didn’t have a clear picture as to how long it takes to grow up!
And we still don’t. We still are not very sure about who is mature and who is not. Our PG-13 movies are getting more and more pointed, and our NC-17 movies will jolt you at any age. Five-year-olds are caught threatening other children with knives, and seven-year-olds have to take care of their younger brothers and sisters while Mom and Dad leave them home alone. We don’t seem to know when maturity arrives.