“Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version).
In traditional churches, April 25 is the Feast of St. Mark. I may be posting this article one day later, but Mark’s ministry and message remain timeless. His Gospel is probably the oldest of the four in the Bible, and God continues to speak through the account he wrote.
That is impressive when you consider that Mark probably spent most of his career in the background, assisting more prominent leaders. Also, his ministry nearly ended early. Mark’s life is a good reminder that failure does not have to be the final word in your life.
We first meet Mark—or, more precisely, John Mark—in Acts 12:12. Christians were meeting and praying in his mother’s home while Peter was imprisoned. Paul and his mentor, Barnabas, were in town, delivering an offering from the church in Antioch to assist the congregation in Jerusalem during difficult times. Mark joined them on their return trip. He would then travel as their assistant when they left Antioch for their first missionary journey.
Mark did not stay with them very long. After some successful ministry in Cyprus, he left the team. Acts 13:13 simply says that he left them at Perga and returned to Jerusalem. Luke, the author of Acts, gives no explanation. One could think it was a minor detail. However, Paul did not consider it minor. Some time later, he and Barnabas started planning a second missionary journey and had to decide who would travel with them:
“Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark.But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus” (Acts 15:37-39).
Until this point, Paul and Barnabas seemed inseparable. Barnabas had taken Paul under his wing when no other Christians trusted him. Now, he wanted to give Mark a second chance. For some reason, though, Paul refused. Mark’s departure from the team seemed unforgivable to Paul. After years of ministering together, Paul and Barnabas parted ways. Barnabas gave Mark a second chance and took him along. Paul recruited a new assistant named Silas.
Mark is never mentioned again in Acts. However, his name suddenly pops up again in 2 Timothy 4:11. Paul was now an old man, imprisoned, awaiting his execution. Mark was now “useful to me for ministry.” Just as we do not know the circumstances that led Mark to abandon the first missionary journey, we do not know how Paul had this change of heart. He had been abandoned again by many others, and Luke was the only person to stay with him. One can expect the sting of abandonment and rejection to tear old wounds open, but Paul held no grudge now.
Over the years, Paul had probably matured. Mark probably matured as well. Both had probably grown wiser. Scripture’s silence about Mark’s departure and the eventual reconciliation paints a curious picture. I imagine Timothy and Mark arriving to meet Paul and Luke after receiving the letter. Luke is aware that there is some kind of “history,” so he asks, “What happened at Perga? Why did you leave?” (Luke is taking notes, preparing to write a book about all of this.) Paul answers first: “Forget about it! It’s all in the past.” Mark quietly adds, “Yes, let’s just forget about it.” Luke never gets his answer. The Holy Spirit knew what to reveal to those who would write the Scriptures.
After Paul died, Mark’s ministry continued. Tradition says that Peter came to Rome to preach after Paul’s execution, and Mark served as his translator. It is very likely that Mark’s Gospel is based almost entirely on Peter’s preaching (although, for all we know, he may have copied some of Luke’s notes).
Mark’s life gives all Christians some valuable lessons:
- Remain faithful. God can work through your life, whether you are an ordained minister, church leader, or one who serves quietly in the background. Mark spent a lot of time in the background, assisting others while they preached the Gospel. He spent decades serving in the background while Barnabas, Paul, and Peter got all of the attention. However, people have read his book for centuries, coming to know Jesus. He probably had no idea that God would continue to speak through him long after he was gone.
- Failure does not have to be the final word. Mark’s departure at Perga may have been a serious issue, but it was not the end. Proverbs 24:16 tells us that “the righteous falls seven times and rises again.” If you fall, get back up. If you fail, try again. If you sin, confess it, repent, and return to God. Do not give up.
- Offer second chances. Has somebody you know failed? Give them a second chance. Barnabas accepted Paul when no other Christians would. He gave Mark a second chance. Just imagine how short the New Testament would be if Barnabas had not been willing to offer mercy and second chances to those who did not seem to deserve them.
- Forgive. There is power in forgiveness. When we forgive, God works through it. God can use you to bring healing and hope to someone who has failed.
“John left them” (Acts 13:13) could have been the last word about him in the Bible, but it was not. Failure was not the final word in Mark’s life. Do not let it be the final word in your life. Rise up, press on, and keep following the Lord. When a fellow believer falls, do not let failure be the final word in his or her life. Lift him or her up; invite him or her to take a second chance. Forgiveness is the first word God speaks to a believer’s heart. Do not accept failure as the final word.
Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.