John Mark: "Useful For Service"
[ From The Editors: This article is the tenth in a series we will publish this year, calling attention to twelve people who though being dead, instruct us (Heb. 11:4). They speak to us through the testimony of their lives as written in Scripture. Over the next few months, we will develop a theme title. And, near the end of the year we are planning to publish these thirteen articles in book form (Kindle, Nook and old fashioned print and ink). These passages and people can equip us and motivate us toward greater service to our Lord.]
John Mark is first mentioned by name after the death of the apostle James by Herod's order. James had been put into prison and subsequently executed. This had pleased the Jews, and so Herod proceeded to have Peter arrested and intended to execute him as well. The disciples were very concerned for Peter's sake. Would he be next?
Some of the disciples at Jerusalem had gathered in the home of one of their number, a sister in Christ by the name of Mary who was also John Mark's mother. Upon Peter's miraculous escape with the help of an angel of the Lord, he found his way to Mary's house. The Bible says concerning Peter, “...he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.” (Acts 12:12).
Herod ordered that a search be made for Peter but they failed to find him. He then ordered that the guards be executed. Finally, Herod left Judea for Caesarea where soon after that he died (Acts 12:18-23).
Young John Mark saw the power of God in the defeat of Herod and the spread of the gospel as churches were established. He also joined Barnabas and Saul in their ministry, what we often refer to as the First Missionary Journey. “But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.” (Acts 12:24-25).
The Lad in Gethsemane
But the above account probably is not the first we read about John Mark. This young man who would become the writer of the gospel of Mark was very likely present in the garden of Gethsemane and saw the arrest of Jesus there. He would have been a very young boy at the time. We have already seen that his home was in Jerusalem. His gospel contains an interesting account of the arrest, with a peculiar item put in that is omitted by the other gospel writers, which suggests it is personally significant to the writer of that gospel. Many suggest the young man dressed in his nightclothes was John Mark himself, who had perhaps snuck out of his bed and followed Jesus and the apostles to Gethsemane from that upper room where they had celebrated the Passover on that fateful night of Jesus' arrest (Mark 14:45-52). This is all the more likely due to the fact that we know Mark's mother's house was a meeting place for the disciples.
Witness to the Spread of the Gospel
Think of the things this young man had the opportunity to witness! In addition to the events at Jerusalem during the last week of Jesus' life, he would have likely been present in Jerusalem at the first Pentecost following, and perhaps a witness of the preaching of the first gospel sermon. His uncle, Barnabas, became prominent in the church, and was known to be a great source of encouragement and very generous to those in need during the early days of the Jerusalem church.
John Mark was later present at the conversion of the proconsul in Salamis and the defeat of Elymas the sorcerer. (Acts 13:4-12). He went with Paul and Barnabas on the first journey as far as Pamphylia, but then left the group to return to Jerusalem. “Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; but John left them and returned to Jerusalem.” (Acts 13:13).
Later, when Paul and Barnabas prepare to undertake a second journey together they disagreed over whether to take John Mark with them. Barnabas apparently wanted him to go, but Paul, remembering how he had quit and gone home on the first journey, did not want him to go (Acts 15:36-41). The solution reached was that Mark went with Barnabas to Cyprus and Paul took Silas with him to Asia Minor.
Paul eventually got over his disappointment with Mark, but it took time. Later, Paul tells the Church at Colossae to welcome John Mark (Colossians 4:10). John Mark became a useful worker for the Lord, and Paul commends him as a “fellow worker” (Philemon 24). We read of Paul's final mention of John Mark shortly before Paul's own death and he describes John Mark as being “useful to me for service” (2 Timothy 4:11).
John Mark is also mentioned as being with Peter in “Babylon” a term which could be a veiled reference to Rome, and I believe that this is highly likely (1 Peter 5:13). An early Christian writer, Papias, whose lifetime spans the time period from the first to the second centuries, speaks of talking with eyewitnesses of the events of the gospel during his earlier years. He also speaks of the time Mark spent with Peter in Rome and says that Mark's gospel is a written record of the things Peter taught about Jesus while in Rome. So, Mark is the author of the book of Mark, and was an eyewitness to at least the portion of Jesus'ministry that took place in Jerusalem, and a companion of Peter, one of the men selected by Jesus personally to be an eyewitness of His ministry.
If Papias is correct about Peter and Mark at Rome, and 1 Peter 5:13 is strong evidence that he is, then this is also powerful evidence of the veracity of the gospel accounts of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. The three synoptic Gospels all record the Roman soldiers pressing Simon of Cyrene into service as they led Jesus away to be crucified, forcing Simon to carry Jesus' cross. Mark's gospel adds some information the others do not, suggesting a particular interest that Mark might have in including additional facts about the event. Mark says, "They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross." adding the fact that Simon is the father of two sons, Alexander and Rufus. Why would Mark want to add this apparently incidental fact?
He would add it because it is not incidental. Mark's gospel was initially written to the Romans. The names of Simon's sons must have been significant to the church at Rome. And sure enough when we look at Paul's closing salutations to the various brothers and sisters at Rome, among them he says, "Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine." (Romans 16:13). Paul suggests that the mother of Rufus and he had very close ties, that she was as a mother to him. I can think of no reason why Mark would have included the sons' names if those names meant nothing to the Roman disciples. If this is so, then the church at Rome had, for a time, Mark, who had been present at Jerusalem during the final week of Jesus' life; Rufus, the son of Simon who had borne Jesus' cross and Peter, who had been a chosen eyewitness to the whole ministry. There were plenty of people around to talk to about the events we read about in the gospels who had been eyewitnesses of these things. The gospel is no legend or myth. It is the truth!
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 19.12; December 2012