The Crucible Of Pressure & Second Chances
As the sun rose on a new day, the Apostle Paul and his ministry team were ready to press on in spite of their afflictions. Three of the personalities included Paul, his associate Barnabas and Barnabas’ young nephew John Mark. We first discover John Mark in Acts chapter twelve. The Apostle Peter has been imprisoned. The church is gathered together for the purpose of prayer; asking God to free Peter. God answers their prayers:
Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him. And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison. And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. (Acts 12:5-7)
Peter has been set free. He is escorted by an angel. If you are familiar with the story, you know that he went to the place where the church was gathered for prayer, and they could not believe that He was free. A little-known detail about that place is that it was the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark (Acts 12:12).
This Mary was among the most devout women of the New Testament. We do not know her state, but no husband is mentioned. Perhaps she was one of the widows of the church. Nonetheless, her son was given a front-row seat to the great things that took place in the First Century Church because his mother hosted gatherings like this one where people came to pray. He saw prayers answered. In this case, on the very night they prayed, God answered in the affirmative. John Mark must have been enamored by the wonder of it all. John Mark, no doubt greatly impressed with the wonderful deliverance of God to Peter, volunteered to join Barnabas and Paul as they went from that point to Antioch, back to missionary service.
As the wonderful twelfth chapter of Acts continues, we find the ominous story of Herod’s untimely death after robbing the glory from God and being eaten from within by worms (12:23). John Mark knew of all of these astonishing displays of answered prayers and the judgment of God. By the end of Acts twelve, we find that John Mark has enlisted into the missionary enterprises of the Paul and Barnabas.
But the word of God grew and multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark. (Acts 12:24-25)
At this point in the story of John Mark we can also observe that he has been exposed to the horrors of persecution. He knew of the death James (Acts 12:1-2). He observed the arrest of Peter. There was no question that John Mark was aware of the dangers that accompanied missions in the First Century Church. Yet he signs on as a junior associate of Paul and Barnabas.
We know almost nothing of the experiences of John Mark after his commitment in the close of Acts twelve. No doubt the pressures of ministering beside the Apostle Paul began to worsen. At some point, John Mark’s mind changed, and he left the ministry. It apparently left Paul and Barnabas understaffed and in a lurch. The Apostle Paul determined at that time that John Mark was a quitter and there would never be any room for him on their team again. Period! However, sometime after their travels were completed, Uncle Barnabas reached out to John Mark and invited him to reconsider his resignation and return to ministry with he and Paul. When Paul found out that Barnabas invited John Mark to return, he opposed Barnabas.
And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches. (Acts 15:36-41)
As stated in the text above, the conflict between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark became so contentious that they saw it as grounds to separate one from another. That is no small issue. Paul suggested that John Mark was not qualified to minister with him and also, anyone who purports an idea like forgiving a quitter isn’t qualified either. Barnabas saw Paul’s opinion as a problem in itself, because it displayed an unforgiveness, judgmentalism and a certain lack or grace. We can assume that the accusations began to fly, and they determined that it would be better to part company.
There was a considerable difference of view between Barnabas and Paul about John Mark, and from that point Barnabas departed back again to Cyprus and disappears altogether from the New Testament story, and Mark went with him. Unquestionably, Barnabas sacrificed his missionary career for the sake of this young man.
However, that isn’t the end of the story of John Mark, for later on you will find him in numerous books of the New Testament. You will also find him with Paul in imprisonment, a comfort and blessing to Paul. Soon after Paul’s death, it would seem that Mark associates himself with Peter, and under his guidance and direction writes the second Gospel which bears his name, the Gospel according to Mark. Mark’s gospel comes second in order of the four Gospels, but it was actually the first to be written.
That is simply the bones of the story. Let’s see if we can put flesh and blood onto those bones and pray that the Spirit of God may speak to all our hearts about this man John Mark, for there are lessons about persecution here to learn which I believe can make all the difference to many of us.
Some have suggested that John Mark’s defection was a case of apostasy. I am not able to arrive at that same conclusion. I do not see a man who left the faith and denied the Lord. This reality gives us an understanding of how easy it is to get disheartened when you are experiencing persecution, or even seeing it from a distance. From Cyprus they sailed to Pamphylia in Asia Minor, and no sooner had this young man set foot on strange soil, among strange people, in different surroundings, away from his relatives and friends; in other words, no sooner did sacrifice and hardship begin to touch his life, that he quit and went back home to his mother in Jerusalem.
When this story is isolated to itself, wea re alarmed at the deeds of John Mark. However, this story is not as uncommon as one would think. The Bible tells us exactly what it takes to cross the finish line. The missing ingredient in quitters is patience. Observe:
Romans 2:6-7, Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
Romans 5:3-4, And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope:
Romans 8:25, But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.
Romans 12:11-13, Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.
Romans 15:4, For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
II Corinthians 6:4-10, But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
II Timothy 3:10-11, But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me.
Hebrews 12:1, Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
James 1:3, Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
James 5:7, Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.
James 5:8, Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.
James 5:10-11, Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.
If those citations of patience are not enough, consider that four times in the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor, Jesus commended them for their patience (Rev. 2:2-3; 19, 3:10). Patience is definitely a premium in days of persecution and apparently John Mark lacked patience.
Many, who at one time gave great promise, great determination, to go right through with the will of God, who ought to be blazing a trail for the Lord on the mission field, are sitting reading this book today, out of God’s will because you quit. Maybe you are a seminary drop-out. Maybe you used to teach Sunday school. Maybe you used to serve in your church, but now you only attend sporadically. You may be a John Mark.
I wonder if John Mark had become so strangely familiar with Christian surroundings in his own home life that Jesus Christ had never been real to him personally. Perhaps truth had never gripped his heart, perhaps the reality of the Gospel had only been a mental conception. It hadn’t been something that burned like a fire within him, it wasn’t truth that gripped his soul until he could do nothing but preach the Gospel. Maybe he just put up a show, a front of piety and of enthusiasm, but perhaps deep down there was no real victory in his life.
I wonder if Barnabas just would not give up on John Mark and was constantly propping him up where he was weak. Would it not have been disastrous to send this young fellow back into the spiritual warfare unless there was in his heart and acknowledgment of sin and a genuine repentance?
I wonder how Mark felt as he heard of the victories of Paul and Silas. I wonder what he thought when he saw Silas setting off with Paul, when news came of blessing and of tremendous movement of the Spirit with souls being saved. I wonder if he spent those years, out of God’s will, moping and miserable, broken in heart? Oh, the heartbreak and the tragedy of years spent out of God’s will, because they are wasted years that can never be recovered.
Second Chances For Defectors
Speculating can be fun, but it isn’t entirely necessary in the case of John Mark. There is an outstanding message for those who have made mistakes when the fires or persecution grew hot. If you walked away under the pressure of a situation, there is good news: God is the Lord of second chances. We could cite Naomi, David, Samson, the Apostle Peter, and others, but today we are positioned to think upon the second chance of John Mark.
Toward the end of the Apostle Paul’s ministry we discover that his heart softened. In the closing remarks of his letter to the Colossians, Paul mentions a Marcus, “Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister's son to Barnabas . . . (Col. 4:10)” In earlier circumstances, Paul refused to allow John Mark back onto the team, but now he salutes and commends him. Shipwrecks, beatings, imprisonments and other forms of persecution have a way of softening the rigid heart, and so it was with the Apostle Paul.
Paul also includes John Mark’s name in the salutations that close the little letter of Philemon:
There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus; Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers. (Philemon 23)
It is at this point that we are exposed to Paul’s true feelings about John Mark. In the Pastoral Epistles Paul’s instruction is vital to the minds of the young men who are entering ministry. His instructions in I, II Timothy and Titus are vital to a biblically based ministry methodology that honors God and works across the span of time and era. What Paul says in these books is essential. In II Timothy 4:11b, Paul makes the following remarks:
Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.
Such personal remarks are common for the Apostle Paul, but this one stands out. In Paul’s very last chapter, the very last words that he ever wrote, from a prison in Rome, with a missionary career ended, Paul speaks of John Mark. He is profitable – once considered unworthy by the Apostle Paul, John Mark is now exactly what Paul wants.
The Greek words for “profitable” are found only twice in the New Testament and both occur are in II Timothy. The first mention of the word is in II Timothy 3:16, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable[ὠφέλιμος] for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. . .” Paul uses a similar word to describe John Mark’s ministry that he uses to describe the sanctifying power of Scripture in the church. That’s right, all scripture . . . is profitable and John Mark . . . is profitable. In his closing book, Paul could not imagine ministry without scripture or John Mark.
Profitable (ὠφέλιμος, pronounced o-fel'-ee-mos) in II Timothy 3:16 is an adjective that means “helpful”, or “serviceable”, or “advantageous.” In reference to John Mark (II Tim. 4:11) the word “profitable” is εὔχρηστος (pronounced yoo'-khrays-tos) and it means “easily used or useful” and is also rendered “meet for use.” Now, without hesitation or apology, Paul describes John Mark as profitable.
John Mark, who at one time departed from the work, has now in later life departed from iniquity. He departed from work because of a bias toward something easier, possibly something that would gratify his ego a bit more, but now has departed from iniquity. He is back, and better. I am no doctor, but I understand that a bone, after it has been broken is stronger at the point where it has been fractured than it was before it was broken. The very sin that we have committed, the very breakdown and failure of which we have been guilty, when we have acknowledged it, labeled it as sin, forsaken it and turned to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing, then that very thing can be the means of our greater strength.
For Naomi, that earlier sin was getting away from God’s will along with her husband and family. She obtained a poor reputation in Moab because she had two daughters-in-law that were clearly forbidden. She persuaded one of them (Orpah) to stay in Moab, but Ruth was determined to accompany her wherever she went. That Moabite daughter-in-law should have been her demise when she returned to Bethlehem-Judah, but God used the situation otherwise. If it wasn’t for Ruth, Naomi would have starved.
Here are some modest lessons for the Pauls and John Marks that are reading:
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