Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lay off John Mark

Paul and Barnabas dispute about John Mark

I just began preaching through the Gospel of Mark. Most agree the author is the same John Mark who was the cousin of Barnabas. He is introduced in the book of Acts here:

Acts 12:25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.

Acts 13:4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them.

Mark is also referred to as John or John Mark. At any rate, J-Mark went with Barnabas and Paul on the first missionary journey of the Apostle. Luke notes that Mark was there "to assist them." In some capacity, Paul and Barnabas depended on Mark during this trip. Later in Acts we find out Mark left the trip early:

Acts 13:13 Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem...

The text doesn't give a reason for John Mark's departure but Paul leaves no doubt about his view of John Mark when a second missionary journey was being planned:

Acts 15:36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.

Paul was hacked that John Mark bailed on them in Pamphylia. Because of this episode, most commentators seem to diss John Mark for wimping out. I tend to think it's unfair to cast John Mark in a bad light, although I agree he should have honored his commitment to assist Paul and Barnabas. Nevertheless, J-Mark was human like the rest of us. Not everyone is cut out for missionary journeys like the ones Paul led. There are varying levels of missionary enterprises to partake in, let's be honest- Paul's "in your face" approach just isn't for everyone, and that's OK.

Barnabas was Paul's faithful assistant and undoubtedly a more mild-mannered person than the Apostle. He's Paul's encourager. They were a good combo. I imagine Barnabas talked John Mark in to coming along on the trip, so J-Mark's main scouting report came from Barney, not Paul. Franky, I think Mark was overwhelmed by what he saw from the get-go. Right off the bat Paul leads them to Salamis and into the Synagogues to preach Christ. Immediate confrontation, and probably scary confrontation at that. They work their way all over the island until they get to Paphos where the meet some real freaks:

Acts 13:6 When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. 7 He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.

What would Paul do? How would he handle such a confrontation? I'm sure Mark was thinking- "oh would be a good time to get out of Dodge". Could you really blame him? Only a handful of people are specially equipped by God to handle such a situation. Well, we see Paul do his usual thing in this instance:

Acts 13:9 But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

What an awesome power encounter! Nevertheless, it was too much for J-Mark. He could see how the rest of this mission trip would go, and decided to bail. The bible doesn't say he should have stayed. Paul speaks negatively of J-Mark's departure, but it's not called a sin. I have read some commentators suggest Mark didn't like ministering to Gentiles and so left Paul. The problem is, to that point, Paul was pretty much focusing on Jews. Also, there's no real evidence Mark was that kind of racist. I say lay off J-Mark. Bottom line- he just wasn't wired for that trip. The rest of the trip was even more intense than what is recorded in chapter 13. Paul goes on to get stoned almost to death a little while later. God called Paul and Barnabas to that particular trip and all it's persecutions, trials, and victories. Apparently J-Mark wasn't so called? It's hard to decipher for sure.

I'm not sure we should call John Mark's departure a failure. God still used him. He and Barnabas undoubtedly labored for Christ on their own trips. Mark was used of God to pen the first Gospel account of the four. Even Paul, approaching the end of his life, writes this:

2 Timothy 4:11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.

All of us will struggle with this or that task or ministry. Sometimes we will outright fail. Such shortcomings do not necessarily mean we can't still be useful in the future.

1 comment:

Woody Woodward said...

Having been blessed with the Motive gift of Exhortation, I too understand how Barnabas wanted to keep on encouraging John Mark! And exercising the gift of Evangelism, it has been exciting to have the honor of going in His Name and bringing the Word into some pretty dark places in the former Soviet Union. Having bold and fearless Pavel with me is like ministering side by side with the Apostle Paul. Actually the Russian name for Paul is Pavel. Pretty safe walking by this Pavel guy huh? Pavel’s favorite saying to me is “Woooooody, have faith in God! He will protect us!”