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From Failure to Faithful, a Bible Study on the Life and Ministry of John Mark
Every believer is called into the ministry. Not all are called to preach or teach, but the Great Commission is the responsibility of all believers. We are all expected to be lights in the darkness of this world, so God can be glorified and people can be saved.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matt 5:16)
Inevitably, because of our sin nature, we all fail at times and don't look much like Jesus. Getting saved doesn't stop us from blowing it. Sometimes we blow it so big that we think that God couldn't possibly use us again. But God says He can work all things together for good.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Romans 8:28 doesn't just refer to the bad things that happen to us. It says all things, and that means if we give Him our failures then He will work those together for good, too. Early in Church history, there was a young man who learned that lesson and God recorded it for us in the New Testament. His name was John Mark, and he was part of the early Church in Jerusalem. God called him to do great things and he agreed to the call. He started out strong, but he quickly walked away from the task at hand.
John Mark must have been a young man when the heat was turned up on the Church at Jerusalem, and Stephen was stoned and James was killed by Herod. The first time he is mentioned is after Peter's arrest and then miraculous release in Acts 12.
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. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision. When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him. And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews. And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying. (Acts 12:5-12)
It certainly appears that it was common place for believers to meet and pray in John Mark's family home, so John Mark was raised in a Godly atmosphere. The next mention of John Mark has him on the mission field with Paul and Barnabas.
And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark. (Acts 12:25)
His first mission trip was short lived. He didn't finish the trip with Paul and Barnabas.
Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. (Acts 13:13)
We aren't given any details here that explain why he went home, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that his reasons probably weren't very good ones because the ramifications of his early departure come up a few chapters later when Paul and Barnabas started planning their next mission trip.
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)
What do you know? Disagreements in the Church aren't anything new. Paul and Barnabas disagreed so strongly over John Mark that they broke up their ministry team. Paul teamed up with Silas and Barnabas took John Mark, who happened to be his nephew, with him. Paul wrote a large portion of the New Testament, and it is pretty evident from reading his letters that he was a humble, godly man. If he had concerns about John Mark, he must have had good reason. While I don't know exactly what was going through John Mark's mind when he left the mission field that first time, I'm positive he didn't realize his decision was going to cause this kind of division. His story isn't really that much different from many Christians today.
I always cringe a little when a young Christian starts that first ministry. Oh, I am excited, too, but I know that they are about to face some challenges. The bigger the ministry they jump into, the bigger the obstacles that tend to get in the way. And, while they usually eventually excel and do amazing things for God, that first attempt often fails or at least falters before succeeding. I used to think those failures were the result of demonic influence alone. The demons feared that the ministry would claim too many souls for the Kingdom, so they put these road blocks up to keep the Christian on the pew (or better yet get him out of the Church and back on the sofa) and out of the ministry God ordained. I still believe that demonic influence gets in the way. The devil is a defeated foe who is trying to take as many with him to hell as he can, so it makes sense for him to hinder young ministries. But, I think that some of those challenges haven't got much to do with the devil. God allows free will. He allows us to give up sometimes and even fail temporarily, so He can grow us spiritually. I'm not saying He causes us to stumble. I'm just saying that He knows that it is in our weaknesses that He is strong. And we benefit from His strength. Sometimes He lets our first attempts at ministry fail, so that we will lose the ego (that we may not even realize is there) and call on Him. John Mark must have figured some of that out, because the Bible records little glimpses into his ministry, and it certainly did not end after his first failure. Some of those glimpses come from letters written by the Apostle Paul himself.
Reading only those few verses in Acts 15, it would appear that Paul and John Mark would never be able to work together again but God is a restorer. Two of the letters Paul wrote while he was in prison in Rome spoke of his friendship with John Mark. He called him a comfort and a fellow worker. Near the end of his life, he told Timothy that he wanted to see John Mark.
Aristarchus my fellow prisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister's son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him. (Col 4:10)
Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellow labourers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. Philemon 1:24-25)
Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. (2 Tim 4:11)
Paul called him Marcus in the letters. John Mark was most likely from a family with a Jewish mother and a Roman father. That's why it's his mother mentioned in Acts 12 instead of his father. John was his Jewish name, but Mark came from his father. Years have passed by the time Paul wrote his letters, and Paul had spent most of that time ministering to the Gentiles so the use of the name Mark or Marcus isn't that unusual. Remember Paul himself no longer went by the name Saul after surrendering to the ministry.
The Bible doesn't give us the details on how John Mark went from being someone Paul didn't want to take on a missionary trip to someone he considered profitable to his ministry. The details aren't really important. The important thing to remember is no matter how bad we mess things up, God can restore us and use us for the purpose He has for us. The last mention of John Mark is in 1 Peter 5:13. Peter calls him son.
The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son. (1 Peter 5:13)
God used John Mark despite his failures. He even entrusted him with writing the Book of Mark. God gave the young man who gave up too soon the chance to try again. John Mark had to crawl before he could walk just like us. When we fail, when we fall short, we can get up and try again. God can take that mess we made and use it for good. We can still accomplish the things He wants to accomplish with us. We just have to give Him our mess ups and our failures and let Him use them for good. He can take our mess and make something amazing.
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