BEHIND THE SCENES WITH JOHN MARK, THE WEAK / STRONG
Next week I am going to tell you about Luke. That’s Dr. Luke. He was my coworker too. He told me a funny story. He said a patient came to him and Dr. Luke noted, “I can see that you are not in good shape.” Dr. Luke told the patient he needed to do some exercise. Dr. Luke said his patient needed to tell his wife he needed to eat better food. Dr. Luke told him that he needed to quit working so hard. Dr. Luke told the patient that if his wife were more economical he wouldn’t have to work so hard. Dr. Luke told him that he needed to tell his wife that he needed more time to relax and have more time by himself away from her and the children. Dr. Luke told him, “If you don’t you will die in a month.”
Dr. Luke’s patient told him, “My wife will never believe me. Dr. Luke,” he said, “It would sound a lot more official if you told her all those things she needed to do.”
A few days later the patient got home after his normal workday. His wife came running to the door of their tent. “My Agape One,” she said, “I saw Dr. Luke in the marketplace today and we talked. I am so sorry. Dr. Luke said you only have thirty days to live.”
Some things never change. We had doctor jokes too. I could also tell you the one about the Sadducee, Pharisee and rabbi, but we are here to hear the Word of God.
I know I mentioned Luke. Next week I will be finishing this series, “Behind the Scenes” with Luke. Today is John Mark.
I touched on John Mark when I talked about Barnabas a few weeks ago. He was the weak one whom God made strong.
You probably know him just as Mark. His name was John Mark. In Hebrew he was – Yohanan. Yohanan means “Jaweh (Jehovah) shows grace.” Mark is shortened for the Latin “Marcus.” Since Rome was occupying Jerusalem, it wasn’t that unusual to have both a Hebrew and Roman name.
Mark’s mother was named “Mary.” Yet another one! There are lots of Mary’s in the Bible. She was a relative of Barnabas, making Mark and Barnabas cousins. Barnabas was a generous godly man who sold a field and gave the proceeds to the church in Jerusalem. He was my partner on my first of three missionary journeys.
If you know your Bibles and know your Bible history, Mark’s mother, Mary, is mention when Peter was put into prison in Jerusalem. The members of the Way (That’s what Christians were called at that time) gathered in Mary’s home and prayed Peter out of jail. Remember that story. After Peter was so miraculously freed, he high-tailed it through the streets of Jerusalem to the house of Mary to see his brothers and sisters in Christ. Mary had a servant whose name was Rhoda. She answered the door. Mary seemed to be a person of means like Barnabas. Most importantly, she was Jesus’ disciple and served the Lord by providing a place of refuge for God’s people to gather.
It was such a simple matter of opening the door to her house and allowing God’s people to gather. When they gathered they prayed. When they prayed God heard and he answered. Probably doesn’t sound like a big deal to open her house, but Peter would probably disagree. It was a big deal for him.
A few weeks ago I told you about Lydia from the city of Philippi. She allowed Timothy, Luke, Silas and me to stay at her house when we did mission work in Philippi. Your great national patriot, Ben Franklin, said that fish and visitors stink in three days. We must have really been rancid for Lydia. We were in her house for a lot longer than that. Yet she welcomed us because she loved Jesus and welcomed Jesus’ messengers.
If you remember the stories of the Old Testament there was the widow from Zarephath and the Shunamite woman who opened up their homes to the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Mary and Martha and Lazarus opened their home to Jesus and his disciple many times. These were all acts of love, because they were done to thank the Lord who loved them first.
Sometimes people say that they don’t have any talents to serve the Lord. Some want to serve the Lord, but only in an advisory capacity. Some wonder why they even need to serve. Think how hopeless we would be if that had been the attitude of Jesus – why should I serve? Why should I bother dying for the sins of the world?
The Holy Spirit lived in Mary, the mother of John Mark. She had great faith. She knew she wasn’t living in selfish isolation. God’s work needed to be done. God’s people were in need. She gave at risk to herself.
You see, God’s people do not live in selfish isolation either. Peter, a much loved brother, needed help. God’s people knew they could do what they could do best. They prayed. Mary provided a place for them.
Apply that to your life, the life of a Christian as you are. In my day there was a saying that went like this, “What is it to the Romans if the Greeks die?” In other words, who cares about others especially if they are your enemy? From what I see in your world that idea is easy to embrace when so many people oppose Christ who have no god or who have another god. It is easy to say, “What is it to Christians if a Muslim dies! What is it to a Christian if an unbeliever dies?”
But God did not create us to hate but to love and to serve. God’s people, people like yourself, cleansed in the blood of Jesus for all the times you failed to love and serve, are called on to take seriously when God says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”
God designed his creation to serve others. No tree bears fruit for itself. Its fruit is for people and animals to enjoy and to benefit from. The sun does not shine for itself. It shines on this world and warms it. The moon doesn’t shine for itself. It shines on our lives. Water does not flow for itself. It satisfies the thirst of plant, animal and man. It is not surprising that Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” We are here to love and serve.
God does that too. He made us and cares for us. No one has more of a front row seat to selfless service of Christ and our God than a Christian who views the cross and understands the cross of Jesus.
But we ask the question: How can I serve those who hate me? Do I roll over and let an enemy roll over me? Not at all! That’s why there is government. The government’s main responsibility is to protect its citizens. The government does not bear the sword in vain. If it is time to maim or kill or to defend it must be done. Yet I pray that the hearts of God’s people will never grow so cold that we delight in their deaths. I pray that we would all be saddened by the fact that we didn’t get to love and serve them. I pray that we never ever forget to pray for them and pray for their repentance and God’s forgiveness in Christ. I pray that constantly pray that some day we will be able to stand next to them in heaven and sing God’s praises together.
Let’s talk about John Mark! Remember again that John Mark accompanied Barnabas and me on that first missionary journey. He left us when we got to Perga. We didn’t expect it. No need to go into details. When Barnabas and I planned the second missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark again. I put my foot down and said “no.” Barnabas was a patient, nurturing type. I am pretty hard charging. I think we complemented each other well, but we disagreed and split. He went one direction with John Mark. I went another with Silas.
Mark did what a lot of people do. People don’t always do what they say they will. Or they fail to do things on time! Or they won’t give their best!
When Mark turned back, I felt betrayed. Just like Peter did to Jesus! Just like Judas did to Jesus too! Yet who was I to be so accusatory? So much of my life was spent betraying Jesus when I worked against Jesus so violently instead of for him? Remember Jesus warned against removing specks from other people’s eyes when you have planks in your own?
Yes, John Mark threw a curveball in our plans and made it harder on Barnabas and me. If we make promises and assume responsibility, we need to carry it out. On the other hand, making a mistake doesn’t mean that someone can’t repent and know there is forgiveness and we can grow from it.
When Jesus forgives us, his forgiveness is complete. It is a perfect ten. On the other hand when it comes to loving Jesus and living for Jesus, we are never perfect tens. Not in this life! From the day we are born to the day that we die we need to grow.
My friend Peter said, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” The key word is grow
There is a Proverb that goes like this, “Nevertheless, the righteous will hold to their ways, and those with clean hands will grow stronger.” A Christian’s faith dare not stand still but progress forward. The beginning of our walk is like a sunrise when the sun is not so bright. But we want to progress toward the noonday sum and show lots of light.
Jesus talked about growing when he spoke about planting God’s word into hearts and compared it to soil. Remember when he spoke about the seed falling onto the four types of soil. There was the hard pathway where the seed didn’t even take root. There was the rocky soil where the seed took root quickly but died when it didn’t get any water. There was the soil that was full of weeds. The seed grew but was choked out. But even in the good soil people produced thirty times, sixty times and one hundred times the fruit. We should be happy that the seed produces fruit although it might be in different quantities.
Jesus taught another parable where he said that the kingdom of God was like “a man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” You plant seed into the ground, but from there it is out of your hands. That’s where God causes it to sprout and grow as he renews us with Word and Sacrament.
What am I saying here? What are the spiritual lessons Jesus wants us to know? A Christian grows over a lifetime. Fruit is produced in various quantities. Because there is sin in all of us, fruit at times might be hard to find. Mark was just like all of us, not perfect in producing the fruits of faith and living like God deserves. But that isn’t just his story, it our story. The life of a Christian on this side of the grave never reaches full maturity. That comes in heaven.
While I doubted Mark when he wanted to come the second time, God did cause him to grow. When I was imprisoned in Rome the first time, he had the courage to be with me. I wanted him to come to me along with Timothy as they were caring for the church in Ephesus when I was imprisoned the final time. I wanted to use Mark to help out the church in Colossae. Later, Mark became to Peter what Timothy was to me. I considered Timothy to be my spiritual son. Mark was that to Peter. In fact, it probably can be said of Mark’s Gospel that it came from Peter.
One last point! When you meet Mark in heaven ask him if he was the one who fled from the Garden of Gethsemane naked when the mob arrested Jesus. A lot of people believe that, you know. He ran from us in Perga too. But you know what? That’s why Jesus came…to forgive. Mark knew it and grew from it. The Lord wasn’t done with Mark. He made the weak strong. But then that’s the story of everyone.