John Mark: Recovered Failure
Acts 12:6–17, 25; 13:2–14; 15:35—16:3
Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.
~ 2 Timothy 4:11 (NIV)
I brought the small fragment of parchment up closer to my face and read it again, hardly daring to believe the words my eyes reported: “because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” Imagine Paul actually putting that down in black and white for anyone to read! Tears of relief and joy suddenly welled up in my eyes, and I could read no further. After all these years Paul was calling for me to come and serve with him again, and describing me as “helpful.”
This was the culmination of a long struggle, a difficult process for both of us. For him it was a matter of gradually relenting in his judgment that I was a coward, a failure, someone who did not merit further investment of apostolic time and energy. For me it was the need to change, to grow up, to develop the character necessary for rigorous apostolic duty in a demanding and frequently hostile environment.
I handed the letter back to Timothy, who had sought me out and was grinning widely. “Do you think he really means it?” I asked breathlessly. Timothy shrugged. “Have you ever known Paul to pretend?” he asked pointedly.
I laughed bitterly. “No, you’re right. Paul always says what he means.” Subtlety had never been the apostle’s forte. I blushed as I remembered his frank descriptions of me as he argued loudly with my cousin Barnabas, who wanted to take me with them again on their second missionary journey. Though Barnabas argued that I should be given a second chance, even though I’d quit the first excursion and gone back home, Paul vehemently insisted that there was no way he was going to be burdened with a mama’s boy who wouldn’t follow through on his commitments. The issue had become so heated that the famous pair had split up, going in two different directions, all over a disagreement about me. I’d never felt so humiliated in my life.
But that experience had marked a turning point for me. I did learn steadfastness. Besides Barnabas, I also worked alongside Simon Peter for a while, and I wrote down his memoirs. Paul eventually acknowledged my recovery, mildly recommending that the Colossians welcome me if I should pass through their territory and listing me in his letter to Philemon, along with Demas and Luke, as fellow workers.
But now Paul was actually calling for me to come with Timothy so I could be with him and Luke, just a select, small group for what might be the apostle’s last weeks on Earth. I scanned the letter a third time, and there was no mistaking the resolute tone of the request. Paul expected to die soon, but he wanted me to come and be “helpful” to him in his ministry again before his leave-taking! Praise God!
“When do we leave?” I asked Timothy. “I’m ready for this one. Let’s go!”
Back to the Future
- Have you ever been embarrassed by a failure that was due to character issues on your part? Was there anyone like Barnabas to take your side and help you to recover?
- Do you know anyone else who has stumbled or turned aside from his walk with God? What can you do to encourage him to continue pressing forward?
- Are you ever tempted to turn away from doing what God wants you to do? Who is surrounding you to encourage you when you are tempted to give up?
Read more of Mark’s story in Acts 12:6–17, 25; 13:2–14; 15:35—16:3; Colossians 4:10 (some Biblical scholars include Mark 14:51–52).