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John Mark – The Patron Saint Of Second Chance Missionaries

Last week we looked at Demas, the classic missionary failure. But for every Demas there is a John Mark with a very different message – a message of restoration leading to success.

John Mark had the best of possible starts. According to Acts 12:12, John Mark’s mother was a woman named Mary, who owned a house in Jerusalem that served as a meeting place for the early Christian community. John Mark was there for an amazing prayer meeting. Peter had been arrested but was rescued by an angel from execution and came directly there from prison while they were praying. “Peter came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying.” John Mark had seen God working in powerful ways.

But that was not all. He was Barnabas’ cousin (Col 4:10), so Barnabas let him join Paul’s team. “Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem (and) they also took with them John whose surname was Mark” (Acts 12:25). This young man got express promotion to be a part of the most exciting mission team of the day: “being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus…They also had John as their assistant” (Acts 13:4-5). This was fast-track promotion indeed, travelling with a most remarkable pioneer missionary.
Then there was trouble. Cousin Barnabas was from Cyprus, and as long as they were in Cyprus there were family and friends and all went well. But then “Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia (13:13). John Mark had no relatives there, no backup except for cousin Barnabas who was pretty stretched himself. So he ran back home. “John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem.”

Paul was not amused. After he and Barnabas returned to Antioch at the end of chapter 14, and then visited Jerusalem to sort out some issues in chapter 15, Paul wanted to set out again on the second missionary journey. Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing” (15:36). Barnabas agreed, but he had a condition: “Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark.” The result of that was a severe disagreement. “But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed” (vv38-40).

You don’t take a missionary failure on the next pioneer missionary journey just because he’s your cousin. Cross-cultural mission demands a clear encounter with the Lord Jesus and His call on our lives. Compare Paul’s experience in Galatians 1:11-24 (described in Thursday’s notes below): “It pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles” (Gal 1:15-16).

Yet unlike Demas that I mentioned last week, that was not the end for John Mark. “So Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus” (Acts 15:39). Barnabas took John Mark back to the place of failure and walked him through to restoration. As a result, later John Mark’s relationship with Paul was reconciled. In Colossians 4:10, Paul writes “Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him)”. In 2 Timothy 4:11, written by Paul shortly before his death, he requests that Timothy bring Mark with him when he visits – “for he (John Mark) is useful to me (Paul) for ministry.”

The lesson from John Mark’s life is that a failed missionary, if he/she can find and submit to the restoring work of a Barnabas ministry in his her/life, will have a second chance, will indeed have a very different future.
And there is more. John Mark eventually became a close associate of the apostle Peter. In 1 Peter 5:13, Peter writes “Mark my son” greets you. Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark based on Peter’s teachings out of that special relationship. We do not just read of John Mark’s failure in Acts. We read of his unique role in writing one of the four gospels in the New Testament.

John Mark experienced failure but he also experienced restoration. His association with figures like Peter and Paul underscores his importance in the early spread of Christianity and his role in preserving and sharing the teachings of Jesus through the Gospel of Mark. He failed, but he did not stay a failure. He finished well.

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