God’s People, part 255: John Mark

Read Acts 13:13; 15:37-39

“When you make a promise to God, don’t delay in following through, for God takes no pleasure in fools. Keep all the promises you make to him. It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it. Don’t let your mouth make you sin. And don’t defend yourself by telling the Temple messenger that the promise you made was a mistake. That would make God angry, and he might wipe out everything you have achieved.”  (Ecclesiastes 5:4-6, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 255: John Mark. Traditionally, John Mark has often attributed as the “Mark” who wrote the New Testament, also known as Mark the Evangelist. He was first introduced in Acts 12:12 as being the son of a woman named Mary. He was introduces as “John who was also known as Mark.” In that time period, it was not uncommon for Jews to have their birth name and also have a Hellenistic name as well. John was a Jewish name and Mark was a Greek name. So, this person’s name was actually John and Mark was not his surname, but another name he went by.

Still, he is known to us as John Mark to distinguish him from other Johns in named in the New Testament. John Mark was the cousin of Paul’s mentor, partner and friend Barnabas. In Acts 12:25, we find out that he returned to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Paul (Saul at the time), an indication that he was now working with them as a missionary.

In Acts 13:13, something inexplicable happened. We are told that, on one their missionary journeys, John Mark abruptly left the company and returned home to Jerusalem. We cannot be sure why he left as Luke never elaborated on that; however, you can feel the abruptness in the way Luke writes about it: “Paul and his companions then left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. There John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem.” From there Luke carries on with Paul and Barnabas and John Mark falls out of the account for two chapters.

He’s next mentioned in Acts 15:37-39. In that passage, Paul invites Barnabas to go with him to visit the cities they’ve visited in the past to check on the believers there. Barnabas agreed to go with Paul, but he wanted to bring John Mark along. Paul strongly objected to this. It says in verse 38, “But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work.”

It is here where we get to see into the event back in chapter 13. We still don’t know why, but it becomes clear that John Mark’s abrupt exit from their missionary journey was viewed by Paul, if not Barnabas and his other companions, as a desertion. Paul felt he abandoned them and he would not have such an unreliable person joining them, for obvious reasons.

While we cannot be sure what Barnabas felt at the time that John Mark abandoned them, John was still his cousin and wanted to include him in their journey. In fact, he not only wanted to, but was sharply insistent on it. As a result, Paul and Barnabas could not come to a compromise and ended up ending their partnership. They chose to separate. We cannot really judge either one of them because, again, we don’t know the details and why Paul felt this was an unacceptable desertion; however, both felt so strongly in their opposing viewpoints that they could no longer work together. This was tragic turn of events for sure.

Still, what we, as Christians, should pull from this is the importance of being reliable and faithful to our local church community. When we commit to something, we should remain committed. We should not desert our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ and put others in the position of having to defend or oppose our involvement, as sometimes can happen.

This is not an uncommon thing in our time. Many people abandon their church family for lots of frivilous reasons. Disagreements or a disliking of the pastor, sports or other child/teen activities, wanting to sleep in, and other various things can cause people and their families to drift away from their commitment to the Church and it’s mission. People vow to serve the Christ’s church when they become members, but don’t really view that vow as binding or important. As a pastor, I have seen the hurt that causes relationally, and I have seen it also cause division in the church. What’s more, it can cause the church to fall into despair over a perceived and real decline in church family members. It is a loss the church can’t help but sincerely grieve.

Friends, this should challenge us. Why do we, as Christians, feel that our faith vows are secondary at best to the other things the world is offering? Shouldn’t that be reversed? Shouldn’t our vows to God and each other hold far more weight than personality differences, sports, laziness, and other things? Let us be challenged to return to our vows and uphold them. Let us put Christ and His church first in our lives, so that we can once again instill a foundation of faith in our children, and further the work of bringin heaven, and the reign of God, on earth.

“But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.” – James the Just (James 5:12, NLT)

Lord, keep me and my family on the path that leads to the fulfillment of my vows to you. Amen.

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