THE STORY OF US
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Jesus wrote no autobiography. It might be a somewhat of a curiosity to note that Jesus never wrote any book. There is no autobiography. But the Spirit of God selected four men to write histories of the life of Jesus, His work, His death, and His resurrection. They are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Since the Holy Spirit inspired each writer, each of the gospels is without error. It is God-breathed. To borrow the language of Paul or in Peter’s words,
knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote their histories independently of each other at different times and in different places. These four accounts paint a perfect picture of the life of Christ as shown to them by the Holy Spirit.
Today we begin a journey through Mark’s unique portrait of Christ. Mark’s account of Christ’s life was the first penned. However, it was not the first New Testament book written. By the time the Mark wrote his gospel several New Testament books were already in existence. The book of James and the book of Galatians had already been written by the Apostle Paul.
Galatians was written because the early church needed direction in how to detect and protect themselves from the false gospel preached by the Judaizers.
James was written to persecuted believers that were in need comfort and encouragement.
Written accounts of the gospel were not yet needed because those eyewitnesses who had seen and spent time with Christ were still alive. And there were some written fragments that Luke 1:1-2 makes reference to written testimonies as well as verbal stories of eyewitnesses that existed before the gospel accounts.
The gospel accounts begin to appear about midway through that first century. The first one that was written was Matthew. The next one that was written was Mark. And then came Luke. And about 30 years later, around 90 A.D., the gospel of John.
As eyewitnesses begin to die off, it became imperative that accounts be written down. So the Holy Spirit selected four men for this task, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
These four gospels received universal affirmation from the early church that they were the true gospels. Yes, later on, spurious gospels appeared with false identification, like the gospel of Peter, the gospel of Thomas, etc., etc. They were Gnostic, anti-God, Satanic forgeries intended to confuse people and undermine the truth.
The focus of Mark's gospel is the works not the words of Jesus. Jesus is shown as a Savior of action, not articulation. Mark 4 and 13 are the only two teaching chapters in Mark. Mark 4 is Jesus parabolic teaching, and chapter 13 is Mark's account of The Sermon on the Mount and his second coming.
It is written like a newspaper. It is fast paced, the word immediately appears over 40 times. It’s an action gospel. In the ancient world, most of the people were illiterate, particularly in the Roman world to which it was written. Being illiterate required someone else to read to them, and this is why Mark wrote in this manner.
Let’s get to know the author. If you look at the first verse, you will not find his name. But then again, no author of any of the four gospels identifies himself as the author. Matthew never says he’s the author even though his conversion and inclusion among the Apostle's appears in his account. Luke never appears in his gospel at all, nor does he claim to be the author of it. John, while appearing in his gospel, never refers to himself as John, but always by some other descriptive, like “The one whom Jesus loved.” So we don’t have these gospels beginning with a claim to authorship. It is clearly an indication of the fact that these authors wanted to give all the glory to Christ, they wanted the story to be about Him and they hid themselves, as it were, behind the history of the One who should receive the preeminence.
How do we know that Mark is the author? The universal testimony of the early church is one and his appearance in Acts 12.
The book of Acts begins with Jesus spending 40 days after His resurrection, teaching His disciples truths pertaining to the Kingdom of God and preparing them to fulfill the commission of chapter 1 verse 8. They are being equipped Christ and then empowered by the Holy Spirit to engage. In chapters 1 through 12, we see the gospel in Judea and Samaria. Chapter 13 we see the gospel going into the uttermost part of the earth.
Peter is the primary teacher in the first twelve chapters, while Paul becomes the primary teacher for the remainder of the book.
So when we come to chapter 12, we are at the end of the ministry of the Apostle Peter.
It is in Acts 12 that we hear Mark mentioned for the first time. John was a Jewish name, Mark was a Gentile name. Now it doesn’t tell us anything about him. It just says Peter went to the house of Mary. The fact that a house is identified with a woman rather than a man, probably means she was a widow. So here’s a widow with a name that just about every other woman in the New Testament gospel account has...Mary. So to distinguish this Mary from all the other Marys, it is the Mary who is the mother of John who is also called Mark. That’s the only reason his name is even mentioned here.
At this point, he’s a non-descript guy. He’s only a way to identify his mother. Peter went to this house because he knew it was a place where his faith family gathered, and it was familiar. Peter knew John Mark, and John Mark knew Peter, though John Mark was very young. This event most likely took place in 44 A.D. or 14 years after the death of Christ.
So here for the first time, we meet John Mark and his connection to Peter, even if it’s a very loose connection.
Acts 12 tells us nothing about Mark but his name. Now let’s follow the history a little bit. Go to the end of chapter 12. “Barnabas and Saul return from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission to bring the gift, taking along with them John who is also called Mark.” Well, this is very interesting. They return to Antioch to their responsibility, and the only person they take with them is this young man named John Mark. This is the first indication of his usefulness, the first indication of his character. Was he a preacher? No. Was he a pastor? No. Was he an evangelist? No. Was he an Apostle? No. Was he a prophet? No. Was he a leader? No. He was none of those things. He is really a non-descript guy.
You say, “Well why out of all the options would they take him?”
Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him),
So Barnabas knew him, trusted him, knew something about his talents and his gifts and suggested to Paul to bring him along because he could help them not only in the journey but he could help them in the ministry in Antioch. And, by the way, Barnabas was a Levite, and if you were a Levite, you served the priests in the temple. All the way through Jewish history, those from Levi who made up the Levites served in the temple and assisted the priests. Barnabas was a Levite.
If this man is his cousin, then perhaps he too was of the Levitical family descent. Therefore he had perhaps served in the temple, was used to serving, had experience in temple service and temple worship, and had the attitude of one who serves. John Mark then goes back to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. He was faithful there until Paul and Barnabas were ready to leave.
You remember the story. Look at chapter 13 verse 1. “Now there were in Antioch in the church that was there, prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon, called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen and Saul.” Please notice Mark’s name isn’t there, he wasn’t a pastor, he wasn’t a teacher. And they were ministering to the Lord, and they were fasting, and the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart from me, Barnabas and Saul, for the work to which I’ve called them. They fasted and prayed. Laid hands on them. Sent them away.” That’s the first missionary journey. Now Paul and Barnabas go on the first missionary journey to the world. They go down to Seleucia ...sail to Cyprus. When they reached Salamis, they began to proclaim the Word of God in the synagogues of the Jews, and they also had...guess who?...John Mark as their...what?...“ helper.” That’s the operative word to understand this man. He is a helper.
When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus.
This is the sum total of our knowledge concerning this man. He was a helper. So they took him along.
This missionary journey wasn’t easy. They ran into Elymas, the magician in verse 8, who was opposing them. It was tough. He was identified as one full of deceit, son of the devil, verse 10, the enemy of righteousness. And there was a miraculous handling of him in verse 11.
So, right from the very beginning, it was tough going, tough travel and opposition. Come down to verse 13. “Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos. Came to Perga in Pamphylia, John left them, returned to Jerusalem.” This is a sad moment. A deserter, he left them. He not only deserts them but he disappears from the New Testament record several years. He left but notice where he went Jerusalem not back to Antioch.
The next time he’s on the scene is in
And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”
Paul and Barnabas have given a report concerning what God did on their first missionary journey. Paul is ready to revisit those brethren. Barnabas concurs but requests that they take John Mark once again. This request led to a sharp disagreement between Barnabas and Paul. Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance, and Paul wanted to remain separated from the deserted John Mark.
So, Barnabas took Mark with him and went on a trip to Cyprus where he was from, to proclaim the gospel there. Paul chose Silas to take Barnabas’ place.
Barnabas, by the way, takes John Mark and Barnabas disappears for two years in history. We don’t know where he is for two years. John Mark disappears for ten years...ten years.
His name shows up in a letter written by Paul to the church at Colossae. Paul writes this letter while in his first Roman imprisonment. During this imprisonment, he writes the books Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon.
Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him),
Mark the deserter has become Mark my dungeon companion. Something dramatic has taken place. Paul's letter to Philemon, verse 23 says,
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.
Here we are ten years later. Paul is in Rome. Mark is in Rome with Paul...again. And Paul says, “I’m sending Mark on my behalf. When he gets there, welcome him.” He’s back in the good graces of Paul.
How long did that relationship last? Turn to 2 Timothy 4:9. Paul is again writing from a Roman prison. This is his second and final Roman imprisonment. He is imprisoned awaiting death. This letter is penned around 66-67 A.D., and this will be Paul's last letter. Listen to Paul's words in the final moments of his life.
Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.
From the time of his first imprisonment, he had Mark at his side. A few years later in his second imprisonment on the brink of his death, he wanted Mark with him. So I say to you, this is the story of the restored deserter. What kind of privilege is that, folks? For a guy who’s not an Apostle, not a prophet, not a pastor, not a teacher, not an evangelist, not a leader, just a helper, to be given the privilege of serving alongside the apostle Paul, defecting from that privilege and being restored years later to become so intimately associated with Paul, so loved by Paul, so trusted by Paul that Paul would send him to the Colossian church on his own behalf and that when Paul is facing death at the end of his life, the one person he asks to come in addition to Timothy is Mark.
You’re not surprised by that, are you? These are those whom our Lord uses! He uses recovering sinners, restored deserters, and recovered defectors.
He was not only useful to Paul but was an understudy to the Apostle Peter.
How did he know Peter? Peter had come to his house many times in the years of the early church. Mark knew Peter well but it wasn’t his early acquaintance with Peter that was so significant, it was the later acquaintance with Peter. Remember those ten years when John Mark disappears? Part of the time he was with Peter. You remember when he left he went back to Jerusalem? He didn’t stay in Jerusalem. Peter took him somewhere.
Turn to 1 Peter 5, and I’ll tell you where. Peter writes his letter from Rome according to
She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.
She "the church" who is in "Babylon" which is a code word for Rome. He uses a code word because persecution has begun to break out, severe deadly persecution. The greetings extend from the church in Rome to the other churches that will read the letter. “And so does my son, Mark.” My son, Mark?
Oh, not his physical son, but his spiritual son. No doubt Mark had come to Christ listening to Peter preach way back when he was young. No doubt Peter was the first great, impactful spiritual influence on his young life. Peter was responsible for his conversion. There is consistent historical testimony that goes all the way back to the first century that after Paul left his first imprisonment in Rome that Peter went to Rome. The consistent historical testimony is that Peter spent at least a year there, maybe more than a year and he was in Rome, and he was constantly preaching the gospel day after day after day after day. He died in Rome as a martyr in the summer and fall of 64 A.D., right at the time Nero burned the city and blamed the Christians and launched the persecution. While Peter was there, he sends greetings, and he says, “So does my son, Mark.” Mark was with Peter in Rome.
You say, “Why is that important? Why does that matter?” Because Mark’s gospel is the product of Peter’s eyewitness testimony. Mark's source from a human viewpoint is Peter. His gospel is based on Peter’seyewitness accounts of the life of the Lord Jesus which Peter rehearsed day after day after day after day, as he went out into the streets and the buildings of Rome and preached the gospel with Mark at his side.
Mark's gospel account was the story of Peter's life with Christ. John Mark, not an Apostle, not a prophet, not a pastor, not a leader, not a teacher, just a helper. He is given this immense, incredible privilege of writing what he calls the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who controlled all the information that had come to him through Peter, he wrote this gospel.
Matthew, a former tax collector. Luke, a Gentile. John, a brash son of thunder. And Mark, a defector. And you ask, “Why did the Lord choose those people?” Because those are the only kind of people there are, sinful, unqualified people...forgiven sinners to choose from.
Mark’s relationship with Paul reminds us that true Christian community is not free from fighting but full of forgiveness.
Mark’s relationship with Peter reminds us that God gives us a community of faith to help us continue in the faith.
And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.
And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
Mark reminds us that God uses our falterings to strengthen our faith.
but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Mark reinforces that our falterings are never final. The Lord is never pleased with our sin but His sovereignty makes our falterings serve His purposes.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
THE GOSPEL GIVES THOSE WHO BELIEVE IT A UNIQUE BUT UNIVERSAL STORY.