JOHN MARK Mark 14:5

A sermon with the St. Andrew's Anglican congregation in Abu Dhabi, November 1993

by Robert Brow (

"A certain young man was following Jesus, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked" (Mark 14:51).

This is the way John Mark gave his signature in the Gospel which he wrote. He had come as a young man with his widowed mother Mary from Cyprus, perhaps to join his older cousin Barnabas who had property in Jerusalem (Colossians 4:10, Acts 4:36-37). He was obviously fascinated by Jesus, and after the last supper he followed the disciples across the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane. He gave us an obviously eye-witness account of Jesus' three agonizing prayers when Peter, James, and John kept falling asleep (Mark 14:41).

Then he described exactly how Judas arrived with a crowd armed with swords and clubs to make the arrest (Mark 14:43-50). When the apostles fled from the scene Mark also tried to slip away, but a soldier caught hold of his linen garment, and he ran away naked. He must have gone to his mother's home (see Acts 12:12), and probably against her will went out again to watch what happened in the preliminary hearing before the deposed high priest Annas (14:53-72). Then he must have stayed around all night to observe what happened in the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin (Jewish parliament) on the Day of Preparation early the next morning (Mark 15:1-15).

Perhaps after breakfast at home, John watched Jesus being humiliated by the soldiers, and then being taken out for crucifixion. He saw the cross being carried by Simon of Cyrene, whose two sons Alexander and Rufus may have been his friends. He gave a moving account of the actual crucifixion, and watched Joseph of Arimathea taking Jesus' corpse down from the cross and with the help of Nicodemus (John 19:39) laying it in the new tomb he had dug out for himself (Mark 15:16-47).

By then it was getting dark, and the Passover seder supper ceremony would be beginning. We can imagine him rushing in just in time, and his mother asking "Where have you been all day?" After the Passover sabbath and the regular weekly sabbath that followed Mark seems to have got up early in the morning to watch Mary Magdalene and two other women go to the tomb, and finding the stone had been rolled away (Mark 16:1-8).

Mark left it to others to tell the story of the resurrection appearances for forty days and the events of the Day of Pentecost. But it seems that after James the brother of John was beheaded, and Peter only escaped from prison by a miraculous intervention, the early church realized they must have an account of all that Peter remembered of his three years with Jesus. Mark was charged with writing down Peter's story (1 Peter 5:13), and then he added his own eye-witness account of escaping from Jesus' arrest and what he saw of the trial and crucifixion. It seems that Mark's Gospel was published in Alexandria.

The later story of Mark is given to us by Luke in the Book of Acts. After helping to plant and establish the church in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas came to Jerusalem, and on their return they took John Mark with them (Acts 12:25). When the two apostles were sent on their first missionary journey they took Mark as an assistant (Acts 13:5), presumably to take care of travel and lodging arrangements and help in translation work. But by the time the mission team had crossed Cyprus and arrived in present day Turkey, John Mark decided he had done enough, and he took a ship back home.

The result was that Paul refused to let him join his team for the next missionary journey (Acts 15:39). The result was that Barnabas took Mark back to visit the new congregations in Cyprus.

But later we are told that when Paul was imprisoned in Ephesus he valued John Mark as a valuable co-worker (Colossians 4:10, 2 Timothy 4:11). According to tradition Mark went on to preach and establish congregations in Alexandria. And he is listed as the first bishop (chief leader) of the church in that city.

In the account Peter dictated for the Gospel of Mark, he remembered all his failures, and did not mention what Jesus had promised him. But when Matthew later wrote his expanded version of Mark's Gospel he remembered what Jesus had said to Peter, and he included the words " "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).

So what do we learn from this outline of the life of John Mark? We may not think much of ourselves, as when Mark introduced himself as the one who ran away naked when Jesus was arrested. There will be occasions when Christian leaders are disappointed with us and view us as unreliable. But that is not the end of the story. God has a way of restoring us and effecting a reconciliation. When we are asked to write down an account of what we have seen and heard, it might, like the Gospel of Mark, end up being read all over the world. And behind all the unexpected events of our life, it is good to remember that Jesus is building his church in every city of the world, and the very gates of Hades will not be able to prevail against his Kingdom (Matthew 16:18).

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