Mark the Evangelist: Faithful Despite Failure (Part 2 of 2)

2014.09.01 mark the evangelistLast week, we looked at Mark’s background, his opportunities for ministry, and his desertion of Paul and Barnabas during a missionary journey. Did he recover? Did he turn out to be faithful after his failure? Read on, and we’ll see.

A Second Chance: Rebounding from a Bad Reputation

Sometime after his desertion, Mark had apparently shown remorse and faithfulness enough to be trusted by Barnabas again, but Paul would have nothing to do with him. When the issue arose as to whether or not to include Mark on another journey, Paul saw Mark’s desertion as the grounds to sharply disagree with Barnabas over working with Mark again (Acts 15:36–41). Barnabas stuck with his cousin Mark, Paul took Silas, and Paul and Barnabas parted ways.

Learning from Acts 15:36–41, the question is often asked, who was wrong? Was Paul unforgiving? Was Barnabas too trusting? Whatever the case, when we focus on Mark, he was on the mend, but his desertion was a major factor that led to the fallout between Paul and Barnabas. When we make mistakes, we can regain the trust of some through repentance, but for others, they will need to see the fruits of repentance for some time before extending their trust again.

Paul was certainly not heartless. He himself advocated “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32). At some point, Paul forgave Mark, and they were reconciled, as shown by statements from three of Paul’s letters. Assuming Mark’s defection was around AD 46, about a dozen years later (approx. AD 60), Paul commanded of Mark that the Colossians would “welcome him” and act towards him according to the “instructions” they had received, perhaps allowing him to take up a ministerial role of sorts when he was to arrive (Col 4:10). Along with the letter to the Colossians, Paul sent a personal letter to one of its members, Philemon, and sent greetings from Mark who he claimed as one of “my fellow workers” (Phm 24). It is not stated how Paul and Mark were reconciled, but here we find Paul commending him to others. It is notable that Colossae is further north than Perga, Mark’s point of departure in Acts 13:13. Mark would be a long way from home when he arrived in Colossae.

Even further northwest was Ephesus. There we find Timothy receiving a letter, and it included a request from the imprisoned Paul in Rome: “Get Mark and bring him with you [i.e., to visit me], for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Tim 4:11). The word for “very useful” is euxrēstos (εὔχρηστος), the same word describing honorable vessels “set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Tim 2:21), and the same word describing Onesimus, once a run away and “useless,” but now a Christian and “useful” to Paul and Philemon (Phm 11). Like Onesimus, Mark made a mistake but could be restored once again. He was now an honorable vessel that could be ready for the good work that Paul had in mind.

Faithful to the End: A Gospel Minister and Maybe a Martyr

Mark beckoned Paul’s call and returned to Rome, assumedly ministered to Paul if he was able to see him, and certainly served Peter. Peter employed him as a personal assistant and sent greetings to Asia minor by dictating his first letter (approx. mid-60s) through Mark: “She who is at Babylon [i.e., Rome], who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son” (1 Pet 5:13). Tradition calls Mark “the interpreter of Peter” (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 2.39.15) who was his ready aide to assist in ministerial matters. Mark kept busy in ministry until the end as best we know, an example of someone who rebounded from their failures and kept on faithfully serving thereafter.

Tradition conjectures that Mark was not named but associated with many biblical events: he was the one who had the jar of water in Mark 14:13; he was the fleeing naked man in Mark 14:51–52; he was the one whose home housed Pentecost in Acts 2:1–4; he was a founder of Alexandrian Christianity in Egypt (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 2.13.8), martyred by being dragged around Alexandria by a neck around the rope (Catholic and Coptic tradition). Of this death, he may have been dragged one day and left alive to see how Rome would react. Since there were no repercussions, the Alexandrians repeated this act and dragged him until he died the next day.

Whether or not his end according to tradition is so, we can certainly see from Scripture that the final biographical facts about Mark showed him to be faithful despite his failure, an excellent example of ministerial recovery for us today.

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