Was the author of the second Gospel present when Jesus was arrested? Mark’s Gospel is the only one to tell us that on that fateful night ‘a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body, and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked’ (Mark 14:51,52).
The common consensus is that the youth was actually John Mark himself. His account of the incident adds nothing essential to the story of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, so why is it in the Bible at all? Perhaps it is just Mark’s way of saying, ‘I was there, an eyewitness of these events’. It would, if you like, have been his ‘signature’ establishing as authentic the account of Jesus Christ’s life and ministry that bears his name.
This apart, under God, we are certainly in Mark’s debt for his Gospel – the shortest of the four, containing just sixteen chapters in all. He has a ‘racy’ style. You could read his Gospel from end to end in not much more than an hour.
If you do, note how often he carries you forward with his characteristic expression, ‘and immediately’. Mark’s emphasis is more on what Jesus did than on what he said, and his particular perspective or ‘angle’ is that the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ was ‘the Servant of the Lord’.
Jesus’ own words recorded in Mark 10:45 actually provide us with the key that unlocks the whole of Mark’s Gospel – we read there that ‘The Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’.
Thus the first ten chapters of Mark show Jesus giving his life in service, while the last six chapters show him laying down his life in sacrifice – a sacrifice that was, in his own words, ‘a ransom for many’.
There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate
Of heaven and let us in.
Mark, then, was certainly a gifted young man. But this having been said, he was only human. Mark had his home in the city of Jerusalem and at one time set out to accompany Paul and Barnabas – who was actually Mark’s cousin – on the first missionary journey to the Gentile world.
Mark thus witnessed the great apostle’s preaching and lifestyle at first hand and no doubt saw many lives transformed by God’s saving grace through the instrumentality of Paul. Yet, ‘warts and all’, Acts 13:13 records how Mark deserted the mission party and returned home to Jerusalem.
Luke doesn’t explain why he did this. Perhaps he was homesick. Perhaps he could not keep up with Paul’s pace. We don’t know. What we do know, however, is that the Bible demonstrates again and again that the best of men are mere men at best! Only the Lord Jesus Christ himself is sinless and perfect – and worthy of our adoration, worship and praise.
A chapter or two later in Acts, we meet up with Mark once again. And here again, the humanity of all God’s chosen instruments is only too evident. Paul was about to embark on another missionary journey with Barnabas, and ‘Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark’ (Acts 15:37).
But Luke then records how Paul insisted that ‘they should not take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work’ (Acts 15:38). He then goes on to say, ‘there arose a sharp contention, so that they separated from each other; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed …’ (Acts 15:39-40).
Nothing hinders God’s plans
Here, than, was a blazing row between Christian brothers. How embarrassing for them to have all this recorded in the Bible for posterity! Sadly, Christians do sometimes ‘fall out’.
But what was the outcome of it all? The result of the dispute was that two mission teams went out instead of one! New regions were evangelised, souls were saved and the church of the Lord Jesus was built.
It all goes to show how the work of the gospel is God’s work, not man’s. The faults and foibles of men are no hindrance to omnipotence. Jesus said, ‘I will build my church and the powers of death shall not prevail against it’ (Matthew 16:18).
Thank God that nothing can hinder him from fulfilling his eternal purposes of grace. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning the gospel, ‘We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellence of the power might be of God and not of us’ (2 Corinthians 4:7).
All’s well that ends well
Finally, we note concerning Mark that all ended well. He was eventually reconciled to the great apostle. Yes, there was a rift between them but they clearly made it all up some years later.
Some of Paul’s last recorded words – written from a prison cell not long before he was martyred – are found in 2 Timothy 4:11, where he writes: ‘Get Mark and bring him with you; for he is very useful in serving me’.
Nevertheless, although God graciously overrules our mistakes and sins, it is not good for Christians to fall out. Paul writes in Philippians 4:2: ‘I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord’. The gospel is good news of reconciliation – ‘that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them’ (2 Corinthians 5:19).
In the Christ of Calvary, God has dealt with the sin-barrier which separates us from himself. Through Christ, we are reconciled to our Maker. How inconsistent we are, then, having been reconciled to God through Christ, if we allow disharmony to arise between ourselves and others who profess to know and love the same Saviour.
We have the same heavenly Father. We are redeemed by the same precious blood. We are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit. We are heading for the same eternal home. Accordingly, says Paul, we should ‘lead a life worthy of the calling with which [we] were called – with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4:1-3).
Of course, there will only be total harmony in the age to come. But in the meanwhile, Psalm 133:1 holds true when it says, ‘Behold, how good and pleasant it is, when brothers dwell in unity’.
Used by God
There then is something of Mark’s biography. He certainly make his mark on the world! His Gospel is part of the inspired Word of God and Mark was a man most definitely used by God. And yet he was only a man. If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).
Marks’s motto would no doubt be the same as every Christian saved by grace: ‘Don’t look at me, look at my wonderful Saviour!’
Jesus! The Name high over all
In hell or earth or sky;
Angels and men before it fall
And devils fear and fly.
Jesus! The Name to sinners dear,
The name to sinners given.
It scatters all their guilty fear,
It turns their hell to heaven.
His only righteousness I show,
His saving truth proclaim.
‘Tis all my business here below
To cry ‘Behold the Lamb!’