One of the unexpected shared characteristics of the biblical
records of Jesus’s life and the spread of the gospel is the almost
painful and sometimes humorous honesty of those recording
the events. Mark, also known as John Mark, “signed” his gospel with an
embarrassing footnote in chapter 14 when he seems to have described his
own reaction to Jesus’s arrest. “And 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).
We tend to justify John Mark’s qualifications to record his gospel
based on the tradition that he based his writings on Peter’s account of
Jesus’s ministry. But events like the one above and the fact that Mark’s
home in Jerusalem was used as a gathering place for the early church
certainly place this young disciple in the center of history as an eyewitness. The clipped and almost breathless format of Mark’s gospel (his favorite connecting phrase is “and then”) combines all the action of a storyteller’s style with a young man’s impatience to get the story told. Mark knew the people about whom he was writing. He may not have been part of all the events, but his personal awareness of the participants gives his gospel a ring of authenticity.
As a young man at the time of Jesus’s resurrection, Mark had a long
life ahead of him. Some of his learning trajectory was recorded by Luke
in Acts. Mark’s cousin Barnabas and his mother, Mary, were recognizable figures in the early church. Barnabas is the one who first brought Mark and Paul together shortly before the first missionary journey out of the Antioch church. Although Paul and Barnabas were specifically sent out by the church, “they had John to assist them” (Acts 13:5). Apparently the rigors, pressures, and suffering on the road got to Mark early in the trip. By the time they reached Pamphylia in southern Turkey, he left Paul and Barnabas and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).
Mark’s departure became an issue between Paul and Barnabas that
led to their split as a partnership (Acts 15:36-40). Barnabas insisted that
Mark deserved another chance. In the final outcome, Barnabas proved to
be a better judge of Mark’s character than Paul, who later acknowledged
that fact by expressing his appreciation of Mark’s capabilities (Colossians
4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 23-24). After a stint with Barnabas, Mark
spent time traveling with Peter (1 Peter 5:13). These various apprentice
trips took him from Jerusalem to Antioch to Babylon to Rome.
A capable evangelist in his own right, Mark had a longstanding connection with the city of Alexandria in Egypt and was instrumental in founding and nurturing the church there. As was often the case, the good news about Jesus was bad news for the existing pagan religious structures in communities. So within days of his arrival in Alexandria, Mark was a “marked” man. Though years passed before action was taken, a mob eventually exercised its demonic energy against him. Mark was tied with ropes (hooks may have also been used) and dragged through the cobblestone streets of Alexandria until his body was ripped, wounded, and badly injured. After a night in prison, the same treatment was repeated until he died. Though the crowd intended to burn Mark’s body, there is a persistent account that a storm delayed the process and allowed other Christians a chance to retrieve and bury his remains.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.