Mary, the Mother of John Whose Surname Was Mark

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You remember on the night the angel brought Peter out of prison, in Acts 12, he went “to the house of Mary, the mother of John, whose surname was Mark.” They were having a prayer meeting at Mary’s house that night. It was a special prayer meeting for Peter; and the Lord heard and answered, even as they prayed. But I am afraid they had not a great deal of faith, (they were perhaps rather like some of us today), for when Peter came and knocked at the door, and Rhoda (the girl who answered the knock) told them that Peter stood at the gate, they would not believe her, and told her she was mad. When she insisted it was so, they said: “It is his angel,” (or, his spirit).
Mark was a cousin of Barnabas. (Col. 4:1010Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister's son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;) (Colossians 4:10), New Translation). From Babylon, Peter writes of him as “my son.” (1 Peter 5:1313The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son. (1 Peter 5:13)). With an earnest Christian Mother and Cousin, the saints meeting in his Mother’s house; and being so closely linked with Peter, knowing him perhaps from childhood, Mark must have had strong influences from the time he was quite young to follow the Lord. Some have thought he was the “young man” with the cloth cast about his naked body who followed the Lord to the Garden. You remember when “the young men laid hold on him.... he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.” (Mark 14:51-5251And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: 52And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked. (Mark 14:51‑52)). Only Mark tells us of this incident: but we have no certainty that it was he.
Mary had a house large enough for the saints to meet in and she evidently offered them the use of it. Barnabas had land and sold it, and laid down the money at the apostle’s feet: so they evidently were a well-to-do and thoroughly good family.
When Barnabas and Saul took alms from Antioch to the relief of the brethren in Judaea, they saw John Mark, and when they returned from Jerusalem they took him with them. It may not have been long after that the Holy Spirit sent forth Barnabas and Saul on their first missionary journey; and John Mark went with them “to their minister”, or, to help them. (See Acts 13:55And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister. (Acts 13:5)). It was not long before they got into dangerous and difficult country, “and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.” (Acts 13:1313Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. (Acts 13:13)). The Word does not tell us that it was the dangers and hardships of the way, or homesickness for his Mother, or what motive, made him depart: but it surely was not following the Lord.
When next we hear of him, Paul and Barnabas had been up to the great meeting at Jerusalem, to decide whether or not the Gentiles were to be put under law, or not (Acts 15). Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, and after a time Paul said to Barnabas: “Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.” Barnabas wanted to take his young cousin along with them again, but Paul thought it not good to take him with them, who departed from them and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they parted from each other, and Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; while Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. It was a sad, sad quarrel; and we never read that Paul and Barnabas labored together again.
How good that this is not the end of the story, though perhaps some twenty years roll by before we hear of John Mark again. Twenty years of labor lost, as far as the revealed records show: lost, apparently, through cowardice and unfaithfulness, with no record of repentance, but going on outwardly, perhaps, in the service of the Lord. These are matters that may well challenge our own hearts. He was a failing servant, and for that failure seems to have been set aside. Perhaps he was in Babylon with Peter for part of this time, (1 Peter 5:33Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:3)), and who was better fitted than Peter to lead a failing servant back to the true path again? He could remind Mark of that terrible failure of his own, (doubtless he knew about it already), and Peter could point out that there was no need for him to be set aside as to his service: there is a way back. It was only a matter of days before Peter was restored: it was many years with Mark, but there is a way back. So in Col. 4:1010Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister's son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;) (Colossians 4:10), we find Mark in Rome, with Paul, the very one who had opposed him going with them to the work. This is as it should be. The meeting of Mark with Paul is not described, but the old blot is evidently removed and Paul writes: “Aristarchus my fellow-captive salutes you, and Mark, Barnabas’s cousin, concerning whom ye have received orders, (if he come to you, receive him), and Jesus called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These are the only fellow-workers for the kingdom of God who have been a consolation to me.” (New Translation). It would seem that Mark had not even been received: but now things have been set right, the old trouble is healed, the failure forgiven; and Mark is a comfort to Paul the prisoner.
But the days grow darker, and the courage of most fail, and nearly all forsake Paul: but Mark stands true and loyal to him. He has learned his lesson well: and in 2 Tim. 4:1111Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11), we read: “Luke alone is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thyself, for he is serviceable to me for ministry.” Sweet it is to see Mark fully restored to his old place, “serviceable for ministry”, where once he had been unserviceable. But those days are gone, and in his darkest hour, Paul asks for Mark. Paul is not now confined in his own hired house, but in a terrible Roman dungeon. Tradition tells us it was a lower dungeon, dark and damp, with no opening but a hole through which the prisoners were let down. There in that dungeon, we may suppose, Mark meets Luke, the Beloved Physician, who alone was with Paul: and together they share the rejection and danger of ministering to the aged Apostle, who is only waiting for the time of his departure.
And Mark and Luke have kept close company ever since: the failing (but restored) servant has given us the account of the Great Servant Who never failed; and the beloved physician has given us the account of the Great Physician, who lived among us, a Man among men.
But these meditations were supposed to be on the relation of parent to child, and I seem to have forgotten that entirely. What is the lesson for us in this aspect? I think it is this: “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:66Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)). He may wander from the path for a time in self-will, and yield to the flesh: but when he is old, the Lord will bring him back to the early training, and he will walk in “the way he should go.” I think, I hope, that is the lesson in this story. At least, that is the lesson I have taken from it, and I do not think my Lord will reproach me for having done so.