All of us make mistakes in our lives. Sometimes your mistakes come to define you. You can’t stop thinking about them. Others won’t stop reminding you of them. And the consequences are long and painful. They lead you down paths where you get lost and can’t find your way back. They cripple you from ever becoming the person God would have you to be.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Your mistakes don’t have to trap you for a lifetime.
Last Sunday morning at Quaker Gap, we looked at the letter Paul wrote to Philemon. Paul sends a slave named Onesimus, whom he has led to faith in Jesus, back to the slave-owner he ran away from – Philemon. The letter is a commendation of Onesimus and a plea to Philemon to welcome, forgive and ultimately free Onesimus from slavery. The letter fits neatly into Paul’s teaching from Galatians that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus". Faith in Jesus changes everything – and Philemon needs to wrestle with what this means for his relationship to Onesimus. A beautiful letter that opens our eyes to the fact that faith in Jesus cuts deeply across every area of our lives.
At the end of the letter, Paul sends greetings to Philemon, his family and the church that meets at Philemon’s home, from some of the fellow believers ministering to Paul in Rome. The list is eye opening…
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. -Philemon 1:23
Without identifying each of these fellow workers, the one I’d like to highlight as eye-opening is Mark. Mark is now a fellow worker alongside Paul in Rome. The word for fellow worker in the Greek is sunergos, from which we get our English word synergy. Mark has come a long way. His story is one of how someone can go from expendable to essential.
In Acts 12, we meet him for the first time. Peter is miraculously set free from Herod’s jail. The first place he goes is to the home of a woman named Mary, where many believers are gathered praying for him,
When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. – Acts 12:12
Luke draws our attention to the son of Mary: John, also called Mark. In those days, many Jews went by two names; a Jewish name and a Roman name. John was his Jewish name. Mark was his Roman name. He was raised in a Jewish household, and his mother is one of the influential women of the church. She believes that Jesus is the Messiah, and is willing to risk a gathering of Jesus-followers in her home for a prayer meeting. In one of his letters, Peter calls Mark, “my son,”
She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. 1 Peter 5:13
We can only guess that Peter led John Mark to the Lord.
As it turns out, Mark finds himself in the company of not only Peter, but also Paul. Paul and Barnabas are headed from Jerusalem to the church at Antioch, and they take John Mark with them.
When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark. – Acts 12:25
Nicknamed, “the son of encouragement,” Barnabas was commissioned by the Holy Spirit to help resurrect Paul’s reputation. Now, as they head to Antioch, he includes Mark, who is his cousin. Eventually, he departs on the journey of a lifetime. Paul and Barnabas are chosen by the Holy Spirit and the church at Antioch to go and plant churches in Asia Minor. They take John Mark with them.
John Mark sails to the isle of Cyprus with his cousin Barnabas and the Apostle Paul. What an exciting voyage, and a great opportunity for him to experience. Their first port at Cyprus is Salamis. Things are going well.
When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper. – Acts 13:5
Travelling the whole island of Cyprus and experiencing many things along with Paul and Barnabas, the missionary group next sails from Cyprus to Asia Minor. Upon arriving at the port of Perga, John Mark returns to Jerusalem. No explanation is given for his departure. Luke simply gives us the facts.
From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. – Acts 13:13
Three years later, after their journey is over and plans are underway for the next, the details of John Mark’s departure are discussed. Unfortunately, it’s a heated discussion that ends in division.
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. -Acts 15:36-40
Mark’s mistake resulted in a split-up between Paul and Barnabas. He was the reason for a sharp disagreement between these godly men. Paul viewed Mark as a liability due to his desertion at Perga. Barnabas stood up for his cousin, wanting to give him a second chance. Their conflict separated them. Paul teamed up with Cyrus instead of Barnabas. Barnabas sailed back to Cyprus with his spurned cousin, Mark. The rest of the book of Acts follows the story of Paul, leaving us with very little news of the ministry of Barnabas and Mark.
Let’s not run too far ahead, though. This is a good place to pause and consider Mark. As he stands on the deck of a boat sailing across the Mediterranean toward Cyprus, he experiences many emotions. He feels the sting of shame from his last encounter on a missionary journey. His role as a wedge between Paul and Barnabas is awkward. There’s the growing hope that comes with a second chance. The strongest emotion, to my way of thinking, is the relief that comes from grace. Barnabas joins Mark on deck and slaps him on the back with a broad, encouraging smile. Mark’s eyes fill with tears as he ponders all his cousin has forfeited for him. The glow of grace warms his heart, even on a windy sea. I wonder if it was there, with a spark of encouragement, that Mark begins his dream of telling the story of Jesus? A story that would become the first written of four included at the beginning of the New Testament. Yes, John Mark is that Mark.
The gamble Barnabas takes on his cousin, Mark, pays off in the end. Mark’s story is a story of redemption. Later in life, even Paul comes around, as we see in Philemon where he calls him a fellow worker, and in 2 Timothy 4:11 where he writes, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” It’s not his mistake early in life that defines him, but God’s grace.
Whatever mistakes you’ve made, don’t let them define you. In Christ, there is forgiveness. Let His grace define you. Surround yourself with encouragers, like Barnabas, and push forward. Redemption is a common theme among the people of God. There’s a little bit of John Mark in all of us.
Dr. Jack Darida