One of my favorite activities, especially on a cold, rainy day, is reading. I just love to sit back in my chair on my lanai and curl up with a good book. These days, those books take on a more electronic flavor, since I disposed of much of my personal library upon leaving Ohio for Florida. But there is still nothing like a good read to keep me going.
I must admit to enjoying many different genres of reading. I love a good mystery, but I also love to read philosophy and theology. But for me the best, the most enjoyable, not to mention the most practical books for me to read, are biographies. I love the thought of somehow rubbing elbows with the likes of Abraham Lincoln, John Adams or Winston Churchill. Or reading of the likes and dislikes of people like John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt or even Warren Buffet. Add to that the life stories of sports heroes like Mikey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods and Payne Stewart.
Quite frankly, though, the biographies I love to read the most are the ones that are found in the Bible. To walk in the sandals of Abraham and Moses, to feel the heat of the battle when David faces Goliath, to experience the vibrancy of Peter and John and the Apostle Paul — all of these challenge my heart in many significant ways.
The Bible is filled with the stories of individuals whose lives, though, are not as exciting as say those of Joshua or Daniel, but whose lives are not only encouraging, but also challenging to anyone who reads them seriously.
Take, for example, the young fellow we all know as Mark. He is one of the four Gospel writers who together give us a tremendous look into the life of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Who is this young man and where did he come from? We know that he was not one of the 12 disciples. But we do see him mentioned several times throughout the pages of the New Testament.
The first time we catch a glimpse of him is in Mark 14:52. He apparently was a very young fella who was curious about this guy named Jesus and had followed Jesus and his gang into the Garden called Gethsemane on the night when Jesus was arrested there. When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, all of his disciples headed for the hills. This fellow had been trailing them all out of curiosity, but he was not quick enough at that moment to get away from those soldiers. They seized him, but he pulled free from them by simply stepping out of his clothes. These soldiers were left holding his shirt, but John Mark was running naked through the garden, the first (if you don’t count Adam and Eve) streaker in the Bible.
The next time we see him is in Acts 12:12, where his mother takes the spotlight as the host of a prayer meeting. This tells me that Mark grew up in a home where the power of prayer was not only acknowledged but also passed on to many. When Peter was in jail, many were gathered there in their home to pray for his release.
A third time we see him is in the very next chapter when Paul (then known as Saul) and Barnabas were sent out on their first missionary journey. They took John (called Mark) as their helper. What a tremendous opportunity. Mark was in on the ground level of this new and growing thing called the Church.
But things must have gone south pretty rapidly on that journey because, for whatever reason, early on in the journey John Mark decides to return to Jerusalem and bails out of the trip. Paul and Barnabas completed that journey without any further help from Mark.
Then in Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas were asked to lead another missionary excursion and they rapidly made plans for this second journey. In discussing who to take with them as helpers, Barnabas thought Mark would be a good addition. But Paul strongly disagreed. In fact, he stood his ground on not taking Mark with them, so much so that Barnabas decided he could not go either, that he and Mark would take off together on their own missionary journey. Paul chose Silas instead of Barnabas and the two of them headed out. One great side benefit of this is that now there were two missionary teams: Paul and Silas, and Barnabas and Mark. How could Paul write so eloquently about the grace and forgiveness of God, and yet be so ungracious and unforgiving of Mark?
In 1 Peter 5:13, Peter refers to this same Mark as his “son.” That seems to be a spiritual term which would perhaps suggest that Peter took Mark under his wing when he returned to Jerusalem after bailing out on Paul and Barnabas.
But an even more amazing statement is found in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, commonly called Paul’s Last Will and Testament. There Paul, now imprisoned toward the end of his life in Rome, writes the young pastor Timothy and asks him to “pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (2 Timothy 4:11).
And the most important of all occurrences of Mark in the Bible is the Gospel that bears his name.
From this brief look at Mark’s life two principles emerge, one from Mark himself, and the second from the life of Paul. One, if at first you don’t succeed, try again. God is not finished with you yet, And second, forgive people in your life. Holding on to anger only hurts you, not them.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.