John Mark

1 Mark ... is useful to me for ministering."

2 Timothy iv. n (R.V.)

The outlines of Mark's life are familiar—his relationship to Barnabas, his desertion of his post in Paul's first journey, the years of eclipse that followed, his reappearance with Paul during the Roman imprisonment, his presence with Peter when in "Babylon," wherever that is, and Paul's last affectionate commendation of him, which reinstates him in the very office which he had formerly given up.

His story suggests the possibility of overcoming and obliterating the memory of early faults.

Mark was probably a Cypriote, as Barnabas was, and would therefore be quite willing to go among known faces and on familiar ground; but when it was proposed to stretch further afield and to cross to the Asiatic mainland, his courage oozed out at his fingers' ends and he slunk back to his mother's comfortable house in Jerusalem. Paul's enthusiasm felt the ignominy of such dereliction, as the writer of the Acts emphatically shows, by the very order of his words, when he tells that the apostle " thought not good to take with them (on the second journey) him that withdrew from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work." Paul's severity was kinder than Barnabas's indulgent proposal. The best way of waking Mark's conscience was to say, "No, he would not do the work before, and now he shall not do it." That is often God's way with us. It brings us to our senses as it brought Mark to his. The medicine was bitter but effectual.

How long it took we do not know, but the cure was thorough. The man that had shrunk from possible dangers and disagreeables in Asia became brave enough to stand by Paul the prisoner, and not be "ashamed of his chain." So far had he won his way to Paul's renewed confidence, and made himself indispensable by service and sweetness, that the lonely apostle, with the headsman's sword in prospect, feels that he would like to have him at hand once more, and bids Timothy bring Mark with him, "for he is useful to me for ministering"; he can do a thousand things that a man like me cannot do for himself, and he does them "all for love and nothing for reward." So he wants Mark once more. Not only Paul's generosity, but Mark's patient effort had pasted a clean sheet over the page that told of his desertion, and he became useful for the very service which he had petulantly and with cowardice flung up.

We need set no limits to the possibilities of curing old and ingrained defects and faults. Hope and effort should be boundless. There is nothing that a Christian man may not reach in the way of victory over his worst self, if only he will be true to Jesus and use the renewing grace which He gives. We sometimes feel as if yesterday must set the tune for to-day, and as if we had been so often baffled that to try again was useless. But the field on which Israel reared "Eben-ezer," the Stone of Help, to commemorate decisive victory, was the very field on which Israel had before fought the same foes and been utterly routed. We too may conquer on the ground where we have been beaten. A spar, broken and lashed together with spun yarn tightly drawn and well tarred, is stronger at the point of fracture than it was before. Christ with us will make anything possible for us, in the way of restoration, of cure of old faults, of ceasing to repeat former sins.

Mark's history may teach the greatness of small service. He was no apostle or evangelist. His business was much humbler than these had to do, being simply to attend to Paul's comfort, and to look after the thousand and one trifles which some one had to be burdened with, if the apostle was to do his great work. And he kept to his role, never wishing that the apostle would send him to Crete to ordain elders as he did Titus, or bid him stay behind at Ephesus to deal with teachers of false doctrine, as he did Timothy. He did his entirely "secular" work as Paul's private attendant, amanuensis, factotum, and sometimes perhaps valet, with no hankering after more conspicuous service. All sorts of work which contribute to one end are really of one sort. When he had not Mark to look after him, the great apostle left cloaks behind him here and books and parchments there, and sorely needed some one to keep things together. So Mark helped to diffuse the Gospel as much as if he had been its preacher. The organ-blower who took credit for the grand performance because " I blew it," was not so far wrong. If it had not been for him at the bellows, the artist at the keyboard would have made little music. Jesus Christ said, "He that receiveth a prophet, in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet's reward."

Mark's subsequent career may remind us that enlarged service rewards small service faithfully done. He ended as the writer of a gospel, and so became an evangelist in the noblest sense. No doubt his years of faithful service in the humbler capacity moved Peter to take him as his "interpreter " in preparing that oldest record of our Lord's life. "He that is faithful in that which is least" will have the opportunity given in due time of being "faithful also in much." The tools do come to the hand that can wield them. The reward for work is more work.

It is so, as a rule, in this world; sometimes too much so, for, as they say is the case at the English bar, so it is sometimes in God's Church: "There is no medium between having nothing to do and being killed with work." But the law will be exemplified most blessedly when Christ shall say, "Well done! good and faithful servant. Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things."

So the story of the renegade, who came back and toiled so well, bids us be of good cheer, because it is possible for us, as he has proved, to recover ourselves after any fault or failure. Christ is not less generous than Paul was, and even we may be declared by Him to be "useful to Him for ministering."