(Reprinted from February 20, 2023)
Was Mark, the author of the Gospel bearing his name, the original streaker? Was he the man who ran out of the olive grove, leaving his coat behind? When the high-and-mighty muckety-mucks came to the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest Jesus, His disciples “all deserted him and ran away. Now a certain young man, wearing nothing but a linen cloth, was following him. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth behind and ran away naked” (Mark 14:50–52).
That very odd little factoid is recorded only in the Gospel of Mark. Matthew, Luke and John skip that part of the story. I wonder, did Mark include that tidbit because it was personal? Was Mark the young man in the Garden? Did he wrestle with a would-be captor and slip away, leaving behind everything? Was he the streaker? If so, then Mark was a disciple of Jesus prior to His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.
So, who was he? What else do we know about Mark?
Mark, also called John Mark or sometimes just John, first appears in the Book of Acts when the church gathered for an important prayer vigil. James, the son of Zebedee, had been executed, beheaded by King Herod (Acts 12:1-2), and Peter had been imprisoned, awaiting execution (Acts 12:3). In response, the church gathered in the home of Mary, Mark’s mom. It appears that Mary was a woman of some financial means because she had a home large enough for the gathering, and she employed servants (Acts 12:12-13). By the way… when the church petitioned the Almighty in prayer, the prison doors were miraculously opened (Acts 12:6-19). Hallelujah!
Mark, a cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), accompanied Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey as “their assistant” (Acts 13:5). The trio effectively evangelized the island of Cyprus and then journeyed north into modern-day Turkey. When the mission team “came to Perga in Pamphylia … John left them and went back to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13).
Scripture is silent concerning Mark’s motivation. Why did he abandon the team? Why did he quit? Was he sick? Was he just homesick? Did he have a confrontation with Paul?
Here’s what we know… “After some time had passed, Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let’s go back and visit the brothers and sisters in every town where we have preached the word of the Lord and see how they’re doing.’ Barnabas wanted to take along John who was called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone on with them to the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended by the brothers and sisters to the grace of the Lord” (Acts 15:36–40). The rift was real, and the wounds were deep!
Again, Scripture is silent concerning the events that led to the reconciliation and reunion of Paul and Mark, but when Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he addressed the church at Colossae, reporting that Mark was faithfully by his side (Colossians 4:10, Philemon 24). Later, when Paul wrote his final epistle, he asked Timothy to “bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).
Once a quitter, a coward, a deserter, Mark became a partner in Peter’s ministry (1 Peter 5:13), the author of the second Gospel, and, by God’s grace, an important partner in Paul’s world-wide church-planting campaign.