St. Mark was a young man who grew up in a wealthy Jewish family. His father's name was Aristobulus, and his mother's name was Mary, and they lived in Jerusalem. At an early age, Mark came under the influence of Christianity, and his home was often used as a meeting place for the early Christians. You remember that in the very earliest years of the Church, there were no Church buildings like we have today. Because of persecution, and various state laws, Christians were often not allowed to meet in public. So they couldn't build their own buildings until around the year 250 - over 200 years after the Church had started. And so, they would often meet in various homes out of necessity, and St. Mark's home became one of these.
One writer of that day tells us that Mark had short, stubby fingers, and so he was nicknamed "stump-fingers."
As an early follower of Christ, Mark had once ran away when Jesus needed him most - during his arrest.
As the New Testament Church began to grow, Mark began to use his influence with his cousin Barnabas in order to travel with him and the Apostle Paul. He even had the opportunity to be with them on their first official missionary journey. Unfortunately, for reasons which we are not told, Mark decided he couldn't continue on this missionary trip any longer. It was his first missions trip, and being a young man, perhaps he got homesick. Dr. Warren Wiersbe, who speaks on the "Back to the Bible" radio hour, said, "During my years of ministry as a pastor and as a member of several missions boards, I have seen first-term workers do what John Mark did; and it has always been heartbreaking."
Mark's decision to leave his friends before completing the journey didn't just affect him, it affected his missionary partners as well. They had to pick up the slack and do the extra work that took them away from fulfilling their main task of preaching the gospel. In their eyes, Mark had deserted them; Mark was a failure.
About four years after Mark had abandoned his friends, Barnabas decided it was time to give his cousin another chance. When he brought the idea to his ministry partner, the Apostle Paul, a severe argument broke out. Paul made it clear that he wanted nothing more to do with an immature person like Mark. It was for this reason that the team of Barnabas and Paul split up, each going their separate ways. Paul joined up with Silas, and Barnabas joined with Mark.
Even after this long period of four years, Paul wasn't quite ready to forgive and forget. In fact, it took about twelve years before the reconciliation and restoration occurred.
The Bible doesn't tell us what happened to Barnabas, but as far as we know, he never teamed up with Paul again. Mark, however, began taking his responsibilities seriously and he ultimately proves himself and his ministry to Paul.
Towards the end of his life, while chained in a cold dungeon, Paul wrote a letter to Timothy, saying, "Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry" (II Tim. 4:9-11).
St. Mark later went on to travel with the Apostle Peter. He also wrote the first of the four Gospels that we have in the New Testament - the Gospel According to St. Mark.
In regards to the final years of John Mark's life, the Bible is silent. Tradition, however, tells us that he moved to the city of Alexandria in Egypt, and that he was actually the first teacher of Christianity in Egypt.
On April 25, in the year 68 A.D., John Mark was taken by a mob of people and dragged through the rocky streets of Alexandria until he died. He suffered much, and died as a martyr. His body was eventually sent to what is now the famous St. Mark's Church in Venice, Italy. He may have been a failure in the eyes of many people, but when he stood before God, he got a winner's crown, and the words, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
Now I want to share with you part of a document that was written over 1000 years ago, around the year 960.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, the One God.
The first biography of the history of the holy Church [in Alexandria]. The history of Saint Mark, the Disciple and Evangelist, Archbishop of the great city of Alexandria, and first of its Bishops.
After the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, Mark went with Peter to Jerusalem, and they preached the word of God to the multitudes. And the Holy Spirit appeared to Peter, and commanded him to go to the cities and the villages which were in that country. So Peter, and Mark with him, went to the district of Bethany, and preached the word of God; and Peter remained there several days. And he saw in a dream the angel of God, who said to him: "In two places there is great famine." So Peter said to the angel: "Which places do you mean?" And the Angel said to him: "The city of Alexandria within the land of Egypt, and the land of Rome. It is not a famine of bread and water, but a famine arising from ignorance of the Word of God, which you preach." So when Peter awoke from his sleep, he told Mark what he had witnessed in his dream. And after that, Peter and Mark went to the region of Rome, and preached there the Word of God.
And in the fifteenth year after the Ascension of Christ, the holy Peter sent Saint Mark, the father and evangelist, to the city of Alexandria, to announce the good tidings there, and to preach the word of God and the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom is due glory, honor and worship, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the one God forever. Amen.
[The people of Alexandria] were in [great] error and [had given themselves completely] to the service of idols, and in the worship of the creature instead of the Creator. And they had many temples to their … gods, whom they ministered to in every place, and served with every iniquity and magical art, and to whom they offered sacrifices among themselves. [And St. Mark] was the first who preached in the province of Egypt, and Africa, and Pentapolis, and all those regions.
So when the holy Mark left Rome, [and after he had completed his missionary journey with Barnabas], he went first of all to Pentapolis and preached in all its districts the word of God, and showed many miracles; for he healed the sick, and cleansed the lepers, and cast out devils by the grace of God which descended upon him. And many believed in the Lord Christ through him, and broke their idols which they used to worship... . And he baptized them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the One God.
And so the Holy Spirit appeared to him, and said to him: "Rise and go to the city of Alexandria, to sow there the good seed which is the word of God." So the disciple of Christ arose and set out, being strengthened by the Holy Spirit, like a combatant in war; and he said goodbye to the brethren, and took leave of them and said to them: "The Lord Jesus Christ will make my road easy, that I may go to Alexandria and preach his holy gospel there." Then he prayed and said: "O Lord, strengthen the brethren who have known Your holy name, that I may return to them, rejoicing in them." Then the brethren bid him farewell.
So Mark journeyed to the city of Alexandria; and when he entered in at the gate, the strap of his shoe broke. And when he saw this, he thought: "Now I know that the Lord has made my way easy." Then he turned, and saw a cobbler there, and went to him and gave him the shoe that he might mend it. And when the cobbler received it, and took the awl [small sharp metal tool] to work upon it, the awl pierced his hand. So he said: "Heis ho Theos"; the interpretation of which is, "God is One".
Note: If a non-Christian were to cut his hand in a similar way today, he probably wouldn't say "God is One." But he would still probably say something having to do with God, or with the Name of Jesus. 1000 years ago, people still took the name of the Lord as a swear word - "God is One." - he might have been swearing, but at least he was using good theology! - in fact, Mark took it as a good sign.
And when the holy Mark heard him mention the name of God, he rejoiced greatly, and turned his face to the East [NOTE: East has always symbolized the place where God dwells, and the place from which Jesus will return at His Second Coming - The Muslims also consider the East the place where God lives - always pray facing the East. Well, since the beginning of the Church, all the Christians did the same thing. IE: Baptism - West to renounce Devil, East to recite Nicene Creed and pledge allegiance to Christ] and said: "O my Lord Jesus, it is You that makes my road easy in every place."
Then he spit on the ground and took from it clay, and put it on the place where the awl had pierced the cobbler's hand, saying: "In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the One living and eternal God, may the hand of this man be healed at this moment, that Your holy Name may be glorified." Then his hand at once was healed.
The holy Mark said to him: "If you know that God is one, why do you serve these [other] gods?" The cobbler answered him: "We mention God with our mouths, but that is all; for we know not who he is." [In other words, "he's just a swear word to us."]
And the cobbler remained astonished at the power of God which descended upon the holy Mark, and said to him: "I pray thee, O man of God, to come to the dwelling of thy servant, to rest and eat bread, for I find today that you have given me a blessing." Then the holy Mark replied with joy: "May the Lord give YOU the bread of life in heaven!" And he went with him to his house. And when he entered his dwelling, he said, "May the blessing of God be in this house!" and then he said a prayer.
After they had eaten, the cobbler said to him: "O my father, I beg you to tell me who you are that you are able to work this great miracle." Then the saint answered him: "I serve Jesus Christ, the Son of the ever living God." The cobbler exclaimed: "I wish that I could see him." The holy Mark said to him: "I will help you to see him."
Then he began to teach him the gospel of good tidings, and the doctrine of the glory and power and dominion which belong to God from the beginning, and encouraged him with many exhortations and instructions, of which his history bears witness, and ended by saying to him: "The Lord Christ in the last times became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and came into the world, and saved us from our sins." And he explained to him what the prophets prophesied of him, passage by passage.
Then the cobbler said to him: "I have never heard at all of these books about which you speak [meaning the Old Testament books]; but the books of the Greek philosophers are what men teach there children here - and so do the Egyptians."
So the holy Mark said to him: "The wisdom of the philosophers of this world is vanity before God." Then when the cobbler had heard wisdom and the words of the Scriptures from the holy Mark, together with the great miracle which he had seen him work upon his hand, his heart inclined towards him, and he believed in the Lord, and was baptized, he and all the people of his house, and all his neighbors. And his name was Annianus.
Now when those that believed in the Lord were multiplied, and the people of the city heard that a man who was a Jew and a Galilean had entered the city, wishing to overthrow the worship of the idols, their gods, and had persuaded many to abstain from serving them, they sought him everywhere; and they appointed men to watch for him. So when the holy Mark knew that they were conspiring together, he ordained Annianus as Bishop of Alexandria, and also ordained three priests and seven deacons, and appointed these eleven to serve and to comfort the faithful brethren. But he himself departed from among them, and went to Pentapolis, and remained there two years, preaching and appointing Bishops and Priests and Deacons in all their districts.
Then he returned to Alexandria, and found that the brethren had been strengthened in the faith, and had multiplied by the grace of God, and had found means to build a church in a place called the Cattle-pasture, which is near the sea… So the holy Mark greatly rejoiced at this; and he fell upon his knees, and blessed God for confirming the servants of the faith, whom he had himself instructed in the doctrines of the Lord Christ, and because they had turned away from the service of idols.
But when those unbelievers learned that the holy Mark had returned to Alexandria, they were filled with fury on account of the works which the believers in Christ had accomplished, such as healing the sick, and driving out devils, and loosening the tongues of the dumb, and opening the ears of the deaf, and cleansing the lepers; and they sought for the holy Mark with great fury, but found him not; and they gnashed against him with their teeth in their temples and places of their idols, in wrath saying: "Do you not see the wickedness of this sorcerer?"
And on the first day of the week, the day of the Easter festival of the Lord Christ, which fell that year on the 29th of Barmudah [towards end of our April], when the festival of the idolatrous unbelievers also took place, they sought him with zeal, and found him in the sanctuary. So they rushed forward [during the Liturgy, as they were worshipping] and seized him, and fastened a rope round his neck, and dragged him along the ground, saying: "Drag the serpent through the cattle-shed!" But the saint, while they dragged him, kept praising God and saying: "Thanks be to You, O Lord, because You have made me worthy to suffer for thy holy name." And his flesh was lacerated [on the stones of the streets]; and his blood ran over the ground.
So when evening came, they took him to the prison, that they might take counsel how they should put him to death. And at midnight, the doors of the prison being shut, and the jailers asleep at the doors, behold there was a great earthquake and a loud commotion. And the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and went to the saint, and said to him: "O Mark, servant of God, behold your name is written in the book of life; and you are numbered among the assembly of the saints, and your soul shall sing praises with the angels in the heavens; and your body shall not be destroyed nor cease to exist upon earth."
And when he awoke from his sleep he raised his eyes to heaven, and said: "I thank you, O my Lord Jesus Christ, and pray that You would receive me to Youself, that I may be happy in Your goodness." And when he had finished these words, he slept again; and the Lord Christ appeared to him in the form in which the disciples knew him and said to him: "Hail Mark, the evangelist and chosen one!" So the saint said to him: "I thank You, O my Saviour Jesus Christ, because You have made me worthy to suffer for Your holy name." And the Lord and Saviour gave him His blessing, and disappeared from him.
And when he awoke, and morning had come, the crowd gathered and brought the saint out of the prison, and put a rope again round his neck, and said: "Drag the serpent through the cattle-shed!" And they drew the saint along the ground, while he gave thanks to the Lord Christ, and glorified him, saying: "I commit my spirit into Your hands, O my God!" After saying these words, the saint gave up the ghost.
Then the ministers of the unclean idols collected much wood in a place called Angelion, that they might burn the body of the saint there. But by the command of God there was a thick mist and a strong wind, so that the earth trembled; and much rain fell, and many of the people died from fear and terror.
Then the faithful brethren gathered together, and took the body of the holy Saint Mark from the ashes; and [they saw that the fire had not burned any part of him]. And they carried it to the Church in which celebrated the Liturgy; and they covered it with a shroud [large burial cloth], and prayed over it according to the established rituals [of the Christians]. And they made a place for him [in the eastern part of the Church], and buried his body [in a tomb] there; that they might preserve his memory at all times with joy and supplication, and benediction, on account of the grace which the Lord Christ gave them by his means in the city of Alexandria. [-- As already mentioned, his body was eventually sent to what is now the famous St. Mark's Church in Venice, Italy.]
35 years after the Church had started on the Day of Pentecost, on April 28, in the year 68 A.D., St. Mark was called home to the company of Saints in Heaven. He has now joined the great cloud of witnesses, who, according to Hebrews 12:1, are cheering us on as we continue to run the race that it still set before us.
Lord, grant us to greet the coming day in peace. Help us in all things to rely on Your Holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Your will to us. Bless our dealings with all those who surround us. Teach us to treat all that comes to us throughout the day with peace of soul and with the firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all our deeds and words, guide our thoughts and feelings. In unforseen events, let us not forget that all are sent by You. Teach us to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give us strength to bear the fatigue of this coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct our wills, teach us to pray. And You, Yourself, pray in us. Amen.