According to Eusebius’ church history (310 AD) Mark arrived in Rome with the Apostle Peter around 42 AD. As he worked with Peter over the following year, he wrote down Peter’s account of Jesus’ ministry before leaving for Alexandria, Egypt. So, he not only left a copy of the Gospel in Rome, he also brought one with him to Egypt.
In Alexandria, Mark established the earliest Christian Church on the African continent. This Church became one of the five centers of Christianity in the ancient world. Mark, himself, was its head pastor (Bishop) for the next two decades until he was martyred in 68 AD. This “Coptic Church” continues to be in the news today. This is the church where suicide bombers attacked on Palm Sunday (April 9), and where 20 men were beheaded in February a year ago.
Mark’s impressive legacy as a church planter and an author of the New Testament should not cause us to lose sight of his humble beginnings. It seems that he was not always so brave and steadfast as his martyrdom showed.
The Church that he founded also remembers him as the young man who ran away naked from the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of Jesus’ arrest (Mark 14:51-52). He was the one who abandoned Paul and Barnabas in the middle of their first missionary journey into Asia (Acts 13:13; 15:38). He may, also, have been the rich young man who “went away sad” when Jesus invited him to “sell everything he had, give to the poor, and come, follow Me” (Mark 10:21).
On a more positive note, Mark’s family apparently owned the home in Jerusalem where Jesus gathered with His disciples to celebrate the last Passover. This was the same home where Jesus visited his disciples on the day he rose from the grave. He came back to it again a week later and showed his hands and side to Doubting Thomas. Moreover, it was this house where the Holy Spirit descended in tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost. All of this makes it the oldest Church building in Christendom.
But my favorite part of Mark’s story comes from some of the last words that the Apostle Paul ever wrote. In 2 Timothy 4, as he was imprisoned and facing his imminent death, Paul wrote: “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. … Do your best to come to me soon…. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.”
In these touching words, we see that after Mark had turned away from Jesus’ call to follow Him, after he deserted Jesus in the Garden, and after he had deserted Paul on his first missionary journey, he is not remembered for his failures, but for his usefulness.
Mark stands before us as an example of God’s grace. Mark stands among Matthew, Luke, and John as one of the pillars of the Church. But he is not there because of his personal selflessness, bravery, or strength. He is there because Jesus rose from the dead. He is there because Jesus makes us who are nothing into those who are something.
“For Mark, O Lord, we praise You, The weak by grace made strong.
Whose labors and whose Gospel Enrich our triumph song.
May we, in all our weakness, Reflect Your servant life
And follow in Your footsteps, Enduring cross and strife." (Horatio Nelson)