Monthly Archives: May 2010

TRIALS, TRAGEDY AND TRAILS (cont.)


My intention originally was to try to understand how or why young John Mark abandoned Barnabas and Paul in mid-mission. The first evangelistic “crusades” were critical to the early growth and success of the newly born Christian Church.  So, for  someone to just clock out with no notice, no reason, on a crucial initial mission would certainly raise a question about their being well suited for a return engagement.  It probably left the group a bit short-handed.

Perhaps Paul was right in objecting to taking another chance on such a risky, unproven beginner. We’ll get to that later.

Before proceeding with that study, I did a little bit of “reverse engineering,” and attempted to find out how Paul and Mark’s paths intersected in the first place.  It was clear to me after the fact that some things which occurred would be difficult to understand or explain unless you backed off and viewed the situation with some objectivity.

Try to imagine that you’ve been thrust back in time, and you come upon an angry scene with men shouting and screaming obscenities, and hurling stones at a crumpled, helpless, defenseless figure they’ve surrounded.  Look over at the edge of the crowd.  You won’t recognized him immediately, but you and the rest of the world will hear from him shortly.

Acts 8 1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.”

The stoning of Stephen.  The sheer brutality of such an incident causes any civilized, sensitive human to wince in pain.  It’s difficult to make any sense of this kind of thing, but let’s try to follow this trail.

Keep in mind that Stephen’s death was the outrageous, unwarranted, public, cruel murder of a man who simply spoke truth as he saw it.

He thus became the first Christian martyr.  That word which has evolved in our language to mean someone who dies for their belief was not first used in that way.  A “marturia” (the Greek word) was simply a witness, i.e. someone who saw something and reported truthfully what they observed.  In many cases in the early history of the Christian Church (such as this incident) when someone spoke truth, it cost them their lives. The mortality rate if you confessed faith in Christ in those early days was as bad as second lieutenants in combat in a hot war zone!   Over a period of time, with death frequently being the result of bearing a faithful witness, the word became more closely identified with dying than it did with “witnessing.” So, when Stephen spoke unpopular truth to powerful people, they simply killed him.

Such a thing seems as preposterous today as it is outrageous.  And to think “religious, god-fearing, otherwise law-abiding” folks were the ones who mashed life out of a young Stephen is almost unthinkable. How can anyone make any sense of such enraged insanity and brutality? How could anything good ever possibly come out of something which was so bad?  By any standard, it was a tragedy.  From our standpoint, an absurdly sensless tragedy.

On the fringe of the maddened crowd that day, perhaps in the shadows, we encounter Saul of Tarsus.  Aiding and abetting.  Acting as a “second” for the brutes and savages who were ranting, raving, screaming irrationally, and spitting obscene epithets.  Over here on the sidelines is a young man with a massive mind.

There are several ways to examine facts and evidence.  Logicians will tell you there is both inductive and deductive reasoning.  In exploring, if you stumble upon a stream you can follow it as it curves and carves and winds its way to an outlet.  Or, if you work backwards, you can go from an outlet back up to see where the stream originated.

In attempting to figure out how Mark botched his first real assignment, I worked backward to see what happened earlier.  Seemingly unrelated incidents happened and began to fall into place.  What appeared to be a senseless tragedy triggers some things which result in the conversion of one of the most brilliant Christian theologian/evangelists of all time.

While he became by all accounts, one of the most influential leaders of all time for the Church and was a man of God, Saul was also a man of flesh, and blood and bone, an apparently short temper and impatience with those who failed to measure up to his standards.

Saul was not an innocent bystander at the brutal stoning of Stephen.  And there was something about the way Stephen lived, spoke, and then died which really psyched Paul out.  He wasn’t content just to watch the man die.  He went on a tear!  He got an official license to hunt, track down and kill the members of this new “sect.”  He did it with a venom and a rage.  He was official.  He was effective.

But how could that possibly figure in what happened later in Saul’s life?  How could such a trial of faith cut a trail to the doorsteps of an idealistic, eager, impatient, undisciplined young man named Mark?  How could the dots be connected?  Can they be connected?

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TRIALS. . . AND TRAILS


It isn’t clear to me how God leads us.  I am convinced that he does; it’s just that I don’t claim to know how He does that.

I try.  I listen and think and pray, and every now and then it seems I get a glimpse of understanding.  Such is the case as I pondered the life of John Mark. (Better known to history as Mark, author of the Gospel record which bears his name.).

My intention early on was to consider how he became one of “God’s Comeback Kids,” but I got a bit sidetracked and felt some of the facts in his story were worth a bit of careful thought.  I wanted to find out more about Mark:  Not just how he got the Apostle Paul so riled up and disappointed that his “contract” wasn’t renewed.  I wondered what he did (or didn’t do) that made Paul feel he couldn’t be trusted with the responsibility of a second assignment in the young church’s evangelistic efforts.

Whatever happened, it was so serious that Paul and Barnabas broke their partnership and went off in different directions with different team members.  I couldn’t help but compare that with Billy Graham and Cliff and Bev, T.W. and Grady having a quarrel, or a huge misunderstanding, splitting, and heading off in different directions.

But Mark wasn’t yet even a full fledged member of the Barnabas and Paul Evangelistic Association, Post Office Box 1, Jerusalem, Israel.  He was only a lowly “crusade associate.”

I wondered what would have happened if Billy Graham had tossed some young associates off his team because of some mistakes they made in their youthful enthusiasm or immaturity.  I’ve heard stories about Franklin Graham being a wild and crazy guy when he was a kid.  Would that have been sufficient reason for any self-respecting, respectable  Senior Members of the team or Board Member to have blocked his participation in the ministry?

Fortunately, Mark was recovered for the Church’s mission, and at a point was restored to Paul’s favor.  We’ll talk about that later.

For the present, I want to consider some events  and personalities which led to Paul’s being thrust into Christian history, how Mark became involved in his work,  then left abruptly, inexplicably, how some seemingly unrelated events unfolded, connected, and how it became apparent after the facts that God was working when no one could have recognized or even guessed that fact if they’d only gone by appearances.

We can see some of the outcomes, but what I tried to do is track back upstream to where some things originated.  Once I could see what happened and what resulted, even I could begin to see a plan unfold.

In this case, before we meet John Mark and consider his “slip-up,” recovery, and contributions to the Faith, may I introduce you to someone whom he never even met.  Someone whose life and death set in motion a chain of events which ultimately impacted a wild-eyed, brilliantly intelligent zealot we now know as Saul of Tarsus, aka Paul, the Apostle.

The first time I heard Paul’s name was in connection with the stoning of the first Christian martyr.  He’s introduced, evidently as an aide to those who needed someone to hold their coats while they did the killing.  Here’s the account:

Acts 7:54 ”When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56“Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

57At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.”

Someone a short while before had mistakenly concluded that if you kill the Messenger, you can kill the message and extinguish the light of that life.  You cannot kill truth.  Nor can you contain the effects it will have when it is turned loose.  We should know that by now.

~donkimrey