Who Was John Mark’s Mom?
May 10, 2009
It is just a fleeting reference, it doesn’t provide a lot of details and we aren’t really told very much about her, but never being afraid to venture into the land of speculation in the cause of a good message we shall venture forth looking at the first mother mentioned in the early church.
We don’t know a lot about this woman, she had a very common name and so she is identified by who her son was and she is referenced only once in the scriptures at all and that is in Acts 12:12 When he realized this, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many were gathered for prayer.
Just a little background here, the church is undergoing the first wave of persecution, James, John’s brother, one of the original 12 has been executed and Peter has been arrested, presumably to suffer the same fate.
The church gathers together in a home and begins to pray for Peter’s protection and God intervenes. An angel appears in Peter’s cell opens the doors and leads Peter out of the prison. And then we read this incredible statement Acts 12:11 Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders had planned to do to me!” I think he probably realized that he wasn’t dreaming, and that is where we came into the story. Peter apparently had an idea where the church was meeting because he makes his way to the house identified as the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark,
We used to joke that as our kids got older we lost our identity and were only known as Stephen’s parents or Deborah’s parents, and so we only know this woman as Mary, John Mark’s mom, and yet her influence is seen throughout the New Testament and the early church.
So, all we really know is that Mary was the mother of John Mark who was one the young preachers used by Paul to minister to the early church and her home was used as a meeting place by the early church. And yet throughout the book of acts we see her son mentioned in the company of Paul, Peter and Barnabas as well he wrote one of the four Gospels, so you gotta figure that this lady did something right.
Tradition tells us that this was the house where Jesus gathered the 12 to share in the Passover celebration that we now refer to as the “Last Supper” and that later it became the ad hoc head quarters for the early church. If that is the case than we have to assume that Mary was a woman of means to have a house large enough for such gatherings.
And if that is indeed the case it would explain an obscure reference that we find only in Marks Gospel. It is discovered in Mark’s account of the arrest of Jesus. Mark 14:51-52 One young man following behind was clothed only in a long linen shirt. When the mob tried to grab him, he slipped out of his shirt and ran away naked. Other translations tell us that he was wearing a linen sheet. So here is the speculation, that when Jesus and his apostles left the home they were meeting in that young John Mark wrapped himself in a sheet and followed them, only to almost be caught by the guards who arrested Jesus, escaping with little more than his life.
If that was the case it would explain how we get the account of Jesus’ prayer and struggle in the garden, because we are told that the apostles were all asleep. So the speculation is that John Mark, probably just a young teen, followed the one who his mother worshipped and hiding in the garden was able to witness and hear Jesus’ struggle.
But it’s Mother’s Day not John Mark day so let’s leave the son and look at his mother.
The person that Mark was and became was shaped by his mother and that isn’t all that surprising considering how much influence our mothers have over us. It was Napoleon who said “Let France have good mothers, and she will have good sons.” And in his poem by the same name William Ross Wallace writes “For the hand that rocks the cradle Is the hand that rules the world.”
And so like most of us, Mark was who Mark was because of his mother Mary. His faith had been formed and shaped by the faith of his mother and on this day when we celebrate Mother’s it would be a good time to look at the character of this particular mother.
I think one of the most important details here is the one of omission and that is there is no mention of John Mark’s father. Because Mary is not identified as a widow, 18 other times in the bible women are identified with the words “a widow”, and because she was obviously wealthy enough to have a large home we have to assume that her husband isn’t mentioned because he is not part of the story of the church or a part of the family of faith. And so we have a household where one spouse is a Christ follower and one isn’t and the challenges that are posed in such situations can never be fully understood unless you are in that situation.
There are financial considerations, where will money get spent? The unsaved partner sees money being given to the church as a waste and you don’t even want to get started on how the believer views money spent on vices. There are social considerations. Who will their friends be and how will they spend their social time. And there are moral decisions. What should or shouldn’t be watched, listened to or read, what should they do or not do? What happens on a nice weekend is it church or the beach?
If the non-believer comes to church it’s often with a pout if they don’t come to church the believer feels out of place with all the families and couples. What was it the song said “One is the loneliest number of all.”
And that was the situation that Mary found herself in, she probably didn’t have to fight the hockey, baseball, soccer, scouts, sparks, band battles but I’m sure there were similar cultural concerns 2000 years ago. Will Mark be in church and youth group or will he be at the chariot races and practicing for the Olympics?
And so Mary would have been practicing her faith and raising her son in a less then ideal home situation. Now we don’t know at what point in her relationship she became a believer. Was she a Christ follower before the wedding or after the wedding? In her situation and culture that question may have been irrelevant in that her marriage may very well have been arranged and she didn’t have a choice of who she would marry or who would marry her.
I warn Christian teens about the challenges that they will face if they marry someone who doesn’t share their faith and if you don’t believe me I can give you the names of a hundred people who have been there. And I tell young people the easiest way to not marry a non-believer is to not date a non-believer. And they tell me not to worry they have everything under control. Sure, if I had a nickel ever time I heard that, yeah I’d have a pile of nickels.
By the way if you are in that situation, that as a believer you married someone who wasn’t you were probably warned, and you thought “Oh they’ll change and it will all work out.” I can sympathize with your situation but understand you put yourself in it. Not wanting to sound unfeeling but. . . you got what you got.
We are even warned about it in the scriptures when Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 6:14 Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? You might recall the phrasing from the authorized version as not being unequally yoked. This doesn’t specifically have to do with marriage as much as it does relationships, such as business partnerships, but really our marriages are probably the greatest relationship in our lives and this scripture warns about the conflicts that this will bring.
I remember reading an article in our denominational magazine years ago and the woman writing was speaking about that very thing. She had gone to church and left her husband home watching sports and on her way she was grousing to God about how unfair it was. And she wrote that God asked her “how has he (meaning her husband) changed since you got married?” And that was the problem she responded he hadn’t. No that was the answer. She hadn’t exactly bought a pig in a poke.
When I counsel couples getting married I remind them if they can’t live with that person the way they are for the rest of their life they have no right to marry them expecting them to change.
Then there are those who come to a life changing relationship with God after they’ve been married, and that’s tough on both partners. And that was probably the situation here, Mark’s father had probably married a Jew and ended up with a Christian.
When that happens as a believer you can’t understand why your spouse doesn’t change and they can’t understand why you did.
But you can’t make them believe and you will never be held accountable for their behaviour, only yours. But here is what the word of God has for you today: 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 If a Christian man has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to continue living with him, he must not leave her. And if a Christian woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to continue living with her, she must not leave him. For the Christian wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the Christian husband brings holiness to his marriage. Otherwise, your children would not be holy, but now they are holy.
So what it is saying is if you are a believer and your spouse isn’t don’t start thinking how much easier life would be if you were married to so and so who is a believer, cause you’re not. Don’t even go there, because there is never a good reason for doing the wrong thing.
But don’t give up, I know all kinds of couples where the believer was faithful in their relationship to Christ and in their marriage and their partner saw in them a faith they wanted as well. It’s just not easy and it’s not always fast, or least fast enough.
Her marriage wouldn’t have been the only place that her faith would have been challenged. Remember she wasn’t only a believer being from Jerusalem she was probably a Jewish believer and for many in her family and her community of faith she would have been viewed as someone who had deserted her faith.
While we see the connection and continuation of the Jewish faith into Christianity and it was pretty much viewed as a sect of Judaism by many in that culture it wasn’t always viewed that way by the Jews. And the Jews in Jerusalem weren’t necessarily all that sympathetic to the early church. As a matter of fact it isn’t very far into the book of acts that we read this Acts 8:1 A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria.
You gotta hate that.
And so the community that Mary would have grown up in would have turned their back on her, her husband wouldn’t have understood the changes that had happened in his wife and even the civil authorities would have seen her faith as a threat because as a Christian she would have refused to offer the annual sacrifice to Caesar that was required under Roman law.
And it was in this environment that she was called to raise Mark, to provide an introduction to Jesus and to nurture his growing faith. And she did, perhaps too well because Paul saw in this young man a faith that he thought could be used to change the world.
And now she was being called to let go of her son. We don’t know how old Mark was when Paul recruited him, but it really doesn’t matter. You never stop being your mother’s little boy. But this wouldn’t have been easy for Mary, letting her son go to follow his calling. We’re not talking about becoming the pastor in a quiet little community that respected you and looked up to you.
Mary would have known how many times Paul had been stoned and beaten, arrested and thrown into prison. It would have been no secret how the leaders of this baby church were being treated by hostile crowds around the known world. Listen to how Paul describes himself and his ministry: 2 Corinthians 11:23-25 . . . I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea.
And this was the guy she wants her son to job shadow. She would have known that she was being called to surrender her child over to God’s service, over to certain persecution and possible death. Knowing that when he left Jerusalem that day that he might never return. Did she do it willing? Or was it over her objections? We’ll probably never really know but considering that the faith that she passed on to her son we have to believe that she trusted God to know what was best for her son. Oh and tradition tells us that Mark was martyred in Alexandria, where the people resented his efforts to turn them away from the worship of their traditional Egyptian gods. We are told that in AD 68 they tied him to several horses and dragged him through the streets until he was dead.
Her faith required a commitment to her God, to her church and to her son.
And so it was in this less than ideal situation that Mary’s faith flourished and provided an example for her son. An example that allowed him to minister in less then ideal circumstances and to teach and literally effect the eternity of countless people.
We have to ask ourselves, how would the early church have been affected and consequently how would the world have been affected if Mary had not been the mother that she was?
Now you’ve realized that I have been speaking for about 20 minutes and haven’t had a single point come up on the screen and you don’t have a note taking guide in front of you to write down the various points. That’s not to say this message is entirely pointless.
I would challenge you to look at your situation today as a parent in the light of Mary’s story. And understand that regardless of how different those situations might be that you and Mary are serving the same God and you love your children.
And two thousand years ago Mary probably claimed the same promise from the Old Testament as you have and that’s Proverbs 22:6 Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.
Now keeping that in mind realize that the only responsibility in Proverbs 22:6 for the parent is the first part, Direct your children onto the right path the message of this proverb is “Do your best when they are young and hope for the best when they are old.”
And remember there are only two ages mentioned here children, and old people and nothing in between, he doesn’t say anything about adolescents or young adults, not even Solomon was game to talk about teen-agers let alone make predications.
And that was what Mary did, she directed her son onto the right path and modeled the way he should walk. It was no accident that Mark turned out the way he did.
So is Proverbs 22:6 a guarantee? Unfortunately there are no guarantees. You see the proverbs talk about probability, if we do this then there is a better chance of this happening. So if we direct our children onto the right path, there is a better chance of them walking on it then if we don’t direct them onto the right path. But it does not negate in any way their free will.
We can train up our children, we can walk a blameless walk, we can see that they are in church each week, we can have family devotions, and we can read them God’s word. But we cannot, cannot, cannot make the decision to follow God for them. I mean we can’t even guarantee that they will turn out nice. As much as we would like to determine their salvation, we can only show them the way and trust God to bring them into his fold.
But remember there is nobody better positioned to influence your children then you. Please don’t wait to discuss God and Jesus with your kids until they are old enough to understand it, trust me they are old enough now. If you think it’s Julie’s responsibility in nursery, or Jenn’s in Jr. Church, or Marilyn’s in Ignite or Jason in youth you are seriously mistaken and you are gambling with your children’s eternity.