Bruce C Wearne
Point Lonsdale Victoria AUSTRALIA
© October 2003 AD
This book is part of a project to help people read the bible together. Today, bible reading is a lost art to many Christian families around the world. Family bible reading is no longer common, even if story telling is. Sometimes families include bible stories among their story-reading menu, and for those families it means the bible has a place after meals or before bed-time. But stories can be read and listened to at any time.
Markís Tale is written with two audiences in mind. It tells Markís story for older people, those who are able to read Markís Gospel or Acts for themselves. It is written to give some hints about the historical and social context in which Mark† wrote his gospel. When we read the bible as Godís word we confront difficult passages and questions crowd into our minds so that often it becomes a frustrating exercise. The aim here is to encourage older readers to tell bible stories to younger members of families, schools and churches without avoiding the questions they have about the text. That way we can at least begin to enjoy bible-reading as something we do together.
The other audience for Markís Tale is younger people who want to know more stories from the bible. It is presented in a form to be read by all the family. I hope that those who are of primary school age, say 9 year olds, can read this tale to 3 or 4 year olds, their younger brothers or sisters, or younger members of their class or school. The tale is about Mark, the writer of Markís Gospel.
Itís a story that starts with a big argument between two adults, two men, Paul and Barnabas. Barnabas was Markís Uncle and his name means encouragement. He was known as someone who encouraged fellow Christians but on this occasion, I think, Barnabas and Paul sailed very close to the rocks of discouragement. We donít know everything about the argument between these two men. But whatever else they were called by God to do they were also required to encourage young Mark as he tried to be a loyal disciple of Jesus. But we do have Markís Gospel. My hunch is that Mark wrote it when he became troubled that many of Jesusí first disciples, not only Paul and Barnabas, didnít understand what Jesus had taught. Even though Mark was younger than the apostles he knew some things about Jesus that they didnít know. After all, was he not there when Jesus was teaching and healing, and when Jesus got arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane?.
I have also written other material to help you read Markís gospel. The short version of Markís gospel is on a CD with the entire collection of 115 of my stories ďHunches about JesusĒ. I hope you enjoy listening to Markís stories and then sharing and talking about them wherever you may hear them - at home, in your family, with your brothers and sisters, at club, and at school!
Saul became a follower of Jesus. The Christians† could not believe it. It was hard enough just believing in Jesus. But who could believe that Saul had become a disciple?
They were in shock. How could Saul be one of them? Hadn't he been hunting them down and throwing them into prison?† Saul said that following Jesus was a serious crime, an offence which carried the death penalty.
So what had happened? When the Almighty decides something, no one can stand in His way. And so, in time, Saul became a† famous Christian teacher. His work was to tell Jews and Gentiles about Jesus. He passed on the good news to all who would listen. But Saul didnít get to know the story all by himself.. He had to hear it from others first. Who told Saul the story of Jesus? And how did he come to join the group of people he had hated so much? How did Jesus' followers accept Saul?
Godís Spirit convinced the Christians that Saul was OK. This is the story of how that came about. This is the story of how Paul learned more of the story of Jesus and how the story got written down.
When Saul announced he had become a follower of Jesus the did not accept him at first. It was not easy and it was also a dangerous time. One of the first disciples to visit Saul was a man named Barnabas, a wealthy priest who owned property on Cyprus.
Barnabasí other name was Joseph. He was a Levite. That means he was a priest. Barnabas knew the prayer Jesus prayed from the cross, ďFather forgive them, they know not what they do!Ē Barnabas knew that Jesusí death and resurrection was all about Godís forgiveness for all the peoples of the earth. And so he knew he had a task to show forgiveness to Saul. He had to try and help him.††
Imagine the danger? Even Saul was no longer safe. He had been the militia leader, imprisoning Jesus' followers. Now the militia would be out looking for him! Barnabas found him and took him to Jerusalem, and the Christian leaders could see that it was true. He was one of them. They knew the danger he was in. They sent him away to the coast where he could catch a ship back to Tarsus, his home town.
Saul laid low but after some time he changed his name to Paul. Home in Tarsus he prepared for the work that lay ahead. Jesus, the lamb of God, had taken away the sins of the world. This news had to be shared with all the peoples of the earth. Paul began to understand his part in the story of Jesus.
But our story is mainly about Mark. At Antioch there was a church where Markís Uncle Barnabas knew many of the members. The Christians there had come from Egypt and Cyprus after fleeing from Jerusalem when Stephen was killed. This was a dangerous time in Jerusalem. Many Jews who had lived outside Israel could no longer live there safely. In Antioch, Barnabas knew the Cypriot believers. Mark, his nephew, had got to know them too.
Barnabas was an important link between the apostles in Jerusalem and the church in Antioch. He could help them because he had been a Levite priest serving Jewish synagogues on Cyprus. He knew the problems a small church faced. In the Antioch church, Barnabas met Simon, one of the church's leaders. This man was an Egyptian Jew from Cyrene who carried Jesusí cross to Golgotha.
Barnabas began to realise that this church would be just the place for Paul. Here he could study and learn about Jesus. He could continue his preparation to be a teacher of the good news. So, off he went to Tarsus to fetch Paul. For the next year they taught together in the Antioch congregation. Followers of Jesus were called Christians at Antioch. The name stuck.
Jerusalem faced famine and the church was facing serious political dangers as well. When the Christians in† Antioch heard of their great need they dug deep and sent Paul and Barnabas to the Jewish capital with money to help.
There were other dangers which made this a very difficult trip indeed.
King Herod had just arranged for the murder of James, the brother of John. He thought actions like this would win him friends and influence Jewish people. So he also imprisoned Peter. You can imagine that the visit of Barnabas and Paul was kept secret. They needed the food alright but they didn't need any more imprisonments.
While the two were there Peter had mysteriously escaped from prison. He turned up late one night at the house in which Paul and Barnabas were hiding. That's how Mark comes into our story. He was Barnabasí nephew, and lived in that same house.
After a few days, Barnabas and Paul returned to Antioch and they took Mark along with them. We are not told why but maybe he went along with them for his own safety, as well.
At Antioch, the leaders of the church were planning their next move. They were thinking and praying hard. They knew it was likely that Jesusí followers, wherever they were, would have to flee persecution. The dangers that faced them in Jerusalem would also spread throughout the Roman Empire. Though it was a time of great danger, Godís Spirit assured them that the message had to be told everywhere.
That was why Paul and Barnabas were sent to visit as many synagogues as they could throughout that part of the Gentile world.
Their job was to help the small groups of Christians that had grown up in many Jewish synagogues and to carefully link them together as they travelled from town to town. In that way each of the small groups of Christians were prepared and could help each other for what lay ahead.
The plans included a visit Cyprus, and Barnabas' home town. Godís special blessing was upon them. Mark went with them, too.
After visiting Seleucia they went on to. Since Barnabas was known throughout the island, they could travel from village to village, from synagogue to synagogue, telling Jewish believers the Messiah had come. It was interesting and rewarding work.
At Paphos, they got to know the Roman Proconsul. His name was Sergius Paulus. He was, however, under the spell of a magician who hated the message brought by Paul and Barnabas. In time, the two Christian teachers proved to the Proconsul, and the other people there, that this magician was a fake. The Roman official became a believer and that †had a big impact on the island. The Christians were greatly encouraged by this surprising development.
They sailed to Perga where Mark made a very important decision. He left them so he could return to Jerusalem. We donít know why he did this.
But it was Godís Spirit who had specifically called Barnabas and Paul to do this work. They continued on and completed it with the blessing of the Holy Spirit upon them. Then they reported back to the leaders at Antioch.
Some time later Paul and Barnabas decided it would be good to go back to the places they had visited previously. They wanted to see how the groups of Christians were getting on and to see what they needed.
By this time Mark had come back to Antioch and Barnabas wanted him to come along with them. Paul disagreed. There was an argument.
Paul teamed up with Silas and left Antioch with the churchís blessing to travel around the coast, through Pamphylia and Pisidia, and on to Greece. Barnabas took Mark with him, and returned to Cyprus.
Why was there such a bitter argument between Paul and Barnabas? Paul observed that Mark had not gone with them for the entire trip. It was a serious argument and tempers were frayed. It is an important part of this story and we do not know exactly what happened nor why.
We learn about it in the Book of Acts, and its writer, a fellow named Luke, does not tell us how Mark felt about this disagreement. Jesus said that a tree should be judged by its fruit and we do know that Mark collected the stories people told about Jesus and so he reminded all his readers of Jesusí love, His care for His family, His mother, brothers and sisters, even when they disagreed with Him. Jesusí love embraced all the kids, including His own nephews and nieces.
There was a messy argument between Paul and Barnabas. But we should not think this was the end of the story. Mark knew from the stories he collected that arguments are never the end. Jesus had had lots of arguments. Winning arguments is never as important as being a servant in Godís Kingdom.
Jesus didnít get anxious when people no longer followed the old Jewish customs. He was not worried out of His wits like the other religious leaders. And besides, He did not ask His disciples to fast like John the Baptist did. And for this He got into hot water. Those Jewish leaders were obsessed about the Sabbath, and washing themselves, according to strict Levitical rules. Jesus was too hard to take.
But Barnabas was also a Levite. He understood the opposition. But more than this. After his break with Paul, Markís stories would remind him that Jesus had indeed completed the work His Father had sent Him to do. And Jesus clearly said that children and young disciples are fully accepted in Godís Kingdom.
Let's not be too harsh on Paul, either. He may have disagreed with Barnabas for safety reasons. Their enemies may have shadowed Mark. Having Mark with them might expose the Christian groups to danger. And many of them had to meet in secret.
That might be about the end to our story but before we finish, letís think a little about what this story tells us about following Jesus.
Markís Gospel stories remind his readers that the Lamb of God has taken away the sins of the world. His healing blood had been shed. It was done when He was nailed to His cross by Romans. Uncle Barnabas, the priest, accepted this. And that was an extraordinary thing for Mark's uncle to have believed!
Being a Jew by circumcision was no longer as important as it had been under Mosesí law. In Jesus' sacrifice of blood, the blood had not been drawn by a clean Jewish priest, performing a ritual according to strict Levitical rules. No. Neither had it been performing by a Jew. It had been shed after Roman gentiles had raised a hammer and thrust a spear.
And there is more; at first Paul didnít know the stories about Jesus. He needed to study what eye-witnesses had said so he could understand how the Son of Man had taught His disciples. Markís collection of stories was a great help to Paul. Perhaps a copy, like the Markís gospel we have today in our bibles, was among Paulís collection of scrolls and parchments! This would explain why Paul said to his young friend Timothy that Mark was very useful to him, very useful indeed.
Mark had also collected the Gospel stories so that children, along with older people, could enjoy learning how to be Jesus' disciples. Jesus told His adult disciples to stop bossing kids and trying to control their mothers. Instead, they were to welcome them, enjoy their company and sit with them in the crŤche and listen while the stories of Jesus are told. Children are a very important part of Godís Kingdom.
Mark tells us that Jesus made friends with all kinds of people: men and women, girls and boys, rich and poor, sick and powerful, sinners and saints, Jews and Gentiles.
Jesus welcomed all who came to hear His teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven.
From reading Markís gospel we can hear him reminding Peter and Silas, Paul and Uncle Barnabas, that Jesus knew how hard it could be.
Mark knew some of the difficulties. He knew terror. He had almost been caught by the militia when they came out to trap Jesus in the dead of night.
Some ancient records tell us that Markís nick-name was Stump Fingers. We can imagine young Stump Fingers standing up to that cowardly mob which was led by Judas, bravely trying to defend Jesus. Was that how his knuckles got broken? Was that how he got his nick-name?
Barnabas encouraged Paul when he needed it. Barnabas encouraged Mark as well. And in time, the favour was paid back and Mark encouraged Barnabas and Paul by writing down his story of Jesus. He showed them both, and all of us, that arguments are never the end, not even when they are between Christians, however important they may be. Arguments are certainly never the end of the story when it comes to understanding why Jesus came and what God says about us as a result of His work.
Paul learned much from Markís Gospel. He was also pleased he could be used by God to encourage this young fellow who was going around telling the story of Godís Kingdom. Mark travelled and told the stories he had collected as he went around. These were copied and passed on to other Christians in many different places.
Mark travelled with various people. He helped Peter who treated him like his own son. Mark also travelled with Silas, Paulís companion at the time Barnabas had taken him back to Cyprus.
Timothy and Mark worked together after Paul introduced them. And from his visit to Paul in prison Mark had also met Demas and Luke. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall when the two gospel writers talked together in Paulís cell! They† were also involved in Onesimus' return to Philemon. Paul instructed Philemon that Onesimus would be of most help if he was welcomed back as a brother in Christ. Paul knew the blessings that came from welcome someone who had become separated from him. That is what he had experienced with Mark.
Since then, Markís impact has been enormous. Jesusí followers wherever they are thank God for Mark's story. The impact is still growing, and it will continue. Godís Spirit blessed Mark's story-telling. Through that work God has done great things!