Mark: A Comeback Plodder 9/19/99

Romans 5: 3 and 4

Jesus Christ spoke of the blessing awaiting those who persevere till the end.

A modern term for this Biblical word “persevere” is plod. Plodders are those who go through the sequence noted in Romans 5: 3, 4. It is tribulation that produces perseverance; and perseverance that produces character; and character, hope.

They live with a sense of expectancy; a vibrant hope. Regardless of the challenge or calamity they consistently carry on because they have hope things will change for the better. They live awaiting a better moment. It’s their character. Their character was forged by perseverance in the hour of trials and tribulations. They are finalist in the plodder championship.

“Nothing in the world can take the
place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more
commond than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is
almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full
of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone
are omnipotent. Press on…”

Little Ben Carson had little to commend him in childhood and even less cause for hope. His mother, Sonya, had dropped out of school in the third grade and she and his dad divorced when he was eight. Mrs. Carson was left to rear her two boys alone in a Detroit ghetto. Not an easy challenge.

In the fifth grade he was the uncontested bottom of his class. His class called him “dummy.”

Tests were given and each student gave his or her paper to the student behind to be sure it was graded properly. The teacher then called for all students to verbally report their grades. On a math test with 30 questions Ben missed 30. Having showed it to the student behind him he thought if he mumbled his score the teacher might think it something better than it was. When asked he answered “numm.” “Nine! Benjamin got nine right.” The teacher’s bragging on Ben was interrupted when the girl behind him shouted, “He said none, not nine.”

Perhaps Ben’s biggest challenge was that he had a pathological temper. He left a three inch gash in his mother’s head when he struck her with a hammer. He tried to stab a friend who changed a radio station. Fortunately the knife struck the boy’s belt buckle with such force it broke.

In fear he went home and locked himself in and began to think about where he was headed. He prayed for God to help him find a way to handle his temper. He stayed locked in and began reading the Book of Proverbs. As he read his eyes fell on these words: “… a man who can control his temper is mightier than a man who can conquer a city.”

It struck him. If people can make you mad they can control you. He concluded why surrender yourself to others.

His next report card got his mother’s attention and resulted in new rules. Only three pre-selected TV programs a week. He was to read two books a week and give her a written report. What he didn’t know was his mother couldn’t read so he kept reading. He now says that was in the days when parents were in charge.

He kept reading Proverbs and started praying for wisdom.

One day he startled his class mates when he identified a collection of rocks for the teacher. He remembered them from a book he had read.

He said by reading I learned how to spell. Knowing word meanings enabled me to learn grammar. This opened his world to the use of his imagination.

Within eighteen months the “dummy” went from last to first in his class. Having been a walking “TV Guide” over whom the teacher rejoiced when he got a “D” he was on a new course. Plodding and progressing. Little Ben’s plodding resulted in a scholarship to Yale University where he earned a degree in psychology. From there he went to the University Michigan Medical School where he graduated Cum Laude. He became the first ever black neurosurgery resident of Johns Hopkins University.

At the age of 32 this plodder became the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University. He performs over 500 operations a year and is credited with leading the most delicate surgical procedure every performed. It was a 22 hour operation separating Siamese twins.

He credits his faith in God with his medical success, rather than hard work or intellectual aptitude. He reads every day from Proverbs and commented, “I start every morning and I end every day asking God for wisdom. I think if you ask for it, you get it.”

His definition of success is significant. “True success is taking your God-given abilities and sharing them in a way that elevates other people.” That means you too can be successful.

From last place in the fifth grade class little Ben Carson kept plodding to become Dr. Benjamin Carson a first class physician.

As a child little Sylvester was often beaten by his dad and told he had no brains. He grew up lonely and confused. He was in and quicker out of many schools. An advisor at Drexel University told him that based on his aptitude he should pursue a career as an elevator repair man.

He tried acting but his abnormal life led to one failure after another. This failure drove him to try writing with little success.

He watched Muhammad Ali fight Chuck Wepner, a relatively unknown fighter who incredibly went the distance against the odds. This inspired Sylvester Stallone to write a script for a movie he called “Rocky”—- in less than four days.

Vince Lombardi said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down. It’s whether you get up again.” Five Rockys later, Sylvester Stallone is still a champion who kept getting up and plodding on.

Determination is a synonym for a plodder. Plodders keep hope alive —- even if on life support at times.

There is a young man in the gospels who was a remarkable comeback character. He is John Mark. John was his Hebrew name. Mark was his Roman sir name. The first time we meet this young man in the Scripture is his most humiliating moment. Gospel writers occasionally include passages related to themselves without identifying themselves. John often does this by referring to himself as “the disciple Jesus loved.” Such a passage can be identified by the person telling the story being the only one who would have known it.

In the Gospel of Mark there is such an incident that leads scholars to assume it is a reference to the author, Mark.

On the eve of the arrest of Christ a young man follows the procession leading Christ from Gethsemane. Its Mark’s story, let’s let him tell it.

“Then they all forsook Him and fled. Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body. And the young men laid hold of him, and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked” (Mark 14:50 – 52).

Mark was one of the last to abandon Christ on the night of His betrayal. To tell this modifying story on himself Mark is revealing the complexity from which he recovered. Perhaps it was his nudity that caused him to flee. Perhaps it was fear of being associated with the accused Christ. Hopefully it was his clothes being torn off. However at this stage of his young life he was not well established in his faith. Nevertheless, it left him with something to overcome.

Most persons have had a moment they would like to forget. Such incidents can cause us to drop out or cop out. They can motivate us to resolutely commit our self to making a comeback. These moments of failure color our lives. You choose the colors.

John Mark chose variegated colors.

Mark was the son of Mary a well-to-do Jerusalem widow. Her home was a favorite meeting place for followers of Christ.

Being reared by a single parent has its challenges. This is best known by such children. Parents can never fully understand the full impact on a child reared in a single parent home. If you are such a child there is encouragement for you.

Studies show that children reared in a single parent home have challenges others don’t. No one knows this better than the child. Parents can’t begin to understand. Analysis reveals that children from single parent homes make lower grades, have a higher rate of criminal activity, and have lower self-esteem.

Why note such depressing principles? In order that they might be known and compensated for. There is nothing that dictates that a child from a single parent home has to fall in these statistical categories. By knowing this positive influences can be brought to bear to counter the tendency.

There is nothing that insures that a child from a home of privilege where both parents are present will succeed. There is nothing that says a child from a single parent home won’t succeed. The determination lies within which colors the child chooses.

Mary, the Mother of Mark, had a wealthy brother from Cyprus named Barnabas. His name means “son of encouragement.” Throughout the Bible he is known for his winsomeness. Mary saw to it that he became a positive influence in young Mark’s life. He remained such for years. What Acts 11: 23 says he did for the members of the church at Antioch he obviously did for Mark. He “encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.” That they should do what? “Continue with the Lord.” To make it perfectly clear, “That they should keep on plodding along with the Lord.”

In the process of plodding some fall. Mark did. However remember what Lombardi said, “It is not whether you get knocked down. It is whether you keep getting up.” Though down on occasion Mark kept getting up.

Mark started out with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. It must have been exciting. They were venturing out to carry the good news of Christ’s life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension to the world. They were to be the first heralds of the good news on the continent of Europe.

Mark made what Paul thought for the longest was an unforgivable mistake. Mark went back home to Jerusalem. He quit the team.

It is not as though plodders don’t ever waver. It isn’t that they are immuned to fear. Plodders have to stare down fear.

Just as Paul contracted a painful illness Mark walked out on him. If we had to leave him at this point his profile would be that of a quitter.

His unfaithfulness to his mission caused pain for Paul and Barnabas. It caused a rift between the three and alienation between Paul and Mark. Explanations for the break of relations are varied. Some speculate Mark didn’t appreciate Paul’s authority over his admired uncle Barnabas and that caused him to leave.

This mission was about to falter because one player wasn’t playing his role. Barnabas wanted off.

Al McGuire retired as coach of Marquette after winning the NCAA basketball championship in 1976. Butch Lee was a prima donna on McGuire’s team. McGuire was trying to teach the team concept in this way: “Now, Butch, the game is forty minutes long, and if you divide that between two teams that means there is twenty minutes when one team has the ball and twenty minutes when the other team will have the ball. There are five players on each side. That means each player will have the ball for about four minutes. Now, Butch, I know what you can do with a ball in four minutes. What I want you to show me, is what you can do for the other thirty-six minutes.”

Others suggest it was homesickness that caused Mark to defect. Still others indicate he had a girl friend back home he wanted to see. It doesn’t matter what it was the grief is it broke their fellowship. That break however gives a good illustration of how Christians reconcile.

The breach of relationships was deep and long lasting. The next time there was a missionary journey Paul and Barnabas planned to go together. Barnabas insisted on Mark going. Paul was adamant that his failure on their first trip disqualified him. Paul went on along and Barnabas took Mark and they set out on a different mission. The plodder was up and about to begin an admirable spiritual recovery.

While in prison in Rome Paul wrote a letter of encouragement to the church in Colossi. Therein is this greeting: “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him)” (Colossians 4:10).

Right there at the prison with Paul was Mark. The breach restored, the fellowship renewed, the bond of love apparent.

Later in writing to young Timothy, Paul commented on Mark’s usefulness (II Timothy 4:11). The broken relation was restored. Full confidence had been earned.

Peter also later wrote affectionately of Mark calling him “…my son” (I Peter 5:13).

History pays tribute to Mark. When the Venetian Republic was at its zenith they named their main square St. Marcos. “The Lion” which had come to symbolize Mark stood and stand in the square and is emblazoned on their standard.

The remains of the ancient sea port of Ephesus has a lasting tribute to him. There stands four columns to have been seen by all who entered the port. On the top of the columns stood Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Mark’s most lasting honor is that of having been inspired to write the gospel book bearing his name, Mark. It contains no teachings of Christ. It is a record of His deeds. The word found most often in the book is “straightway.” He depicts Christ as moving from action to action. Doubtless that appealed to Him once he modeled his life after Christ.

Mark, the come-back kid had come back.

He can serve as a worthy example to any who started out following and serving Christ only to falter and perhaps even fall. The way to win is to get up every time you fall.