A Lion’s Heart

 In Character, Culture, Faith, Fred's Blog, People, Teaching, Theology, Vocation

Listen to “A Lion’s Heart” by Fred Smith

 

It wasn’t a simple disagreement but a showdown that resulted in both men, once fast friends, turning away from each other for the balance of their lives. Neither sees the other again over their bitter feelings about a young person one considered to be a coward while the other not only defended but fought to give a second chance.

Who was this young man causing the permanent split between Paul and Barnabas – two heroes of the early church? He has an interesting story—especially for early failures and late bloomers.

As a young man John Mark was surrounded by the apostles and leaders of the movement coming to his home. His mother, Mary, was wealthy and influential. With access to relationships and rare advantages a young man could not have had more exposure to courage, miracles, heroic figures and the first days of the greatest events in the history of the world.

Still, Mark was weak and afraid. He ran naked from Gethsemane. He quit Paul and Barnabas when conditions were difficult. He disappointed the ones who took a risk on him.

After the rancorous split, Paul returned to visit the churches he and Barnabas had planted while Barnabas was later stoned to death in Cyprus as a martyr. Here we lose track and know nothing of Mark for almost ten years. Given his pattern of running and quitting we would not expect much of him. He was a coddled and protected boy like so many who grow up with advantages and opportunities but cannot handle adversity. It would be logical to predict he would fade away and self-destruct as a child of privilege who failed to launch.

But we would be wrong for after the decade had passed Paul says to Timothy, “Be sure to bring Mark with you because he will be so helpful to my ministry. Everyone else has deserted me.”

What happened? In those silent 10 years, Mark had attached himself to the sole person in his life – Simon Peter – who could relate completely to one who had deserted and failed his friends while betraying others. In Peter, he finds a father, a fellow sinner and a friend. But something else happened. Mark began to write down Peter’s recollections of Jesus, and in doing so he was changed.

Malcolm Gladwell writes in “Late Bloomers” that they appear to be failures when they are young. “Late bloomers bloom late because they simply aren’t much good until late in their careers.”

As well, early failures need a patron – someone with the patience and empathy to stick with them. They need someone to see them through the long and difficult times when no one else believes in them. Early failures can only find their best work after trial and error.

Mark didn’t become good at something until later in life. His life looked more like a failure until he was almost 50. Mark needed a patron – someone who had the patience and empathy to believe in him. He needed someone to help him find his true work and give him a worthy task to accomplish.

What did Mark discover as he wrote the Gospel? He discovered himself and a Jesus that changed his life. Peter’s flaws were the same as his and Peter’s Christ became his. In “The Jesus I Never Knew,” Philip Yancey writes, “Jesus, I found, bore little resemblance to the Mr. Rogers figure I had met in Sunday School. He was the undomesticated Lion of Judah.”

Sent by Peter to Egypt as the first bishop of the Coptic church, Mark – the former coward, deserter and weakling – is horribly martyred by being dragged for two days behind a horse until his skin is torn off his body. Many years later it is said that the founders of the city of Venice in Italy, wanted a saint’s relics, so they stole his head and took it back to Venice. There it becomes the precious relic of one of the most famous cathedrals in the world – St. Mark’s. The deserter becomes the patron saint of Venice.

But here is what I love. Something he would have never believed and we could have not predicted when we first met him. The early church gave him the symbol of the winged lion, and it is the flag of Venice still today. It is a symbol of power, authority and strength. The Lion holds the scroll because he is the author of the earliest gospel and the inscription reads, “Peace to thee, Mark, my evangelist.” Peace and courage – not fear and running away. It is the same boy who fled and then became a lion – just like the Lion of Judah in his gospel.

Don’t ever count anyone out. God doesn’t. In Mark we can celebrate the redeeming of early mistakes, the forgiveness of failure, and God’s ability to give the young and spoiled the hearts of lions.

 

You can purchase “Where The Light Divides” here.

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Showing 12 comments
  • Avatar
    Kerry Hasenbalg
    Reply

    Magnificent blog post! Fred, I love everything about what you have written here. So much wisdom integrated in one beautiful, inspirational piece. I will be passing this on to others whom it will encourage! Considering and then writing this piece was time extremely well spent – and perfect picture to go with it! Well done!

    Thanks for this! Kerry

  • Avatar
    Tamsen Toal
    Reply

    Wow! This is good!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you. I appreciate your taking the time to respond.

  • Avatar
    Cathy Strachan Lindenberg
    Reply

    Thank you Fred. Always love your terse, substantive and inspiring thinking and writing. Wish I lived near you and Carol Ann, to know you better and to learn more from you both. Love the way you weave history, art, science, spirituality, and practical life learning into your writings. Carinos from sunny Costa Rica.. Cathy

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Cathy. That is so encouraging to me. I will hug Carol for you!

  • Avatar
    Greg Smith
    Reply

    Love the books of Acts, and Mark! The interplay of the people is a wonderful treasure for us, and God’s word bears fruit. Great piece.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Greg. I could stay in the Book of acts forever! Thank you for writing.

  • Avatar
    David eaton
    Reply

    Fred
    Enjoy you every week, in fact it is an important moment and most of the time I reflect on your comments. You were very important in my son Chris’s life in the same kind of way as your story today. Thank you, David Eaton
    .

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, David. I so much appreciate this and the long term (but at a distance) relationship we have had. This is so encouraging. I have sent you a separate email with something you may find funny.

  • Avatar
    Eddie Waxer
    Reply

    Fred, thank you for shining a brilliant light on biblical discipleship. A reminder to me that we may be used in the planting process but only the Holy Spirit in his time turns a heart to be a disciple. This is the best of the best expositions Fred I can recall on this most important subject of disciple making. Thanks, Eddie

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      That is high praise from a guy who has done this all his life and who also believes in me when it was not logical to do so! Bless you, friend.

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