He Is Useful
Rev. Kurt Lantz St. Mark, Evangelist 2 Timothy 4:5-18
April 25, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear beloved children,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Make yourself useful. Has anyone ever given you that command? I know that I’ve heard it several times. It has come from dad working in the yard when there was clearly a lot of raking or digging to be done and I made the mistake of pausing as I was walking to the shed to get my bicycle. It came from mom working hard inside the house when there was a huge stack of dinnerware to be set out for some big family occasion, and I passed through the kitchen at the wrong time. It came from school teachers who caught me absentmindedly staring off into space when there was something to be handed out to the class or collected from the students. It came on the job when during training I stood by watching intently, hesitant to make a wrong move before I understood what was going on.
Make yourself useful. It has been spoken to us at home, at school, at work, likely elsewhere too, perhaps even in the church. Make yourself useful. Do something. Get busy. You are not doing anyone any good just hanging around. There is work to be done. Some of it is tedious and anyone can handle it, so make yourself useful. Some of it is important and cannot wait while you stand around in self-doubt or ignorance, so make yourself useful. Or as St. Paul wrote to Timothy: “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:13).
What might have been St. Paul’s thinking at this seemingly off-hand request for Mark to be sent to him. Was it a call to grab that guy and bring him along since he probably isn’t doing much with his life anyway? It could have been something very much like that, judging by the other references in the New Testament that seem to point to this Mark character.
The Book of Acts mentions that Christians met at the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12). She likely told her son on several occasions to make himself useful as she hosted the disciples of Christ. It could very will have been the house with the upper room where the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples, as Mark may have recorded at the end of his gospel account (Mark 16:14-20). And so it could be the place where they celebrated the Last Supper before going to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested. It is only recorded in Mark’s gospel that there was a young man following, “with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked” (Mark 14:51-52). It is the perfect picture of a young man getting himself into trouble, sneaking off to follow the esteemed guests rather than get stuck doing the dishes back at the house, the kind of young man who needed to be told to make himself useful.
Perhaps this is why, when his cousin Barnabas came to visit Jerusalem with Paul, they took Mark back with them to accompany them on a mission trip (Acts 12:25). It was time the young man made himself useful. But Mark was only able to stay with them through Cyprus and to Perga on the coast of Pamphylia, then he left Paul and Barnabas and went back home (Acts 13:13). After this, Paul was unwilling even to tell Mark to make himself useful, for when Paul and Barnabas were ready to embark on a second mission journey, “Paul thought it best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other” (Acts 15:37). Barnabas took Mark and hoped he would make himself useful in revisiting Cyprus (v. 39), but Paul chose Silas and went through Syria and Cilicia instead (vv. 40-41).
Much later during one of the times when Paul was in prison, it appears that Mark had become useful in some sense. Paul included Mark among the greetings of his fellow workers to the Christians at Colossae (Colossians 4:10), and it appears that Mark was being sent to them while Paul himself could not go. Church writings from the first centuries also tell us that Mark became Peter’s interpreter and that the gospel Mark wrote was based on the testimony he had heard from Peter. Had Mark finally made himself useful?
In today’s Epistle Reading, written to Timothy, Paul seems to be imprisoned again and not expecting to be released. Despite the rocky beginnings of Mark’s recorded life in Christ, Paul tells Timothy: “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). “Very useful,” Paul states, after listing a bunch of guys who have deserted him in his imprisonment, and before mentioning a few whom he has sent off to take care of some of the churches in his stead. Then the two big impacts: the damaging testimony against Paul by Alexander the coppersmith; and the comforting testimony to the Lord’s strengthening presence when everyone else had deserted him (4:14-17).
Now, Paul was not saying that Mark should make himself useful, but that Mark was useful to him for ministry. Had Mark made himself useful, or was he made useful by someone else? Looking back through his recorded life, it seems doubtful that Mark would have been able to make himself useful in any meaningful way. He was an embarrassment in the Garden of Gethsemane; he gave up and went home from the first mission journey, and was the source of the split between Paul and Barnabas as they planned to set off on the second. What happened? How had Mark become useful?
What happened in your life, or what needs to happen, in order for you to become useful? You’ve heard it said to you, “Make yourself useful.” But you know that is not possible. The fact that someone told you to do that states all to clearly that you have been found quite useless. A useless person is not going to make themselves useful any more than a lifeless person is going to make themselves living, or a thoughtless person thoughtful, or a helpless person helpful.
That is not to say that they cannot be transformed. And be quite comforted to know this, that you are being transformed. You are not making yourself useful, but you are being made useful in the same way that Mark was made useful—not by your own power or strength, but by a power and strength that comes from outside of you, the very same power and strength that was there with St. Paul when he was helpless in prison and everyone had deserted him. He stood accused and Alexander the coppersmith was laying it on rather thick, like when someone tells you that you are useless, or to make yourself useful.
The strength and power for Paul came from Jesus Christ who alone stood with him at his defence. The resurrected Lord Jesus was there with Paul, as He was in the upper room of Mark’s childhood home with the disciples. He was present with Paul with the same power and victory with which He had risen from the dead. And the victorious and living Lord Jesus rescued Paul from the lion’s mouth so that he could say with certainty that “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18). The Lord rescued Paul so that the message of Jesus Christ might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it (v. 17).
That same strength and power of the resurrected Lord Jesus is what made Mark useful to Paul, and for the same reason, for ministry. So that through Paul the message of Jesus Christ might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And through Mark the gospel of Jesus Christ would be recorded with the pen of a ready scribe (Psalm 45:1) and this gospel be proclaimed to the whole creation (Mark 16:15).
Mark saw the power of the resurrected Lord Jesus at work as it is recorded at the end of his gospel. “and these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-18). All of these things are also recorded in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, along with the exploits of Mark and Paul and the rest, so that we can also be sure that, as Jesus said and it is recorded in Mark’s Gospel and we recite from our catechism, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).
Mark was not only a witness and scribe to these things, but he is one of those among whom and to whom these things happened as the Lord Jesus was at work through the Gospel. That Gospel was at work in Mark, perhaps not that he became an exorcist, or could survive the bite of a venomous snake, or recover from being poisoned, or heal people, but so that in his own calling he would become useful for ministry, “doing the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5), writing in tongues as he took down Peter’s words to produce the Second Gospel.
This is the power of the resurrected Christ that is at work in you. It is Jesus working through His Gospel to make you useful for ministry. It means that in Him, your embarrassing mistakes and your failings and the conflicts you create, all of the sins of whatever kind that have been an offence to the Gospel, are forgiven and washed away in Jesus. In fact, they are conquered by Him and cannot hinder the proclamation of His saving grace to the whole creation.
Rather, they become the gospel proclamation as you live your life in the forgiving grace of Jesus, purchased and secured for you by His death and resurrection. You become a gospel book in your daily life, living the life of one who has been redeemed, forgiven, and set free; one who believes and is baptized, and lives with the certainty that you will be saved. You can say with St. Paul as you pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into His heavenly Kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Timothy 4:18).
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.