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Lent: Minor Characters About Calvary. No 3

Mark 14:43-52
6th March 2005

Last Sunday night, while we were here proclaiming the Gospel, outside my Parliamentary office overlooking the Domain, 100,00 people gathered to watch on four huge screens the Sony Tropfest, This short film festival last Sunday even had a streaker! It is hard to have any event these days, without some exhibitionist, fueled by alcohol, taking off their clothes and running over the pitch, court, grass or track. Police and security have to be ever vigilant against those who would have their five minutes of fame amusing the crowd but distracting the concentration of the players or competitors. It is a new phenomenon, so who would have imagined a streaker in the Garden of Gethsemane? The only difference was they do it to attract attention, this “certain young man” tried to escape and hide from attention.

Mark’s Gospel, the only one to make reference to it, says: “A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.” These are two strange and fascinating verses. At first sight they seem completely irrelevant. They seem to add nothing to the narrative and yet there must be some reason for them being there. Like the servant girl in the High Priest’s courtyard, and the temple guard who had his ear slashed off, this young streaker is a minor character about Calvary, yet whose story adds to the authenticity of the narrative and may also give us some insight into the passion of the Christ.


We can identify him. He was the Gospel writer, “John whose surname was Mark” Acts 12:12-25 Mark or Marcus, Col. 4:10 as he is sometimes called, was his Roman name, which gradually came to supersede his Jewish name John. He lived in Jerusalem with his mother Mary. Acts 12:12 The home is spoken of as hers. The father was probably dead. The description of the house, with its large rooms and porch and Greek slave, suggests a family of wealth. They were probably among the many zealous Jews who, having become rich in the countries around Palestine, retired to Jerusalem, the center of their nation and faith. Mark was “cousin” to Barnabas of Cyprus Col 4:10 who was a man of means. Acts 4:36 Possibly Mark also had lived there.


The house of John Mark’s mother was well known to the disciples. Jesus had made arrangements with her to observe the Passover in its large Upper room. It was here that the disciples gathered after the Resurrection and Jesus twice appeared to them. It was here, the disciples gathered with a large number of believers where the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost. It was here that when the persecution of the early disciples began, the believers gathered to pray, and it was here, after Peter was miraculously released from Prison, he went to meet with those who were praying for his release. From the beginning John Mark was in the same large house.

Mark knew Jesus and later in his mother’s house Mark was converted by Peter, who calls him his “son”. 1 Pet. 5:13 Mark is first mentioned when Acts 12:25 he went with Paul and Barnabas on their first journey about A.D. 47 as their helper. Mark and his mother are already Christians.44 AD and he was already esteemed by the church, which chose him to accompany Barnabas and Saul to Antioch. The home was a retreat for Christians, so that Mark had every opportunity to become acquainted with leaders such as James and John, and James the brother of the Lord. His kinship with Barnabas, knowledge of Christian history and teaching, and proved efficiency account for his being taken along on the first missionary journey as “minister” to Barnabas and Saul. Acts 13:5 This term suggests that he was to teach in newly founded churches similar to that of the synagogue, and so to be their “helper” in preaching and teaching.

But for some reason Mark turned back when they reached Perga in Turkey. Acts 12:25; 13:13 Three years later a “sharp contention” arose between Paul and Barnabas Acts 15:36–40 because Paul would not take Mark with him again. So Barnabas and Mark went together while Paul and Silas went together. Acts 15:36–40 Mark, however, was at length reconciled to Paul and was with Paul in his first imprisonment at Rome. Col. 4:10; Philemon 24 At a later period he was with Peter in Babylon, 1 Pet. 5:13 then a main centre of Jewish learning. Mark was with Timothy in Ephesus when Paul wrote him during his second imprisonment. 2 Tim. 4:11 He then disappears from view.

Why did he turn back at Perga? Acts 13:13 Not because of homesickness, or anxiety for his mother, or the desire to rejoin Peter, or fear of perils on the journey. He turned back because he objected to Paul’s offer of salvation to the Gentiles on condition of faith alone. There are hints that Mark’s family was zealous, and it is significant that here Acts 13:5, 13 he is given only his Hebrew name. Paul’s reaction was very strong, Acts 15:38 and we know that nothing stirred Paul more than this very question. The explanation may be in what happened when the Roman Sergius Paulus became a believer. At that time Paul (the change of name is here noted by Luke) stepped to the front, and henceforth, Luke speaks of Paul as leader. At this time, Paul stood almost alone in his conviction. Barnabas had misgivings. Galatians 2:13 Perhaps, too, Mark who did not like Uncle Barnabas taking second place.

We hear nothing further of Mark until the beginning of the second missionary journey two years later, when Paul’s unwillingness to take Mark with them led to the rupture between Paul and Barnabas and to the mission of Barnabas and Mark back to Cyprus. Acts 15:39 He is here called Mark, and in that quiet way Luke may indicate his own conviction that Mark’s mind had changed on the great question. Mark had learned from the discussions in the Council at Jerusalem and from subsequent events at Antioch. Eleven years later, Colossians 4:10 Mark is in Rome with Paul. The breach is healed. He is now one of the faithful few among Jewish Christians who stand by Paul. He is Paul’s honored “fellow-worker” and a great “comfort” to him.

Mark then met Peter and went with him to Babylon. 1 Peter 5:13 Peter sends Mark’s greeting along with that of the church in Babylon. Thence Mark returns to Asia Minor, and 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul asks Timothy, who is at Ephesus, to come to him, pick up Mark by the way, and bring him along. In that connection Paul pays Mark his final tribute; he is “useful for ministering” so useful that his ministry is a joy to Paul’s heart. The most important and reliable tradition is that Mark wrote his Gospel based upon the accounts of Peter. Later Mark remained in Cyprus until after the death of Barnabas (who was living in 57 AD). 1 Corinthians 9:5 Then he went to Alexandria, founded the church there, became its first bishop and there was martyred in the 8th year of Nero. 62–63AD In 815 AD Venetian soldiers stole his remains from Alexandria and placed them under the church of St Mark at Venice where they remain to this day.


Why would he insert such a trivial detail in so solemn a story? Was this Mark’s way of saying, “I was there”? Why he was there is not explained. Alfred Hitchcock was famous for including himself in each of his films in the most minor way, as a person standing in a crowd, or in the queue waiting to get on the bus. John includes himself in his gospel, and Mark does here. This young man had only a sindon, an outer garment gathered around a person at night like a blanket. Usually this garment was made of wool. His, however, was linen, an expensive material worn only by the rich. When he fled without his sindon, he was actually naked. v51

Perhaps the main point of the story-and the reason Mark included it-was to show that the forsakenness of Jesus was total. Even this youth forsook him. Mark was probably raised from his sleep by the noise which the rabble made who came to apprehend Jesus. He wrapped his blanket about him, becoming more conspicuous. He was seized; but he spun out of their grasp, leaving them holding the blanket and so escaped out of their hands.

The early missionaries in India were told their European clothes were dangerous if they caught fire from the ground level open fire. Indians wore loose clothing from which they could disengage themselves. Matthew and Luke used Mark as the basis of their work and that they include in their gospels practically everything that is in Mark. But they do not include these two verses. Why? Because this incident was interesting to Mark and not really interesting to anyone else. Why then was this incident so interesting to Mark that he felt he must include it? The most probable answer is that the young man was Mark himself, and that this is his way of saying, “I was there.” May be Mark was present at the Last Supper. He was young, just a boy, and maybe no one really noticed him. But he was fascinated with Jesus and when the company went out into the dark, he slipped out after them when he ought to have been in bed, with only the linen sheet over his naked body. It may be that all the time Mark was there in the shadows listening and watching. That would explain where the Gethsemane narrative came from.

It may be that the one witness was Mark as he stood silent in the shadows, watching with a teenagers’ reverence the greatest hero he had ever known. We may take it as fairly certain that Mark put in these two verses because they were about himself. He could never forget that night. He was saying: “I, too, when I was a boy, was there.”

What a privilege to say “I was there!” Even a young person can be a great witness to Jesus Christ.


  • Barclay’s Daily Study Bible (NT)

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