Demas, A Stern Reminder For Us All

God through the Bible provides us with the figure of John Mark, a worker in the Lord that deserted the work of the Lord for possibly more than once. However, despite this, God has been so gracious as to give him the opportunities to return to His work. This deserter received the privilege to serve with influential figures in the Bible, like Peter and Paul. He even received the honour of writing the second Gospel that we have in our Bibles today. Knowing about Mark gives us a sense of hope, that we or other people who we know have fallen away from the faith can repent and be restored to the good work of the Lord. While we are still alive, we are reminded that God is lovingly giving us yet another day to repent and work for Him. But while the Bible does give us a picture of this in the figure of Mark, God also gives us Demas.

Demas is a person who appears in only 3 verses of the Bible. He appears in Colossians 4:14: “Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.” He was mentioned in the same breath as Mark in Philemon 24: “and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.” Similar to the restored Mark, he appears in these verses as Paul’s ‘fellow worker’. Demas and several other people accompanied Paul in his long labour evangelising and starting churches in different places. However, the last time the Holy Spirit spoke about Demas through the writing of the Bible is in 2 Timothy 4:10a: “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.”

Demas, in love with the present world, deserted Paul and went to Thessalonica. Being ‘in love with the world’ that is spoken of here is not the same as John the apostle’s famed quote “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Nor is it the same as loving our neighbours or enemies like we are commanded to (Mark 12:31; Matthew 5:44). ‘The world’ is spoken about here in the same vein as it is spoken about in 1 John 2:17a: “And the world is passing away along with its desires”. It talks about the present world and the sinful desires associated with it. It is the image of sinful humanity as a force opposing God. According to this understanding, we are asked to “not be conformed to the world” (Romans 12:2). We are told that “the wisdom of the world is folly” (1 Corinthians 3:19). Believers in Christ used to be dead in our trespasses, walking in the course of the world (Ephesians 2:2). We are to deny worldly lusts, to remain unspotted by the world (Titus 2:12; James 1:27). Identification with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4). Loving the world means that the love of the Father is not with us (1 John 2:15). Demas was in love of the world and its sinfulness. Christ loved us to the point of death while we were still sinners, that is true (Romans 5:8). But God neither loves our sins or ever tells us to stay in them (Psalm 5:4; John 5:14). As Tim Keller says, “God invites us to to come as we are, not to stay as we are.”

What is interesting from these verses is that they are from the exact letters of Paul that also mention Mark. It is as if God is saying, “see the grace I have bestowed upon My restored servant Mark. There is hope for restoration. But you have been in the work for a long time, do not be conceited either! Lest you be ensnared by love for the world like Demas and leave My work in the end.” We do not know whether or not Demas repented by the end of his life. But what the Bible is trying to give us is a stern warning for every Christian.

How horrible will the day be when key people who seemed faithful to the Lord suddenly leave and pursue the world! How grievous it is to see fellow workers around us suddenly leave the Lord and His field! How awful if someday we ourselves leave all these things!

What happened to Demas also shows that outward phenomenon—no matter how genuine they are—cannot in themselves win someone’s heart. Demas was a fellow worker of Paul, the great servant of God that He used so greatly. Paul has shown the glory and greatness of the Lord through all his strivings and sufferings. Demas was clearly a witness to all these wondrous things. But in the end, he chose the world over God and His works.

If Mark was like his spiritual father Peter, we can say that Demas is  like Judas. Judas lived 3 years of his life living with God Himself and witnessed all His great works with his eyes. They are very much alike in this sense. As a matter of fact, we might even say that anyone who deserts the work of the Lord despite witnessing and experiencing God’s guidance are Judas’ spiritual children. And just as Judas and the Jews who opposed Jesus acted like their father, the Devil, we are also acting like we are the children of the Devil when we do such a thing.

Let us take heed seriously to this stern warning. While it was clear that Judas loved money, Paul did not specify what Demas particularly loved in the world. Maybe Demas could not stand living a life that is full of suffering and poverty as Paul. It might have pushed him to pursue comfort and money. Maybe he fell in love with an unbelieving woman that pulled him to a life of immorality. Maybe he received the opportunity to sit on a high societal position in Thessalonica. Or maybe it is as simple as wanting to live a ‘normal life’, one far from danger, stable, where everything runs smoothly, not even one that necessarily entails highly indecent acts—but not one for God. A ‘normal life’, just like what ‘normal people’ are living. The point is that Demas did not give his whole heart to the Lord. At the deepest parts of his heart, he left places for the world to stay. And in the end, he succumbed to his desires for the world.

How about us? Do we still leave some parts of our hearts for the world? I do not mean that there will be no more temptation when we give it all to God. As a matter of fact, it is likely that when we grow and are used by God, Satan will be more diligent in his work of destroying us. But the question is, when those temptations come, do we mortify them or give ourselves up, even just a little, to it? Small sins lead to bigger ones, as King David found out (2 Samuel 11).

As mentioned earlier, the world along with its desires are passing away. The verse continues though: “but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:17b). What Demas and so many people are receiving in this world are nothing compared to the sadness of eternal death. They are nothing compared to the unblushing promises of joy God gives us. These things that we think will satisfy us will in the final analysis disappoint us, just like broken cisterns that cannot hold water (Jeremiah 2:13). They are nothing compared to how beautiful it is to work for and be used by God. Realise all these things and the fact that we have been united with Christ and died to sin (Galatians 2:20). Continue to receive strength from Him by being rooted in Him through prayer and His word, that we may not let sin reign (Colossians 2:7; Romans 6:14). Remember that apart from Him, we can do absolutely nothing (John 15:5).

Other than that, let us remember to do this together. Let us not leave fellowships of believers. Take heed to what the writer of Hebrews says: “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13). Lone Christians are dying Christians. We need one another. Apostle John mentions in his letter that he tells us all these truths that we “may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:3. While it is a fellowship that is centered on the Father and the Son, it is not a fellowship apart from one another. We are members of His body (1 Corinthians 12:12). No part of a body can say that it doesn’t need the other parts (1 Corinthians 12:21).

In the end, let me reiterate that we do not know what happened to Demas. Maybe he perished in his sins. Maybe he didn’t. But may we who have knowledge of these things not take them lightly. Above all, let us focus on the One who is able to keep us from falling, the One who can preserve us to be present in His glorious joy, the One who loved us unto death, our Lord Jesus Christ (Jude 24; Galatians 2:20). (JFA)

Mark, the Blessed Deserter

Who was Mark? The first thought that comes to our minds when we hear this question is the Gospel that he wrote. But did you know that the Gospel of Mark never explicitly reveals the writer to us? The only part that possibly gives us a glimpse of Mark is in 2 verses late into the Gospel: “And a young man followed him, 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, ESV). This is a part of the Bible that we typically might pass over without much thought. But it is surely not placed there without any reason. All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for equipping the man of God for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16). All Scripture, not just certain passages. By the least, this part should have significance for the original readers. Several commentators conclude Several commentators conclude that this young man was Mark himself. This is a way for Mark to say, “back then I followed them too, quietly. But when the situation got heated, I ran away because I didn’t want to suffer.”

If we want to know more about Mark, we have to look at other passages in the Bible and tradition. In the Bible, we meet Mark in a clearer fashion in Acts 12:12. Before that, Luke (the writer of Acts) wrote about how an angel freed Peter from imprisonment. After that, Peter went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark. John was a Jewish name, and Mark was a Gentile name. This indicates that Mark was of Jewish and Gentile descent. This verse also shows the closeness between Peter (and the community of believers of the time) with Mark’s household. There is even a possibility that the upper room of this house was used for the Last Supper. That might be the reason that Mark could sneakily follow Jesus to Gethsemane.

Mark appears again after 13 verses, where he was brought by Barnabas and Paul in their ministry. Acts 13:5 says that he followed them as their assistant. If we had stopped in this verse, we could get the impression that Mark was growing so well, having a bright future as a servant of God. However, just several verses after that, Luke wrote that “John left them to return to Jerusalem.” (Acts 13:13).  We do not know the reason why, but Mark left the work of the Lord. If we receive the view that he was the young man who ran from Gethsemane, we can see how frustrating it is to see this person running away again and again. When Barnabas wanted to bring Mark with them again, Paul sternly refused. He thought that it was not wise for them to bring Mark who left them in Pamphylia and had not continue in the work with them. This is the last time Mark appears in Acts. He appeared as a cause of separation between to great servants of God.

But years after Acts was written (possibly around 10), Mark’s name appears in a letter by Paul. In Colossians 4:10, Paul mentions “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him)”. In a more trivial manner, this verse tells us that Mark was the cousin (or nephew, the Greek could mean either) of Barnabas, which might explain why Barnabas really trusted him. But more than that, here we see that Mark became Paul’s fellow worker again. This fact is emphasised with Paul’s mention of Mark in Philemon 24 (the letter is chronologically written before 2 Timothy). There, he mentions his name in the letter’s closing. In 2 Timothy, his final letter before he was executed, Paul tells Timothy to bring Mark to him, as he was very useful to Paul’s ministry (2 Timothy 4:11). Such a great change happened in the time between the writing of Acts and these letters.

The final part of the Bible in which we find Mark is in 1 Peter 5:13 (ESV): “She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.” The ‘she’ referred to in here is the church. ‘Babylon’ is a way to talk about Rome. In the Bible, Babylon has become a metaphor of humanity in the fullness of their sin, opposing God. Back then, Rome was the source of this opposition. This is supported externally by the tradition of the early church fathers who mentioned that Peter went to Rome. But that is not all that we learn here, we see Mark being mentioned so closely to Peter, as his spiritual son.

The early fathers also mentioned that Mark became Peter’s interpreter in Rome and wrote his Gospel according to Peter’s accounts and authority. The external evidences of Peter’s influence are supported by internal evidences in the Gospel of Mark. For one there is the inclusio, a literary device where the person of authority appears at the start and at the end of the writing. In this context, Peter is the first and final apostle that appears at the Gospel. This makes it is clear that Mark was invoking on Peter’s authority. The Gospel also follows the outline of Peter’s sermons in the Book of Acts. There he doesn’t mention Jesus’ pre-baptism experiences, goes through Jesus’ public ministry, death, and resurrection. It also seems that out of all the apostles, Peter shows the most individuality, indicating that this was written as a first-person account by Peter. There are other things that could be mentioned, but these should suffice.

How great is the grace that God gives to this deserter called Mark! God still grants him mercy, although he left the work of the Lord. John MacArthur in his sermon on Mark emphasises on the great privilege that Mark received. He was not an apostle, not a pastor, not a teacher, not an evangelist, not a leader, just an assistant. However, he was given the chance to serve with Barnabas, Paul, and Peter. Not just that, even though he defected, he was given the opportunity to serve yet again and to be so trusted by these great men of God. Above all, he was given the unspeakable privilege to write one of the gospels that was God-breathed, inspired by the Holy Spirit.

We see of God’s long-suffering in Mark’s story. In the final analysis, this is not the story of ‘Mark, the great assistant’. It is the story of the God who had mercy on an undeserving deserter. The God who lived, died, and was resurrected for the sake of this deserter. Mark is very similar to his spiritual father, Peter, in this sense, who deserted Jesus but was restored. In the same way, let us not run away from God’s calling to repent and serve Him. If we have ran away and fallen, let us not lay in that mud. You might have left the work of the Lord and maybe even the church for a variety of reasons. But as you are still breathing right now, reading this article, God’s grace stands still for you to repent. Just as the song written by Reverend Stephen Tong (a Chinese-Indonesian preacher), if translated, says:

If you have ever loved Jesus,

Why not love Him now?

Even though you have kept your distance from Him,

His love never changed.

Oh, take heed to His call,

May you come home quickly!

If you have ever loved Jesus,

You must love Him even more!

This stands not just for us, but also those people that used to be our fellow-workers in the Lord. Imagine what Paul thought and felt when Mark left them. It must have left a really deep impression on him, because he refused to accept Mark back when Barnabas suggested it. Learning from this, let us be patient with our ex-comrades. Let us continue to pray for them and be there for them to restore them in the Lord.

With all these in mind, let us lay aside all weight that are keeping us from repentance and serving Him. Not that He needs us. God didn’t need Mark either. The Lord who created heaven and earth ultimately does not need human beings to further His work. Thus, the fact that He gives us opportunities to work for Him is sheer grace. Do not take His grace for granted. And our hope is not in our own strength, but in the strength of the God who created us and died for us. How about you, then? Will you repent and work for the Lord? (JFA)