Led Into the Wilderness by the Spirit of Yahweh — The Tales and Adventures of John Mark

Mark 1:12-13—Tempted by the Devil's Demons (Matthew 4:1-11)

Led Into the Wilderness by the Spirit of YahwehAt once I found myself in prison. How I arrived I could not recall, though my head ached with a pain that suggested I’d taken a terrible blow. I could think of no reason for my incarceration and yet there I lay in stocks, bound at ankles and wrists.

Had I been put in prison for proclaiming the good news of God? That had been the charge laid upon John the Baptizer. I feared this was the case. If so, might I also be in danger of the sword?

After much prayer and reflection I determined to attribute my misfortune to the Spirit of Yahweh. Perhaps as he had once carried my Lord Jesus into a place of desolation, Yahweh’s Spirit had carried me into this prison wilderness for a purpose.

After going four days without food or water and growing hungry, a second offender arrived. The guard deposited the man next to me, binding our wrists together in the stocks. No sooner had the individual become settled with his new surroundings than he began to recount his life of crimes. When at last I commented that I was a Hebrew and how my people hold to a higher law, a moral standard issued by the god who created the heavens and earth, the man responded in a most dismissive manner.

“If indeed you serve this ‘Son of God’ and have his spirit within, as you say, tell these stones beneath our heads to become bread.”

“It is written,” I replied, “‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of Yahweh.'”

“So this Son of God you serve cannot save you? Perhaps he is not son of deity at all.”

“Already saved I am. Jesus forgave my transgressions. I am now free from the bondage of sin. But as to liberating me from this prison, that is not for me to declare nor demand. I must wait on the Lord for his will to be done.”

“And content with your plight you are? If this Jesus loves you, as you claim, will he not rush through those doors and rescue you? For well I know that it is written:

‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

I answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord Yahweh to the test.’”

“Ah, but you have not put him to the test. Rather it is this god of yours who is putting you to the test. Let us make a pact,” the man continued. “I will give you half the contents of my purse if you will help me overpower the guard when he returns. In this way we can escape and be free of these chains.”

“Away from me, you demon of the devil. It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God. Obey his commands. Serve him only.'”

“Of what good are these commands you speak if you are not a free man?”

“In all ways Yahweh is good and loving. His words are true, his love pure. He is faithful to sustain me.”

In that moment the door opened. Without so much as acknowledging me, a second guard, small in stature approached the stocks, bent down and unshackled the other man.

“This fellow,” said my cellmate, “now he worships power, influence, and wealth.”

From out of his purse, the man with the spirit of the devil pulled out five coins with the face of Caesar stamped into each.

As my cellmate turned to follow the guard out, he paused to look back. With a wry smile he said, “Be of good cheer, Hebrew. Perhaps the angels of your god may yet came and attended you. But if not, at least you will die in this wretched place with your faith to comfort you.

When the door slammed shut I found myself once more in darkness. While tears streaked my cheeks, I returned to my praying, continuing as I began: “My father, you are in heaven and I am here. Your name is holy and mine is John Mark. Provide this day for my every need and lead me not into temptation. As you have just now, continue to deliver me from the evil one. Forgive me of my sins. I acknowledge that I forgive all who grieve me—even those who desert me. Lead me now out of temptation that I might remain faithful to my Lord Jesus.”

I wish I could say an overwhelming feeling of comfort swept over me in that moment. That the chill of the dirt floor grew warm. That a fresh breeze found its way in to disturb the rank air I breathed. I can only say that in that moment the peace of Yahweh’s Spirit filled my heart and all became well with my soul.

“Thanks be to you, my Lord Yahweh, and your Son, for the indwelling of you Spirit within me. Amen.”

A Baptism Gone Wrong — The Tales and Adventures of John Mark

Mark 1:9-10— The Tales and Adventures of John Mark

A Baptism Gone WrongThough the day began to grow dark, I had yet to find a vessel that would take me to Seleucia. We picked our way through crooked streets that led to water, only to back away when we found the shore empty of vessels. There was scarce room for oxcarts and horse-drawn wagons to pass each other, such were the confines of the narrow streets.

“Come,” said Artemas, “perhaps in a place of spirits we shall find a man who knows of vessels departing.”

I questioned the wisdom of his words, for if we remained much longer in the wharf area, I feared we would meet with violence.

“So this baptism of John’s that you mentioned,” said Artemas, “it is for the forgiveness of a man’s sins?”

“Heaven forbid it. John’s baptism by water is only a demonstration of our repentance and a desire by us to be forgiven of our sins. Only the Holy One can forgive sins.”

We turned up a darkened alley and passed the doorway of a place where men, intoxicated by drink, staggered about, their loud, boisterous talking peppered with banter in tongues I could not understand. First one and then another would hurl curses at each other and a fight would break out among the pair.

Though rife with violence and vile drink, I found my heart filled with excitement, for well I knew from my travels with Paul and Barnabas that it was in such places that seamen sought relief from the day’s work on the docks and ships.

“Even the Holy One consented to be baptized by John,” I continued. “He came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Only Jesus’ occurrence proved different than my own. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit of Yahweh descending on him like a dove. Jesus alone, the Son of God, can forgive sins. John the Baptizer merely pointed to Jesus my Lord.”

“So even this Jesus needed to be baptized?” Artemas asked.

“Heaven forbid it. He merely consented in order that all Scripture might be fulfilled. Even so, his example is one we should follow, for if the Son of God consented to be baptized who are we to think otherwise?”

“Should I wish to be forgiven for my sins,” said Artemas, “where might I find this Messiah, this Jesus?”

I eyed the front of the drinking place. “Not in there. Though I confess that while Jesus lived among us he would often associate with such rabble, for his custom was to welcome the outcast and those deemed ‘sinners’ by the rich. But he is gone, now. His body raised to heaven. Only his Spirit remains.”

“Then in there perhaps we might yet find his Spirit.”

“I fear the only kinds of spirits served in such a place are those that lead to drunkenness and trouble.”

“Still, perhaps we shall find a man who knows if a vessel will soon be departing for Seleucia. Wait here while I inquire.”

I remained on the street while Artemas spoke to a man in the doorway. The fellow stood tall and erect, but what interested me most was his face. His complexion was pale and skin drawn tight around his mouth, showing the hard edge of cheek bones. You see such faces among those suffering from hunger and yet the man had the air of someone in authority. Surely he could eat all he wished. Though not heavy, his broad shoulders suggested a strength about him that I did not wish to challenge.

Stepping from the doorway the tall man approached, speaking to me in a tongue I could not understand.

“He is asking if you have funds on you for drink and food.”

“Only a few coins,” I replied.

Pointing at my purse, Artemas spoke to the man in a strange tongue.

My answer seemed to satisfy the man. We followed him through the crowd at the door and inside where he seated us at a table in rear of the room. With only a single tallow candle for light, I could scarce see Artemas seated across from me.

Drinks came before I could refuse. I had no desire to consume such vile refreshment and said so. I imagine Artemas anticipated my reaction for he grinned in a manner that suggested this pleased him. Before I could request that my drink be returned, he took a heavy gulp from my mug and with a thud put it down empty on the table.

After downing the last drop from his own mug, he leaned across the table towards me. “A matter of Providence it was, me finding you on this particular day.”

From shadows a figure appeared with two fresh mugs. Not wishing for Artemas to become intoxicated at my expense, I pulled both towards me.

Hesitating momentarily, I took a small sip of the vile drink and nearly coughed it back up. “How so?” I asked.

“This very morning I was saying to myself how often I regretted the things I have done and said. How with my fists I have hurt men for pleasure. Women as well. A wretched man am I. And yet on this very day you cross my path with news of a my to repent of my wickedness and be washed clean in this baptism of which you speak. See now, there is water not but a short walk from here. What is to prevent me from being baptized this very moment?”

I suppose part of his behavior may have been the spirits working on my new friend, for well lubricated his tongue seemed to be. And yet he appeared sincere in his request. In that moment I also found myself somewhat carefree. This also I attributed to the small amount of spirits I had consumed.

On the news that we might leave that wretched place, I returned our mugs to our server and offered a few coins for our fare. With Artemas slipping out the back door, I followed moments later only to discover the back alley dark and empty. Where he had gone I did not know.

Wheeling around to catch the door before it shut, a bright light suddenly blinded me. In that same moment my head exploded with pain. For but a second I found myself on knees, eyes blurred from the blow I had received.

A second strike drove me face first into dirt. The last thing I heard was gay laughter over me as rough hands riffled my person. Then all became black.

Artemas of Cypress — The Tales and Adventures of John Mark

Mark 1:1-8

Artemas of CypressI carried little money to pay for passage and had small likelihood of earning such funds. So as I roamed the streets of Antalya I cast about in my mind for other ways I might earn fare.

If I could hire myself on as crew in return for passage to Seleucia, that might put me to sea sooner. Well I knew many of the terms seamen used while on board—mainsail, topgallant, skysail, spanker, jib, forecastle, galley, and cabin. The problem remained, however, as to what skills I might bring to a task. Still, I could not expect to remain on the streets for long.

Thus my search began in earnest for a ship being loaded for departure. When I happened upon a group of men loading grain onto carts and rolling them onto the wharf I fell in alongside, assisting as they unloaded the goods.

At first the men viewed me suspiciously, so I made a point not to make eye contact and turn away quickly should one appear ready to speak to me. That seemed to settle the matter. Soon they appeared willing to accept my help without question. Only later, after all the cargo on shore was loaded did one dare to ask my name.

“John Mark,” I replied. “And yours?”

“Artemas of Cypress. You wear the mark of the Hebrew. Be those your people?”

I am sure the shock of being singled out so quickly showed on my face.

“When we relieved ourselves over the rail…” Artemas added. His meaning was clear.

“Yes, circumcised on the eighth day,” I replied.

“Then if I may, what are you to make of the one called John?”

At this my thoughts swirled for I knew not which John he meant. John the disciple of my Lord? Or John his cousin? both held a certain amount of fame among my people.

“We hear he was beheaded for daring to insult a tetrarch of Caesar Augustus,” Artemas continued. “Is it true he called the leaders of your people a ‘brood of vipers?'”

“John’s was a baptism of repentance,” I explained, “and for the forgiveness of sins. All who came confessed their sins and were then baptized with water by the cousin of Jesus.”

“But accusing those in authority of acting as a ‘brood of vipers?’ Does he not know that vipers hatch within their mother and eat their way out?”

“Well I know that John made such a declaration with intent, for many years ago our people wandered in a wasteland due to our rebellion. When we complained of hunger, Yahweh provided food from heaven. When we thirsted, Yahweh provided water from a rock. But still we grumbled, so he sent a brood of vipers to destroy us. When he pleaded to Moses for Yahweh to take away the vipers, Yahweh ordered that Moses make a bronze snake and lift it on a pole. All who looked up at the snake would be saved. Now we are to look to the cross upon which the Messiah who saves was crucified. He alone can recuse us from the death that comes from the venom of sin.”

“But how—”

“Our religious leaders continue to cling to the law of the wilderness that brings death,” I quickly added. “Like a brood of vipers their bite poisons those who are lost, for the laws of Yahweh cannot save us from sin, but only show us what sin looks like. This is why John called them a brood of vipers. They hatch from inside religious traditions and eat their way out, destroying all in the process while saving none from sin. This is why John called them a brood of vipers. Though they know the law of Yahweh their spirit is that of that old serpent the devil.”

“I see you are well versed in the ways of your people. Might you share more with me over a meal? Perhaps this evening?”

“Much would I like to do so, but I am in need of a vessel to take me home and should I find one before the day is out, I will depart.”

“Then come. Let us find you such a vessel. Perhaps as we search the docks you will explain more of how I might be saved by this Messiah of which you speak.”

And so I fell in step with Artemas of Cypress, a man I would soon discover was even more dangerous and deadly than the Pharisees and teachers of the law who killed my Lord.