The trouble outside the jail began a little after my final cup of water and bread for the evening.
Without access to a window that looked onto the street, I could not tell from which direction the men approached, but soon I became aware that a mob had gathered to protest my presence in the jail. The chant, “give us the Hebrew, give us the Hebrew,” soon swelled into a chorus that shook dust from rafters onto my head.
Appearing in the darkened doorway, the jailer ordered me to sit up. “For the safety of the others you must be moved.”
Other than the one man from days earlier, I had not seen another soul. I am sure the surprised look on my face must have shown.
“Come now, on your feet!”
Of course I could not stand. At least not without help. For so long I had lain on my back with wrists and ankles in stocks, that my muscles had grown weak.
Leaning on the jailer for support, I said to him, “Perhaps this is how my Lord felt. For forty days he went without food and water.” When the jailer did not react to my comment, I added, “Though during his testing, my Lord was allowed to move about.”
“Cease your complaining and move along. The warden is anxious to get this business over with.”
Once in the hallway, the jailor waved his torch back and forth as if checking for others.
When he seemed satisfied that we were alone, he hustled me along, commenting, “Forty days be long time to go without seeing a friendly face or even a stranger. Perhaps this lord of yours no longer cares if you live or die.”
Holding onto his elbow for support, I shuffled towards the darkened door. I would not have realized the extent to which the stocks had gouged my skin if not for the warmth trickling onto my toes. Only then did I realize how much I was bleeding.
“The story of Joseph is a testimony to my Father’s faithfulness.” The sound of my raspy words left me stunned. “I find there can be a great distance between what we know of the Father and what we believe about him.”
“Less talking,” the jailer replied, “and more walking.”
At the end of the hallway, fists beat against the door. Only then did I realize the peril I faced. The jailer meant to release me to the mob.
“Well I know my Lord can save me from this trial,” I said.
With his hand shaking, the jailer struggled to insert his key into the warded lock. “Pray he shall, lad. Pray he shall.” He shoved the door opened and stepped back.
Before I could raise my hand, a stone smashed against my cheek with such force it spun me around. A hard shove in my back and the jailer thrust me into the crowd, closing the door behind.
I had watched from a distance when they stoned Stephen. Though Paul and I spoke of the event only once, we both agreed the barbarous action of crowds filled with righteous indignation is a thing to be feared at all costs. And yet before such a mob I now found myself.
Dropping to my knees, I covered my head as best I could. While I prayed in tongues of the Spirit I heard the voice of my Lord comforting me.
Moses remained isolated on a mountain for forty days. As you hear the mob’s jeering now, so my Father heard those stick-neck people chant, ‘Come! Let us make gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’”
Lord, will Paul and Barnabas say this of me? Will they wonder what has become of the lad called John Mark?
Forty days is the time I have allotted for the testing of your soul. Forty days is the time I have allotted for the cleansing of all impurities you yet hold in your heart. Forty days is the time I required to humble you for the work I will require of you. Your time of redemption is complete. Now you will walk through death as I have.”
On bloody knees, the tops of my feet stomped onto shards of rock and shell, my Lord’s Spirit spoke to mine.
When my Father destroyed the earth with water, he caused rain to fall for forty days and forty nights. Only those who carried the words of my Father in their hearts survived.
When my Father sent twelve spies into the Promised Land, he provided for their protection for forty days and nights. Even those who doubted in his goodness received this blessing.
Goliath taunted my Father’s people for forty days before he moved in the heart of David to rise up and slay that wicked giant.
When Elijah fled from Jezebel, he traveled forty days and forty nights before arriving at Mount Horeb. During all this time my Father cared for Elijah and those who welcomed him.
And after I rose from the grave, I remained with my disciples for forty days before ascending into heaven.
My father chose forty days to purify by water, to remove all the ungodly from his presence, to confirm his promise of land to his people, to liberate all men and women from death and the curse of sin, and test you to see if faith really lives in your heart. Shall I now show you how much you are going to suffer for my name?
I… don’t know, Lord. Already I sense I have passed from this life to the next. That though I am beaten down, your merciful hand has prevented my pain from becoming more than I can bear.
What needs to be made pure? What do you need to cast off? In your trials what brings you joy? Is there a giant you need to face? Are you trusting more in others than in me? Is my Spirit moving you into a new role? Think on these things, son. Think on these.
And so it was as I lay bloodied and broken, my life ebbing, strong arms slipped under my ribs and thighs, lifted me from the pile of rocks, and carried me away.
“I have found you a ship,” a sweet voice whispered. “But we must hurry. Even now she slips her lines to sail for Seleucia.”
In that moment a most horrific pain swept over me and I knew beyond a doubt that I would live to write of the life and events I witnessed while following my Lord.