Summary: We are an avenue of Gods grace to other Christians, even the ones who disappoint or hurt us.
This story quite honestly is a troubling one to me. Can I say that? Is it okay for me to say that? The reason it troubles me is because up until this point in the book of Acts, when the church had a disagreement (and they had some very significant ones), they worked through them and came to a solution which kept unity among the church. Yet in this circumstance, Paul and Barnabas, after all they had been through together; missionary partners working side by side successfully spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to both Jews and Gentiles. When they decided to return to the mission field and check on the people who had come to the Lord during their travels, they couldn’t get passed a certain issue, and it eventually led to their parting ways. The dividing issue was should they bring John Mark again on their trip. It seems like such an insignificant issue.
If you’ve been reading the Book of Acts this summer, you will remember John Mark, because when Paul and Barnabas started out on their first missionary journey, they took him along with them, but after their first stop to the island of Cyprus, they went to the mainland (Perga in Pamphylia, modern day Turkey), and Acts 13:13 says Mark left them to return to Jerusalem. When we read Acts 13:13 it doesn’t really make it sound like a big deal. It just sounds like Mark had to return to Jerusalem, perhaps it was even missions related. Yet when we read Paul’s comments in our passage this morning we realize Mark had bailed out on them. Our passage says, he "deserted" them. He left unexpectedly. We don’t know why John Mark bailed. He could have had cold feet going to a foreign land which he had never been before. Maybe the mission work was harder then he thought. Perhaps he was home sick and wanted to see his family back in Jerusalem (we know his mother lived there from because the early disciples gathered at her house to pray for Peter when he was in jail, Acts 12:12), or perhaps there was a Jewish festival going on, like Passover, which all Jews were supposed to participate in. We don’t know why he left but we do know that Paul was not happy about it, he was very disappointed in Mark’s departure, and he did not like the idea of taking Mark along only to be disappointed again and have him leave during a crucial part of their mission work. It’s kind of like the saying, "fool me once shame on you, fool me twice...shame on me" (for falling for it again).
The idea of taking Mark along was so objectionable to Paul that these good friends, partners in mission, decided to part ways. What was once a great team was now divided. Both men were passionate about reaching people for Jesus, and making disciples but they couldn’t come to an agreement regarding Mark. Barnabas took Mark and went back to his home island of Cyprus, while Paul took Silas to the Christians they helped lead to the Lord in his home region of Pisidia (Turkey) [Show map].
Disappointment and Disagreement
It’s not just their failure to work out the issue which bothers me. The reason this story doesn’t sit well with me is because it doesn’t seem very grace filled and Spirit driven. They don’t stop to pray, like at other times. They just argue, make a decision, and go with it. In the back of my mind I wonder, but what is God’s will, and where is God’s grace toward Mark? I don’t blame Paul for feeling the way he did, I probably would have felt the same way if I were in his situation. But was Paul responding out of the grace filled leading of the Holy Spirit or out of his fleshly disappointment in Mark? Yes, I know Paul and Silas went on to do some great missionary work together, expanding the kingdom of God, but what about Mark?