Chapter 4 of John Mark’s Remarkable Career—His Pivotal and Tragic Place in the Disagreement between Barnabas and Saul
It is the account of the disagreement between Barnabas and Saul in Acts 15:37-39 which we are now considering. It is not my purpose to analyze that disagreement in detail. We do need to look at it with regard to our present purpose of understanding the life of John Mark.
Acts 15:37 Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.
Have you ever thought about this situation from the viewpoint of John Mark? I had not until I was thinking about it recently. Ask yourself, What would it have been like for John Mark in this situation? He was rejected by the Apostle Paul; the cause of sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas; the subject of prolonged discussion between Paul and Barnabas; and—no doubt—the focus of public conversation in the Christian community at Jerusalem. You can imagine how difficult the situation became for John Mark! Whatever we think of Barnabas leaving as he did, leaving was almost a necessity for John Mark. How could he stay in Jerusalem? He would be the occasion of disagreement, discussion, suspicion, and endless questions. This would not be good for him or for the church. Barnabas’s decision to take John Mark with him to Cyprus and get him out of this emotional pressure-cooker—whatever else it was—was a deliverance for John Mark. It removed him from a very difficult, perhaps unbearable, and certainly embarrassing situation. Far away in Cyprus where this difficulty was not well-known, John Mark might have time to pray, reflect, and, if necessary, to repent.
At this point in our account of the life of John Mark one could not be blamed for thinking that any usefulness for John Mark was finished. The days of effective labor for the kingdom would never return for John Mark—that is what we must, it would seem, necessarily conclude. Nevertheless, praise God, the career of John Mark turned out much differently than we might have expected or feared.
We learn how easy it is to be stained with a bad reputation and the difficulties it may create for you! Can you imagine people shaking their heads at the mention of John Mark? Abandoning the Lord, deserting the missionaries, he was thought to be unstable as water. And then the terrible disagreement it provoked between Paul and Barnabas! What a scandal and he was in the middle of it! Little and surely not sufficiently had John Mark the difficulties that would result from his unstable desire to run home to Momma in Jerusalem. And perhaps the most spiritually deadly aspect of it all was that John Mark deeply struggled with believing this assessment and agreeing with the worst opinion of himself.
We learn how badly we need sympathetic Christian brothers to help us see our sins and repent and find restoration through Christ! I cannot resist the notion that Barnabas, the son of encouragement, was the means in no small measure of John Mark’s recovery. He took John Mark to a place where he could recover. He gave him the sympathetic ear which enabled him not to be crushed into despair by his sins. I am sure he was faithful to guide him to the place of repentance, faith, and forgiveness in Christ.
Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.