Chapter 3 of John Mark’s Remarkable Career Continued—His Interesting and Abortive Travels with Barnabas and Saul
In the last blog we looked at how John Mark began his travels with Barnabas and Paul. In this blog we considered the text which speaks of the sad conclusion of those travels.
Acts 13:13 Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; but John left them and returned to Jerusalem.
Now, by itself, you might not put a negative construction on John’s departure from Barnabas and Saul recorded here. The text merely says that John departed. There is no necessary negative connotation to place upon this word. One might, in fact, imagine good reasons for him to return to Jerusalem. There is, however, good reason to think that this decision on John’s part was not one to be admired. Why must we say this? There are several reasons.
- First and notoriously, the Apostle Paul saw it in a very negative light. Famously, he resisted the idea of taking John Mark along on the proposed second missionary journey. In Acts 15:38 he describes John Mark’s departure in Acts 13:13 as “desertion.” Paul uses a word that can even in some cases mean to apostatize. Paul surely would not have reacted so firmly to a departure that was justifiable.
- Second, the decision of John Mark to leave for Jerusalem seems double-minded. He had agreed to accompany and help the missionaries. We may assume that this help was felt necessary for them and this experience was deemed important to his development. Yet, before the missionary journey was hardly begun, John heads for home. It seemed like desertion to Paul and probably to everybody else. He judged it to reveal instability in John’s character. Yes, Barnabas was willing to forgive and forget. That was his big-hearted generosity as the son of encouragement (Acts 4:36). Paul could not regard such “flakiness” so lightly.
- Third, while I do not believe that we should judge Barnabas too harshly, the fact is that there seems to be a precipitous or rushed feeling about Barnabas taking John Mark and leaving for Cyprus in Acts 15. On the other hand, Luke takes the time to tell us that Paul and Silas were committed by the brethren to the grace of Lord. There is no such notation with regard to Barnabas and John when they left for Cyprus. Once more, this seems to say that the generality of the church in Jerusalem agreed with Paul’s reservations about John Mark. This means that they also felt that there was a kind of “desertion” in John’s departure from the missionaries.
There is, then, another red flag raised about John Mark in our passage. Not only had he deserted the Lord in the Garden, he had deserted the missionaries in Cyprus. Of such repeated events reputations are made. This reputation was not a good one.
We learn the dreadful consequences of abandoning your solemn responsibilities and how shameful it is to do so! Do you think that Mark ever thought he would bring on himself the kind of shame that he did by deserting the missionaries? Who knows what easy rationalizations he had for doing so? But the shame that he brought upon himself surely was a constant reminder of his unfaithfulness.
We learn also that anyone—no matter their religious pedigree or background may fall into unfaithfulness! John Mark was at the center of the Christian movement. He had physically seen the Lord. He had been in the house when the Last Supper was celebrated. He was the close relative of prominent Christians. Yet he forsook his post and proved unfaithful.
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.