When studying the Book of Acts, it’s easy to go from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4), right to the missionary work of Paul. Doing so, however, leaves enormous gaps in the narrative Luke records; and in those gaps is the human frailty of the apostles themselves.
In one such gap we find Paul … and Barnabas … and well, John Mark.
Barnabas arrives on the scene in Acts 4:36-37. He is a well-placed Levite, by birth, from Cyprus. According to Luke, he is a good man, filled with the Spirit, faith and wisdom (Acts 11:24). By rebirth he is a disciple, and apostle of the Messiah.
Barnabas is there in the beginning, in Jerusalem. He is one of the many brethren gathering, sharing, and laboring for Yeshua/Jesus. After he ministers in Antioch, he travels to Tarsus to look for a man, Paul. He probably never expected to have cause to seek Paul out, since Paul was seeking Jews like Barnabas out only a short time before.
When these two join together in Gospel ministry, nations begin to change. The record of their travels inspire; but the record of their sharp dispute, and split makes one wonder.
Why such a sharp dispute? Why a split? Over a young man named: John Mark.
John Mark, commonly known as Mark, yes, that one, was also well-placed in Jerusalem: perhaps similar in social standing to Paul and Barnabas, only younger. When Peter is freed from prison, he goes to the house of Mark’s mother (Acts 12:12). It is speculated that Mark was born-again under the guidance of Peter, with whom he had a lifelong relationship (I Pet. 5:13). John Mark’s “Gospel” account is widely accepted to be the apostle Peter’s witness, just by his hand.
Then, as Paul and Barnabas are sent out from Antioch, John Mark travels with them as a helper (Acts 13:5). He does so, however, for a very short time (13:13). Scripture is silent as to why John Mark left Paul and Barnabas; and it would be foolish to offer speculation. Paul, according to Luke, considers John Marks departure desertion (Acts 15:38); a rather serious accusation.
As Luke records, “And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose ta sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:36-41).
Can you imagine the anger here? Among brethren? Paul and Barnabas? It happened. For many years, before and after the dispute, there must have been tension. Until, grace changed them.
While we do not see the reconciliation between Paul and Barnabas, it is undoubtedly there. Especially with evidence of Paul’s reconciliation with … John Mark.
We find a general time period of about eleven years before John Mark reappears in the biblical record. He is mentioned by Paul in Colossians 4:10-11, and Philemon 1:24, as he is with Paul. The very one that caused the uproar. The one Paul refused to travel with, was with him once again.
Here is Paul’s words to another disciple, Timothy, “Luke is the only one with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (II Tim. 4:11). This is, perhaps overlooked, a warm and rather glowing remark: John Mark is useful to him.
In his youth, John Mark deserted Paul. Now, with time and maturity, grace and love, he endeavours to to travel from Ephesus to Rome, to be with Paul.
Did Peter have John Mark, Paul and Barnabas in mind, when perhaps Mark wrote these words for him, “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins” (I Pet. 4:8)?
Yes, Luke records a bitter split between brethren; but the Holy Spirit led, and then recorded their reconciliation as well.
When we put flesh and blood on the names we read in Scripture, acknowledging their struggles and victories, we recognize that in our own situations of dispute, and division, the hope of forgiveness and reconciliation in Messiah is present.
Paul, even as the apostle, was far from perfect, as he let the sun go down on his anger, and his friend sail away; but he gives us a perfect example of what happens when Christ takes center stage in your life.
Keep pressing in beloved, and trust in the One through whom all things are possible.
Be well. Shalom.