Acts 13:13; 15:38, 39
The four gospels furnish a narrative of the acts of the
Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Acts of the Apostles, we have a narrative of the
acts of God the Holy Spirit who came down on the day of Pentecost, and has been
labouring here ever since. The Lord Jesus acted in his own immediate Person.
The Holy Spirit acted in the Apostles and others, and in this way, we have
frequently to bear in mind, as we pass along the inspired missionary record,
the infirmity and failure of the various instruments who, though used of God,
were in themselves feeble men. Besides, we not only have to take into account
the infirmity of man, but also the hostile influence of surrounding
circumstances, as used of Satan, for the purpose of hindering the work, and
cramping and ensnaring the workmen. Thus, the study of the Acts is most
interesting and practical. In it, we have men and things, localities and their
influences looked at, and presented by the Holy Spirit, with direct reference
to the great work which He was at that time, and still is, carrying on.
At the close of Acts 12, we read, "And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark." In the next chapter we find this same John Mark accompanying Paul and Barnabas on a mission, and continuing with them during their sojourn in the island of Cyprus. However, on leaving there and proceeding "to Perga in Pamphylia," we read that "John departing from them returned to Jerusalem" (ch.13:13). Home influences as well as religious privileges would no doubt attract the heart of John Mark and induce him to abandon the difficult path of missionary labor. In ch.12 we read of "the house of Mary, the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying."
Here we have two things; The power of natural affection, and the rare spiritual attraction of Christian fellowship. Need we wonder that John Mark vastly preferred a prayer meeting at his mother's house in Jerusalem, to the hardships of a mission in Pamphylia or Pisidia? Ah! my dear reader, the heart is but too well able to understand the preference. There was a vast difference between a comfortable home, regular habits, a mother's love and care, the peaceful charms of well-ordered domestic life, and all the roughness, severity and hardship of a precarious missionary tour. Furthermore, there was a striking contrast between an assembly of loving and united Christian friends gathered for prayer, in the city of Jerusalem, and a synagogue of bigoted Jews at Antioch, or a fickel mob at Lystra.
However, the judgment we form of the actings of John Mark will entirely depend on the point of view from which we contemplate them. In the judgment of mere nature, in its amiability or even in its religiousness, there was nothing reprehensible; but in the judgment of a well girt, single-eyed servant of Christ, he was all wrong. It is very evident that Barnabas and Paul looked at Mark's conduct from these opposite points. A passage in Acts 15 proves this very clearly. "And after some days, Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with them John whose surname was Mark. But Paul though not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus." Thus we see that Mark, by yielding to the attractive influences of his home at Jerusalem, not only abandoned the work but also snapped the link between two workmen.
But who was in the right, Paul or Barnabas? The sequel answers "Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches." We hear nothing of Barnabas being recommended to the grace of God, or of his confirming the churches. In fact, his name never again appears in the inspired missionary record. He took his nephew (Col.4:10) with him, and sailed to Cyprus where, upon his first starting on the Christian course, he had sold his land (Acts 4:36). All this is full of meaning -- full of deep and solemn instruction -- replete with salutary warning for every one who desires to pursue a path of thorough devotedness to Christ and His service. The voice which it utters is distinctly this -- "Beware how you allow home influences, nature's soft and enervating attractions, or even spiritual advantages, to draw you off from the stern realities of active labour in the Lord's harvest field. Jerusalem and Cyprus had charms for John Mark and his uncle Barnabas -- charms sufficiently powerful to allure them from the side of that ever earnest, ever harnessed, workman Paul.
But some may say, "Could not Barnabas and Mark serve the Lord at Jerusalem or Cyprus as well as at Perga or Antioch? Assuredly. Paul himself, as we know, served in both these places. But was it the service of Christ that led Mark back to Jerusalem, or Barnabas back to Cyprus? This is the question. Let the spiritual reader answer it, in the light of the Acts of the Apostles. One thing is plain they both travelled out of the current of the Spirit's action, and their names never again appear in the inspired annals of missionary labour. True, they were both children of God and servants of Christ. Barnabas "was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith;" and as to Mark, we find some touching allusions to him in Paul's epistles, which would warrant the conclusion that he had somewhat regained his place in the Apostle's heart. "Aristarchus, my fellow-prisoner, saluteth you, and Marcus, sister's son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments,) if he come unto you, receive him" (Col.4:10). And again, "Take Mark, and bring him with thee, for he is profitable unto me for the ministry" (2 Tim.4:11).
It is also well worthy of notice that the Holy Spirit should have selected Mark as His instrument to write that Gospel which so especially presents Christ as the true Workman -- the faithful Minister -- the self-denying Servant -- the One whom no influence whatever could move a single hair's breadth from the straight line of devotedness to God and His work. Doubtless a more enlarged communion with that only perfect Servant had rendered Mark "profitable for the ministry," so that Paul could say to his devoted son Timothy, "Take Mark, and bring him with thee." Lovely picture! Precious fruit of divine grace on all sides! The Lord had raised up Timothy to be a faithful yokefellow for Paul, when both Mark and Barnabas had forsaken him, and now Timothy is commanded to take this Mark and bring him to Paul, as a profitable help in the ministry. Such are the marvellous ways of grace!
Oh, for deeper and more abiding communion with the blessed Master! May we live near to Him! May we drink into His spirit and walk in His footsteps! Then shall we be raised above every influence that would tend to withdraw us from His service, whether that influence arise from Jerusalem or Cyprus. May we be enabled, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to gird on the harness, and go forth in wholehearted devotedness to Christ and His cause! The Lord, in His great mercy, grant it! May we be "profitable for the ministry," in some small degree! Let us aim at a higher character of devotedness than ever we have exhibited. The Lord is worthy of the supreme place in our heart's affections. If therefore, His service calls us to endure hardness or roughness, privation or trial, let us not sigh after the attractions of Jerusalem or Cyprus. Let neither nature nor earth entangle us, but may our language ever be --
"Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my heart, my life, my all."
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