Has anyone ever let you down?  You had been counting on someone to do something for you or to follow through with what they had agreed to do, but they did not.  You might feel angry at that person, disappointed in their behavior, or even feel a little betrayed.  You have been let down.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† What do you do when someone lets you down?¬† Often, we will not allow ourselves to be put into a position of trusting that person again to follow through on their commitments.¬† There is an adage, ‚ÄúFool me one, shame on you.¬† Fool me twice, shame on me.‚Ä̬† We tend to protect ourselves from being disappointed twice.

          It is hard for a stranger to disappoint us because we generally do not place a great deal of trust in a stranger.  But we do place trust in those who are close to us such as in our family or our church family.  So, what are we supposed to do when that disappointment comes from someone in our own church family?  It is dealing with disappointment from a fellow believer that confronts us in today’s New Testament passage from the Book of Acts.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Luke shared with us that Paul and Barnabas had returned to Antioch from their trip to Cyprus and Galatia.¬† After a bit of time, Paul and Barnabas travelled to Jerusalem to meet with the other apostles to talk about a dispute that had arisen as to whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised to be saved.¬† Simon Peter was at this meeting as was James, the brother of Jesus.¬† Luke reported that at this meeting, ‚Äú12¬†The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders¬†God had done among the Gentiles through them‚ÄĚ (Acts 15:12). When the meeting was over, the apostles and elders issued a letter communicating their decision to accept the Gentiles without conditions to be part of the church.¬† The church, it seems, settled its differences presumably in a manner that satisfied everyone.¬† At least, this is how Luke saw the meeting.

Paul, on the other hand, had a more biting assessment of the reason for the meeting and its outcome.¬† Paul, in the letter to the Galatians said, ‚Äú4¬†This matter arose because some false believers¬†had infiltrated our ranks to spy on¬†the freedom¬†we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.¬†5¬†We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel¬†might be preserved for you.¬† 6¬†As for those who were held in high esteem‚ÄĒwhatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism‚ÄĒthey added nothing to my message.¬†7¬†On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task¬†of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised,¬†just as Peter¬†had been to the circumcised.¬†8¬†For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle¬†to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle¬†to the Gentiles.¬†9¬†James,¬†Cephas¬†and John, those esteemed as pillars,¬†gave me and Barnabas¬†the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me.¬†They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles,¬†and they to the circumcised.¬†10¬†All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor,¬†the very thing I had been eager to do all along‚ÄĚ (Galatians 2:4-10).¬† Paul felt people from Jerusalem had interfered with his missionary approach to the Gentiles and sought to require the Jews to adopt the practice of circumcision to be part of the church.¬† After argument within the church, the decision was made circumcision was not required.

The leaders of the church then wrote a letter saying,¬†‚Äú24¬†We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said.¬†25¬†So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul‚ÄĒ¬†26¬†men who have risked their lives¬†for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.¬†27¬†Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas¬†to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing.¬†28¬†It seemed good to the Holy Spirit¬†and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:¬†29¬†You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.¬†You will do well to avoid these things.‚ÄĚ (Acts 15:24-29).¬† ¬†

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† But.¬† There is always a but.¬† But, ‚Äú36¬†Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‚ÄėLet us go back and visit the believers in all the towns¬†where we preached the word of the Lord¬†and see how they are doing.‚Äô¬†37¬†Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark,¬†with them,¬†38¬†but Paul did not think it wise to take him [John], because he had deserted them¬†in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.¬†39¬†They [Saul and Barnabas] had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus,¬†40¬†but Paul chose Silas¬†and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.¬†41¬†He [Paul] went through Syria¬†and Cilicia,¬†strengthening the churches‚ÄĚ (Acts 15:36-41).¬† Huh.¬†What happened here?¬† The two, seemingly inseparable evangelists Barnabas and Saul/Paul who together had faced a sorcerer and hostile crowds on the mission field had a sharp disagreement.¬† So sharp was their argument that Paul and Barnabas concluded that it would be better that they go their own ways and they part company.¬†What on earth happened here?

          Let’s go back a bit and see if we can fill in the story a little more.  A couple of weeks ago, we spoke about the first missionary trip from Antioch to Cyprus by Barnabas, Saul, and John.  Why Cyprus and why John?

Why Cyprus? Cyprus was the hometown island of Barnabas.  Barnabas knew the island well and no doubt had family and contacts on the island (Acts 4:36).  It would be a good place to start the missionary journey.

Why John who is sometimes called John Mark and sometimes called Mark?  Paul would reveal to us in his later letter, Colossians, that John, John Mark, Mark was Barnabas’ cousin (Colossians 4:10).  Barnabas, ever the encourager, wanted to bring his younger cousin with him to Cyprus to develop him into an evangelist.  That seems to make sense.  But John, John Mark, Mark had some other important connections.  Let’s look at those other connections. 

Earlier in the Book of Acts, we would find that James, an apostle of Jesus, was arrested by King Herod and executed.¬† The execution of James pleased the Jews and so King Herod arrested Simon Peter, apostle of Jesus.¬† Peter, in prison and chained between two guards, was miraculously freed from prison by an angel.¬† Once out of the prison, we would learn that Peter, ‚ÄúWent to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark,¬†where many people had gathered and were praying‚ÄĚ (Acts 12:12).¬† Peter, freshly released from prison, sought refuge in the home of very close friends, Mary and John, Mark, John Mark.¬† So this cousin of Barnabas was also a well known friend of Simon Peter.¬†As the years developed, we would find that the relationship between Simon Peter and Mark, John Mark, John was very close.¬† In Peter‚Äôs first letter, Peter refers to Mark as his son (1 Peter 5:13), meaning a spiritual son to Peter.¬† It would make sense then that this cousin of Barnabas and close friend of Simon Peter would benefit from accompanying Barnabas and Saul on their first missionary trip to Cyprus.¬† We can understand this arrangement.¬† In a church environment we want to encourage younger members to become involved in mission trips or other ministries to broaden their experiences.¬† So, this young man was included on the first missionary trip to Cyprus.

A couple of weeks ago, we read in Acts, Chapter 13, how Barnabas, Saul, and John, John Mark, Mark travelled the whole island of Cyprus bringing the good news of Jesus.¬† Then in Paphos the three met with the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus to share God‚Äôs word with him, a Gentile.¬† There the three also encountered the Jewish sorcerer, Bar-Jesus, also known as Elymas, the child of the devil.¬† It was there that Paul condemned and made Elymas temporarily blind.¬† In view of the actions and testimony of Paul and Barnabas, Sergius Paulus believed in Jesus.¬† Luke then wrote, ‚Äú13¬†From Paphos,¬†Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia,¬†where John¬†left them to return to Jerusalem‚ÄĚ (Acts 13:13).

And there you see the first indicator of being let down.  As soon as the group had left Cyprus and made landfall in Pamphylia, John, John Mark, Mark left them, left Paul.  For whatever reason, this young man was uncomfortable continuing under Paul. Instead, the young man returned to Jerusalem. 

Why did John, John Mark, Mark leave the group?  We are not told the reason, but it could have been related to Paul’s behavior toward the Gentiles, and particularly an association with a Roman official.  Whatever the reason, we can discern from our reading today that Paul considered the young man’s departure an act of betrayal, an extreme disappointment to Paul.   

Luke recorded for us in today‚Äôs reading that Paul suggested he and Barnabas return to Cyprus and other lands to strengthen the churches.¬† Barnabas wanted to include John.¬† But Paul told Barnabas that, ‚Äú38¬†He [Paul] did not think it wise to take him [John, John Mark, Mark], because he had deserted them¬†in Pamphylia‚ÄĚ (Acts 15:38).¬† In Paul‚Äôs view, John, John Mark, Mark had broken fellowship with Paul as soon as they landed from Cyprus.¬† Did Paul consider John, John Mark, Mark one of those who had infiltrated the ranks to spy on him and report back to Jerusalem?¬† We do not know.¬† But what we do know is that Barnabas and Paul were so sharply in disagreement on this young man that Paul would not accompany Barnabas on the trip Paul had suggested.

This is a painful scene because it shows a fraying of the fabric of the church and does not appear to have any sort of positive ending.  Unfortunately, there are many of you here today who can relate to this story because you have had a dispute, a serious disappointment, or a sense of being let down by a member of the church.  In that dispute, your fellowship with that other person may not have survived.  You may be here because that dispute led you to seek another church.  It is painful when distrust comes into the church and the account here that Luke offers does not seem to show us the better way to resolving and reconciling our differences.  When we hear about sharp disagreement between believers it is very easy for us to think about who is wrong in this situation.  We might think Paul was wrong and Barnabas was right or that Barnabas was wrong on insisting that John accompany them.

Was there anything in Luke’s account of this dispute that is helpful to us?  The answer is yes.  Even though Barnabas and Paul parted company, neither one of them parted company with the mission that held them together.  Rather than Barnabas or Paul quitting or giving up, they agreed that the time had come for two missionary trips instead of one.  These two men of great faith did not allow their egos or anger interrupt God’s plan to share the good news.  And so, Barnabas and John, John Mark, Mark left to retrace their steps in Cyprus so that they could strengthen the churches they had founded on the original trip.  Meanwhile, Paul and Silas left to start in churches found on the mainland and move the missionary message out to new locales.  Instead of collapsing God’s plan over a dispute, the missionary outreach doubled.

What else might we say about this situation with Barnabas, Paul, and John, John Mark, Mark?  First, in Scripture, we never hear about Barnabas again. Church legend says that on Cyprus, Barnabas was confronted by Jewish sorcerer.  The sorcerer stirred up the people against Barnabas and before a magistrate could be summoned to hear the charges against Barnabas, the crowds put a rope around Barnabas’ neck, dragged him out of the city, and burned him to death.  Second, we hear a lot about Paul.  We will continue to talk about Paul in the weeks ahead. And third what do we learn about John, John Mark, Mark?  This young man was mentored by Barnabas until Barnabas’ murder and this young man remained a close associate of Peter.  This young man would be credited with writing the Gospel of Mark.

But more than being mentored by Barnabas and being a spiritual son of Peter, we find in Scripture that the life of this young man and that of Paul would intersect again.¬† Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, wrote this in the closing paragraph of his letter, ‚Äú10¬†My fellow prisoner Aristarchus¬†sends you his greetings, as does Mark,¬†the cousin of Barnabas.¬†(You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.)‚ÄĚ (Colossians 4:10).¬† Oh, my goodness.¬† Paul, who accused Mark, John Mark, John of disloyalty in leaving the missionary trip was now acknowledging that this same man was a co-worker in ministry.

We see Paul acknowledge this same young man in a letter to Philemon.¬† As Paul closed that letter, Paul said, ‚Äú23¬†Epaphras,¬†my fellow prisoner¬†in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings.¬†24¬†And so do Mark,¬†Aristarchus,¬†Demas¬†and Luke, my fellow workers‚ÄĚ (Phil 23).¬† Mark, John Mark, John had become a co-worker of Paul.

Finally, in a letter to Timothy, Paul gave this instruction to Timothy, ‚Äú11¬†Only Luke¬†is with me.¬†Get Mark¬†and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry‚ÄĚ (2 Timothy 4:11).¬† Paul had come to see Mark as a helpful co-worker in bring the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles.¬† This Mark was the same man that Paul had refused Barnabas‚Äô request to join them in going back to Cyprus.¬† The very same man that caused Barnabas part company.

If we avoid the temptation to use this additional information about the Barnabas, Paul, John, John Mark, Mark story to fix blame for the sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas, what might we learn?  I think there are two things I want to conclude with.

First, Paul was right but not about differing with Barnabas.  Paul was right when he wrote to the church at Corinth that we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and we have received the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19).  We see here that it is never too late for two believers, in this case Paul and John, Mark to reconcile with each other.  If we have separated from another believer, then we should do everything possible to keep the door open to forgiveness and reconciliation and look for the opportunity to reconcile.

Second, our mistakes and misjudgments do not have to define our future.  We can and will make mistakes in our life but that does not mean we are excluded from an abundant life in Christ.  Peter denied Jesus three times and he wept bitterly for his denial believing that he had made an unresolvable mistake.  But Jesus forgave Peter and restored him.  Thereafter, Peter became known for his faithfulness in sharing the good news of Christ.  Peter’s mistake did not define him for the remainder of his life.  Neither did the disagreement involving Paul and John, John Mark, Mark define either of their futures.  As we make mistakes, we must not let our mistakes define our future. We need to repent of our errors, seek forgiveness, repair what has been broken, and then keep moving forward on the mission God has given each of us. 

This is the good news story of what Barnabas, Paul, and John, John Mark, Mark did together as fellow believers in Jesus Christ to the glory of God.  Amen and Amen.