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A Deserter and a Sick Man

Acts  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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John Mark leaving the mission; Paul continues while physically ill

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The missionary team leaves Cyprus and sails northwest to Perga in Pamphylia, present day Turkey. Perga was 12 miles inland, between the Tarsus Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. They probably landed at Attalia and traveled by foot to Perga. Luke records only one detail about the stop, “John left them and went back to Jerusalem.” Then they continued on to Pisidian Antioch.
Let me point out 2 applications.

Be Ready for Relational Conflicts Within Your Ministry Team

Without his name even being mentioned, this verse pays the greatest of all tributes to Barnabas. So far, the order has always been Barnabas and Saul. It was Barnabas who set out as the leader of this expedition. But now it is Paul and Barnabas. Paul has assumed the leadership of the expedition; and the great thing about Barnabas is that from him there is o word of complaint. He was a man who would take his place, whatever it may be, as long as God’s work was done.
We don’t know why John Mark, left the team. Was he scared of the journey? Did he miss home (his mother’s house seems to be the center of the church in Jerusalem, and he must have been close to the center of the faith)? Did he protest the shift in leadership from Barnabas to Paul? Did he disagree with Paul’s Zeal to reach the Gentiles?
Luke simply says that Mark “left them.” He resurfaces later in the narrative when Barnabas tries to persuade Paul to take Mark on another trip. For a time Paul found it hard to forgive. Luke records Paul’s negative reaction to that suggestion ().
Based on this text, it seems that Mark abandoned the team. My guess is that it probably had to do with homesickness or fear. Originally he may have been enamored by the allure of travel, and since he was Barnabas’s cousin, he may have also had connections in Cyprus that made the trip sound appealing. But over time the shine of the trip began to fade - an experience you likely know something about if you have been on a lengthy mission trip. Belarus experience. Perhaps Mark was overcome by such feelings.
One thing is absolutely clear, the team was rocked by a relational conflict. we will experience them as well. And while such disputes are unfortunate distraction, it helps to remember that even Paul and Barnabas had them.
Conflict doesn’t have to end in failure. The good news about Mark is that he finished well. For a period of time Mark vanishes from history, although tradition says he went to Alexandria and Egypt and founded the church there. 20 years later he re-emerges as the man who has redeemed himself. After all, he ended up writing the Gospel bearing his name. Paul writing to the Colossians from prison in Rome, tells them to receive Mark if he comes to them. When Paul writes his last letter, he says, “Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry” (). That mention gives grace and restoration that had to follow what happened here in verse 13. At this point Paul wants nothing more to do with Mark. Later he will want Mark to visit him, commending him as useful.
So while you may have conflict on your team, rest assured that restoration can occur.

Be Ready for Physical Challenges as You Make the Gospel Known

One of the amazing things about Acts is the heroism that is passed over in a sentence. Luke’s brief mention of the team’s trip to Antioch in Pisidia makes no mention of the arduous nature of it. One commentary helps us imagine it;
Antioch lay some 100 miles to the north across the Taurus mountain range. The route was barren and often flooded by overrunning mountain streams, and notorious for its bandits, which even the Romans had difficulty bringing under control. Antioch itself was in the highlands, some 3600 feet above sea level (Polhill, Acts, p. 297).
Add to that the likelihood of some physical illness plaguing Paul and you have one extremely challenging venture.
Not long after this, Paul wrote a letter to the people in Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, we know it as the letter to the Galatians, all these towns were in the Roman province of Galatia. In , Paul says, “You know that it was because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you.”
So when he came to Galatia he was a sick man. Now Paul had what was described as a thorn in the flesh, which in spite of much prayer remained with him. Many guesses have been made as to what that thorn was (someone’s thoughts, a woman… I don’t think so).
The oldest tradition is Paul suffered from debilitation headaches. and the most likely explanation is that he was the victim of a virulent recurring malarial fever which was common on the low coastal strip of Asia Minor. The headache characteristic of this malaria was like a red-hot bar thrust through the forehead. It is likely that this malaria attacked Paul in low-lying Pamphylia and he had to make for the plateau country to help shake it off.
Notice that it never occured to him to turn back. Ministry is not for the faint of heart. If you ever imagine that pioneer evangelism and church planting are glamorous, read about some of Paul’s afflictions in .
Paul’s desire to reach the Gentiles reminds us of part of the reason we have so many unreached people in the world; they live in extreme, hard to access places. Geographically hard, culturally hard, or just dangerous violent places to Christians.
But here in we see an example of the type of grace-enabled endurance that must reside in the hearts of gospel centered, Spirit-empowered, Christ-exalting disciples.
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