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 Acts 12:25, 13:13, 15:36-41

We were flying across the Caribbean along the islands from Bahamas to Barbados. I was following the chart, trying to identify the islands looking out of the airplane window. The pilot came on the intercom and said, “We are now flying over San Salvador. This is the island that Columbus landed on when he was trying to find the new world.” And I looked out across the expanse of the ocean and tried to imagine those little ships sailing across from the other side of the sea. And I remembered the story that I had read in the book THE SOUTHERN VOYAGES how Columbus’s crew were afraid and wanted him to turn back and go home. Through much persuasion he got them to continue on for five more days. And he said, “If we do not find the new world within five days, we will turn back.” And they kept going on and on across the great expanse of ocean. On the fourth day, they saw land birds. And on that night, they could smell land. As the fifth day dawned, there in the distance was the island. They found it because they did not turn back.

It may be that you have come to this worship service this morning with the situation in your life that makes you want to turn back. Perhaps, as a youth, you are contemplating going on to college and you have counted the cost of what you want to do with your life. And it is so overpowering there is something within you that makes you want to turn back. Or perhaps you are in a marriage that is not as happy as you want it to be. And you remembered how the ship of your marriage left the dock and your friends came  to wish you bon voyage and you set out on the sea of marriage with all of the great hopes of wonder and discovery that was before you. And then the storms came, and the waves were high, and the ship of your marriage did not take the waves well. And you want to turn back to the calm to the safety of port. Maybe you have made a commitment to someone, or to some organization, or even perhaps to the church, and you are in that commitment now. Things are not going as you would hope they would and something within you makes you shrink from it and you want to turn back from that commitment. Or perhaps you have chosen a course for yourself, a vocation, and you are thinking about changing vocations simply because you are having some difficulty. Or perhaps you have become a Christian, you are new in Christ at the things that you have heard about Christians are now coming to bare upon your life. But you did not understand that it was so hard. You did not know that there would be severe spiritual opposition to you from Satan. You struggle in your spirit as you try to win the battle. And, as a young Christian, perhaps you are thinking of turning back from that commitment.

I want you to look with me at a young man who turned back. Perhaps from him we can gain the courage to deal with our situations. The background of the Scripture that we read is the excitement of the early church in Antioch in Syria. This is the church where believers were first called “Christians”. Barnabas was sent to Tarsus by the church to find Paul. Paul had spent 10 years preparing for the ministry to which Jesus had called him. This was 10 years of rethinking what his conversion meant – rethinking all of his theology about what God was like. There is a knock at his door and there is Barnabas. “Saul, I have come here, sent by the church at Antioch to find you and to bring you back with me to the church for we feel we need your services. The believers there are now called Christians.” You remember that this is the man who was once the persecutor of Christians who now goes with this gentle man back to Antioch to serve the Christians. For an entire year, they labor building the church. They were fasting and praying and during a time of worship something magnificent happened. The whole enterprise of foreign missions was born. Tremendous things happen in worship.

I can imagine that in this worship service this morning that some significant and tremendous things are happening in our hearts. The Holy Spirit said to the church, “I have placed my hand upon Barnabas and Saul for the cause of spreading Christianity over the entire area.” And the church laid their hands upon them giving them their blessings, and Barnabas and Saul were chosen as the first missionaries of the Christian church. They selected a young man by the name of John Mark to go with them.

John Mark was one of those privileged young men. He was at the very center of the life of the early church in Jerusalem. It is thought that it was in his home that the disciples had met in the upper room where they had the last supper. Also, it was in his home that they came back for that time so marvelous in their experience when on Easter day, the resurrected Lord appeared to them in the upper room. It was in his home again on the following Lord’s day evening that he appeared the second time. And it was there that the church was gathered at Pentecost and the mighty power of the Holy Spirit came and anointed the church.

John Mark was privileged to know Peter and all of the disciples. He was acquainted with the new church at Antioch, and was aware of all the spiritual dynamics that were taking place. So, when they set out on their first missionary journey, Barnabas and Saul chose this young man, John Mark, to go with them. Barnabas said, “I know him. He will do well serving with us.” So they set sail from Selucia and arrived on the island of Cyprus. After ministry there, they were ready to leave and go on to Perga and Pamphylia, which is now Turkey. “I don’t want to go – I want to go home” John Mark said. So, he turned back leaving the first mission team on the first journey and went back to Jerusalem.

There are some questions we need to ask when we want to quit, give up, and turn back. The first question is


We have to ask ourselves, “Is this God’s will for me?” When we come into the family of God there is a loyalty, a commitment, that we have to Him, and everything we do revolves around that commitment.

Jesus wrestled with this. See him in Gethsemane – see him  praying deep into the night, struggling with the cross, thinking of the glory of heaven that he had with the Father before the foundation of the world. Before him was the cross. He prayed, “Father not my will, but thy will be done.”

Life is often like splitting wood: every blow does a little bit. Sometimes we have to continue to hammer away when we don’t see any progress, but if we stay with it, it is that last final blow that splits the log. When we stay with something that is difficult and we keep hammering away, it’s like that final blow that will cause it to give way. “Am I being true to God? If I go back, if I turn back from my life’s purpose, if I turn back from this particular commitment, if I turn back from this relationship, if I go back, will I be true to God? Can I face Him again?

There is another question that we’ve got to ask ourselves and that is


John Mark needed to ask this about his cousin Barnabas. “Am I being true to the faith that Barnabas placed in me?” One of the reasons why John Mark turned back was the dominance of Paul. After the ministry on Cyprus, it was no longer Barnabas and Saul, it was now Paul and Barnabas. When they began the missionary journey, Barnabas was in charge. When they got into it, Paul became the dominant one. It might be that John Mark resented the change of leadership and he thought Paul was usurping authority over Barnabas. We do not know if this is true or not, but we do know that Mark’s leaving caused a rift between Paul and Barnabas. In acts 15:36 we read: “And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaim the word of the Lord and see how they are.’ And Barnabas was desirous of taking John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul Insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.”

The actions that we take have far reaching effects, especially when we pull back from the course that God has put us on. Our decisions affect the lives of other people and so we are prompted to ask, “Am I being true to others?” Barnabas and Paul never work together again after the first missionary journey. It is interesting that it was the decision of John Mark to leave them which caused this rift.

A third question that we have to ask ourselves is


Often, loyalty to ourselves is diminished in a situation where we have been untrue to God and to others. We are not true to the character that God has put within us. We are not being true to those powerful formations of faith that our church and family guided us in. Was John Mark afraid of something? Some interpreters think that he was afraid to go inland over the mountains for there were bands of robbers who overtake and kill them. Perhaps Mark had not caught the vision of spreading the gospel and could not fake it.

Perhaps you are thinking, “Pastor I see what you are saying. You are describing my situation, but I’ve already turned back. Is there a word for me?” Yes, there is. And from the situation of John Mark there are some truths that you and I can learn if we, like him, have turned back.

You can be redeemed by a recommitment. As you read the pages of the New Testament, John Mark disappears from the story for some 20 years. But I can imagine that he faces up to his mistake and attaches himself to Simon Peter and becomes very much involved in Peter’s ministry. You say, “How do you know that? He was a gifted writer and wrote the very first gospel. You say, “How do you know that he was associated with Peter?” Because the gospel of Mark was called by the early church THE GOSPEL OF PETER. This is because Peter supplied most of the content that John wrote. If you have already turned back you can redeem yourself and rediscover a usefulness to the kingdom where you can be used of God. Sometimes people feel that when they have failed, they can no longer be used of the Lord. You are a failure only if you keep on failing. You do not have to be a failure just because you have failed. I often think of what my sociology professor at Carson Newman College, Dr. Herbert J miles, said, “Young people, you’ve got to have stick-o-mithia - which means to stick with it.”

There is another truth – you can restore broken relationships. Barnabas and Paul never work together again, but their relationship was mended. Also, the relationship with Mark and Paul was restored. In Colossians 4:10, we read that Paul commends Mark to the church at Colossae. In 2 Timothy 4:11, which was the very last thing that Paul wrote while he was in prison, he said, “Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.”

Finally, there is a verse in the Old Testament that must have been a source of strength for Barnabas, Paul, and John Mark. It is Psalm 27:13-14 which says, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage. Yes, wait for the Lord.”


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