Sunday Morning Sermon — Acts 13:13 The Dearly Departed

3 Dec

          Every year, the list seems to grow. This year, we already have 13. I don’t think we’ve been under 10 in just about any year I’ve been here. Our dearly departed. We have loved them and on December 30 we will remember them in our morning worship service, all those who have passed away from our church family in 2012.

          It is hard to say goodbye to our brothers and sisters in Christ. It gets harder every year. But what is even more difficult to me is seeing people in the pews who are spiritually dying even while they live.

          To be sure, many here today are true believers in Jesus, but there are so many who are wounded and not in the path of walking with Jesus. My heart grieves for them because they are missing out on so much good. But I know that there are many things in life which can take us away from a real heart of faith in God and a deep trust in Him and an abiding joy in serving Him. Our own sinfulness can cloud our vision. Our struggles with sin can convince us that we are of no use to God and no good to anyone else. Family struggles can deeply discourage us. Divorce, a wayward child, caring for aging parents, all these and more can sap our spiritual strength. Our message today is on just one verse from Acts 13, but it is such a significant message, because I don’t want you to be one of the walking wounded. I don’t want you to be departed until you actually go to be with the Lord.

          There was a man in our text today who departed. There was another man who had to humble himself in order to keep going. I want to show you today the wonderful working of God in these things so that you can see today that even for you, there is hope. You can live again. Your life with God can thrive once again. Joyless church attendance and lifeless Bible reading and fearful silence at opportunity to share Jesus does not have to be your destiny. I hope by the end of this morning that you will be filled with hope and will walk again with Jesus.

13 Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem,

Notice the phrase, “Paul and his companions.” Paul is now clearly viewed as the leader. Barnabus is not even mentioned, whereas at the beginning of chapter 13 he was listed first among the leaders at the church in Antioch. A leadership shift has taken place. One reason for this is the great works and words of Paul that happened with Elymas and Sergius Paulus on the island of Cyprus. Paul may have been wired more as a natural leader as well. Though in some places in his letters he says he was unimpressive in person, it is clear from reading the New Testament that he was a driven, determined servant of God. Whereas Barnabus was the son of encouragement, Paul was the trailblazing gospel-proclaimer.

God wonderfully uses diverse personalities and giftings for His work. The church would be miserable if it were composed only of Paul-like people and it would be miserable if populated only by Barnabus-like characters. We need both types of people for ministry and for life together. Where we get into trouble is when we are quick to judge someone not because they believe differently than we, but because they have a different personality or different giftings or somewhat different passions than we. All of us should be passionate about the good news of Jesus and sharing it with others but we all may express that in different ways or have different types of people we are called to reach. For Paul, God’s plan was for him to take the gospel to the world and to the Gentiles. Other early church leaders like James and Peter, had a ministry that was more focused on the Jews and centered in Jerusalem. For you it may be your neighbors. Or you may be drawn to foreign missions. Or you may be focused on ministering to widows or children or teenagers or college students or young mothers. Whatever the case, be careful not to judge another person’s ministry. God may not be calling them to the same thing you are doing. That’s OK. God uses a variety of gifts to minister His grace.

I am again struck by the team aspect of ministry here. It is only as these men ministered together that their gifts could be fully displayed. Paul by himself would simply not have been as effective. But with Barnabus alongside, great ministry took place.

I also see in this verse something happening behind the scenes. It started on Cyprus but it is even more clear here. Barnabus is no longer the leader. In spite of this, though, there is no hint in this passage of envy, no hint of jealousy. Yes, in a couple of chapters Paul and Barnabus will stop ministering together and go their separate ways, but even there both carry on with their ministries and God uses them both. What I see here is the great heart of a servant in Barnabus. He is willing to no longer be thought of as the head man. He is willing to take a lesser role in order for the ministry to be most effective.

Sometimes in church life we can become driven by power. Pastors can be very guilty of this but even church members can have this trait. Sometimes we are in leadership in a certain area and then things change and it becomes more effective to go in a different direction or have a different person in leadership and we hold on. Many pastors hold on in order to get a paycheck or in order to feel like they are in charge and it damages the ministry of the church. We need to all make sure that we aren’t holding onto to places of ministry for selfish reasons. If God is working changes, we need to humble ourselves and take secondary positions so that the work of God can flourish.

So Paul and his companions, including the servant-hearted Barnabus, left Cyprus and the capital city of Paphos where God has won a great victory through them in the conversion of Sergius Paulus, and they sailed to the city of Perga in modern day Turkey, almost due north of Paphos, a little over 100 miles away. Perga was in the region of Pamphylia. Perga was a port city about 8 miles inland. Boats reached it by floating up river into a harbor.

Having experienced Satanic opposition in Paphos, now they face another trial. John Mark, their co-worker and Barnabus’ cousin, leaves Paul and Barnabus after they arrive at Perga and heads back to Jerusalem.

We don’t know why John Mark left the work. The Greek word here simply means to depart, though the word used in chapter 15 to describe Mark’s leaving carries with it the idea of desertion. Somehow, Mark was no longer up to the task. Maybe it was a physical ailment. Maybe he was overwhelmed by the spiritual battle they were facing. Maybe he was simply homesick and not ready to face other cultures and go into the pagan Gentile world of Asia Minor. Perhaps he was uncomfortable with the leadership change that had taken place with Paul and Barnabus. Maybe it was a mixture of these things. We just don’t know. But something caused him to leave.

It is hard to lose people we love as co-workers in the ministry. I hate to see people leave the church. It happens for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes there are different perspectives on things and people just don’t see eye to eye. There are people who will leave because they are looking for a perfect church and no church is perfect. And there are others who will leave at the first excuse because they don’t have a strong heart for God. Sometimes people leave for because ministries they value highly are not valued as highly in the church as they might wish. Or sometimes people receive other opportunities for ministry and people leave. This is usually a cause for rejoicing. Sadly, sometimes people leave over personal conflict with others. That is always so sad and I just hate to see it when it happens. And I don’t ever want to be the cause of that and I always want to work with people to see that there conflicts can be resolved. If you are ever troubled by something, if there is a conflict between you and I that is unresolved, come talk to me. My door is always open when you have a problem or a need. I may be unaware of your problem. I can promise you that I will listen and try to help you find a solution. And let me encourage you to do the same with each other. I know it is not comfortable to do this, but it is right. There should not be disunity and dissension among us. There will be disagreements, but these need not fester into judgment and condemnation and distance and lack of love. If you have been offended by someone and you are struggling to forgive them, you need to go to them and make it known. Don’t live in silent seething. It is bad for you physically and spiritually. I urge you that if you ever have to leave this place, don’t let it be for petty reasons.

There is one more truth I want to highlight in this verse today . . . your past does not guarantee your future. John Mark left Paul and Barnabus. He went back home to Jerusalem. Many people would think, “Oh, he’s through.” He couldn’t hack it out there in ministry, put him on the shelf. But good old cousin Barnabus, the son of encouragement, the generous giver in Acts chapter 4, the church leader in Antioch in the beginning of Acts 13, the humble servant leader, when he parts ways from Paul in Acts 15, who does he go get to join him in ministry? John Mark. Isn’t that beautiful? And do you know what is really neat? Again we don’t know why Mark left in the first place but I find it fascinating that when he rejoined Barnabus in ministry the first thing Barnabus did was sail with Mark right back to Cyprus. Barnabus once again took Mark over the waters, once again into the place where they had faced tough spiritual opposition and seen great victory. And do you know what happened in the long term? This young man who turned back ended up becoming a great minister of the gospel. Yes, he is never mentioned on the front lines of missions as taking a role like Paul, but he was always serving. It seems he was more like his cousin Barnabus. But just look with me for a minute at what the rest of the New Testament says about him . . .

First, we find that though Paul at first would not go with Mark into ministry because of his desertion at Pamphylia, later in his ministry he comes to view Mark as a trusted co-worker in the gospel. As we see in the closing greetings of Colossians.

Colossians 4:10 Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, as does Mark,  Barnabas’ cousin (concerning whom you have received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him),

And in the letter to Philemon, Paul mentions Mark as one of his coworkers.

Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, and so do 24 Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my coworkers.

And just in case we might be tempted to wonder whether Mark held on in ministry, we find Paul right at the end of his life in 2 Timothy 4 saying, 

Make every effort to come to me soon,  10 for Demas  has deserted me,  because he loved this present world, and has gone to Thessalonica.  Crescens has gone to Galatia,  Titus  to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke  is with me. Bring Mark  with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry.

 Paul would face the bitterness of abandonment many times in his ministry. Here in 2 Timothy 4 it is Demas, who was mentioned in the Philemon passage we read a moment ago. I was at a conference once when the well-known pastor John MacArthur was interviewed and he was asked what was the most difficult part of being in ministry. And his answer was the feeling of being betrayed or abandoned by fellow leaders in the church. Paul felt the sting of this kind of abandonment in 2 Timothy. Yet notice those wonderful words, Timothy, “Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry.” Oh, what a blessing. Paul, who earlier couldn’t stomach ministering with Mark, now welcomes him with open arms.

And not only does Paul welcome Mark, but Mark also has the privilege in his life of ministering with Peter.

Peter says in the closing of 1 Peter, The church in Babylon, also chosen, sends you greetings, as does Mark, my son. Most people think the Babylon spoken of here is Rome, and that the co-worker of Peter here is John Mark, the same man we have been looking at in Acts 13:13. Peter considered this man who once had left the mission as a beloved son. And early church history gives strong evidence that Peter shared with this man many details about the life of Jesus and that Mark wrote about the life of Jesus in what became known as the Gospel of Mark, one of the four great gospels of the life of Christ in our New Testament.

Mark had a wonderful life. But it all could have just died the moment he left Paul and Barnabus if not for the grace of God at work in his life and the encouragement of Barnabus to get back to God’s mission. What the world would have missed had Mark become discouraged and given up on being a follower of Jesus?

I’ve got to wonder if there are any John Mark’s here today? You’ve gotten discouraged and just about given up on following Jesus. You’re still here some on Sunday but it is really just going through the motions. I feel like it has got to be the case in a group of this size that there have to be a few here who have had an experience not unlike John Mark’s. You started in walking with Christ with a great zeal, but something happened. An illness, a death, a tragedy threw you off track. Someone disappointed you or you disappointed yourself with a moral failure and a fall into sin. And you’ve left the work of the gospel. And all the challenges of the past couple of weeks ring hollow to you because you are past your expiration date. You feel like you are no longer useful in ministry. Maybe you even feel like God has given up on you. Let me just say to you today, the gospel is good all the way home. If you have wandered or become fearful or been embroiled in a personal conflict and your life for God has been sapped away, there is a way home. God can still use you, whether you are 28 or 88. Your life is not over, there is still time to walk with God and live for Him. Get off the sidelines and get involved in knowing Him and making Him known.

And maybe today there are not only John Mark’s in the room, maybe there are also a few with the spirit of Barnabus. Maybe God is calling you to come alongside a wounded, discouraged brother or sister and gently point them to grace and walk with them in following Jesus. Some people maybe need to see that a friend won’t give up on them before they realize that God will not give up on them. Maybe God is calling you show the persevering love of a Barnabus today.

Whatever the case, as this service ends, don’t leave this place still discouraged and on the sidelines. God has something for you if you are His child. Some of you need to be involved in specific ministries as a way to share the gospel and your lives. There are some of you who are ideally suited to be involved in disaster relief ministries and other ministries of helps. Some of you men would find great joy and life and usefulness in God’s service through this kind of ministry. You need to go for it. Just because you aren’t a big reader or don’t use a lot of big theological words doesn’t mean God has set you aside. Some of you ladies can be a great encouragement to mothers of young children here. Others may be called to care for our elderly members. Still others may have a strong desire to share the gospel in our community. Find your fellow evangelists and go for it. Some of you know you need to be working with our children but you’ve made one excuse after another. Come away from the sidelines. I am sure in a group this size there are also some people who are called to the ministry of Barnabus and Paul, the ministry of foreign missions, taking the gospel to the unreached. Today, don’t harden your heart again and leave here having not faced where you are with God. Come to Him. Remember John Mark, remember Barnabus. There is encouragement and restoration for you when you turn away from self-pity and despondency and trust in the power of God to use you in joyful service. Don’t be a dearly departed one who is still sitting in the pews each week.

 

 

 

 

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