Persecution, Prison and Proclamation #5.

  • 1 August 2021
  • Stuart Robinson

Acts 15:36-16:5

As we are in that season, let me begin with a true Olympic story:

It was Monday night, August 3, at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

At the track and field stadium, the gun sounded for the 400 metre semifinals.

It was Monday night, August 3, at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

At the track and field stadium, the gun sounded for the 400 metre semifinals.

About 100 metres into the race, the British gold medal hope, Derek Redmond crumpled to the ground with a torn right hamstring.

Medical attendants rushed out to assist him, but as they approached Redmond, he waved them all aside, struggled to his feet and hopped, in agony, in a desperate effort to finish the race.

Now up in the stands, a fellow wearing a T-shirt, running shoes, and a baseball cap, pushed his way through the crowd – hurled the security guards to one side, leapt onto the track and drew alongside Redmond.

The man was Jim Redmond, Derek’s father.

In barely a whisper, Redmond said, “come on son, let’s do this together.”

Derek placed an arm around his dad’s strong neck and shoulders and Jim wrapped an arm around Derek’s waist and as the crowds stood, and cheered, and wept, father and son completed the slowest ‘400’ in history”.

[Source: Strong to the finish, Christianity Today, Craig Brian Larson, May/June 1998].

Now, it may not appear immediately obvious, but the church is a little like that father and son – that is, a group of people who love each other, with the same goal in view – and that is to complete to race, supporting, upholding, encouraging, bearing with one another, as they oftentimesshakily approach the finish line.

I love the way the writer to the Hebrews puts it:

“Let us not give meeting together as some are in the habit of doing but let us encourage one another – and let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds”. Hebrews 10:25, 24.

The emphasis in those verses is on fellowship, on working side by side for the advance of the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

And we’ve been seeing exactly that in our homilies from the book of Acts this past month; God’s people working together in adversity and joy, for the advance of the gospel.

But sometimes (at least from our perspective), it goes a little ‘pear shaped’!

Let us call it the ‘John-Mark’ factor.

Here’s what I mean:

Mark, or John-Mark, was a young man from Jerusalem – we first meet him in Acts 12:12, 25; “when Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark”.

John-Mark’s cousin Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), was one of the key players in the early church.

Barnabas was, as you know, a man of great faith and under God, used his personal resources to grow the church.

Acts 4:36 reminds us that it was Barnabas who sold his landholdings and gave all the money to the Apostles to assist with mission and ministry.

Barnabas sees the potential in young Mark.

With St. Paul, Barnabas and John-Mark set out on a missionary journey from Jerusalem to Cyprus.

Now, we don’t have all the details but for some reason, Mark didn’t “cut it”.

Apparently, he fled back to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13) – and Paul judging this to be a sign of weakness, refused to work with him again.

When Barnabas suggested that Mark be on the team for the next outreach event, Paul was furious.

In Acts 15: 39 we read, “Paul and Barnabas had such a sharp disagreement [over Mark’s involvement] that they parted company”.

Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus, and Paul chose Silas and went elsewhere.

It is a very painful chapter in the life of the early church.

Two key leaders in conflict over an ‘apprentice’.

So, who was right?

Well, history records that Barnabas appears to have been a good judge of character.

Mark had his frailties (Mark himself, in the gospel he wrote, speaks of his own fleeing in terror when Jesus was arrested [Mark 14:51]), but Barnabas was willing to back him.

Like that father upholding the son in the 400-metre footrace, Barnabas upheld, and supported, and mentored young Mark.

So effective was Barnabas’ training that both Paul and Peter (the leaders of the early church) some ten years (or so) later both refer to Mark’s ministry in glowing terms.

Peter (in I Peter 5:13) speaks endearingly of Mark as “my son Mark”, and Paul (in II Timothy 4:11) says, “Go and find Mark and bring him with you, because he is so helpful to me in my ministry.”

And in Philemon (in v.22), Paul makes fond reference to Mark – one of his fellow workers in Rome.

In addition, it was John-Mark, as I noted, who compiled the Gospel of St. Mark.

It was probably the first of the gospels; a document that has been used of God to change the lives of millions and millions of people.

Tradition says it was Mark who then went on to first plant the church in Egypt.

So, Barnabas doesn’t give up on his young cousin, John-Mark.

He continues in encouraging him and in giving him opportunities for the gospel.

Though Mark may have failed, Barnabas did not treat him as a failure.

He picked him up, and he gave Mark a second chance.

Now, does all that sound familiar; this ‘John-Mark factor?’

Well, it should!

For that is exactly how God deals with us.

Yes, we stumble, and we sin, and God – through Christ’s finished work, restores and renews us.

When we confess our sin, God forgives us, and cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8,9).

And it is incumbent upon all of us to lovingly and graciously uphold and care for one-another…especially as together we weather this current season of global anxiety and grief.

To this end, let me leave you with the COVID-19 version of Hebrews 10:25 and 24.

Let us not give meeting together on Zoom and Skype as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another via text messages, letters, phone calls, FISH news, cards and virtual breakfasts and after dinner virtual drinks – and let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds through Community News, Little Sheep videos, our website, social media, tweets, and breakout rooms after online church.

In the name of Christ.


Latest Sermons