Commissioned by the church in Antioch, Barnabas and Saul set out on the first missionary journey travelling to the Island of Cyprus and then on to what is called Turkey today. In the first century it was known as the regions of Pamphylia and Galatia. They didn’t travel alone but took along an “assistant,” John Mark (Acts 13:5).
John Mark was the cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), and closely associated with Peter. In his first epistle, Peter referred to Mark as “my son” (I Peter 5:13). When Mark wrote the Gospel that bears his name, he must have depended upon Peter for much of the eye-witness information.
It is likely that Mark was present in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested. “They all deserted him and ran away. Now a certain young man, wearing nothing but a linen cloth, was following him. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth behind and ran away naked” (Mark 14:50–52, CSB). I’m betting that the unnamed man is no other than the author, and therefore that Mark is the first and only Biblical streaker since Adam and Eve. Hum?
Back to the story of the first missionary journey. Barnabas and Saul spent profitable time on the Island of Cyprus, and then sailed north into Asia. “Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia” (Acts 13:13, CSB). It was then that the missionary’s young assistant abandoned the team. He “left them and went back to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13, CSB).
Was he intimidated by the prospect of the dangerous trek across the Taurus mountains to reach Antioch? Was he angered that Paul was assuming more and more authority and forcing his cousin Barnabas to a lesser role? Did he contract malaria? All of these have been suggested; none can be substantiated. Luke was silent on the reason for Mark’s departure.
Paul and Barnabas journeyed on without him, completing the Gospel expedition and planting churches throughout a large Roman territory. Finished, they returned to Antioch, their supporting and sending church.
“After some time had passed, Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let’s go back and visit the brothers and sisters in every town where we have preached the word of the Lord and see how they’re doing.’ Barnabas wanted to take along John who was called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone on with them to the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas”
(Acts 15:36–40, CSB).
For a moment, ignore the disagreement between the missionaries and particularly Paul’s response. If you will, ignore the familial relationship between Barnabas and Mark. Consider only the inclusive, compassionate, encouraging actions of Barnabas toward Mark. Barnabas looked past another man’s faults and failure to see his God-given potential. True to the Marine’s motto, Barnabas was faithful to “leave no man behind!” That’s encouraging.