Barnabas & Mark

Scripture: Acts 15:36-40


Title: Barnabas & Mark


The term ‘big hearted’ describes someone who is:

–         Compassionate, generous, open, kind, gracious, encouraging & noble

–         Someone who is big hearted looks beyond the flaws in others to see their  potential – they accept people and make room for them


Please turn with me to Acts chapter 15, verse 36 – page 171 toward the back of your pew Bibles

–         This morning we continue our series on intergenerational relationships

–         An intergenerational relationship is one between people of different ages or generations

–         Next week Brian Gillies will conclude our sermon series by looking at the relationship between Jonathon’s son, Mephibosheth, and David

–         This morning’s focus though is Barnabas & Mark, two missionaries in the New Testament

–         Barnabas was Mark’s older ‘big hearted’ cousin

–         Although the young Mark made a false start, Barnabas gave him the grace and the courage to make a fresh start


From Acts 15, verse 36 we read…


36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in every town where we preached the word of the Lord, and let us find out how they are getting along.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them, 38 but Paul did not think it was right to take him, because he had not stayed with them to the end of their mission, but had turned back and left them in Pamphylia. 39 There was a sharp argument, and they separated: Barnabas took Mark and sailed off for Cyprus, 40 while Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the care of the Lord’s grace.


May the Spirit of Jesus give us understanding


Although the focus of today’s message is primarily the relationship between Barnabas and Mark we can’t we really talk about them without also mentioning the relationship between Barnabas & Paul and Peter & Mark

–         Intergenerational relationships don’t just happen in pairs – they often hold together within a network or a community


Barnabas and Paul had been friends and co-workers for a number of years

–         When Paul first became a Christian all the other believers were scared of him and wouldn’t accept him

–         You can’t blame them though; previously Paul (who was then known as Saul) had been persecuting Christians

–         So it was a bit suspicious having him turn up on their door step wanting to be friends – maybe it was a trick


Barnabas (who was full of the Holy Spirit and faith[1]) was big hearted enough to forgive the past

–         He trusted the Holy Spirit’s work in Paul’s life – that Paul’s conversion would stick and he acted as Paul’s advocate in that situation

–         Barnabas took Paul to the apostles and vouched that his conversion was genuine

–         Consequently Paul found acceptance among the other Christian believers


About eight years later, after Paul had returned to his home town of Tarsus and been all but forgotten, it was Barnabas who remembered Paul and went to Tarsus to enlist his help in teaching the new Gentile converts in Antioch

–         I’m not sure if there was any age difference between Barnabas and Paul but Barnabas had certainly been a Christian longer than Paul

–         Barnabas saw potential in Paul and sought to develop that potential

–         If it had not been for Barnabas, Paul may not have had such an influence in spreading the gospel


After a year or so of ministering together in Antioch, Paul & Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem to deliver a monetary offering for the believers there

–         While in Jerusalem they met Barnabas’ cousin , John Mark

–         The church in Jerusalem met in Mark’s mother’s house – so Mark would have had a strong Christian network

–         Many of the original disciples, people like Peter, James & John, would have gathered in his home for worship services


Barnabas & Paul took John Mark back to Antioch with them [2]

–         Then, sometime later, when the Holy Spirit sent Barnabas and Paul out on their first missionary journey together they decided to take John Mark with them as their helper [3]

–         But for reasons unknown to us Mark didn’t complete the journey – he gave up part way through

–         Sometimes when we are young we bite off more than we can chew or we simply mess up and make a false start

–         Those of us who are older need to be careful not to place so much hope or expectation on our young people that we are devastated when they slip or fail

–         Our young people are still learning and growing as we are all learning & growing

–         On the one hand young people need to be allowed to take some risks but we shouldn’t be surprised by a few false starts along the way

–         Those of us who are older need to remember our own mistakes and the grace we’ve been shown

–         We need to be big hearted enough to give a second or third chance


After Barnabas & Paul finished their first missionary journey they returned home

–         Sometime later they decided to make a second trip to visit and encourage the churches they had planted the first time

–         Big hearted Barnabas wanted to give his cousin, John Mark, a second chance – after all, being given another chance is the gospel of Jesus, the gospel of grace – but Paul was adamant that Mark should stay behind


If we give Paul the benefit of the doubt he was probably thinking of both Mark’s well-being and the success of the mission

–         What if Mark turned back a second time – that wouldn’t be good for him or the mission


It appears that in Paul’s mind at least Mark came with too much risk

–         Barnabas, on the other hand, had a different perspective

–         He was willing to trust God with the risk


Barnabas’ real name was actually Joseph

–         Joseph got the nickname ‘Barnabas’ because he encouraged people

–         That’s what Barnabas means, ‘son of encouragement’ [4]

–         Encouragement is more than just saying nice things to people

–         To encourage someone literally means to put courage into them – to give them confidence

–         Barnabas gave people confidence with his presence, his trust and his words of truth


I imagine that Mark felt like a complete failure after his false start

–         Barnabas could see that Mark had ability – what he lacked was confidence

–         Mark needed someone like Barnabas to give him the courage to get back on the horse and try again


Remember it was Barnabas who believed in Paul when no one else did

–         It was Barnabas who opened the door for Paul to be included in the fellowship of the early church

–         It must have seemed, to Barnabas, like a double standard that Paul would reject Mark, given Paul’s own chequered history


The Bible is a very honest book – it tells the story warts and all

–         Luke, the writer of Acts, does not hide the fact that Barnabas & Paul had a ‘sharp argument’ over this

–         Here we have two Godly men, full of the Holy Spirit, good men who love Jesus and are totally committed to serving him, whatever the cost, and yet they have this heated argument over whether or not to take Mark


That neither Barnabas nor Paul were prepared to back down shows us that this issue touched on a deep conviction for them both

–         Perhaps for Paul the deep conviction was that people needed to hear the good news about Jesus – nothing should get in the way of their mission and Mark’s lack of reliability threatened the mission

–         Perhaps for Barnabas it was a matter of integrity – ensuring they practiced the gospel they preached

–         How can we go on a missions’ trip preaching a gospel of grace if we ourselves are not willing to be big hearted enough to forgive Mark?


Barnabas was being consistent in advocating to give John Mark a second chance, just as he had advocated for giving Paul a chance years earlier

–         Despite Barnabas’ advocacy Paul didn’t see it the same way and the two of them decided to part company for a while:

–         Barnabas & Mark went to Cyprus while Paul & Silas went to Cilicia


This bust up may seem less than ideal to us but God used the separation for good

–         Paul went on to mentor the young Timothy and after working with Barnabas in Cyprus, John Mark went on to become Peter’s assistant

–         God, in his grace, was big hearted enough to use Paul & Barnabas’ disagreement to multiply the workers


I said before that intergenerational relationships don’t just happen in pairs – they often hold together in a network or a community

–         A healthy inter-generational church provides the network of relationships necessary to sustain and grow faith

–         Mark had more than one mentor

–         As well as Barnabas and Paul, Mark also had Peter


In many ways Peter was a good match for Mark

–         The apostle Peter, who denied Jesus three times, was well acquainted with false starts – his failure served to deepen his experience of grace

–         As Jesus said, the more you’ve been forgiven, the more you love


Mark assisted Peter as he preached the good news about Jesus

–         In one of his letters Peter refers to Mark as a son [5]

–         Clearly Peter appreciated Mark and loved him

–         Tradition tells us that John Mark wrote the gospel of Mark based on Peter’s preaching


Mark may have made a false start but by God’s grace, mediated through Barnabas and Peter, he found the courage to make a fresh start


But Mark’s story doesn’t end with Peter

–         The gospel of Jesus is a gospel of forgiveness & reconciliation

–         We don’t know exactly how it happened but it did happen

–         Mark & Paul were reconciled to one another (as were Barnabas & Paul)


Some years later, in his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes…

–         Aristarchus, who is in prison with me, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions to welcome Mark if he comes your way.) Joshua, also called Justus, sends greetings too. These three are the only Jewish converts who work with me for the Kingdom of God, and they have been a great help to me. [6]


But wait, there’s more…

–         Towards the end of his life, Paul writes to his protégé Timothy saying,

–         Get Mark and bring him with you, because he can help me in the work. [7]


Paul, who previously rejected Mark because he didn’t think he was up to it, now accepts Mark and acknowledges that Mark is a great help to him

–         By implication Paul was admitting that his old friend Barnabas was right

–         That’s the grace of God – that’s the power of the gospel


So what do we take from this – what is the application for our lives?

–         Well, two things…


Firstly, if we make a false start or we mess up in some way or turn back as Mark did, then that doesn’t mean the end for us

–         The good news is that through Jesus we get a second chance

–         And not just a second chance, but a third and a fourth and so on

–         When Peter asked Jesus, ‘How many times should I forgive’ the Lord replied, ’70 x seven’ – or as often as the person repents in other words

–         So that’s the first thing, with Jesus a false start makes room for grace


The second point of application is that we (like Barnabas) need to be big hearted enough to give courage & confidence to others who are struggling in the faith

–         The early church in Jerusalem struggled to believe that Paul had really changed but Barnabas gave them confidence to trust the Holy Spirit’s work of conversion in Paul’s life

–         Some years later Paul himself struggled to believe that Mark could make it as a missionary but Barnabas stood up for Mark, giving the young man confidence to trust in God’s grace and make fresh start


Eventually Paul came round too

–         Paul learned that God’s grace is made perfect in our weakness

–         He also learned that believers in Christ are connected, like a network or a body

–         We need each other: the eye cannot say to the hand I don’t need you

–         [Nor can Paul say to Mark I don’t need you]

–         On the contrary, we cannot do without the parts of the body that seem to be weaker; and those parts that we think aren’t worth very much are the ones which we treat with greater care. [8]


So the question is: who can you be a Barnabas for?

–         Who is your Mark?

–         Who can you encourage?

–         Who can you give confidence to?

–         Who needs greater care?



1.)    What stands out for you in reading these Scriptures and/or in listening to the sermon?

2.)    What does the term ‘big hearted’ mean to you?

–         Can you think of someone who is big hearted?

3.)    How did Barnabas help Paul (and the church) when Paul was a new convert?

4.)    What does it mean to encourage someone?

–         How did Barnabas encourage people?

5.)    How did God use Paul & Barnabas’ separation for good?

6.)    How did Paul’s attitude toward Mark change over time?

7.)    Who can you be a Barnabas for?

–         Who is your Mark?

–         Who can you encourage?

[1] Acts 11:24

[2] Acts 12:25

[3] Acts 13:1-5

[4] Acts 4:36

[5] 1st Peter 5:12-13

[6] Colossian 4:10

[7] 2 Timothy 4:11

[8] 1 Corinthians 12:21-22