Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.…
I. Consider, first, his — what shall I call it? Well, if I may use the word which Paul himself designates it by, in its correct signification, we may call it HIS APOSTASY. It was not a departure from Christ, but it was a departure from very plain duty. He was quite ready for missionary work as long as it was easy work; quite ready to do it as long as he was moving upon known ground and there was no great call upon his heroism, or his indolence; does not wait to test the difficulties, but is frightened by the imagination of them; does not throw himself into the work and see how he gets on with it; but before he has gone a mile into the land, or made any real experience of the perils and hardships, has had quite enough of it, and goes away back to his mother in Jerusalem, Yes! and we find exactly the same thing in all courses of honourable life. Many begin to run, but one after another, as "lap" after "lap" of the race course is got over, has had enough of it, and drops on one side; a hundred started, and at the end the field is reduced to three or four. And so, in regard of every career which has in it anything of honour and of effort, let this man teach us the lesson not swiftly to begin and inconsiderately to venture upon a course, but once begun let nothing discourage. "Nor bate one jot of heart or hope, but still bear up and steer right onward." Some of you need the word of exhortation and earnest beseeching, to contrast the sluggishness, the indolence of your present, with the brightness and the fervour of your past. And I beseech you, do not let your Christian life be like snow — when it first lights upon the earth, radiant and white, but day by day more covered with a veil of sooty blackness until it becomes dark and foul.
II. Look, next, in the development of this little bit of biography, to MARK'S ECLIPSE. Paul and Barnabas differed about how to treat the renegade. Which of them was right? Would it have been better to have put him back in his old post, and given him another chance, and said nothing about the failure; or was it better to do what the sterner wisdom of Paul did, and declare that a man who had once so forgotten himself and abandoned his work was not the man to put in the same place again? Barnabas made a mistake. It would have been the cruellest thing that could have been done to his relative to have put him back again without acknowledgment, without repentance, without riding quarantine for a bit, and holding his tongue for a while. He would not then have known his fault as he ought to have known it, and so there would never have been the chance of his conquering it. God treats His renegades as Paul treated Mark, and not as Barnabas would have treated him. Ready, and infinitely ready, to forgive and to restore, but needing to see the consciousness of the sin first, and needing, before large tasks are committed to hands that once have dropped them, to have some kind of evidence that the hands are stronger and the heart purified from its cowardice and its selfishness. Let us learn the difference between a weak charity which loves too foolishly, and therefore too selfishly, to let a man inherit the fruit of his doings, and the large mercy which knows how to take the bitterness out of the chastisement, and yet knows how to chastise. Mark's eclipse may teach us another lesson, viz., that the punishment for shirking work is to be denied work. You have been asked to work — I speak now to professing Christians — duties have been pressed upon you, fields of service have opened plainly before you, and you have not had the heart to go into them. And so you stand idle all the day now, and the work goes to other people that can do it. And God honours them, and passes you by. Mark goes away to Cyprus, he does not go back to Jerusalem; he and Barnabas try to get up some little schismatic sort of mission of their own. Nothing comes of it; nothing ought to have come of it. He drops out of the story; he has no share in the joyful conflicts and sacrifices and successes of the apostle. The punishment of indolence is absolute idleness. Beware! all of you professing Christians, lest to you should come the fate of the slothful servant with his one buried talent, to whom the punishment of burying it unused was to lose it altogether; according to that solemn word fulfilled in the temporal sphere of this story, on which I am commenting. "To him that hath shall be given," etc.
III. Again, consider THE PROCESS OF RECOVERY. Concerning it we read nothing indeed in Scripture; but concerning it we know enough to be able at least to determine what its outline must have been. There is only one road, with well-marked stages, by which a backsliding or apostate Christian can return to his Master. And that road has three halting places upon it, through which our heart must pass if it have wandered from its early faith, and falsified its first professions. The first of them is the consciousness of the fall; the second is the resort to the Master for forgiveness; and the last is the deepened consecration to Him. No man that wanders into the wilderness but comes back to the King's highway, if he comes back at all.
IV. And so, lastly, notice THE REINSTATEMENT OF THE PENITENT RENEGADE. Notwithstanding the failure, notwithstanding the wise refusal of Paul to have nothing to do with him years before, he is reinstated in his old office, and the aged apostle before he dies would like to have the comfort of his presence once more at his side. Is not the lesson out of that, this eternal gospel, that even early failures, recognised and repented of, may make a man better fitted for the tasks which once he fled from? Just as they tell us — I do not know whether it is true or not, it will do for an illustration — just as they tell us that a broken bone renewed is stronger at the point of fracture than it ever was before, so the very sin that we commit, when once we know it for a sin, and have brought it to Christ for forgiveness, may minister to our future efficiency and strength. The sin which we have learned to know for a sin and to hate, teaches us humility, dependence, shows us where the weak places are; sin which is forgiven knits us to Christ with deeper and more fervid love, and results in a larger consecration. Think of the two ends of this man's life — flying like a frightened hare from the very first suspicion of danger or of difficulty, sulking in his solitude, apart from all the joyful stir of consecration and of service; and at the end of it made an evangelist to proclaim to the whole world the story of the gospel of the servant. God works with broken reeds, and through them breathes His sweetest music.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.