sermon: The Sovereign God of Second Chances (Acts 15:36-41)

The Sovereign God of Second Chances

Acts 15:36-41


I find the way the Bible reports to good and the bad especially where people are concerned.  Here in our text today, we read an account of Paul and Barnabas having a sharp disagreement over whether or not John Mark should accompany them on the Second Missionary Journey.

I find most scholars today miss the entire point of this passage.  Most want to talk about how hardheaded and zealous Paul is and how he should have aloud Mark to go along.  When they start down that path they will almost always approach this text from a human standpoint centering their attention and focus on Paul and Barnabas’ personalities.

Many want to speak about Paul being a take control type of person and how he might tend to overlook certain people to accomplish a goal.  Some want to speak about how caring Barnabas was and how he was mainly focused on people and being an encourager.  This is all a pitiful attempt to explain away the main point of this passage.  Paul was a take charge type of person but no one loved people like Paul did…

2 Corinthians 2:4 (ESV)
4 For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.
Philippians 3:18-19 (ESV)
18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.
19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

We live in a world where it is viewed as hateful or unloving to declare something to be true.  These former friends of Paul apostatized and gave up Christ for worldly things.  He declared that to be the case and yet his heart was broken as a result.

These words are not words from a harsh unloving person but from one who desperately loved people and wanted to see them saved.
Barnabas too was a powerful preacher and headstrong when it came to doctrine and biblical teaching.  Barnabas also longed to see enemies of the cross become followers of Christ.  He is called son of encouragement because he knew just what to do whether it was stay and preach or go get Paul to help.
Both men were believers both were passionate about Christ.
We must first remember, their disagreement was not over doctrine or anything related to truth or Scripture or the Gospel but should Mark go with them.

TT- God’s will is accomplished through His people and even sometimes in spite of His people.
Human need met by text

This text connects to us as we realize that like Paul and Barnabas, we too are imperfect.  We make mistakes, we fail, and we sin.  But sin and failure doesn’t ever have the last word if you belong to Jesus Christ.  We need to be reminded today that even when we fail and even when we sin, God can restore us.  Are you living today in defeat by some past sin?  Are you here today wondering if God could ever use you for anything?  Today, in our text we’ll see how God works through less than favorable circumstances to accomplish His plan.

Acts 15:36-41 (ESV)
36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”

37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark.
38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.
39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus,
40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.
41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

1.  Paul’s Concern for the Churches

36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”

I hope we can all see a couple of things about the Apostle Paul here: First, he cares deeply for the saints.  These new Gentile brothers and sisters were Paul’s heartbeat.  His first passion, of course, was his Lord but second to Him were all the new believers.  His plan was to take the Council’s letter and read it to these churches and make sure they all understand.  They stay a while and teach God’s Word to them.

Barnabas, let’s go back through all those churches and strengthen their faith.

This is a good example for us to follow.  We need to on occasion check on each other to see how everyone is doing.  Here, Paul is not concerned with saying, Oh, Mrs. Smith, how are you? And then having her respond, just fine or even my back has been hurting lately.  No, what Paul wants to know is how are they doing as new believers.  Where are they struggling spiritually?  Are they reading the Scriptures? Praying? Are there certain sins they continue to struggle with?  What questions might they have?

Go and make disciples of all nations, means that they not only are to be saved but also discipled and cared for.  I’m sure he is also concerned with how effective the new preachers are.  What problems are they encountering?

On this Paul and Barnabas are in agreement…

2.  Paul’s Concern for the Missionary Team

37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark.
38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.
39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.

There is more to this sharp disagreement than may first be noticed.  Luke writes that the reason Paul didn’t think it wise to take Mark was because in Pamphylia he literally, apostatized from them.  The Greek word is where we get the word apostasy…one who abandons the faith.  This is more than just leaving and going home.  He disserted them in an hour of need.  Because of this Paul does not want him to go…Paul was right to refuse to take Mark along.  Paul doesn’t dislike Mark in any way but simply doesn’t think it wise to take him.

However, Barnabas wants him to come…

The account of John Mark’s desertion sounds harmless enough but in reality he abandoned his friends when they were counting on his help…

Acts 13:13 (ESV)
13 Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem,
It’s simply pure speculation as to why he left.  Perhaps it was the intense spiritual warfare that they were encountering as they went?  Paul had just stood toe to toe with one sent by Satan to lure the people away.  Paul cursed him with blindness and the Holy Spirit moved in a mighty way saving many.  Perhaps he was simply too young or too inexperienced or just missed home?  Whatever the reason, Paul needed him and in his time of trial Mark was gone.
We’re not sure why exactly Barnabas was so set on bringing Mark along either.  We do know that they were cousins and sometimes blood relationships can over take ones better judgment.
Colossians 4:10 (ESV)
10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him)

Did this disagreement stop the Gospel from going into all the world?  Of course not.  Nothing can stop God’s plan.

Romans 8:28 (ESV)
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Even the sin of a believer is within the all things.  God will even take sin and failure and use them for our good and His glory.

That in no way excuses any bad behavior or any sin by saying, well, God will just use it anyway so it doesn’t matter…Paul answers this by saying, may it never be.
3.  God’s Concern for His Glory

Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus,
40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.
41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

What we see here is that even with human disagreement God still has the last word.  Now, even in spite of man’s selfish tendencies, God’s will is accomplished.  Now there are two mission teams accomplishing the Great Commission.

We serve a sovereign God who works to accomplish His purposes in spite of us.

There is another dynamic at work.  If Satan cannot damage the church through false teaching (as we saw in the Jerusalem Council), he will try to hurt the Church from the inside.  His tactic is to stir up discord among the brothers within the church.  If he can cause these leaders to disagree perhaps the church can be damaged from the inside.  God again has the last word.

It’s also interesting to note that the church is still in unity.  The church sanctions Paul and Silas’ mission trip and sends them off.  I cannot take a particular side here in this debate because we really do not have enough information.  However, if I was to pick, I would say Paul was right in refusing to take Mark and Barnabas let his self interests and family override his logic.

a- The church sends Paul and Silas off…doesn’t say anything about sending Barnabas and Mark off.

b- Barnabas is never mentioned again in Acts but the story follows Paul.

For everyone who sides with Barnabas because he is the encourager, be careful because sometimes it takes a Paul.

I want us to see one last thing today…

4.  God’s Concern for His People

Paul and Barnabas split and go their separate ways.  It is true we won’t read about Barnabas anymore in Acts.  We will however see his name again in the Bible…

It’s also true that Mark was unfit for Gospel ministry at the time Paul and Barnabas split but we will also read of Mark again later…

God was not finished with either one.


Galatians 2:1 (ESV)
1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.

At some point God brought Barnabas and Paul together again.  The two men who sharply disagreed still cared for and love each other.  God would cause the to be a team again.


Years later, at the end of Paul’s life he sees Mark differently.  Mark has no doubt matured in the faith and has proven himself in Gospel ministry.  Peter had taken Mark and disciple him and Mark would be the writer of a Gospel!

1 Peter 5:12-14 (ESV)
12 By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.
13 She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.
14 Greet one another with the kiss of love.

2 Timothy 4:9-11 (ESV)
9 Do your best to come to me soon.
10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.
11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.

God is the God of second chances…Get Mark
Beloved, you may be here today feeling the weight of some sin.  You may be, because of a past failure thinking God cannot use you.  Perhaps you feel defeated and discouraged.  You past does not need to define you.  As believers we must live in light of who we are now not who we were.

I love the Book of Jonah.  There is a little verse, in passing almost that confirms what I’m talking about.

Jonah 3:1-2 (ESV)
1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying,
2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”

The first time God commanded Jonah to go he completely refused.  There was no way Jonah was going to Nineveh to preach…no way!

Are there other examples of God giving second chances?
I’m also reminded of Peter…
Luke 22:56-62 (ESV)
56 Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.”
57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.”
58 And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.”
59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.”
60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.
61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”
62 And he went out and wept bitterly.

Peter had succumbed to fear and committed very serious sin against his Lord.  He lied three times, denying that he even knew Jesus at all.

God is the God of second chances…
Mark 16:7 (ESV)
7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

Then Jesus lovingly reinstates Peter giving him the charge to tend His sheep.

Go tell Peter
The word of the Lord came a second time to Jonah

Bring Mark, he is very useful to me.

Past defeat, failure, and sin must never have the last word.

Also, hear Paul’s words…

Romans 12:18-19 (ESV)
18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)
32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.


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