Monday, September 18, 2006

Acts 15:36-16:5

Close companions, brothers in Jesus, Paul and Barnabas traveled and worked together in the Mediterranean region for some time. Barnabas became an early follower of Jesus in Jerusalem (Acts 4). He was instrumental in convincing the disciples of the authenticity of Paul’s conversion to following Jesus (Acts 9). Together Paul and Barnabas, through their preaching and teaching, played vital, formative roles in the establishment and development of a number of churches in the region.

In this context of life and work deeply shared by these devoted followers of Jesus, the disagreement in today’s passage pains all the more as we read and imagine how strong it must have been. Paul and Barnabas determined to revisit churches where they had formerly preached and taught. They aimed to encourage and strengthen the believers. Barnabas desired John Mark to accompany them as he had done previously. Paul decidedly did not want John Mark with them, as he had deserted them at a point in their earlier mission. It’s difficult to discern God’s presence in this conflict!

Yet one of the great, profound truths we take from Acts, from all of the Bible, is that God writes our world and our lives as a narrative over time and space. Today’s text describes but a moment in God’s saving authorship in the lives of Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark. In the longer storyline of God’s overarching narrative in their lives, Paul wrote of Barnabas in positive terms (1 Cor. 9 and Gal. 2). And when Paul faced his last imprisonment and death in Rome, he strongly desired John Mark to come and help him (2 Tim. 4). Despite what happened then and there in Antioch, God eventually worked transformation and reconciliation.

It is temptingly easy, in the compressing intensity of the here and now, to lose sight of God’s greatness and encompassing care for us and the world. Lord of time and space, God transcends yet moves in them to love us, transform us, and complete us in his most wondrous purposes. We live in time and space, but we must refuse to get stuck at any one point in them. We must not take the short, constricted view. We must trust God in the here and now for his providence over time and space. The witness of Acts and the whole Bible is that, because of who God is, we can. The moment may pain, yet God can redeem.

Gregory Strong

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