Editor’s note: The following is a condensed version of a sermon delivered recently by the Rev. Farren Roper, pastor at Corinth Baptist Church.
There is an old saying that I believe is true. It goes something like this … “It doesn’t matter how you start, what matters most is how you finish.” I believe how we finish is more important than how we start.
Mark, for whom the Gospel of Mark is named, didn’t start well. He was a deserter. We do not know why, but he left Paul and Barnabas on their first stop, on their first missionary journey after crossing over from the island of Cyprus doing ministry.
Later, Mark was the reason Paul and Barnabas split up before their second missionary journey. We are told the disagreement was “sharp” and history doesn’t try and justify the young Mark abandoning the mission team early on.
Barnabas was “pro-Mark”; Paul was “anti-Mark.” They had such a disagreement, Paul chose Silas and went one way, while Barnabas chose Mark and went another — back to the island of Cyprus. We will never know who was right or who was wrong (if someone has to be right or wrong).
Was Paul right in demanding not to take Mark along this time? Was Barnabas right in defending his cousin and choosing to part ways with the Apostle Paul? That’s a question we will have to wait to have answered in heaven, even though I doubt trivial things like that matter in heaven.
As the rest of the book of Acts tells us, Paul’s ministry is highlighted in scripture. It is somewhat strange that we never hear about Barnabas again. But, Mark we do. Mark and Paul “mend their fences.” Mark becomes very useful to Paul. And, we admire the two men for not staying estranged. Putting it another way, we admire them for being able to reconcile.
May we get “real” for a moment? Differences happen, even among Christ’s followers. Unfortunately, differences can be found in every household, every church, every community, every culture and every race. We are not surprised that as individuals, we do not all like the same things. I do not like mayonnaise, someone else may not like mustard.
What is surprising to me as a pastor is how quickly God’s people can forget the scriptural mandates we live and abide by, that reconciliation and peace should be our objectives and goals when differences arise. It seems that even God’s people are willing to sacrifice friendships and relationships for the sake of being right.
It’s not so much what we agree on that sets us apart. It’s easy to live together with those who see and like the very same things we do. But as Christ’s followers, what sets us apart is how we make reconciliation and peace a goal for all people created in the image of our Creator. After all, it was our Lord who said, “All people will know you are My disciples because you have love for one another.”
Paul and Mark are living proof that reconciliation and peace are not only possible, they are mandated by holy Scripture. We must start with the household of God, regardless of color, class, or Christian denomination. If we are ever able to reach folks who do not know Christ for the sake of Christ, it will be through a deep abiding love that resides in our hearts — evidence we are His.
So, Mark reunites with Paul. That is great news. Whatever happened in Acts 13, whatever caused them to split up, all those ill feelings were laid aside and reconciliation happened. I love that reconciliation happened. I love that two people who earlier had their differences made up, became very close, and neither died with undone hostility in their hearts.
Later on, Mark joins up with Peter. Some say he translated for Peter. Others say he acted as Peter’s scribe by taking copious notes. Some say the Gospel of Mark is actually in part the Gospel of Peter. What Mark was to Peter, isn’t the issue for today. What Mark did, was, he ended well.
You see, Mark is the epitome of finishing well. His life is a good example of what we cannot do in the flesh, we can do in the Spirit. What we can’t accomplish under our own strength and power, we can accomplish through His strength and power. Never say I can’t; with God all things are possible.
Jesus was also big on reconciliation. He taught not to give your offering with animosity in your heart toward another human being. He said if you realize there is animosity, or, if you remember your brother has something against you, go first and work out your differences with him. In Matthew 5:23-24, he says, after you have reconciled with your brother, then come back and give your offering with a “good” heart.
This is the Mark who writes the gospel. In Mark, chapter 1, V1, he says: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus is the anointed one, the expected one, the one appointed by God to save. His name is Jesus. His title is the Christ.
So, Mark says, here is the beginning of the gospel, or good news. The words “good news” have probably been abused over the years, perhaps still are, perhaps always will be as we move closer to the Lord’s second coming. We know that the good news of the first century was a message that sinful man can be reconciled to a holy God through the Messiah. He was the bridge from sinfulness to sinlessness. He who knew no sin became sin. He took upon Himself our sins and became the perfect sacrifice.
I have in my library a deacon training manual by Homer Carter. There is a story in it about a man lost in his sins. But everywhere he went, everybody — his friends and family, his pastor and other pastors — kept telling him he was OK. They said, “You’re fine; you’re a good man, good husband, good dad, good grand dad, good worker.… Don’t worry.” But in his heart, he knew better; he knew his relationship wasn’t right with God.
Finally, the man called a deacon family minister and the seasoned old deacon, knowing what he was after, took the man through what a sinner must do in order to obtain heaven when one dies. “We” must repent, the old deacon replied. We must turn from our sins and self, and trust that God is right and honest when He entreats us to trust in His son for the forgiveness of our sins.
My friends, Mark gives us 3 things to consider: one, he finished well; two, he reconciled wonderfully; and three, he shared truthfully.
We all need a moment of retrospect every now and then. Maybe our past reveals a wandering from the journey we so enthusiastically endorsed when we first met Christ Jesus? Maybe our past exposes a strained relationship, a fence in need of mending in our own lives? Or, maybe our past confronts our greatest need, the need to be forgiven?
I have said many times over the years, God’s forgiveness is the greatest miracle of all. Maybe we feel we have failed the Lord? Maybe we have never taken Him seriously enough to hand over our lives and souls to Him?
What is my encouragement to you? Consider Mark and his Christ. He knew failure, but more importantly, he knew the Messiah that reconciles.