The Restored Deserter (Acts 15:36-40)

The Restored Deserter

{Acts 12:12-17,25;13:4-5,13;15:36-40}


We are gearing up this morning to traverse through another book of the Scripture. The gospel according to Mark! Our study in the text will not begin today. Rather I want us to first get a glimpse of this man we call Mark. I firmly believe that as we look at his life in Scripture we will be overcome with similarities and challenges found in our own lives as well. When we travel through this gospel may our goal and intent be to know only the Christ and the power of His resurrection in our lives.

To give just a bit of background about the gospel: When was it written? Many hold it was written in the late 50 AD, though some hold closer to 70 AD before the destruction of Jerusalem.[1] Who was it written to? Mark spends much time explaining the custom of the Jews, which indicates he was writing to a Gentile audience. Most likely the Romans, as that is where many believe its authorship occurred. Regardless of what date you hold pertaining to the authorship it was written during the rule of Nero, a sadistic ruler from 54 AD to 68 AD.

Nero is thought to be responsible for:[2] The death of his step-brother, Britannicus, who was heir to his throne. The death of his mother, Agrippina, who wanted to work through Britannicus to gain power and influence. The death of his wife, Octavia, when he desired to marry his mistress, Poppaea. Many suspect Nero to be responsible for the burning of Rome on July 18th, 64 AD. He was “vacationing” when it began, but quickly returned at the news to sing and play his lyre on Quirinal Hill.

Romans suspected Nero when he immediately presented blueprints to rebuild the torched city in a more extravagant way after the fire occurred. He even picked out a new name, Neropolis. Not only did he pick out a new name, he even selected a scapegoat to through off suspicion. A small sect of the Jews called Christians.

He had some believers thrown into lion arenas, while others were crucified. Listen to what one of the greatest Roman historians, Tacitus (56 AD-120 AD), says:[3]

“And so, to get rid of this rumor, Nero set up as the culprits and punished with the utmost refinement of cruelty a class hated for their abominations, who are commonly called Christians. Nero’s scapegoats were the perfect choice because it temporarily relieved pressure of the various rumors going around Rome. Christus, from whom their name is derived, was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate…Besides being put to death they (Christians) were made to serve as objects of amusement; they were clothed in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed. Nero had thrown open his grounds for the display, and was putting on a show in the circus, where he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or drove about in his chariot. All this gave rise to a feeling of pity, even towards men whose guilt merited the most exemplary punishment; for it was felt that they were being destroyed not for the public good but to gratify the cruelty of an individual.”

So it should not surprise us when we find Mark emphasizing the weakness, humility, and suffering of God’s Servant, Jesus Christ. His audience was going through serious persecution, so he desired them to find hope and encouragement in the servant hood of Christ.

Who authored the account? The authorship has been attributed to John Mark based on the writings of Papais, Irenaeus, and Clement of Alexandria. It is commonly accepted as well that John Mark wrote in juxtaposition to the memories of Peter. This will have significance later on.

So who is this John we call Mark, who will show us the Savior we call Christ? John Mark’s first mention in Scripture:

Acts 12:12-17

We see his mother’s house set up as a headquarters for the saints praying for the release of the imprisoned Peter. Notice they do not believe their prayer was answered when Peter arrives. Saul and Barnabas were commissioned to bring relief to the brethren in Judea at this time. Luke records John Mark traveling with them from Jerusalem to Antioch.

Acts 12:25

We are not told why. Colossians 4:10 reveals that Mark and Barnabas were cousins, so relations may play a part.

It is after their arrival in Antioch the Holy Spirit instructs the church to set apart Saul and Barnabas for the work He has called them to do.

Acts 13:4-5

Mark goes with them to assist in the work. A situation, however, arises quickly into the work.

Acts 13:13

The Scripture does not reveal the reason, but John leaves the work and goes home. Perhaps he had issues to attend to, or maybe the persecution was too much. We do not know. There is one thing we do know, and that is it did not go unnoticed by Paul. Look at what takes place as they gear up for the next journey:

Acts 15:36-40

Barnabas is eager to bring Mark with them. This should not surprise us, and it is not because the two are cousins. When Paul was being rejected by the church after his conversion it was Barnabas who came in to encourage them to receive him.[4] Thank goodness he is consistent!

Paul, however, refused to take him because Mark “deserted” them in Pamphylia. It is certainly not a high point in the life of Mark. The rest of the portion shows the same could be said of Paul and Barnabas.

The word translated “deserted” or “departed” comes from the Greek word Aphistemi.[5] This word can be used to convey when someone simply departs from something. It is used in Acts 12:10 to describe the angel departing from Peter after getting him out of prison. Tragically it also conveys apostasy in the contexts of Luke 8:13, 1 Timothy 4:1, and Hebrews 3:12.[6]

I do not believe we should walk away thinking Mark apostatized from the faith. I do believe understanding the full scope of this word should help us to see Mark’s departure from the work was much more than just returning home. He turned his back on what he knew God sent them to do. Barnabas says, “Give him another go.” Paul says, “Not a chance!”

Acts 15:39

It is important to know that the next time we hear of John Mark it will be from the pen of Paul nearly 18 years later. He encourages the Colossians to welcome Mark into their midst.[7] We also see Mark visiting Paul during his first imprisonment in Rome when he writes to Philemon. Not only that, but at the end of his life Paul writes to Timothy saying, “Pick up Mark and bring him with you for he is useful to me for service.”[8] Something unrecorded had drastically changed in the life of Mark altering his relationship with Paul. I believe Peter played that pivotal role.

Remember, many understand Mark’s gospel account to be in conjunction with Peter’s memories. Apart from Mark in Acts, who else has a very clear understanding of what it is like to completely turn your back on Christ and His work? The Apostle Peter does. In fact, Peter even gave Christ his word that even if everyone else forsook Him, he would not. Even if it meant his death.

Peter did forsake Christ three times, denying Him with the oath, “I do not know the Man.”[9] Sending him into a downward spiral of grief when he realized what he had done. So I reiterate, Peter does understand what it means to completely turn ones back on Christ! However, he also knows what it means to be loved and forgiven after such a falling by Christ Himself. A second chance as some may coin.

Peter says at the end of his first epistle, “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends greetings, and so does my son, Mark.”[10] We see the one who knew the love and forgiveness found only in Jesus Christ coming alongside the one who had fallen short. Embracing him as his very own son!

Roughly 15 years after the events in Acts, the Holy Spirit chose to record the first gospel account. He does not do it through an apostle, but a former deserter restored by the grace of Christ. What does John Mark immediately want us to know in his gospel account?

Mark 1:1

Good news is only found in Christ! If you have fallen short in your service to Christ, turn to Him and be restored by the reproof, correction, and instruction of His Word. He will give grace toward the humble, but He will resist the proud.[11]

This really plays out in other circumstances as well:

1.) If you have fallen short as a spouse, turn to Him and be restored by the reproof, correction, and instruction of His Word.

2.) If you have fallen short as a parent, turn to Him and be restored by the reproof, correction, and instruction of His Word.

3.) If you have fallen short as a neighbor, turn to Him and be restored by the reproof, correction, and instruction of His Word.

4.) If you have fallen short as an employee, turn to Him and be restored by the reproof, correction, and instruction of His Word.

If you are a non-believer know that you have fallen short of the glory of God and are dead in sin, but by grace through faith you can be reconciled to God by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.

All of us:

Ÿ Realize while we live and breathe there is an opportunity for us to turn back to the One Who provides the very life and breathe by which we do so.


[1] Bible Overview; Page 176

[2] Historical and Chronological Context of the Bible; Bruce W. Gore; Chapter 12, page 22-23

[3] Historical and Chronological Context of the Bible; Bruce W. Gore; Quoting Annals (xv.44), Tacitus; Chapter 12, page 24

[4] Acts 9:26-31

[5] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance; NT Number: 868.

[6] Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words; W.E. Vine: Page 295

[7] Colossians 4:10

[8] 2 Timothy 4:11

[9] Matthew 26:72,74

[10] 1 Peter 5:13

[11] James 4:6

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