Travels on the missionary trip.
Saturday, 24 December 2022
Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem. Acts 13:13
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The NKJV is not in accord with the Greek. Instead, the BLB translation will be used –
“And those around Paul, having sailed from Paphos, came to Perga of Pamphylia. But John, having departed from them, returned to Jerusalem.”
The last verse indicated that the proconsul believed the word concerning Jesus. He was astonished at the teaching of the Lord. With that matter now complete, the narrative continues, saying, “And those around Paul.”
This is a new way of referring to those on the missionary journey. Saying “around” is a way of designating a person as the main figure in the narrative. Until now, Barnabas has been mentioned first. Now, Paul begins to take the lead role. Barnabas will be mentioned first again twice in chapter 14, but the overall focus of the events will now be on Paul’s ministry before the Lord. Hence, Luke places Paul first here. As such, the narrative continues with, “having sailed from Paphos.”
This is the location where Sergius Paulus was, as noted in verse 13:6. Having crossed the entire island of Cyprus, they departed from this final city and “came to Perga of Pamphylia.”
This is an area north and a bit west of Paphos on the mainland. Today, it is the area of Antalya, Turkey. Albert Barnes describes the location –
“Pamphylia was a province of Asia Minor, lying over against Cyprus, having Cilicia east, Lycia west, Pisidia north, and the Mediterranean south. Perga was the metropolis of Pamphylia, and was situated, not on the seacoast, but on the river Cestus, at some distance from its mouth. There was on a mountain near it a celebrated temple of Diana.”
There is no record of evangelism in Perga at this time, but they will preach there in chapter 14. For now, and with no reason being given, it next says, “But John, having departed from them, returned to Jerusalem.”
This departure was unexpected and, to Paul, inexcusable. That can be inferred from Acts 15 –
“Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work.” Acts 15:37, 38
As such, it is not as if John had received news of a death and needed to return home. Rather, something caused him to no longer want to be with the company as it traveled. It could be that he missed home, it could be that the pace the others kept up was too much for him, etc.
Looking at the surrounding text, the only things that may provide a clue are:
1) The conversion of Sergius Paulus, a Gentile. John may not have liked this. Adding credence to that would be the changing of Paul’s name from Saul. John is also called Mark and many others had names that accommodated the people of the nations, but Paul’s name was taken directly from his encounter with a Gentile.
2) Paul has taken the central role in the events, at least according to Luke’s record.
If only these events from the text are considered, it would be enough to assume that either John did not like the prospect of evangelizing Gentiles, or he was jealous that Paul had now taken the lead in the party over his own cousin. For one of these reasons, or for some reason that is not elsewhere hinted at, he forsook the company and returned to Jerusalem.
Life application: It is believed that John (Mark) is the same person Paul will later refer to in 1 Timothy 4:11, where he says, “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.” If this is the same person, it shows that there was eventually a reconciliation between the two.
If, as speculated, John didn’t like the thought of evangelizing Gentiles, he eventually outgrew that. Even if this was not the reason for his departure, it is still a truth that the Jewish believers had to accept. The message of salvation was not limited to them. The scriptural promises of Israel being the head of the nations probably seemed more confusing than ever. How would that come about if the Gentiles were evangelized?
Change can be a difficult thing. It is something that we will often fight against or run away from. But time eventually discloses that despite our protestations, what we initially want may not be what is going to come about. With that understanding, we can then yield to the events and begin to accept them and even participate in them.
Wars decide new borders. Elections decide changes in government. Economic changes determine what companies will flourish and which will flop. We have to accommodate ourselves to these types of things and learn to become productive parts of them. If we don’t, we will simply be harming ourselves. Such events come to pass and there is no point in having a pity party when they do. Change is a part of life that we must accept. And as long as we do so while honoring the Lord with our lives, we will be living responsibly in those new environments.
Heavenly Father, we are often overwhelmed with change and find it hard to process. This is especially so when our lives are negatively affected. Give us wisdom and maturity to accept things that occur, and help us to be productive and prosperous in our new surroundings. Yes, be with us Lord God as we cling to You through such times. Amen.