The Faithful and the Forgiven
Read Colossians 4:10-11 (ESV)
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), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.
Who do you identify most with? The faithful—Aristarchus and Jesus Justus? Or the forgiven—John Mark?
I think most of us read the great heroes of the Bible and long to be like them. We want our names to go down in history with only our best moments recorded for posterity. But when we read the Bible humbly and honestly, we generally find that we can relate all too well with those who have their epic failures recorded for posterity instead.
In today’s verses, Paul mentioned three men who had been a great comfort and encouragement to him during his ministry and imprisonments. Paul explicitly stated that all three were Jews despite their Greek names. Remember, they were Jews of the Diaspora. After God punished Israel and Judah for their disobedience and faithlessness, they were captured and taken by the Assyrians and the Babylonians (recorded in the Old Testament). As history marched on, they were scattered among the nations. At this time, these men were Jews living in the Roman Empire. Two of them would be categorized as “the faithful,” but one of them would be better categorized as “the forgiven.”
The first man Paul mentioned was Aristarchus. Paul described him as a “fellow prisoner,” but several commentaries note that it was unlikely that he was an actual prisoner. History seems to indicate that he was more likely a volunteer prisoner because he was not willing to desert Paul. Acts 20:4 records him as being from Thessalonica and Acts 19:29 said he was seized in the riot at Ephesus but was quickly released. Acts 27:2 also lists Aristarchus among Paul’s companions when he sailed for Rome. On that missionary trip, they were involved in a terrible storm and were shipwrecked. But through all of this danger, Aristarchus faithfully stayed with Paul. He was committed to being a partner in the Gospel with him even if that meant he had to endure great suffering.
Jesus, who is called Justus, was also listed as a faithful companion to Paul. It may seem strange to us that his name is Jesus but in reality, it was a common name at that time. The name Jesus is Greek for Joshua and it means “savior.” Many people have been named Joshua throughout history. His Roman name was Justus which meant “righteous” in Latin. Unfortunately, that is the only time he is listed specifically in Scripture so we know nothing else about him. Still, he is honored to go down in history by Paul as being a faithful servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And then, there is Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. We know him as the writer of the Gospel of Mark but he first comes on the scene in Acts. In Acts 13:1-3, we see that John Mark went with his cousin Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey. But for some reason, he abandoned them. He quit on them and went back to Jerusalem. This left a rift between Mark and Paul. Acts 15:36-41 records Paul’s refusal to allow John Mark to come with them on their second journey. He didn’t trust John Mark’s commitment to their mission and sadly, their issue led Barnabas to separate from Paul as well.
Thankfully, our God is a God of restoration. We see in today’s verse that despite their past issues, John Mark is listed among Paul’s faithful companions. As if anticipating that the Colossian church would reject Mark for his past desertion of Paul, Paul commands them to welcome him instead. Forgiveness must have been offered and their relationship was restored. What an honor for Mark to be an author of a Gospel even though he had failed in the past!
Friends, many of us have had Mark moments in our lives. We commit to following Jesus but when it gets tough, we compromise and play it safe or wander off the path altogether. I find John Mark’s restoration to be a great encouragement. No matter how we’ve failed God, He is willing to forgive and He is still able to use us in big ways to build His kingdom if we return to Him. Praise God!
Lord, I want to be Your rock solid servant. But I confess that I have failed like John Mark before. Thank You for forgiving the failures of my past and restoring me to Your service. I am thankful to be faithfully forgiven. Help me to stay true to You until the very end. Amen.
~ Pastor Nat Crawford
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