Not everyone stays with you.
Look back and be thankful for all your friends that have come into your life at various stages. Some had to leave and maybe you are glad about that; some walked away from you and some you had to walk away from; some died and you still grieve the loss in your life; and some have stayed with you for the whole of your life.
There is a wonderful sentence in the Message translation of Colossians 4 v 11, “These are the only ones left from the old crowd who have stuck with me in working for God’s kingdom. Don’t think they haven’t been a big help!”
Do you have friends that stick with you?
Let’s look at what the Apostle says, ““My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jewsamong my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me.” (Colossians 4 v 10-11)
Friend number 1 – Aristarchus stood with Paul and even took the blame.
One of my favourite U2 songs says, “You don’t have to put up a fight/ You don’t have to always be right/ Let me take some of the punches/ For you tonight”
Aristarchus was one of those friends. He was in the team of responsible disciples who accompanied Paul with the collection for the church in Jerusalem. He had known the experience of being seized in Ephesus when the whole city was in uproar against Paul.
He was willing to take the punches for his leader and friend. Would you? Would you defend them even when they are not there? Would you speak up for them? Would you align yourself with them so that if others could not get to your leader that they accuse you instead? That is the calling of a travelling companion in this life. Loyalty.
It appears that he stays by the side of Paul through the 2 years of his imprisonment and as our verses show then finally ends up being a prisoner himself when they arrive into Rome.
Have you got a friend who has never left you, but was there throughout your journey? Have you got a friend who knows what it is to be attacked like you, who can be trusted, who when you are at your weakest and least empowered stays by your side and who will even be judged with you?
“Then all his disciples deserted him and ran away.” Mark 14:50
As Jesus arrived at his destiny the 6 friends who were still there with him were his mother, John, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene (John 19:25) and probably the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matthew 27:56).
Be thankful for the friend/s that remains by your side as you journey to your destiny. Some have been there all the time and some are drafted in and yes some drift away. This is the Easter journey for Christ and it will be your experience too.
Friend number 2 – Mark swallowed his pride and reconciled with Paul
It is in these verses alone that we read that Barnabas was the cousin of John Mark. Sometimes family loyalty can mean it looks the right decision but it may not be the best one.
Mark had deserted Paul’s mission in Pamphylia and it hurt but then Barnabas wanted to bring him back and it seemed too soon for Paul. That was the disagreement between the 2 big men and it led to a parting of the ways.
Even the closest of friends have different opinions at times.
Time heals apparently. Certainly by the time of writing this letter we see 3 things:
Paul was no longer offended.
No relationship is irrevocably beyond healing.
Paul writes in support of Mark.
I love that last detail the most. In fact, I have to say I didn’t know this until I read it this morning. The Colossians had received a letter about Mark and no doubt it was to pave the way, clear away the messy story, to show that things are forgiven, to promote Mark again. Do we need to do this? One more thing, they knew Barnabas, but we don’t know how. Barnabas must have met them, he must have visited them on a missionary journey. This is exciting because it shows that the Book of Acts isn’t the full encyclopaedia of what was going on with the spread of the gospel. There were many more stories that we don’t know! One day in heaven maybe we get the film of those events?! This leads nicely to the third friend.
Friend number 3 – Jesus Justus, a friend who is unknown.
There are many unknowns today, in prison, tortured, deprived of their human rights,. Many unknowns facing shame and lifelong battles with their families for becoming Christian.
This man had 2 names, a Jewish one (Jesus) and a Roman one (Justus). A Jew who came to Christ and was a huge comfort to Paul. There are many converts today who become heroes to others. They are often unknown but who give themselves to fundraising, helping with food, clothes and all kinds of need. They passionately live to help others. They campaign, raise awareness of things we wouldn’t think about, they find solutions and become the solution to someone. They hold the hands of the dying, they risk their own lives for the rescue, they speak to those who are ignored and speak for the voiceless. They cross the road and nations, leaving comfort for chaos and realise they have been put here in this world to change it for someone. They stand against injustice and will not let evil win. Love is their motivation and fairness their scale. The poor, the widow, the sick and the marginalised become the central focus. It is their face we see not the face of the hero. They have become a gift from God, a friend, unknown but known. May we live our lives this way.