By Mark E. Hardgrove, D.Min.
Text: 2 Tim 4:9-11, NKJV
9 Be diligent to come to me quickly; 10 for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica — Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.
Have you ever been given a second chance? Maybe the first time you messed up, you did wrong, or you failed, it looked like it was all over, but then someone gave you a second chance. Maybe it was a football coach who let you run with the ball after you fumbled at a critical point in the game. Maybe it was a spouse who decided to forgive you for your unfaithfulness and trusted you not to make the same mistake twice. Maybe it was God who took you back after you failed Him miserably and gave in to temptation yet again.
Let me show you what I mean about second chances. I have here an Etch-a-sketch, which was a common Christmas gift when I was a young boy. The Etch-a-sketch is a drawing board full of something like sand that adheres to the glass. By turning the knobs I can sketch a picture on the glass. I want to draw you a picture of a cross. This takes more skill than you think. Oops! I messed up. Now what do I do? Kick it to the curb? Should I throw it away and conclude that I am a failure at drawing crosses on the Etch-a-sketch? No, of course not! All I have to do is turn the thing over and give it a couple shakes and the mistake is gone. Now I have clean slate to try again. I get a second chance.
I) THE GOD OF SECOND CHANCES
How many of you know that we serve a God who is a God of the second chances? The Bible is full of examples of men and women whom God gave another chance to get it right. One classic example is Jonah.
God spoke to the prophet Jonah and told him that He wanted Jonah to go down to Nineveh and preach to the people. Their wickedness had brought them to the point of God’s judgment, but God was going to give them an opportunity to repent and He wanted Jonah to preach the message. Instead of obeying the Lord, however, Jonah decided to run in the opposite direction from Nineveh. He got on a ship headed to Tarshish.
Most of you who are familiar with the story know that God was going to insist that Jonah listen to Him. God caused a great storm to arise on the sea and finally Jonah confessed to the crew of the ship that the storm was his fault for disobeying God. Jonah agreed to be tossed overboard to save the ship. God prepared a large fish—or as we know it, a whale—to swallow Jonah. It was here that God got Jonah’s attention and for three days he cried out to the Lord from the belly of the whale. God heard Jonah’s prayer and the whale spit him out on the shore, about three days journey from Nineveh.
Then in chapter 3 of the book of Jonah, verse 1, we find the words that have always encouraged me and have been my own source of hope after I’ve failed miserably. It says, “And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time.”
God gave Jonah a second chance and this time Jonah obeyed. As a result of Jonah’s obedience an entire city repented and was spared from the wrath of God.
II) THE SECOND CHANCE FOR JOHN MARK
I could point to many other examples, but I want to look in the New Testament at a young man named John Mark. There are several references to Mark the New Testament and many believe he was the young man who followed Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane. When he was grabbed by the soldiers, he pulled free from his garment and ran from the garden naked (Mk.14:51-52). Some believe this Mark’s signature in the Gospel that bears his name, for this account is found only in Mark’s Gospel.
In the Book of Acts, chapter 12, Mark is mentioned as the son of a woman named Mary, who was apparently a fairly wealthy woman as she owned a home spacious enough for many people to gather in prayer for Peter’s release from jail.
In addition to the book of Acts, Mark’s name also appears in the epistles of Paul and Peter. Mark was his Greek name and John was his Hebrew name, thus he is sometimes referred to as John whose surname was Mark, to help distinguish him from Apostle John.
In our text from 2 Timothy, we find the words of Paul, a Roman prisoner facing execution. Paul knows his time is short and so he urges Timothy to come quickly. Paul notes that one of his former friends and ministry companions, Demas, has forsaken him. Not only has Demas left Rome in the face of increasing persecution against the Christians by order of Nero, but Crescens has departed for Galatia and Titus for Dalmatia. Paul tells Timothy, “only Luke” the faithful physician, has remained with him. Then, almost as an afterthought, Paul adds, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.”
That’s quite a commendation. The great Apostle Paul said of Mark, “he is useful to me for ministry.” But Paul had not always had such a high opinion of Mark. In fact, at one point, Mark had disappointed Paul and Paul lost confidence in Mark’s ministry.
A) The Ministry Meltdown of Mark
Mark began as a member of the missionary team with his cousin Barnabas and Paul. Acts 12:25 tells us: “And Barnabas and Saul [Paul] returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark.”
However, between Acts chapter 12 and Acts chapter 15, something happened. Mark had apparently left the mission team for awhile, and now in chapter 15 Mark wants to rejoin the mission and Barnabas wants Mark to rejoin the mission, but Paul is resolute in his refusal to allow Mark to rejoin the mission. Reading from Acts 15:37-41
37 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. 39 Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
Paul was insisting that Mark should not come with them, while Barnabas, the encourager and the cousin of Mark, was equally insistent that Mark should join them. In the end the contention resulted in two missionary teams taking the gospel into two different directions.
No doubt Satan intended to use this difference of opinion to stop the progression of the gospel, but God simply used the incident to multiply the mission effort of the church by two. Paul took Silas and went to Syria and Cilicia, while Barnabas and Mark sailed to Cyprus.
We don’t know why Mark bailed out of that first missionary journey. It may be that as a young man he simply got homesick. It may be that he had some sickness or infirmity in his own body that caused him to return home. We don’t know what the reason was, but whatever it was the reason did not satisfy Paul. Paul was not one to turn back for any reason. He had been shipwrecked, beaten, left for dead, hungry, rejected and despised by his own countrymen, so Paul had little patience with anyone who would leave the mission for any reason short of death itself. However, whatever the reason was for Mark’s departure from the mission field, Mark returned with Barnabas, and in time, regained the respect of Paul.
B. Paul’s Revised Opinion
It is obvious from our text that Paul later changed his opinion of John Mark. Paul asks Timothy to bring Mark and said of him “for he is useful to me for ministry.” Earlier, in the Epistle to the Colossians Paul also said of Mark:
10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him) (Col 4:10-11, NKJV).
So whatever the reason for Paul’s previous loss of confidence in Mark, it is clear that Mark had regained Paul’s trust and confidence. Paul revised his opinion of Mark and Mark was given a second chance to be a part of the ministry of the great Apostle Paul.
C.) The Legacy of Mark
History proves that Paul’s revised opinion of Mark was justified. Mark became the author of the first Gospel account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The early church Father, Papias, writing around A.D. 130, attributes the Gospel of Mark to John Mark. Papias says that Mark’s Gospel comes from the sermons of Peter and was penned under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In fact, we find that Peter mentions Mark in his first epistle, referring to him as “Mark my son” (1 Pet. 3:15). Furthermore, most biblical scholars believe that Mark’s Gospel is a source of material for both Matthew and Luke’s Gospels. And finally, there is also some early evidence by early church historian Eusebius that Mark later became the bishop of Alexandria.
So the life of Mark is a powerful illustration that one can come back from a failure and still be used powerfully by the Lord to accomplish His plans and purposes. The person Paul lost confidence in later became someone useful in ministry, was a ministry companion of Peter, wrote the first Gospel, and perhaps served as the Bishop of Alexandria, which at the time was a major city in the Roman Empire.
Talk about making the most of your second chance! What an example Mark is for all of us who have dropped the ball at some point in our lives.
III.) THE SECOND CHANCES OF LIFE
Have you ever wished for a second chance, for a do over? I have. We often want that second chance, but we are often reluctant to give others a second chance. Often, when we’ve been disappointed, when someone has burned us once, then we are very hesitant to give them the opportunity to burn us again.
What do we say? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. In other words, if I give you a second chance and you fool me again, then I am the fool. So we simply don’t give many people second chances. God, however, is never fooled. He knows the end from the beginning. He knew Mark was going bail out first time, but God is able to take the rebound and make it a slam dunk. However, we need to be very careful when we’ve been given the second chance that we do not make the same mistakes over and over. God is gracious, but He warns us not to tempt Him (Matt. 4:7).
I recall King Saul in the Old Testament. God gave Saul specific instructions concerning the execution of the war against the Philistines. The first time Saul disobeyed, God allowed him to remain as king, though he would have no sons on the throne (1 Sam. 13:14). But the second time, God rejected Saul as king over Israel (1 Sam 15:26).
We serve a God of the second chances, and in my case I’d say God has given me third and fourth chances, but we must not allow ourselves to be deceived for God is not mocked (Gal. 6:7). We cannot continue in sin and think that God will not chastise us. We cannot thumb our nose at God believe that we can sin with impunity.
There’s going to be a payday someday, and they that sow to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption (Gal. 6:8). However, when God finds a man or woman who is sincerely repentant for their failures, God is willing and able to give us a second chance.
The example of Mark is that even after others have written you off, after others have given up on you, as long as you can look up to Jesus, as long as you are willing to sincerely and humbly call out to Him, you will find that the God of the second chances can put you back into the game, give you another opportunity, and allow you to prove yourself to those who had given up on you.
I can tell you from personal experience that God will give you another chance. In 1983 I was stationed at Loring Air Force Base in Maine as an airman. I went there on fire for God and I got involved in a little Church of God church in Caribou where I began working with Pastor John Giacullo as the youth pastor. But after a year I fell and failed the Lord miserably.
Like Peter on the stormy seas, I got my eyes off Jesus and I began to sink. I started drinking and partying, and before I knew it, I was the prodigal son far from home living in the hog pen.
Before that failure I felt a distinct call of God on my life to go into ministry. I told Pastor Giacullo about this call and he gave me opportunities to speak to the church, as well as to minister to the youth.
It was during my sinful departure from the faith that Sun and I met and we were married. She, like I, was a prodigal child and we were married by a notary public in a bridal shop in Caribou, but we were not serving the Lord. Fortunately, our first year was so rough that God took a bad marriage and gave us both a good reason to return to Him. It was during this time that Pastor Giacullo sent a young couple from the church to visit us, and a short while later Sun and I knelt beside one another at the altar of that little Church of God in Caribou, Maine and rededicated our lives to the Lord. We have had ups and downs, good times and hard times since that day, but we’ve never turned back.
After both of us were back in church, God began to rekindle His call upon my life to go into ministry. Sun knew nothing about the first call. When she and I met I was going into the pre-med program and she thought she was marrying a future doctor of medicine, but God changed that into a doctor of ministry. The problem for me was that I knew how miserably I had failed the Lord and I was wrestling with whether or not God could or would still use me after I had gone so far into sin.
I shared this concern with Sun as I prayed and searched God’s Word for direction. It was during this time that I heard a sermon on the life and ministry of Jonah and that verse spoke so powerfully to me, “the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time.” I began to believe that God was the God of the second chances. I began to believe that maybe God could still use me, and the He had not withdrawn His call upon my life. Still, I felt like I needed confirmation from God.
Not long afterward a woman I had never met before drew Sun and me aside and said that the Lord had given her a word for us and she asked if she could share it with us. We said yes and she began to tell us that God’s hand was upon our lives and that He had great plans for us. He had called us into ministry and He would do more than we could ask or imagine in our lives if we would remain faithful to Him.
Just like John Mark in the Bible, Mark Hardgrove was given a second chance. I haven’t been perfect since that day, but I’ve never gone back, I’ve never forsaken that second chance that He has given me to do His will in my life. Furthermore, I can tell you right now that even if God doesn’t do another thing in my life, if I never benefit from another blessing, God has already done more than I could have asked or imagined. God has been so good to me.
If you’re here today and your prayer is for a second chance, as someone who’s been given a second chance, I want to pray for you.
It may be a second chance to prove yourself at work, a second chance in a marriage, a second chance in ministry, whatever it may be, I believe that if you are sincere, and if you come humbly before the Lord thy God and maker, He will grant you a second chance.
Or maybe you feel like you’ve run out of second chances. I believe God even grants us second chances at second chances when our repentance is sincere and our resolve is fixed on pleasing Him.
The Psalmist said in the 103rd Psalm:
11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.
12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.
14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.
16 For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.
17 But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's children;
18 To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them. KJV
This is the first Sunday of a New Year and I can’t think of any better time than right now, to begin again. Just like this Etch-a-sketch, God can erase the mistakes, can give you a clean slate, and you can begin again to follow the plan of God for your life, for your marriage, for your career, for your family and for your future.
If you want a do-over, if you want a second chance, then come and let someone who has benefitted from the second chance pray with you. After all, today is the first day of the rest of your life.