5 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed His name, the Lord. 6 And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”
8 Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshipped. 9 “O Lord, if I have found favour in your eyes,” he said, “then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.”
10 Then the Lord said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you.”
1 Hear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.
2 Guard my life, for I am devoted to you. You are my God; save your servant who trusts in you.
3 Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long.
4 Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
5 You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you.
2 Peter 3:8-9
8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Has someone ever let you down? Have you ever trusted someone with something personal, only to find it doing the rounds on the rumour mill? Have you ever really depended on someone to do something, and they promised they’d do it, but you’re still waiting?
We’ve all been let down by people we’ve trusted. When those times happened, how did you react? Did you give them a second chance?
On the other hand, how often have you let someone down? How have you failed or betrayed someone’s trust? Maybe you said something you shouldn’t have said and your words have created all kinds of hurt and heartache.
How did people respond to your failures? Were you given a second chance?
The Bible is full of stories of people given second, third, fourth and more chances to make things right when they have let God and other people down.
Mark is one such character – the same Mark who wrote the gospel of Mark in the New Testament.
He lived a life full of ups and downs, and as we look at his life we learn about our great God of second chances.
In Mark 14 we find a rather strange story which is not recorded in the other Gospels. The setting is Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, and we pick up the story from verse 48: “Am I leading a rebellion,’ said Jesus, ‘that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.’ Then everyone deserted Him and fled. (Then we read verses 51 and 52). A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized Him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.”
Most Biblical scholars believe that Mark was referring to himself here. We know that all of the disciples deserted Jesus after His arrest, but if Mark is speaking about himself here, we need to ask the question why he mentioned it. If that had been me who ran away without a stitch of clothing, I can assure you that I wouldn’t have written about it! But Mark, inspired by the Holy Spirit, did. And he did this for a good reason. Mark, just like each of us, could not be trusted to keep all of his promises, but God would not only restore him – He would use him powerfully in the early years of the Church.
We tend to focus on Peter’s restoration after denying Jesus three times. They all failed Him though, but that was not the end of the story, because God is the God of second chances.
If we move forward to Acts 12, we find Peter arrested and imprisoned by King Herod. As he is awaiting his trial and inevitable execution, an angel appears and miraculously frees him from his cell. We’re told in verse 5 that the Church was praying for Peter. In those early days there were no Church buildings like today – they met in each other’s homes, and in verse 12 a prayer meeting for Peter was being held in Mark’s house.
But that is still not the end of Mark’s story.
He was right in the thick of things in building the early Christian Church.
Towards the end of Acts 12 we find Paul and Barnabas returning from Jerusalem to Antioch. Something about Mark must have impressed them, because they took Mark with them to Antioch, and then also on their missionary trip to Cyprus.
Mark's Christian life and his zeal for Jesus must have caught the eye of Paul. Paul's first missionary journey began as a trio, because Mark went along as Paul and Barnabas's assistant on this journey.
So as Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas, he saw the power of God at work in the most amazing ways. He saw a demon-possessed man struck blind because he opposed the work of God. He saw a senior government official accept Jesus Christ as his Saviour. Mark saw for himself the great power of the gospel as people came to salvation.
But then something goes wrong. Acts 13:13 says simply, “From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem.” (Mark was also called John, so we know this is the same Mark who wrote the gospel of Mark).
Mark left Paul and Barnabas and headed home. What happened? Was he homesick? Was he scared and couldn’t cope with the stress and struggles that come with serving God?
We’re not sure exactly why he left Paul and Barnabas, but we do know that his leaving was awkward and created issues later on.
The story continues in Acts 15 when Paul and Barnabas are preparing for a second missionary trip to Cyprus: “Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the Churches.” (Acts 15:36-41)
There is an important footnote in this last verse. Despite personal disagreements and personal pride and ego affecting the work of the Christian Church, God still moves in the Church.
A wise man once said that the Church is effective not because of Christians, but in spite of them…
Mark had created so much drama that the tension between Paul and Barnabas meant that these partners in the Gospel actually went their separate ways. Barnabas wanted to try Mark again, but Paul insisted that Mark had let them down. He’d abandoned them and their work and was not worthy to go again.
The disagreement was so severe that these two great men of God split up over Mark, and he goes off with Barnabas to Cyprus while Paul and Silas go in the opposite direction.
We don’t hear from Mark again for years, until we find him mentioned in Colossians 4 with - Paul.
The setting is Rome and Paul is under house arrest, and he is writing his final greetings at the end of his letter to the Church in Colosse. In Colossians 4:10 Paul writes “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.)”
In Philemon 24 Paul calls Mark a fellow worker. In 2 Timothy 4:11 he says “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”
Mark also served with Peter in his later years.
Of course, the greatest honour given to Mark was that he was chosen by God to write what we know as the gospel of Mark.
This is a man who ran away naked from the Garden of Gethsemane. He caused a rift between two of the greatest evangelists in the history of the Christian Church, but something happened to change all of that.
Somewhere along the line Mark decided that he would not to be a flash in the pan. At some point, Mark re-evaluated his commitment to the Lord and decided to do something about it. He didn't want to be known as a Christian who started out strong and them just faded away.
The last words we have about Mark is that he was not useless, but was valuable in the life of the early Church.
So what can we learn from Mark’s story?
Firstly, a good start for a Christian is only the beginning. Mark certainly started well. He was not one of the original twelve disciples, but if it was indeed him in the garden, then we now that he spent time with Jesus as one of His early followers.
He was an active member of the early Church, but the Christian life is more than just starting well.
Our salvation is not the end of it all - it is only the beginning.
Our salvation is the beginning of a life-long walk with God. In Philippians 2:12-13 Paul writes, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
Sadly, many people in the Church hardly move beyond the step of salvation. Those who don’t are missing out on the greatest blessings that follow. We are responsible for moving forward in our Christian life.
Mark was on a missionary journey with two giants of the Christian faith, but being surrounded by such great men didn't guarantee Mark's relationship with the Lord. Somewhere and somehow his faith let him down and he ended up back at home.
It’s good to surround yourself with people who have a strong faith. We can learn so much from each other, but fellow Christians cannot walk with Jesus on your behalf.
I am responsible for seeking the Lord with all my heart, soul, body, and mind, and so are you.
Someone once said that we don't grow closer to the Lord through osmosis with others, but by continually deepening our relationship with Him.
The truth is that we can and do become spiritually distracted. This thing we call life happens and we find ourselves drifting away from Jesus, even if it’s our intention not to.
When the things of this world become a greater concern than our walk with God, alarm bells should start ringing.
When things get a little tough, we tend to start looking for easier ways to do things, but we must guard against this in our spiritual lives.
There are also times we can sense that God is calling us to step out of our comfort zones.
Occasionally we will meet those challenges, but there are also many times that we will not listen, or pretend that we don’t understand what He is saying.
Sadly you see this kind of thing happening in the Church. People are fired up for Jesus, but eventually they withdraw and that fire becomes little more than a flicker, sometimes even burning out completely.
As big as God is, He can be crowded out in the lives of Christians who lose their focus on Him.
But we thank God for His patience with us. The KJV and NKJV use the word ‘longsuffering’ when describing God’s patience. I think that’s an excellent word. We all know what it’s like to have our patience tested, so we can only imagine how God must feel when He has to be patient and longsuffering with us.
Think about Mark's journey back to Jerusalem when he left Paul and Barnabas. I wonder what he told his family when he arrived home unexpectedly. What did he say to the Church? There must have been some very disappointed people there when word spread that Mark was home.
Again, we are not told exactly what happened, but I think it’s safe to assume that he must have mulled over in his mind whether this whole thing was worth it.
People who’d been counting on him had been let down. He certainly let God down.
He could have just faded away, back into the world, and just written off this whole Christianity thing and moved on.
But he didn’t. Somehow God continued to work in his life, and he couldn’t let go.
Mark came back to the Lord and the Lord took him back.
Maybe you’re in exactly the same position Mark must have been in when he got back to Jerusalem.
The good news is that we serve the God of second chances. You can return to Him and He will take you back. In my teens I made all sorts of wonderful, but ultimately empty promises to God, but when I finally came to my senses some 20 odd years later, I experienced His grace in the most amazing ways, and I continue to do so.
I know that there are many of you sitting here today who know exactly what I’m talking about, because you’ve experienced the patience and mercy of God for yourselves.
Christians are given another chance to do great things for the Lord. If you have let God down, you need to know two things.
Firstly, you’re not alone. You are not the first, and you certainly won’t be the last.
Secondly, and more importantly, restoration is waiting for you, just as it was given to Peter, to Mark, and to countless other Christians through the ages.
You can repent of your unfaithfulness to God. He understands your weaknesses far better than you do. This is why He sent His Son to die for you – to pay the price of your sin and your unfaithfulness.
You can turn back to Him and seek Him again, and when you do, you will learn the most amazing thing: You may have wandered away from Jesus, but He has never left you.
Jesus’ last words to His disciples in Matthew’s Gospel, just after giving them the Great Commission are, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
That promise is not dependent on our faithfulness to Him.
It is dependent on His faithfulness to us.
“I am with you always.”
When you turn back to God He will forgive you and take you back with open arms. God is the God of second chances, and He has always had great plans for your life. There is still time for you to allow Him to use you in the most amazing ways.
We are not given the specifics, but there was a serious disagreement between Paul and Barnabas, all caused by Mark’s decision to desert Paul and Barnabas on a previous missionary trip.
Yet later on there are many references to Mark’s faithfulness in his work for the Kingdom (most notably from Paul).
It is clear that Mark fell away from his call to spread the Gospel, only to make a decision later to return to God.
In which ways can you relate to Mark’s story?
How have you “let down” Jesus, only to experience His forgiveness and grace?
We have recently studied the parable of the lost son, but which other Biblical characters can you think of that experienced the forgiveness of the God of second chances?
In which ways have you been able to pass on this grace to people you thought you could trust, only to have that trust betrayed?
How have you been forgiven for letting others down?
One of the biggest obstacles to a joyful Christian life is an unforgiving heart. If you feel able, share with your group how you have struggled (or may still be struggling) to forgive someone in your life.
Read John 20:23
Close by praying for those in your group who are finding it hard to forgive. Ask the Lord to give you the grace to forgive as you have been forgiven.