We’re suckers for a good comeback story. Take for instance, Alex Rodriguez, the infamous Yankee slugger. A year ago he was an anathema. Disgraced, he was suspended from major league baseball for illegal use of steroids. “Cheater! Disgrace! Get rid of da bum!”… Now this year he’s redeemed himself and become the darling of Yankee fans. “We love ya A-Rod! Put ’em in the Hall of Fame!”
Now why is that? We’ll I think it’s because deep down we all believe in second chances. And that’s because we’ve all needed a second or third chance ourselves.
The story of Mark in the New Testament is a great comeback story. The early believers we read about in the Book of Acts weren’t superstars. They were mostly ordinary working class people who had taken their marching orders from Jesus, learned to live under the influence of the Holy Spirit and ended up turning the Roman world upside-down.
But as the Book of Acts also points out, it wasn’t a piece of cake.
Their world was as crazy and troubled as ours today. And like you and I, they had to overcome their own sinfulness, messy humanness and failures. So the question I want to pose is this: Do you ever remember messing up and later getting a second chance to prove yourself and make up for it? Or, maybe you’re still waiting for that second chance to prove you’ve changed for the better, and you simply need someone to give you a shot?
That’s Mark’s story. Mark is the same guy who wrote the gospel.
We’re first introduced to Mark at Jesus’ arrest where he’s depicted as something of a coward. It’s widely believed that the “young man” mentioned there is Mark himself. When the mob tried to grab him, he ran away naked, in disgrace, leaving his clothes and Jesus behind.
Years later, we are reintroduced to him in Acts 13:5 where we read, “When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.”
Here he’s called John but it’s the same Mark. John was his Jewish name and Mark his Roman name. Paul and Barnabas have set out on their first missionary journey. Their travels took them through some dangerous territories. Mark goes along as their helper. Oh, by the way, Barnabas and (John) Mark were cousins.
Then just a few verses later, in Acts 13:13, we read, “John Mark left them and went back to Jerusalem.” Was it homesickness? Was he prejudiced towards Gentiles? Had it become too dangerous for him? We’re only told that he quits. So fifteen years earlier Mark was a coward, who fled, leaving Jesus behind, now he quits on his cousin Barnabas and Paul.
Fast forward a couple of years later… Now Barnabas wants to give Mark a second chance, but Paul says, “No way”, which causes a falling out between the two apostles and the two split and go their separate ways.
So, not only was Mark a coward and a quitter he now causes trouble between two friends.
These are major setbacks in any person’s to overcome. Yet, ten years after that, the apostle Peter considers Mark to be special to him. We read in 1 Peter 5:13, “So does my son Mark.” Something has happened. The coward and the quitter apparently has made a comeback. He’s now seen by one of the great leaders of the early church as someone so valuable that he is like a son to him.
Then in the letter to the Colossians, the same Paul who was fed up with Mark’s unreliability lists him as one of his valued team members.
“And Mark, one of my fellow workers.” The guy who was a coward and a quitter is now considered to be part of Paul’s inner circle!
In 2 Timothy Paul also wrote, “Mark can be very helpful to me, so please bring him with you.” This young man who had suffered two major setbacks – running away and quitting – and caused a fight between two friends, has made such a comeback that the apostle believes Mark could be very helpful and wants him brought to him.
Finally, on top of all that, this one time loser goes on to write the first of the four gospels, blessing every Christian that ever lived.
What happened to Mark? How did he go from disappointing failure to comeback kid? The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly but apparently
something changed in Mark so dramatically that he overcame his setbacks. What easily could have destroyed him didn’t. We’re left only to speculate. More than likely cousin Barnabas took the demoralized young man under his wing so that God could perform an extreme makeover on him. What we do know is that Mark made an incredible comeback. Peter and Paul both ended up seeing him in an entirely new light. What’s the lesson here? It’s simply this: Despite past mistakes, failures and setbacks you can be like Mark and make a comeback.
I relate with Mark. When we went off to college in Springfield Missouri, Char and I were already married and had an infant son to look after so we both took jobs. I worked as a custodian for JC Penny. Our crew was made up of mostly students from two Christian schools in town. We’d start at six in the morning before the store opened. They’d lock us in and we’d clean up. It was kind of spooky being left all alone in this great big dark, empty department store with the mannequins and mirrors but we got used to it.
There we were with nobody around looking over our shoulder (or so we thought) so we’d waste a lot of time shooting the breeze and checking out the merchandise which of course was a big no, no! As it turned out, management must have had an eye in the sky or something and I got caught red handed trying on the latest fashions. I was called up to the office and got fired, but not until I got a good stern dressing down from the personnel manager…
“You Christians are all the same”, he said, “You just stand around talking about the Bible but you don’t know how to work! You talk about God while you steal time!”
In that moment I realized I had broken a sacred trust and brought shame to Jesus. I was mortified. I’d given Christianity a black eye and ruined my testimony! How would I live this down? What would Char think? I was supposed to be preparing for the ministry. How could the Lord or anybody ever trust me again? But thank God for second chances. With God’s help, the support of friends and the wise counsel of an older believer, I was able to face my failure, learn my lesson and rebound.
We all have regrets, don’t we? We’ve all messed up. But if we can learn from those mistakes and not repeat them, then we’ve gained wisdom and we can move on in life. The Bible is full of people who received second chances, and even third and fourth chances: Peter, Jonah, Mark, Samson, David, and others, all trophies of God’s grace.
Psalm 86:15 says it well: “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
Micah 7:18 tells us,“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.”
We all need second chances. When we’re feeling useless we all need to know we can become useful. We all need the gracious favor of the Lord to help us learn from our failures, moral or otherwise, and become the person God intended us to be.
So let me ask you, is there something you need to overcome – a failure or setback – that you need to work through to become the person the Lord sees in you? Because if anyone has ever seen potential in you, sees what you can be; if anyone has been willing to give you a second chance after blowing it, it’s Jesus. That’s his specialty. Remember God’s not finished with you yet. There’s still room for growth and improvement in all of us.
Or maybe someone has failed you or let you down so bad that you’ve given up on that person; given up on that relationship? Well maybe it’s time to give that person a second chance? It might spark a comeback in that person’s life and who knows, they might end up like Mark?