Gospel of the Second Chance
August 19th, 1990 @ 10:50 AM
THE GOSPEL OF THE SECOND CHANCE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 4:9-11
And welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television; you are now a part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas. God be praised for the wonderful thing that I humbly believe He will help me present this morning.
The background text is in 2 Timothy. Paul is in prison, in the Mamertine dungeon in Rome, waiting to be executed by Nero, and he writes an amazing appeal to his young son in the ministry, Timothy. So in the fourth chapter, beginning at verse 9, he writes, “Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world . . .Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me in the ministry” [2 Timothy 4:9-11]. Now you read that and just go along, yes, that’s nice; but there’s far more meaning back of that than you could ever realize. “Bring me Mark: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” [2 Timothy 4:11].
He has two names, and for the most part they are always mentioned in the Bible. His name is John Mark. Yohanan, “God is gracious, Jehovah is gracious,” that’s his Jewish name. But he has a Roman name, he has a Latin name: Markos in Greek, Marcus in Latin; John Mark. And that Gospel that he wrote, he wrote for the Gentiles, he wrote for the Romans, he wrote for the Latins, he wrote for the world beyond the Jewish circumference and parameter. It is very unusual, if you look at it carefully, there’s no infancy stories; there’s no genealogy; there are no long addresses in it except an apocalyptic one; there’s only four parables, compared to twenty in Luke; and the action moves furiously; and the story is told vividly. It is a unique message and it is very, very interesting.
If you were to choose somebody to write the life of our Lord, whom would you choose? Would you choose a despised tax collector who was looked upon as a traitor to his nation? Would you have chosen him? Would you have chosen a physician who was seeking to pass as a historian? Would you choose a mystic who found in the simplest things, in the occurrences and providences of life, the revelation and hand of God? And would you have chosen a young man who before difficulty and rigorous possibilities defected and turned back? Would you have chosen him? We’re going to choose him this morning, and look at him: John Marcus, John Mark.
The first time we meet him is in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts. When Simon Peter was liberated from prison by that angel, his fetters fell off, the door is open, and he is led out to freedom, in the street of the city [Acts 12:6-10], verse 12 in chapter 12 of Acts: “When Peter had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying. And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda” [Acts 12:12-13], and then the rest of the story [Acts 12:14-19]. So, he is in an affluent home. It has a courtyard, it has a gate, it has a door; it’s large enough in which many of the saints of God are assembled in intercession. That is the home of John Mark [Acts 12:12-13]. Practically all of those first Christian saints were poor beyond description: not him; he is a very fortunate young man, living in an affluent home.
Now we pick it up again fifteen years later. There is a famine in Judea, in Jerusalem, and up there in Antioch, the capital of the Roman province of Syria, there are two men who have become leaders of a marvelous congregation: Barnabas and Saul, Paul. And the church elects to send gifts to those starving Christians down there in Judea, and they do it by the hands of Barnabas and Paul [Acts 11:25-30, Romans 15:25-26]. So they come down, and after they have ministered to those dear, starving saints in Jerusalem, the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts closes, “And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them, John, whose surname was Mark, John Mark,” that young man [Acts 12:25].
He is described, as you will see later on, as Barnabas’s sister’s son, according to the King James Version, he was the nephew of Barnabas [Colossians 4:10]. So they take John Mark with them to Antioch [Acts 13:5, 14].
Now we come to the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, and it says that after Barnabas and Paul returned up there to Antioch the Holy Spirit said, “Separate Me these two men for the ministry to which I have called them” [Acts 13:2]. And it was an evangelistic missionary journey to Asia Minor [Acts 13:1-4:26]. So it says here that they departed unto Seleucia, that’s the port for Antioch, and from thence they sailed to Cyprus [Acts 13:4]. And when they were at Salamis, in Cyprus, they preached the word of God, “and they had also John to their huperetes, under-rower” [Acts 13:5]. Huperetes originally means “under-rower.” Eretes means “rower”; huperetes, “under-rower”; translated here “minister.”
“And they had John Mark to their minister” [Acts 13:5]. You could translate it “as their servant,” or “their attendant,” or “their helper.” So away they go on their first missionary journey, Barnabas and Paul, and they have this young man, the nephew of Barnabas, John Mark, as their assistant [Acts 13:5].
Now when we come to the thirteenth verse of this thirteenth chapter of Acts, “When Paul and his company loosed from Paphos,” the town on the other side of the island of Cyprus, “they crossed over the Mediterranean to Perga, the capital of Pamphylia,” the Roman province of Pamphylia there on the southern part of Asia Minor; “And John Mark departed from them and returned to Jerusalem” [Acts 13:13]. When he faced the vigors and rigors and difficulties of that first missionary journey, he quit. He defected, and he went back home to his mama Mary in Jerusalem.
Well, in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts you have the story of that Jerusalem conference concerning what to do with those Gentile converts. There was a vigorous party in the Holy City and in that first Christian church who said they have to become Jews first before they can be Christians. They have to be circumcised, and they have to keep the rituals of the law of Moses before they can be saved [Acts 15:5]. Well, of course Barnabas and Paul and those with them vigorously confronted such an avowal [Acts 15:7-12]. And of course, as you know, they decided that you can become a Christian without becoming a Jew. You do not have to be circumcised [Acts 15:23-31].
Well, after that conference was over, why, they returned to Antioch. Paul and Barnabas and Mark, John Mark, is with them again; and Silas is with them [Acts 15:34-35]. Now I’m going to pick it up in the fifteenth chapter, and it closes, “Some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again”—now this would be their second missionary journey—“Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the gospel, and see how they do [Acts 15:36]. And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname is Mark [Acts 5:37]. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who defected, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work [Acts 13:13;15:38]. And the paroxusmos”—you have that exact word spelled out in English, the “paroxysm,” translated here “contention”—“the paroxysm was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed to Cyprus; And Paul chose Silas” [Acts 15:39-40], and started on the great second missionary journey [Acts 15:41].
Well, the defection of that young man Mark, facing the rigors of that missionary assignment, he quit [Acts 13:13]. He went back home. And it precipitated this violent confrontation between Barnabas and Paul [Acts 15:37-40]. And more than that young fellow could stand, caught in the middle. So he quit, he defected [Acts 13:13]. Well, why did he do that? There are two very apparent reasons for it. Number one, he grew up in an affluent home. He grew up as a rich man’s kid. He grew up soft and easy. And it is a rare thing that you will ever find the scion of a well-to-do home who is willing to face the rigors and the difficulties that somebody who is struggling up has to face. And John Mark quit, reared as he was in that affluent family. He quit [Acts 13:13].
Another reason he quit was because of the strain and the intensity of those two personalities, Barnabas and Paul. In preparing this message I looked through the Book of Acts and counted the number of times that Barnabas is numbered, named before Paul, and I counted six times, six times it is Barnabas and Paul. But when you come to the end of that first missionary journey, I read it a moment ago, and you weren’t looking for it, it’s “Paul and company” [Acts 13:13]. It is no longer “Barnabas and Paul” but it is “Paul and company.” And that young fellow who was the nephew of Barnabas, in that confrontation and finally this paroxysm between the two, was just more than he could take, so he quit [Acts 13:13]. He defected. He went back home to his mama.
Now that closes this part of the life of Mark, and he disappears until an amazing come-to-pass. When we come to the end of the life of Paul, he writes to the church at Colosse, “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner salutes you, and so does Mark, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye receive commandments; that if he come to you, receive him)” [Colossians 4:10], as a great emissary from heaven, and a representative of the glorious gospel of Christ, John Mark, whom Paul refused to countenance [Acts 15:37-38], you receive him. What an amazing turn!
Now when I turn to the Book of Philemon, “There salutes you Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus; and Mark,” of all things [Philemon 1:23-24]. And then my text, that I say when you read it you wouldn’t think anything about it, Paul is facing execution, and he’s providing under God for the extension and the preaching of the faith, and he writes to Timothy from that Mamertine dungeon, “Do diligence to come to me: for Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world…Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” [2 Timothy 4:9-11]. That’s the same young fellow that the apostle Paul said, “I wash my hands of him. He defected before difficulty and trial [Acts 13:13]. I do not want him” [Acts 15:36-40]. And the paroxysm was so sharp and intense between those two great men, Barnabas and Paul, that they were torn asunder; and one of them took Mark and the other one took Silas [Acts 15:36-40]. And here the apostle that refused Mark now says, “Bring him to me, for he is profitable to me for the ministry” [2 Timothy 4:11]; the gospel of a possible change, the gospel of a second chance, the gospel of beginning again.
Not only that but there’s another facet to this life of the young man John Mark that is amazing: the unanimous presentation in the Bible, and the emphatic unanimity of all of the church fathers is, that John Mark was the spokesman and interpreter for Simon Peter. Do you remember the first passage that we began with? When Simon Peter was liberated from prison, he went to the home of John Mark [Acts 12:12]. Remember that? Now I’m going to read from the first letter of Peter, the last chapter, chapter 5, and verse 13: “The church that is in Babylon, elected together with you, salutes you; and so doth Mark my son” [1 Peter 5:13]. Paul refers to Titus as his son [Titus 1:4], he refers to Timothy as his son [2 Timothy 1:2], and the apostle Peter says, “Mark my son salutes you” [1 Peter 5:13], talking to all those churches in Asia Minor.
So this young man Mark is a protégé of Simon Peter himself. When I look at the Gospel of Mark, that is apparent. The Gospel of Mark is altogether different from the others. It has no stories of the beginning of our Lord, no stories of His infancy, no stories of His childhood, there’s no genealogies; when it comes to Jewish customs he explains them. He’s writing for the Romans, he’s writing for the Gentiles. And in that Gospel, it starts off with the furious ministry of our Lord, that activity of one after another, things happening day and night. And he starts it off in the home, and with the presence of Simon Peter. He starts it off with Simon Peter [Mark 1:16, 29-34].
When you come to the end of Mark’s Gospel, there is a special message that Jesus sends to Simon Peter after He is raised from the dead, not even mentioned in the other Gospels. It’s plainly Simon Peter [Mark 16:7]. And one other thing, psychological: there is a greater harshness presented against Simon Peter because of his denial of the Lord in Mark’s Gospel than in the other three [Mark 15:66-72]. It is far harsher. Well how could a man who is a friend and protégé of Simon Peter write so tragically about him? Well, the answer is very plain, psychologically, Simon Peter told him to do it: “When you write this message, when you put it down, you put that down, you write that down. That is what I did. God forgive me.” That’s Simon Peter. And the emissary and amanuenses and interpreter and protégé of Simon Peter is there, writing down what Simon Peter says [Mark 15:66-72].
Now that’s not just your pastor’s summarization from reading the Bible. I said a moment ago there’s no unanimity in church history that compares with the unanimity of the fathers, regarding Simon Peter being with John Mark, and John Mark being the interpreter of Simon Peter. Papias of Hierapolis and Polycarp of Smyrna were disciples of the sainted apostle John. And they say that. Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian and Origen and all of them avow that. And I copied from one of them. Irenaeus was taught by Papias and Polycarp. Irenaeus was born in about 115 AD, just right after the death of the last apostle. And Irenaeus writes, quote, “After the death of Paul and Peter, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also handed down to us in writing, the things preached by Peter.” When you read the Gospel of Mark, you are reading what Simon Peter preached about Jesus. He was the spokesman for that great apostle—this defector, this young convert who cowered before the difficulties of that second missionary journey, and who went back home [Acts 13:13].
Well, let me conclude. The gospel of the second chance. the gospel of beginning again, the gospel of God’s use of the weaknesses of men. I know what we all think: in our strengths and in our virtues and in our gifts we magnify the Lord, “Look at me! Look at me! Strong and able, gifted and capable.” God says just the opposite. God says we magnify Him in our weaknesses, in our failures. Paul said in 2 Corinthians chapter 12, “I exult in my difficulties and in my infirmities and in my weaknesses; for when I am weak, then am I strong” [2 Corinthians 12:7-10]. And the whole Bible is just that.
There are no sweeter psalms in the world than those written by the king of Israel David. And out of that tragedy, when he had a man killed to cover his transgression [Psalm 51:1-19; 2 Samuel 11:1-27], are those sweetest psalms that bless us forever. In my weaknesses I exult [2 Corinthians 12:9].
A little maiden girl said to Simon Peter, “You are one of His disciples. You talk like Him!” And Simon Peter said, “You think I talk like Him? Then listen to this!” and he cursed a blue streak [Matthew 26:72]. And while he was cursing that he never knew the Lord, never saw Him, the Lord turned and looked upon Peter; and he went out and wept bitterly [Luke 22:56-62]. That’s the man who preached the sermon at Pentecost [Acts 2:14-40]. When I am weak, then am I strong [2 Corinthians 12:10].
This man Paul, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the children of God, made his way to the capital of Syria to hale into prison those that called upon that holy name [Acts 9:1-2]. This is the man, Paul, that’s the man who wrote most of our New Testament, the Word of God. The possibility of beginning again, the possibility of change, the possibility of being converted, of turning, metanoia, going the other way.
I have seen it all of my life. One of the most marvelous evangelists in America, an addicted drunkard. His little girl died, and out of the casket he stole the little shoes off of that precious little girl, and sold them and bought liquor. That is one of the greatest evangelists in the world; the possibility of a second chance.
In one of my pastorates I had a godly deacon. He was a teacher, we called them then the Intermediates, he was the teacher of the Intermediate boys in our Sunday school; a marvelous man of God. In the evening, at bedtime, his wife was seated in a rocking chair reading the Bible. And he, being an uncouth and despicable sinner, he seized that Book out of her hand and threw it down at his feet, and cursed her, and walked out of the house into the night! When he turned and came back, she was still seated in that rocking chair, sobbing her heart out. That’s my deacon! That’s my fine Sunday school teacher! The possibility of change, the possibility of conversion, the possibility of being somebody new in Christ.
Sweet people, that’s the greatest, grandest gospel in the world! No matter who they are, or what they are, they’re never beyond the pale of the grace [Ephesians 2:8] and love [John 3:16] and mercy of Jesus our Lord [Titus 3:5]; the possibility of a change.
And to you who have heard the message on television, how I could pray that this precious day, this moment you would open your heart to the gospel message of the grace of the Lord Jesus [Ephesians 2:8]. There’s no decision you could ever make in your life comparable to that of that simple receiving by faith the Savior into your heart and house and home [Romans 10:8-13]. On that screen, as you heard, there’s a telephone number; call it. There’ll be a dedicated, consecrated somebody at the other end of that telephone who will tell you how to accept Jesus as your Savior. It’ll be the most precious decision and commitment you could ever make in your life. And I’ll see you in heaven someday.
And in the great throng of people in this sanctuary, down one of those stairways from the balcony, down one of these aisles in the press of people on this lower floor, “Pastor, I’ve decided for God today, and here I am.” “This is my family. We’re all coming.” Or just a couple you, or a one somebody you, make it now, and a thousand times welcome; while we stand and while we sing.