Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 February 24, 2019
“When You’ve Blown It”
Saturday, April 28, 1979, at first glance, lives in infamy. It was my debut for the Cardinals, a higher-level Little League team in the Lavonia-Carnesville, Georgia, Little League. In the top of the sixth, and final inning, I stood in left field less than two weeks from my tenth birthday. My team, undefeated for three years, led the Mets 6-5. The Mets had runners on first and second bases, when a line drive barely cleared above our leaping third baseman—perhaps the best defensive third baseman ever at that level in our league, and himself now a preacher of the Gospel. The line drive is not a hot grounder heading for me. I get the glove down—a fraction too late. The ball goes between my legs, to the fence, and the score is 7-6, Mets, when the dust settles. We hold them there and go to our last at bat down a run.
We manage to load the bases in the bottom of the inning—just in time for me to step into the batter’s box. The pitcher for the Mets, apparently ten feet tall, obliged me with three consecutive pitches out of the strike zone. One more out of the strike zone would force me to first base, all the other runners forward a base—including the runner from third home to tie the game. I looked to my head coach in the dugout, who gave the take sign. In other words, I was not to swing, no matter the pitch’s location. The pitcher at last, fed me a strike. The process repeated itself again for strike two. I looked into the dugout, got the take sign once again—and the pitcher, with both dugouts and bleachers at fever pitch, blazed strike three through the heart of the plate. Thus the Cardinals went down to defeat—and I returned to the home dugout the goat of the decade—if not the century. Though my head coach, in the immediate post-game meeting, made a point of declaring to all my teammates that I had not lost the game, I felt that I had lost the game, and the season, and the great tradition that was the Lavonia Cardinals Little League baseball team.
Alas, at times we blow it in life—and, alas, we blow it in Christian service from time to time as well. When we do this—and when we come to our senses over it—we feel as bad, if not many times worse, than I did that early Saturday evening in Lavonia nearly forty years ago. To us each and all, then, we have a wonderful word of grace today from God’s Word as we consider the life and ministry of Mark in today’s text. May the Lord indeed speak this Word deeply and sweetly to our souls.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
John Mark, commonly known simply as Mark, was an early disciple of the Lord Jesus. He was as a critical juncture timid and frightful, as he tells himself in Mark 14:51-52. He refers to himself as simply a man wearing a linen garment—with nothing underneath—at Jesus’ arrest. When certain young men laid hold of Mark, presumably to arrest him, he left them holding the garment and ran away naked. Years later, Mark’s boyhood home received Peter after he was delivered miraculously from the prison of Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:12). With this brief introduction now complete, we come to the signal ministerial failure of Mark’s life (cf. Acts 15:36-40).
Mark went out with Barnabas, his cousin, and Paul on Paul’s first missionary journey (ca. A. D. 46-48). They enjoyed initial successful ministry in Barnabas’s native Cyprus, but, once the party reached the now-Turkish mainland, Mark left them at Perga, in Pamphylia (Acts 13:13), and did not complete the missionary journey. We have no explicit reason given in Scripture for Mark’s departure, but at least Paul, apparently, took a dim view of it.
Paul and Barnabas, at the outset of Paul’s second missionary journey (ca. A. D. 49), contended sharply about Mark. Paul thought it unwise to take Mark, whereas Barnabas wanted to take him along. Hence, Paul and Barnabas parted company. Paul took Silas on the second missionary journey—to Europe—while Barnabas took Mark back to Cyprus. Some have concluded from the record of this rupture that Paul was in the right and Barnabas was in the wrong, but I hesitate to draw that conclusion. Now there are two missionary teams, whereas formerly there was but one. Perhaps also, as we shall see, the ministry in Cyprus may have proven most helpful to Mark.
Mark eventually served as Peter’s main helper in Rome. Peter, at the end of his first general letter, calls him my son (1 Peter 5:13). He wrote the Gospel bearing his name—perhaps as early as six years after the rapture between Paul and Barnabas, and perhaps as early as nine years after his departure from Paul’s first missionary journey. Mark, apparently, is restored to Paul’s confidence here, for Paul commands the Colossian church to welcome Mark if he comes there. Certainly Mark is restored to Paul’s confidence in 2 Timothy 4:11, where Paul commands Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him to me, for he is useful to me in my ministry.” Indeed Mark remained useful to the end of his days; some early church histories declare that he, presumably late in life, was bishop of Alexandria, Egypt—then the second-largest city in all the Roman Empire after Rome itself. This is quite a recovery from his station after departing Paul’s missionary band. How did this glorious recovery occur?
Some potential secondary causes now march before us for consideration. Perhaps the restorative ministry of his cousin, Barnabas, the son of encouragement himself, did much to restore Mark to ministerial usefulness. Perhaps the passage of time helped too. Perhaps all parties involved, Paul above all, saw the matter differently. Now let us look at the primary cause of Mark’s recovery. God forgave and repaired Mark, and He repaired Mark’s reputation before others. Hence, Mark came to a season of ministerial acceptance and usefulness unknown heretofore in his life and ministry—and God by His Spirit brought it to pass.
Everyone, including all of us who are in Christ, have blown it. We have blown it generally by our sin, which occasions the Savior’s atoning work. We have blown it as well particularly in ministerial failures. We all have these failures; they do not occur solely to pastors, among other full-time, vocational Christian workers. We have failures of commission. We blunder in serving Christ and serving others in His Name—erring in word, deed, and motive. We also have failures of omission; we leave critical things undone that need done in His providence. These leave us hurting, discouraged, and the like—and they leave us wondering if God ever will use us again or if God’s covenant people in Christ ever will look to us favorably for ministries in His Name.
Beloved, hear the good news. God, in Christ, forgives and repairs those who’ve blown it. He did it again and again in the Scriptures, and he does it today, and he shall do it until He comes. True, there may be some lingering after-effects of our failures, and some of these we may carry as long as we live. Yet these are mitigated often. God, in His mercy, often renders them not as painful as they could be—or, perhaps, should be. Moreover, God often sanctifies these failures to our use. My failure on the baseball field forty years ago—and my failures in ministry over the years—have resulted in blessing unto others, better service unto the Lord and unto people, and deeper understanding and experience of God’s love and grace. Know something else as well: These ministerial failures will not follow us to Glory. Though they may smart at times throughout this life, the end of this life is where it ends. Moreover, as noted earlier, sometimes He transmutes our failures and sorrow over them into rich fellowship with Himself and precious ministry in His Name.
Yes, despite ministerial failure, God forgives us—and He repairs us. He repairs us for fellowship with and enjoyment of Himself, and He repairs us for future ministerial service. Let us glory, then, in our compassionate, merciful, triune God.