Did you make any New Year’s resolutions at the beginning of this year? Have you kept any of them? Chances are that your diet and exercise resolution went out the window months ago. What about your resolution to read through the Bible in a year? Are you discouraged because of your lack of discipline? Maybe you don’t care about the past failures because you are struggling with a major failure in your life right now – a failure far more serious than a broken New Year’s resolution. Have you failed the Lord in a way that you think is unforgivable? Are you guilt-ridden as a result? Do you despair of ever living a life that is pleasing to God? Do you feel that there is no way you will ever be useful in future service for our Lord? Well take hope, because your failure is not final! Even serious failure in the Christian life does not have to be the point of no return. Failure can never be justified, but it can be an opportunity for the love and grace of God to be magnified. The Lord knows that we are weak and prone to failure, and He graciously provides restoration for the repentant believer (Ps. 103:8-14). God has a wonderful way of picking up the pieces and making something beautiful of a broken Christian’s life. There are many biblical examples where failure in the believer’s life was not the end of effectiveness for God. Much could be written about failure in the lives of Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Jonah and other Old Testament heroes. But let’s just look at two examples from the New Testament – Peter and Mark.
One of the most familiar stories in the life of the apostle Peter is his denial of the Lord Jesus (Lk. 22:56-62). We wonder how Peter could have done such a thing. But would we have been any more faithful in a similar circumstance? On the night of the Last Supper Peter was so confident of his faith that he declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” The Lord Jesus replied, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows tonight, you will deny three times that you know Me.” And Peter rashly replied, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (Mk. 14:27-31 NIV).
Only a few hours later Jesus’ prediction was fulfilled. Peter declared three times, “I don’t know this Man you’re talking about” (Mk. 14:71). Can you imagine Peter’s guilt when suddenly the rooster crowed, and Jesus, now a captive, looked straight at him, sorrowfully. As Peter went out from the courtyard and wept bitterly, he must have thought his failure was final. After all, he had not only denied being one of the Lord’s friends, he had sworn that he didn’t even know Him! When Jesus was led away to His trial and crucifixion, Peter probably thought that any opportunity to express his remorse and ask forgiveness from the Lord was gone forever.
But Peter’s failure was not final. In His grace, the Lord had great plans for Peter. At the restoration breakfast by the Sea of Galilee, Peter was a special object of Jesus’ love. The Lord knew all about Peter’s thoughts and feelings of guilt, and knew exactly how to tenderly restore him with a question-and-answer technique recorded in John 21:15-17. Our Lord’s gentle restoration of Peter was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s wonderful messianic passage: “A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish” (Isa. 42:3).
It has often been pointed out that Jesus used two different well-known Greek words for love in this Q & A session when He asked Peter, “Do you love Me?” The Greek word phileo refers to “tender affection,” and the word agapao refers to love that involves “voluntary self-denial for the sake of the loved one.” The Lord used agapao in His first and second questions to Peter, and phileo the third time. But Peter responded withphileo all three times. Most likely the Lord was speaking to Peter in Aramaic, which does not have parallel words and nuances for these two Greek words for “love.” However, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, John (who was present at the conversation) used these specific Greek words to precisely convey the essence of our Lord’s restorative conversation with Peter.
After his recent experience of brash declaration and subsequent failure, Peter was probably too ashamed to profess agapao love (love that involves willing self-sacrifice) for the Lord. But the Lord still had plans for him. As the perfect counselor, Jesus told Peter that his failure was not final, and Peter went on to be greatly used by God! His love for Jesus led to sacrificial service for the remainder of his life – even to imprisonment and death as a martyr. If the Lord forgave and restored Peter, will He not do the same for us? God is teaching us this wonderful lesson by recording the failure and restoration of Peter in His Word.
Mark was not an apostle, but clearly he was associated with the apostles from the earliest days of Christianity. It is quite possible that the young man who ran away on the night of Jesus’ arrest was Mark (Mk. 14:51-52). The early believers met in the house of Mary, Mark’s mother. Peter went there when he was miraculously released from prison (Acts 12). In 1 Peter 5:13, Peter refers to Mark as his son in the faith. Whether Peter led Mark to faith in Christ is not known, but there was certainly a spiritual father/son relationship between them.
The apostle Barnabas was Mark’s cousin (Col. 4:10), and it was through Barnabas that Mark was introduced to Paul. Barnabas and Paul had come to Jerusalem from Antioch to bring a gift of relief to the church in Judea because of widespread famine (Acts 11:27-30). When Barnabas and Paul returned to Antioch, Mark went with them. Thus he was in the right place at the right time when Paul and Barnabas started on their first missionary journey. Mark joined them and shared in their ministry on the island of Cyprus (Acts 12:25-13:5).
But when the mission team was ready to leave for the interior of Asia Minor, Mark returned home to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Why? We don’t know for sure. Maybe he was homesick. Maybe he was physically sick with some kind of “Asian Flu”! Maybe he didn’t like the rigors of missionary travel – after all, the up-coming itinerary included crossing rugged, robber-infested mountains. Maybe he didn’t like the subtle change in leadership from his cousin Barnabas to the younger man, Paul. Maybe Mark had some theological differences with Paul.
In any case, Mark defaulted on his commitment to the Lord and to the mission team. As far as Paul was concerned, this failure disqualified Mark from going on the second missionary journey (Acts 15:38). Paul and Barnabas disagreed so strongly over taking Mark that they separated from each other. Paul departed with Silas to Asia Minor while Barnabas took Mark with him to Cyprus. The fact that two missionary teams resulted from Mark’s previous desertion does not condone Mark’s failure, but it does show that God can use our failures to accomplish His purposes.
The Bible doesn’t tell us about the results of the ministry of Barnabas and Mark on the island of Cyprus, but Mark’s subsequent activities prove that his failure was not final. The Lord did not remove Mark from Christian service. About ten years later, when Paul was under house arrest in Rome, he wrote letters of instruction and encouragement to individuals and local churches, and we read that Mark was not only back in Paul’s good graces, but was a valued member of his team once again. Mark joined in with the other team members in Paul’s personal greetings to Philemon (Phile. 24). Greetings from Mark are also included in Colossians 4:10, and Paul urged the church at Colossae to welcome Mark if he came to visit. Apparently Mark continued serving the Lord under Paul’s direction when Paul was released from his house arrest in Rome. When Paul wrote his last letter, during his second Roman imprisonment, Mark was commended once again. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11). Mark’s former failure was only a temporary setback in his walk of faith.
A further clue that Mark’s failure was not final is the fact that God chose him to write one of the books of the Bible, and the theme of his gospel is “Christ as the Perfect Servant.” How wonderful that God chose Mark to serve Him as the inspired writer on that great theme! Is any further proof needed that God is able to pick up the broken pieces in the life of a believer who has failed? The fact that the apostle Paul did not permanently eliminate Mark from future Christian service with him is a valuable lesson for us.
Encouragement For Us
Some Christians continue to hold past failures against repentant fellow-believers, causing them to become discouraged and demoralized. Other Christians subconsciously regard those who have failed as permanent “second class” Christians because of past faults. But the failure of a brother or sister in Christ is not necessarily a sign of a permanent character flaw. Let’s be careful not to blaspheme the character of God by refusing to forgive those who are truly repentant and whom God is willing to forgive (Eph. 4:32; 1 Jn. 1:9). We need to be ready to forgive them and restore them to fellowship and useful service.
Let’s not be harder on our fellow-believers than God is. Restoration of a failed believer to useful service is an important function of spiritual fellow-believers. Paul writes, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently” (Gal. 6:1). The Greek word for “restore” is the same word used elsewhere for “setting broken bones” or “mending torn nets” – a clear indication that the restored believer will be useful for service for Christ in the future.
God has preserved these incidents from the lives of Peter and Mark on the pages of Scripture, and this fact should be an encouragement to all of us. No Christian can claim a failure-free life. Discouragement and doubt can snowball when we fail. We wrongly jump to the conclusion that God is done with us. Let’s be careful not to lower the character of God by refusing to believe that He will forgive our failures – no matter how bad they may have been. There may be consequences to forgiven failure, and many biblical examples demonstrate this truth. But failure is not final! The lives of Peter and Mark prove that nothing could be further from this truth!
By David R. Reid
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org