For Three Failures, and for Four

In the beginning, God made Adam and Eve and put them in the Garden with a simple set of instructions.  As we all know, they blew it, and afterwards, they were ashamed, and hid from God.  

How sad would it have been if God had come down into the Garden, looked around, shrugged and said, “Oh well,” and gone back to heaven?  But of course He didn’t, because He loved them.  So God sought Adam and Eve, calling out for them in the Garden.  When Adam responded, God didn’t just pretend everything was okay.  He went right after the root of their shame, the sin they had committed.  He dragged it out into the light, dealt with it, and promised them a restoration (Gen. 3:15).

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Peter denied Jesus three times, and then went out and wept bitterly.  He knew he’d sinned, but he didn’t let that sin keep him away from Jesus.  Unlike Adam, when the opportunity to be with Jesus arose again, he jumped at it.  John 21 tells the story of how the disciples went fishing, and caught nothing all night.  As they were returning, a man on the shore called out to them to let down their net again, and it was filled with fish.  John recognized that it was Jesus, and Peter jumped in the water and swam to shore to be with Him.  

When the others arrived, they found Jesus already cooking breakfast over a fire.  As they ate, Jesus went right after the root of Peter’s shame: 

“Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.”

“Feed My lambs.”

If Jesus had stopped right there, all the other disciples would know that Jesus still had a use for Peter.  No one would think that he couldn’t be a disciple anymore because he had denied Jesus — after all, Jesus gave him a job to do.  Jesus doesn’t stop there, because He wants to make sure Peter is fully restored.  So He asks again.

“Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”

“Yes, Lord, You know that I love you.”

“Tend My sheep.”

The silence must have hung heavy.  Jesus was clearly up to something.  The other disciples waited.  Peter sat, dreading what he had to know was coming.

“Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”

“Yes, Lord, You know all things; You know that I love you.”

“Feed My sheep.  I tell you the truth: when you were younger, you dressed yourself adn walked where you wished, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and carry you where you do not wish.”

Peter denied Jesus three times; Jesus makes Peter affirm his love for Jesus three times.  The sin can’t be undone, but it is mended.  The root of shame in Peter’s heart has been dragged out into the light.  Three times Jesus affirms that He still has work for Peter to do.  

All this is grace upon grace, but Jesus isn’t done yet.  If He stopped here, Peter would know he was forgiven, and he would know that he was useful, but he would always wonder what would happen the next time his life was on the line.  Would he have the courage to stand up, or would he buckle again, just like the last time?  Peter would wonder, and the devil would prey upon those fears mercilessly.

So Jesus does one more thing: He tells Peter that in the end, he will have the courage to die a martyr’s death after all.  And He says it publicly, where all the disciples can hear.  On the eve of the crucifixion, Peter had claimed to be ready to die for Jesus.  Now, Peter is not only fully restored, he is better off than he was — he is finally the man he thought he was before.  

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John Mark was a young man when he first went with Paul and Barnabas.  He seems to have grown up in Jerusalem, but he had made his way up to Antioch at some point.  We don’t know why he left them at Pamphylia, only that he did.  Maybe he was afraid.  Maybe he was sickly.  Maybe he was homesick.  In any event, he left them, and returned not to the Antioch church that had sent them out, but to his home church in Jerusalem.

Mark must have been tempted to just not go back, to just disappear into a place where nobody knew him.  Once he was past that temptation, he must have been tempted to stay at home in Jerusalem.  However, he didn’t stay in Jerusalem.  By the time Paul and Barnabas were ready to go back and encourage the churches they had planted on the first trip, John Mark had apparently made it back to Antioch, to the church that had sent him out with Paul and Barnabas, the church that he had let down by leaving the work.  He was ready to try again.  Barnabas was willing, but not Paul.  They split up, Paul taking Silas and Barnabas taking Mark with him to minister in Cyprus.

We lose track of John Mark for about 7 years after that, until Paul wrote to the church at Colosse.  In his letter, he reminded them that they had instructions to welcome John Mark if he should come to them.  This little reminder meant two things.  First, it meant that Paul was instructing people not to ostracize John Mark.  Paul had not been ready to rely on him as a partner, but he was not going to let Mark’s failure follow him around for the rest of his life.  Mark was welcome in the churches where Paul ministered, in person or by letter.  Second, it meant that Paul thought it was possible that John Mark would come to the Colossian church.  Why would he think that?  We get a clue in Paul’s letter to Philemon, which was written around the same time.  At the close of the letter, Paul passes on greetings to Philemon from a number of his “fellow laborers” — Aristarchus, Demas, Luke…and Mark.  In the seven years since Paul refused to take Mark with him as a partner, Mark had grown into someone Paul can rely on.  He was with Paul, working alongside him.  Shortly thereafter, Paul sent him out to work on his own.  We know this because   later that same year, Paul wrote Timothy to get Mark and bring him to Paul, “for he is useful to me for ministry.”

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Is there a failure that is weighing you down?  Maybe you’ve never even acknowledged it.  Maybe you have confessed it to God, but you don’t really feel forgiven.  Maybe you grasp that you are forgiven, but the festering wound of your failure continues to plague you, even though you know God has forgiven you.

If any of these things are true of you, know that Yahweh is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  He sought out Adam, and He is calling for you too.  He will go right to the root of your shame, as He did with Adam.  Jesus restored Peter fully to ministry, and He can do the same for you.  The process will probably be painful, as it was for Peter.  But the pain is brief, and the healing lasts a long, long time.

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