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Turning Failure into Victory

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“Turning Failure into Victory”

Introduction to Mark                                                                          Pastor Bruce Dick

Various Scriptures                                                                               March 11, 2006

            At some point, every one of us feels like a failure, am I right?  There’s not one of us who cannot remember a time when we have failed with someone or something.  It seems like failure is a part of life.  Here are some synonyms for failure:  insufficient, fall short, deficient, negligent, bankrupt, default.  No one here needs a reminder of what it feels like to fail.  And the power of failure is that the memories are so strong and long-lasting.  It was painful and while you never wanted to remember it, you can’t help but do exactly that. 

            Perhaps my strongest memory of failure (or what felt like failure) was our farm auction sale on April 15, 1998.  By that time, I had been serving here at Bethel since the previous fall, but my dad, brother and I decided to have our auction the following spring.  Trudy was 8.5 months pregnant with Chandler and that day was also her birthday!  There we were on our farm, all of our machinery shiny and polished, watching piece by piece to go near and far.  My dad was having the time of his life.  This auction validated his farming career and was a celebration of success.  For my brother and me, both in our mid-30’s it felt like nothing of the kind.  I remember my nephew, who was then 9 years old, sitting at the top of the steps of our favorite combine, a combine we had let him drive, by the way, and just sitting there with his head in his 9-year old hands.  The way he looked was how I felt inside and tears came to my eyes.  At the age when all my peers were expanding their farming operations, mine was ending. Now understand this; we absolutely knew God was calling us out of farming and to Bethel; that was not the issue; what hurt was the feeling of failure that day.  I remember coming back to work at church the next day and walking into Pastor Marty’s office and saying, “I can’t read, I can’t study, I can’t do anything and I don’t know why.”  Wisely he said, “Bruce, you have just experienced a ‘death’ and you’re going through stages of grief.  Take whatever time you need; do as little or as much as you are able and in time you’ll be back 100%.”  It was some of the wisest council I had ever heard.  I felt like a failure and I needed time to grieve. 

Have you ever felt that way?  It might have been a test in 5th grade that you can still remember.  My high school students in Sunday school class have been taking ACT tests and feeling all kinds of emotions.  It might have been when you were let go from your first job. There are a number of you here who have been divorced; any chance you have felt failure?  Sure you have.  Some of you are getting close to retirement and you don’t have the nest egg you hoped.  Some of you have health issues you never counted on and you can’t do what you wanted to do.  Failure comes in many shapes and sizes. 

Today I am going to introduce you to two men who were failures – and BIG failures at that.  They appear in the Bible and the magnitude of their failures is pretty large. But they both give us hope because God turned their lives around and used their lives for his glory.  In fact you could argue that their failures were part of the process that God used in their lives to give them more impact AFTER their failure than they would have been WITHOUT it.  That’s an important statement, so I’ll say it again.  God can use failure to give you r life more impact AFTER the failure than you would WITHOUT it.  Now that’s not to say that we go looking for failures to be involved in; I’m just saying that since failure is part of each life, then let’s see how greatly God can use it to accelerate and expand our spiritual depth.  I have shared this line with you before that would fit nicely with failure:  “God cannot use a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.”  Pain and failure are often “tools” that God uses in our lives to make us more than we could have been without them.  And the two men I’ll show you today are great examples of that.

I’ll also say that this Sunday marks the beginning of a significant sermon series that will last us for at least the next several months.  It is a study of the Gospel of Mark, one of the 4 Gospels that tell the story of Jesus Christ’s life on earth.  His story is one of 4 told by 4 different men.  Each one of these 4 men tells essentially the same story but through different lenses. Two were disciples themselves two were not.  Each one wrote to different audiences; did you know that?  Each one had a different reader in mind when they wrote.  Let me just share that with you.  Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience and thus portrayed Jesus as the prophesied King, the Messiah they were looking for.  So he emphasized Jesus’ sermons and messages.  Luke wrote to the Greek audience, the shapers of culture and language of their days, portraying Jesus as the perfect man, which they were obsessed with and so he used a lot of parables of Jesus in his Gospel.  John’s gospel is most unique and most unlike the others.  John was writing to the broadest audience of all – all people of all generations; he had a message that transcended culture, race, religion and time and he focused heavily on Jesus’ teachings, which did just that, transcended time.  How about Mark?  Mark wrote his gospel for the Roman audience, not just those who lived in Rome, but particularly those Christians who were being hunted and tortured and killed by the Roman Empire.  His gospel is one of action and power and impact; his is the shortest and there is a sense of urgency as he writes; they need this gospel and they need it now!  So miracles and actions of Jesus are all over the place.  THIS IS A GUY’S GOSPEL! The power of God is on display through Jesus Christ and these suffering Christians needed to be reminded of that power.  Now all of that is to say this:  I’ll bet that many of you didn’t know that the 4 Gospels each have a different audience and purpose and flavor. 

But here’s where we are headed this morning:  I am convinced that when you know Mark’s story and the other example of failure that I am about to share with you, your appreciation for this gospel will increase.  My hope is that in the coming days and weeks, you will pick up your Bible and read it on your own.  Read it in different translations, get a commentary and read what’s going on behind the obvious and immerse yourself in this amazing story as I have done.  I want to let you know that the background study I have done on this gospel is one of the most amazing adventures biblical adventures I have ever been on.  My only hope is that I can translate that not only into information but enthusiasm and even transformation as God stirs in your soul as he has in mine.

Now let me introduce you to our two “failures.”  You know one – Mark; the other is none other than the apostle Peter.  Yes, that Peter.  Let me begin with him, because he comes on the scene before Mark does.  If you know Peter at all, you know that he was eager, aggressive, bold and outspoken, and as one writer said, “with a habit of revving his mouth while his brain was in neutral.” (John MacArthur, p. 12.  He is referred to by this same writer as the “apostle with the foot-shaped mouth!”   His real name was Simon Bar-Jonah, meaning, Simon, son of Jonah.”  But when he met Jesus for the very first time, these are Jesus’ first words to him:  “So you are Simon the son of John?  You shall be called ‘Cephas’ (which means Peter).” (John 1:42)  Petros is the Greek word for “rock or stone.”  Cephas is the same in Aramaic language.  That became his nickname, of which sometimes it was true and sometimes it was the furthest thing from the truth.  He made promises he couldn’t keep and lunged headlong into things he had to bail out of, but at least he went into things with both feet.  Calling him “rock” as Jesus did, was more a goal for him than a statement of fact.  He needed to become a rock rather than a person who would jump and ask questions later. 

Peter is the one that when asked by Jesus who men say that he is, Peter is the first to reply, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:29)  Amazing!  He got it but then he dropped the ball.  In the very next verses, Jesus says that he’s going to suffer, be killed and after 3 days raise again, to which this very eager Peter takes Jesus by the arm, away from the others and tells him, “Don’t say things like that Jesus!  It will hurt morale on the team.” (My paraphrase, since it doesn’t say).  Jesus replies to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!  For you are not setting your mind on things of God but on the things of man.” (Mark 8:33)  Failure #1 – why does he run off at the mouth?

But his most serious failure and the one he is most famous for, occurs the night Jesus is arrested.  That evening, Jesus celebrates the Passover meal with his disciples for the last time while he is alive and as that evening is ending, Jesus tells the 11 that are left (Judas has gone) that they will all scatter when he is crucified, to which Peter replies that while the other 10 might, he never would!  Jesus turns to him and says, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” (Mark 14:30)  And Peter can’t let that one go either so he says emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.”  But you know how that turned out later that night, don’t you?  What did he do?  Three times he was asked if he was a follower of Jesus as they warmed themselves by the fire and 3 times, with increasing emotion and even swearing, Peter denied it.  And what happened next?  Right.  He heard the sound of a rooster crowing and instantly he was crushed, devastated.  This impetuous, arrogant, jump first and ask questions later disciple was finished, a failure on the scrap heap, after 3 years of intensive training.  He thought he was done.  He was a failure. 

Can you relate to him?  Have you ever made a promise you didn’t keep?  Have you ever said things that later you regretted?  Sure you did.  Have you ever told a little white lie to get someone off you r back?  If you have, then you understand Peter.  I remember my friend Larry Bittner in grade school.  We were both farm boys and we were both pretty proud of our dad’s farming operations.  I think it was about 3rd grade when Larry and I got into it about which company had the most powerful tractors.  Well you know which brand I defended!  And I think his dad was a Versatile man.  Well he tells me that he read about the most powerful tractor in the world and it wasn’t a John Deere, this one had a huge turbo charger on it and was better than what we had.  Well, I go home and ask my dad if this is true and he replies that it could be, he isn’t sure.  Next day, I don’t have a good reply, but Larry now tells me that he was wrong; this tractor has TWO turbochargers on it and can blow anything anyway in the world.  Now he’s attacking my manhood, or my boyhood!  And this just ground on me.  I went home and asked my dad if this was true and I don’t remember what he said, but he probably said that it was unlikely but possible.  Larry was always trying to be better than me.  We’d argue about the biggest combines in the world, the fastest snowmobiles.  What was all that about – PRIDE, with capital letters.  And that was Peter’s problem; he had this built-in pride that wouldn’t let him take second place and because of that he often had to taste the sole of his own sandals!  But Peter went too far.  He failed.  He messed up big time.  He should have been kicked out of the disciple club. 

But that’s where a merciful Christ comes in.  Jesus dies, as he predicted, and then comes back to life 3 days later.  In Mark 16:7 something very relevant to Peter happens. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome come to Jesus’ tomb with spices to anoint his body.  When they get there, Jesus isn’t and the tomb is empty, except for a young man sitting in there, dressed in a white robe.  They are terribly afraid, as you would imagine and he says to them after he tells them that Jesus is not there and that he is risen, “But go, tell his disciples AND PETER that he is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:7)

Can you imagine what those two additional words would have meant to Peter?  “And Peter.”  “You mean I can come too?  You mean he still wants to see me after what I did?  You mean I get another chance?”  Yes.  God in his mercy gave a failure like Peter another chance and that same God can forgive you and me too, extend his mercy to you and put your feet on a new and better path. 

Now we see what happened and this time John tells us in John 21.  Jesus and the disciples are by the Sea of Tiberius, having miraculously filled their nets with fish after Jesus, standing on the shore, told them to throw their nets on the other side of the boat.  After eating breakfast together, Jesus and Peter go for a walk along the beach, yes the failure and the victor.  And Jesus says, “Simon (note that he does not call him the rock, but his born name, Simon), son of John, do you love me more than these?”  Three times he asks the same basic question and three times Peter argues that he does.  Jesus says, “Feed my lambs, my sheep.”  I believe that day changed Peter’s life.  Peter went on to become one of the greatest evangelists in the history of the church.  His first sermon after Jesus’ return to heaven resulted in 3000 decisions for Christ.  He is key in taking the gospel to the Gentiles and not just to the Jews.  And at the end of his life, he died a martyr, according to tradition, not a failure but an amazing victor in Christ.  Ancient church historian Eusebius quotes another historian, Clement, who says that before Peter was crucified, he was forced to watch the crucifixion of his wife.  As he watched her being led to her death, Clement says that Peter called to her by name and said, “Remember the Lord.”  When it was Peter’s turn to die, he pleaded to be crucified upside down because he was not worthy to die as his Lord had died, and his wish was granted.  That man was no failure.  That man emerged out of his failure to be a victor because of Christ. 

Now, you may ask me a question, “Pastor Bruce, didn’t you say you were beginning a series on the Gospel of Mark?  What’s with Peter?”  Well, there is a reason and it is this:  In a sense, the Gospel of Mark is the Gospel of Peter.  You see, if church historians are correct, and they almost all agree, Mark is recording his gospel based upon the testimony and sermons and time with Peter.  Just on its face it makes sense; the gospel is short and to the point – like Peter; it is full of action and not as much teaching – just like Peter.  It begins abruptly and ends abruptly – just like Peter.  Peter and Mark are two failures that God uses to write one Gospel, a powerful gospel and witness of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  And one evidence of Peter’s desire to have a record of his version of the story is from one of his own letters.  Last week Pastor Luke had us in 2 Peter and there one verse stands out that will help us, 2 Peter 1:15 and here is what it says:  “And I will make every effort so that after my departure (i.e., death) you may be able at any time to recall these things.”  Isn’t that interesting?  Paul is about to die; he knows this; Jesus himself told him he would die as a martyr.  People in Rome and the Empire are being tortured and killed and their eyewitness to Jesus’ story is going to be gone.  “What will we do?  We need it written down Peter!”  Peter agrees and here, with a sense of urgency indicates that he will make every effort to provide a way for them to remember the story as he saw it – thus Mark!

So let me show you Mark’s story and how his fits into this.  I want you to open you r Bibles to the gospel of Mark and we are going to look at a few different verses so that you can see where he and Peter and also Paul intersect.  Begin with Mark chapter 14 beginning with verse 43.  Mark 14:43.  The story picks up in the Garden of Gethsemane and Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss in verse 43.  Jesus is taken captive, someone (like Peter – another failure) takes a sword and cuts off the ear of the servant of the high Priest and then everyone runs, in verse 50.  But look at verse 51: READ.  This young man, running naked through the garden to escape is believed to be Mark, the writer of this gospel; it’s the only gospel that records it and who better to give an accurate picture of what happened?  But what it does is place Mark with Jesus, even if for only a brief moment.   A young man he was, but who knows what he saw of Jesus that Peter and later Paul continued to teach him about.  The year of the death of Jesus is thought to be about AD 30. 

We hear nothing for about 14 years from Mark.  Peter meanwhile has been very busy; in fact he recently has been taking his message to the Gentiles, which was unthinkable to him before.  Now go to Acts 12:12.  Acts 12:12.  Peter has been in prison; Herod has thrown him in prison and he is chained to two guards when, in the middle of the night an angel strikes Peter and tells him to get up and get out of the prison.  When Peter leaves the prison, he goes to the one house he knows well.  Look at verse 12 of Acts 12:  READ – the house of Mary, the mother of John, whose other name is Mark.  That’s our boy!  14 years later, he’s part of the Christian church, meeting and praying all night for Peter’s release!  Peter comes in to the house and they all rejoice at God’s answer to prayer. 

Now John Mark, or Mark, takes a different direction away from Peter to the apostle Paul.  I guess that’s what impresses me about Mark – he hung out with perhaps the two greatest evangelists and theologians in the history of the church – Peter and Paul; can you imagine the Christian education he got?  In the last part of chapter 12, Paul and Barnabas are returning from Jerusalem to Antioch, having witnessed the incredible things God was doing.  The gospel was spreading and thousands were being saved and it was time for these partners to return to Antioch and tell their home church what God was doing.  Take a look at 12:25 to see who they took along – none other than John Mark:  READ.  Here’s what we know: John Mark, or Mark, is none other than Barnabas’ cousin!  In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, chapter 4, verse 10, Paul says, “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas…” (Col. 4:10)  We suppose that Barnabas, when plans were being made, remembers his cousin and thinks, “He’d be great to have along; Paul, let’s bring him!”

In chapter 13, the church in Antioch sends Paul and Barnabas off to visit and start new churches and look at who they take in 13:5:  “and they had John to assist them.”  So the very first missionary journey in the history of the church and John Mark gets to go!  Wow!  But here’s where his failure comes in.  Things are going fine – well, in some definition of fine; on the island of Cyprus, their first stop, Paul shouts down the local magician to the extent that he became blind; I mean they are in spiritual warfare and this young man is watching all this!  And it has a consequence; they leave that island and sail for Perga in Pamphylia, which I’ll just say is back on the mainland, in modern Turkey on the Mediterranean Sea.  Take a look at 13:13 – READ. We’re not really sure why – cold feet, scared out of his mind, homesick, whatever, but he’s gone.  And this does not sit well with Paul.  Perhaps you remember that Paul and Barnabas continue with their trip and God does amazing things.   They return and after a time they decide to go back and revisit the churches they had started.  Now take a look at Acts 15, beginning with verse 36:  READ vv. 36-41.  Mark becomes such an issue that this amazing team splits up; Paul takes Silas and Barnabas takes Mark.  Now Mark is not only a failure, he’s caused a major problem.  But he does have someone stand for him

Who has stood up for you?  Maybe you made a mistake, a costly one.  I wish I had been there to see it, but Trudy has a story of grace and forgiveness that I will never reach.  She was in high school and her dad too was a farmer.  It was spring and she was to disk a field for him in spring to get it ready for seeding a short time later.  So she strikes off disking at a nice angle and does a very good job.  She thinks it’s taking longer than it should have and she feels kind of funny about her work; it took longer than it should have and all of sudden panics b/c she realizes that some was sunflower ground and some not.  She calls her dad on the radio and asks, “Was I supposed to disk just the sunflower ground or the whole thing?”  He replies, “Just what was sunflowers.”  She replies, “Oh.”  He says, “Why?”  She says, “Because I’ve been doing the whole field” (w/ voice cracking).  He tells her to go to the road/end of the field to meet her and I’ll take a look (no emotion).  It turns out that she has not only disked up the field she was supposed to but the one next to it, which incidentally was already planted to mustard.  Immediately (if you know Trudy, you’ll believe this) she starts just crying.  Her dad comes driving over and comes to her and here is the amazing part.  If this was me, I’d be all stomping and shaking my head.  But her dad asks, “What’s wrong?” She says she’s just ruined the whole field and cost him $1000’s…  He says, “Let’s go take a look.”  So he starts digging in the mustard field and finds seeds here and there and he says to her, “I think it’s going to be just fine.  I don’t think you hurt a thing.  We’ll just watch and see.”   And Trudy says that all summer long, whenever they drove by that field Phil would say, “You just killed all the weeds. Best stand of mustard I ever had!”  Have you ever had anyone stand up for you like that?  Has anyone stood in your corner when you were at your lowest and said, “Let’s just see; this might be used for some good yet!” 

Here’s the neat thing about Mark.  He kind of disappears again from the scriptures but we know that he was with Peter, especially in Rome, which kind of becomes his base of operations.  In 1 Peter 5:13, as Peter is wrapping up his first letter, he says, “She who is at Babylon (his code word for Rome), who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.”  (1 Ptr. 5:13)  My son.  That’s an expression of love and compassion; two very close friends. 

Peter dies and Paul comes back into the picture.  Turns out Paul actually likes Mark and wants him there.  Now it is Paul’s turn to be in prison and HIS life is about the end.  Who does he write and send for?  None other than Mark.  In Paul’s final letter before he dies, in 2 Tim. 4:11 he writes, “Luke alone is with me.  Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.”  Wow!  This young man who ran naked from the Garden where Jesus was arrested, who ran from Paul on his very first journey, has now become a son to Peter, the rock, and useful to Paul himself.  Two of the greatest men in the history of the church and they both see the value of a failure like Mark. Again, I ask, who will stand for you when you fail?  I hope you have a name and a face in mind.  If not, then you have just discovered how valuable it is to make significant relationships in the Christian family.  Not everyone at Bethel gets connected and sometimes it’s the fault of the church and sometimes the fault lies with you and me.  Mark’s life shows the value of having those kinds of relationships that will stand the trials of life.  My prayer is that we develop those kinds too.

Well, there is debate as to when Mark wrote his gospel and I can only say what I conclude based upon what I have read.  I think that shortly before or after Peter dies in perhaps the mid- to late-60’s AD there is a cry for a record of Peter’s messages and his recollections of the life of Jesus Christ.  Things begin to get more difficult in the empire for Christians.  About the time that Peter is crucified, Nero is on the throne and mysteriously one day 10 of the 14 wards of the city of Rome begins to burn.  And to take heat off the blame that he is getting for starting the fires, Nero finds a great scapegoat – the Christians.  He makes Christians human torches to serve a night lamps.   They were wrapped in wild animal skins and ravenous dogs would tear them limb from limb.  The cruelty was beyond belief and as their eyewitnesses, the disciple and Paul were dying off, the people needed a message of hope.  They needed a written record of Jesus and the hope he could bring.  In that scene, Mark writes.  He writes of a savior who suffered and died, like so many of their friends and relatives were.  He writes of a Christ who came to serve, not to be served, like they were being asked to do. They key verse in the entire Gospel is 10:45:  “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for ‘many.’” He wrote of a Christ who had power and authority given to him from his heavenly father, the same power and authority they now had through the Holy Spirit. 

William Hendrickson in his commentary on Mark writes these words that send shivers through my spine:  “The manner in which Mark pictures the Christ, namely, as an active, energetic, swiftly moving, warring-conquering King, a Victor over the destructive forces of nature, over disease, demons and even death, would be of interest especially to Romans, people who, in their lust for and exercise of power, had conquered the world.  To them Mark pictures a King who excels any earthly conqueror.  His kingdom is far more extensive, his armor far more effective, and his rule far more enduring than anything originating here below.  His victories, moreover, are far more honorable, for he causes the conquered to share in the glory of the conquest.  Mark’s King is the Savior-King. He is the Victor who does not gloat over the suffering of the conquered but suffers in their place and with a view to their everlasting welfare.”  Wow! 

That Christ is what Mark writes about and I am so excited to see how his life and ours will intersect.  Friends, this will be an amazing adventure.  If God can take two failures like Peter and Mark and use them for his kingdom and glory like he did through this gospel story that has survived 20 centuries and is guaranteed to survive forever, he can take failures that we have done and bring glory out of them.  The question is whether you are prepared to let go of your failure at the foot of the cross.  Too many of us hang on to our failures because 1) it is the only thing we know and 2) we are too proud to let it go.  All I can say to each of us is this:  the choice rests with each of us individually and us together as a church.  There is forgiveness and freedom at the foot of the cross.  Maybe God is working in your heart already and today is the day you’re ready to let go.  Maybe today is the day you release your anger and bitterness with another person, perhaps even in this church.  Maybe today is the day you stop shaking your fist at God and let that go and let him free you from that grip it has on you.  You might remember that at the beginning of the message I said that God can use failure to give you r life more impact AFTER the failure than you would WITHOUT it.  But that will take trust.  It may not feel like it today, but you can trust him that it’s true.  I’ve seen it in my own life and the lives of many others.  The question is not whether any of us has failed – we all have; the question is what have we done with our failures?  When we lay them at the foot of the cross, he can turn failure to victory.  And that is the adventure ahead of us as we begin our journey through Mark.  This gospel is not only about information; it is about transformation – yours, mine, and ours. Let’s pray.

“Turning Failure into Victory”

Introduction to Mark                                                                          Pastor Bruce Dick

Various Scriptures                                                                               March 11, 2006

Introduction:  Failure…

Four Gospels – Four Messages

Gospel Audience/Readers Focus/Material

Ø  Peter:

Peter was eager, aggressive, bold and outspoken, “with a habit of revving his mouth while his brain was in neutral.” (John Mac Arthur)

o   John 1:42:

o   Mark 8:29:

o   Mark 8:33:

o   Mark 14:30:

o   Mark 16:7:

o   John 21:

o   2 Peter 1:15:

Ø  Mark (John Mark):

o   Mark 14:33:

o   Acts 12:12:

o   Acts 12:25:

o   Colossians 4:10:

o   Acts 13:5:

o   Acts 15:36-41:

o   1 Peter 5:13:

She who is at Babylon (his code word for Rome), who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.”  (1 Ptr. 5:13)

o   2 Timothy 4:11:

“Luke alone is with me.  Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” (2 Tim. 4:11)

Ø  Theme Verse - Mark 10:45:  “For even the Son of Man cam not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for ‘many.’”

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