From Failure To Victory
Preached by Dr. Gene Scott October 10, 1976
“And they all forsook him, and fled. And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.”
Mark 14:50 opens with a conjunction because it follows a series of events associated with the tragedy of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. “And they all forsook him,” it says of Jesus’ disciples, “and fled. And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.” Many people are sure that the young man who fled in the darkness that Passover night was none other than the author of this Gospel, John Mark.
In the Old Testament, Ezekiel saw four symbolic figures: a man, an eagle, an ox, and a lion (Ezekiel 1:10). Tradition has assigned each of these figures to one of the four Gospels, because each Gospel expresses the predominant trait of that figure. John Mark was the priestly line and tradition has it that he became “the voice of the lion” in this brief Gospel, the first Gospel that was written.
If you read the original of what are called the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, you will begin to recognize that each of the writers has a style all his own. You will be reading along, and you will know when they are quoting another source because the style suddenly changes. The synoptic Gospels have certain quotations of the sayings of Jesus that are common to all three, which has suggested a common source called the hypothetical “Q” document. One of the early church fathers referenced it, and that is about all the authority we have for it. Although Matthew’s Gospel is in Greek, he wrote down the sayings of Christ in another language. Some believe that he kept a chronicle of the sayings of Christ, and that his chronicle might have been the hypothetical “Q” document.
You also find places where the styles of Matthew and Luke change and they are found to be quoting a common source, which reveals itself to be Mark. Thus, Mark’s Gospel was circulating before Matthew and Luke wrote theirs. Though it is a shorter Gospel, it provides a substantial part of the sayings and doings of Christ that are incorporated into Matthew and Luke. It is a crucial, vital Gospel. I point that out because of this young man’s early failures.
Some have imagined that Mark went to sleep after the Last Supper. According to tradition, the Last Supper was held in the upper room of the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. After leaving the upper room, Jesus and His disciples must have descended a rather steep hill. In that day, the brook Kedron flowed as more of a torrent than it does today. They would have crossed over Kedron on a bridge and gone to the lower reaches of the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem, to the Garden of Gethsemane. The passages immediately preceding the verses we
have read describe the scene where, after Jesus had prayed, the multitude came to take Jesus away, and Judas betrayed Him with a kiss.
We can imagine that Mark was sleeping while that was happening. Awakened by the sounds he heard drift up from the canyon, he ran out, probably with a linen garment thrown around him. And in the darkness, he began to follow the multitude as they led Jesus away. It is not by accident that he points out in his Gospel, “they all forsook him and fled.” This is one of the indirect arguments for the truth of the story. None of the other Gospels record the incident of the young man fleeing naked. Mark would know it because he was that young man; and Mark was able to tell the story in spite of the fact that everyone else had fled.
Peter was the source of most of the content in Mark’s Gospel, because Mark became a spiritual son of the apostle Peter. But Mark was there that night. He knew that everybody else had fled. He had the chance to play the man and stand with Jesus in that dark hour when everyone else had left Him. But when someone laid hands on him, recognizing him as one who had close association with Jesus, Mark fled in fear. Not only abandoning Jesus, but fleeing naked in shame, he starts with a failure.
Now turn to the end of Acts 12. There is a ship in the harbor of Seleucia, which is the port city of Antioch, where the river Orontes comes down from the mountains. Antioch was a prize of the Roman Empire. See yourself standing there on a dock. The harbor is full of Roman barges, emissaries from the imperial court and merchant seamen, but there is one little ship that is setting out of the harbor. Three men are on the deck: Paul, Barnabas and Mark, who is called John Mark. At this time, 15 years have gone by since Mark fled in failure on the night of the crucifixion. Now he is on the boat with his uncle, Barnabas, and Paul.
Of all the journeys that capture the imagination, few can compete with this one, for it is Paul setting out on the missionary journeys that are going to change the world. They sail to Cypress, and John Mark listens to Paul preach. How would you like to have had that privilege? Then they sail from Cypress and come to Perga in Pamphylia.
“And John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.” Why? This is 15 years later now; he must be close to 30 years of age. They went on to Perga, and John Mark went back to his mother in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas went on to Antioch, and they were persecuted. Paul was stoned by the inhabitants of Lystra. But they brought the gospel to those churches in the Turkish peninsula that leap out of the New Testament pages.
After some days, they return to Antioch, and Paul and Barnabas are talking together. In Acts 15, we read: “Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought it not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.”
Put flesh and blood on these Bible characters. Put yourself in the position of John Mark, who set out from the port city of Antioch, eager to participate in the work of the Lord with these two giants, Paul and Barnabas. Then the newness starts to wear off a little as you go through Cypress. The days start to lose their glamour as the reality of doing the work of the Lord comes home. You land in the port city on the southern side of the Turkish Empire and look up into the highlands into Pamphylia. See the ruggedness of the terrain and imagine the dangers there.
Mark runs off: again, a failure. He “went not with them to the work,” and the contention was so sharp between Paul and Barnabas, that they “departed asunder one from the other.”
When Paul was converted, the whole church world of that day was afraid of him. It was Barnabas
who helped Paul and stood with him. Here was a cherished friendship, yet John Mark’s failure brings contention between them. Don’t you like the humanness of God’s book? These two giants, Paul and Barnabas, had traveled all over the Turkish uplands area carrying the Word, facing stonings and persecution; yet they get into an argument so sharp that they part company.
Paul, hardheaded as he was, didn’t want to have that weakling Mark along. “And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God” (Acts 15:40). You know what happens: Silas is with Paul when they land in Philippi. They are beaten, yet they sing praises to God at midnight. John Mark and Barnabas had sailed as far as Cypress, but they were not with Paul and Silas in Philippi.
Ten years later, Paul is in prison in Rome. He knows the end is coming. That old tiger is ready to commit up his life to God. He says he has kept the faith; he has finished the course. It is now 25 years from the night that boy John Mark, leaving his garment, fled in failure. It is 10 years from the day that he fled the hardships and the tests of Paul’s missionary journey through the Turkish peninsula and went back to Jerusalem. Now, only Luke is with Paul. Paul speaks of everyone forsaking him. Wouldn’t you like to have been with Paul in that last moment? I have stood in that prison, and it resonates with meaning. This second letter to Timothy was written in that last hour.
Jesus had His three favorite ones. Three men were with Paul, but when he writes the letter, he says, “Only Luke is with me.” Paul asks Timothy to bring his cloak when he comes. And he says, “Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). Now Luke, Timothy and Mark are there with Paul.
I am sure Mark spent the last hours with Paul and watched that giant as he was led out to give his life. Mark then truly became “the voice of the lion.” He took the gospel to Egypt, and from Egypt into the Coptic church; and all across North Africa, the seeds planted by Mark bore fruit. He was dragged to death in the streets of Alexandria by heathen priests. Tradition says his remains were taken to Venice. The symbols on the church there testify to “the voice of the lion.”
I believe there are times God will let an entire congregation sit on the sidelines while He ministers to one or two. Today He wants to minister to those who have started and stumbled, or faltered and failed. If you have never fallen short of your opportunities in God, this message won’t ring true to you. But if you have started and stumbled, and if you can look at your life and know the whispers that come from the enemy telling you that you have blown it too many times to have a part in the Kingdom, then I want you to look at “the voice of the lion.” I want you to catch this message: it isn’t how you start, it is how you finish.
I’d like you to see the wisdom of God. Everybody knows the story of Jesus saying to Simon Peter, “Simon, Satan desires to have you, that he may sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). Prior to Peter’s failure, when Jesus prophesized that Peter would deny Him three times, He puts the root cause in focus. Jesus identified the problem of this impetuous man who was one of the favored three, but was forever getting his foot in his mouth, speaking beyond his ability to act, or impetuously doing the wrong thing.
He said, “Simon, Satan desires to have you, that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you . . .” Jesus didn’t say that Peter wouldn’t fail; Jesus knew he would fail. “I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not.” Following that phrase , He puts in a footnote that can be missed if you read it quickly. Literally in the Greek, He said, “When your torn net is mended,” when you
are brought back from your trial, “establish the brethren.” He gives Simon Peter a charge that will turn his failure into a blessing: that he establish others who face the same problem.
The same night that Mark ran away, Peter betrayed his Lord three times. Jesus came down the steps after Peter’s third denial and, as Luke’s record has it, “He looked on Peter” (Luke 22:61). Peter began to weep and turned from the fire, and nothing is heard from him for three days. After the Resurrection, Jesus sends the message, “Go tell my disciples and Peter” (Mark 16:7). Make sure Peter gets the message. Wouldn’t you have liked to have been the recipient of that message? For three days he bore the self-condemnation of his miserable failures. Then the first word after the Resurrection: “Go tell my disciples and Peter.” That message really must have caused Peter’s adrenalin to flow.
Jesus had said He would meet Peter at Galilee. That is a long hike from Jerusalem, yet he went so fast that he got there before Jesus arrived. Tune in on this man, Peter. I’m sure when he got there, the attack of the enemy came. Jesus was “late” and Peter said, “I go a fishing.” He went fishing, but he couldn’t catch anything. Jesus was standing on the shore; He had a fish on the coals. Someone says, It’s the Lord!” And Peter jumps out of the boat and runs to the shore.
In the Old Testament, Joseph was the type of Jesus, who was denied and betrayed by his brethren. But when Joseph revealed himself to his brethren who had done him wrong, he reminded them of the bitter thought. He said, “I am he whom you sold into bondage” (Genesis 45:3-4). Jesus did better than Joseph. He didn’t even remind Peter of his failures. He didn’t say, “I told you so.”
In John 21 is the beautiful record of Jesus dealing with Peter’s failure. Jesus did make the slight suggestion of Peter’s three failures in the three repetitions of the question: “Lovest thou Me?” Unless you can read the Greek, you will miss a significant illustration of the length of Jesus’ love. The King James Version records that Jesus asked, “Lovest thou Me?” Peter replied, “Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed My sheep,” shepherd My lambs. Jesus asked the question a second time, “Lovest thou Me?” Peter replied, “You know I love you.” Then, Jesus asked a third time, “Lovest thou Me?” Peter replied again, “You know I love you.”
In the Greek, Jesus’ word for love is a form of agapao. It is a kind of love that God gives to us, the love that He commands us to have one for another, and the love that God has for His church. It is a love that is based on the intrinsic value of the object being loved. There is another word for love, phileo, which is love that is based upon human relationships and mutuality of benefit. Let me simplify it by saying agapao is a higher form of love; phileo is of a lower order. We could almost distinguish between them by the words “love” and “like,” agapao being love; phileo being like.
When Jesus said, “Lovest thou Me?” the first time, there the word for love is agapao. Peter replied, “You know I love you,” but he used the word in the Greek phileo, a little different, a lower expression. Jesus said again, “Lovest thou Me?” and again used the word agapao, the higher form. Peter said, “You know I love you,” using phileo again. The third time, Jesus came down to
Peter’s level and said, “Lovest thou me?” and changed it from agapao to phileo. Jesus had stooped all the way down.
Jesus’ use of phileo is analogous to the word picture in the Epistle to the Hebrews that shows that, though God did not reach down for fallen angels, He did reach down to fallen man, low enough to pick him up and lift him up (Hebrews 2:16). As Moses in the song of Asher says,
“Underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27). The word underneath in the original Hebrew is a picture word meaning “under bottomless.” There is a word for “bottomless” and there is another word for being “under bottomless,” which is a paradox, logically incomprehensible. That verse simply says that whatever “bottomless” is,’ His arms go below that, everlastingly.
Small wonder that when they would crucify Peter at the end of his ministry, according to tradition, he said, “Turn me upside down, I am not worthy even to die in the posture of my Master.” Jesus stooped all the way down to his level and reduced the equation to take him where he was, and then lead him up. It is interesting to me that Peter used agapao when writing to the scattered saints in his Epistle, speaking about God loving them and about them “loving Him whom they have not seen” (1 Peter 1:8). He comes to the understanding that the Lord stooped all the way down for us.
In 1 Peter 4:10, Peter talks about “the manifold grace of God.” The word we translate manifold in the Greek means “many-colored.” In 1 Peter 1:6, Peter speaks of “manifold temptations.” He knew what he was talking about. This fellow who set out, and was always putting his foot in his mouth, had learned that the devil is manifold and many-colored in his temptations. Every time Peter thought that he was on safe ground, the devil would sneak up on him and knock him flat. But after a lifetime, Peter had learned that grace, “unmerited favor,” is just as many-colored as the temptations, that God’s grace has a color to match and to cover the multiplicity of temptations.
I have often imagined that Peter must have knelt alone in the catacombs or other places. He must have wished that he could relive the night when He denied his Lord. I believe that it was because of his awareness of his unworthiness that he asked them to turn him upside down at the time of his martyrdom and crucify him a different position than his Lord.
What is Peter’s relationship to Mark? Jesus had given the charge to Peter, that after you go through your trials, “establish the brethren.” You read in 1 Peter 5:13, “The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.” It does not matter whether Peter was at Babylon on the Euphrates or whether he was spiritually defining Rome in that day as Babylon because it typified an anti-God place. Marcus, the same John Mark, had become Peter’s spiritual son.
Why do you think Mark became good for the ministry of Paul? He ran away when Jesus needed him, at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. He ran back to Jerusalem and wouldn’t face the tests of Turkey. Paul rubbed salt in these wounds by saying, “I won’t even let him go on the second trip,” because he wouldn’t go to the work. Mark must have voiced his frustration to Peter. Mark’s Gospel describes Peter’s failure with more detail than any of the Gospels. How did he know it so well? Mark must have sat with Peter and said, “There is no hope for me. I ran away the night Jesus was betrayed. I ran away when Paul went on a missionary journey.” I can imagine Peter saying, “Just hold it, Mark! Let me tell you what I did! Yet, Jesus sought me out. Three times He asked me, ‘Do you love Me?” Peter taught Mark the grace of God, until he could take hope and
realize that failure once and failure twice doesn’t cancel you out. It took 25 years, but Paul could say, “Bring Mark! He is profitable to me for the ministry.”
Listen to Paul again: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor
life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).
Mark is a record of grace, and grace is all through God’s book. When Elijah failed, an angel baked a cake for him. God didn’t give up on the apostle Peter. I imagine that Peter was able to say to Mark, “I didn’t deserve it. But look what I did to Jesus, and He let me preach on the day the church was born?’
I want you to see Jesus in this message. It is not an accident that Mark became “the voice of the lion.” God doesn’t give up as easily as men do. Wherever you are today with a sense of failure, take a look at Mark. It took 25 years, but he made it. It is not how you start, it is how you finish. And when you get up, having fallen down, the Lord is waiting there, as He was for Peter on the shore.
When the devil attacks you and your past failures haunt you, cleanse those failures with the promise that is very much alive now: “Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). Jesus looked beyond our faults to see our needs.
Reprinted by permission of Pastor Melissa Scott
A note about this message, because it (Dr. Scott’s message) is a very important one. It can show you what God is really like, and in so doing it will change your life.
Reading the Gospels you will find that Jesus is always in the company of sinners, ordinary folks. He healed them, forgave their sins, and ate with them. During His whole life He was surrounded by sinners, and he was criticized for it by the law abiding, tradition keeping, religious people. He spoke out against these “religious” people, their hypocrisy, and their empty ceremonies. They lacked the one thing necessary for salvation, FAITH.
Dr. Scott was no doubt the best Bible teacher I ever heard. He “opened” the Word as no one else ever had, and He made it real. He always said, “put flesh and blood on these people in the Bible.” And that’s what he did, making them become real, with the flaws and weaknesses we all have.
Rodney and I learned a lot from this message, and I believe that a lot of you will also. Let the words sink in and become a part of your life.
Prayer Requests for April, 2010
For Isaac Douglas’ brother, Donald, who has terminal throat cancer; also, that God will restore Isaac’s son, Isaac, Jr., to his life. Isaac is at Canton, Illinois
For Judy Oakley, Prairie Grove, Arkansas. She is in the hospital with Meningitis and in serious condition.
For Johnny Carruthers, Florence, Arizona, that the prison system there will provide him with a hernia operation, which he needs.
For Willie Scott at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, for his health. Also, Willie comes up for clemency later this year.
For Paul Copas, Florence, Arizona, for understanding, and that he gets help with his court problems.
For Ken Hogan on death row at McAlester, Oklahoma. He has pain due to a shoulder injury.
For Jimmy Huff, Colorado City, Texas. He needs transportation.
For Willie Clark, Iowa Park, Texas, that he’ll be transferred closer to Houston to be near his family.
For Cleveland Cook, Buckeye, Arizona, that his family will come back into his life.
For Michael Small’s son, Derek, that he will come back to the Church. Michael is at Menard, Illinois.
For William McAllister, Danville, Illinois, for an early release.
For Dennis Martin at Lexington, Oklahoma, who is recovering from a recent heart attack.
For Lemar Moore, Menard, Illinois, that the Federal Court will reduce his sentence.
For Robin Harris, Cushing, Oklahoma, for whatever healing his body needs.
For Anthony Grayson, Comstock, New York, that God will send someone to help with his appeal.
For Sister Ann & all the Carmelite Nuns in Little Rock.
For Frank Williams, Jr., Death Row, Grady, Arkansas, who is preparing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
For Freddie Lee Lott, Galesburg, Illinois, for his health and that he stays “cancer free.”
For our friend, Sandra Beckcom, Prairie Grove, Arkansas, for strength and healing as she continues to battle cancer.
For Willie Harper, Joliet, Illinois, that he stays “cancer free.”
For Robert Heffernan, Grady, Arkansas, for his health, and that the Arkansas Supreme Court will order DNA testing in his case.
For Ed Ewing, Visalia, California, who is 88 years old and in bad health.
For Pastor Scott & her ministry (The University Network) in Los Angeles.
For all of us at Wingspread, especially for Margaret, who is having eye surgery for the third time this month.
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