34 O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.
35 And say ye, Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather us together, and deliver us from the heathen, that we may give thanks to thy holy name, and glory in thy praise.
36 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel for ever and ever. And all the people said, Amen, and praised the Lord.
Louisa Fletcher expressed the feeling of many of us when she wrote a poem that begins:I wish that there were some wonderful place
In the Land of Beginning Again.
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches
And all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
and never put on again.
I believe in the land of beginning again. I believe that Humpty Dumpty can be put together again. I believe that because I believe in the God of the second chance. I believe that good can come out of evil, that victory can come out of defeat, that hope can come out of despair, that the light can come out of darkness. I believe that a person has a second chance with God. I believe in the God of the second chance because the Bible says that his mercy endureth forever.
You know what that means? It means that the mercy and the grace of God just goes on and one and on. It means that the mercy of God is extended again and again to every one of us. In spite of our failures, our mistakes, our sins, in spite of all the things we did wrong and all the good things we fail to do, God keeps on loving us and offering us mercy and grace if we will just reach out and take it from him. It means that it is extended to the person who has stepped out of a marriage. It means it is extended to the businessman who has mismanaged corporate funds. It means that his mercy is extended to the young lady who gave birth to a child out of wedlock. It means that his mercy is extended to the young man who is turned away from the faith of his youth and turned instead to drugs and alcohol. It is extended to a person who in a moment of passion traded their virtue that could never ever be regained. It means that it is extended to the person who has failed himself and disappointed his family and betrayed his friends. That regardless of who we are or what we have done the mercy of God keeps coming to us again and again and again. And the testimony of David, perhaps out of his own bitter experience of failure and frustration, is that God is good, that his mercy endures forever.
And it is because of that that I believe in the God of the second chance. Regardless of what we may have done in the past, if we will come back to him in repentance, and in faith and trust, he is giving to us another chance, another opportunity.
In fact the good news of the Bible from the very beginning to the end is that God will start life over anew for you if you will come to him and allow him to do so.
There are three experiences in the Bible that speak explicitly of God giving people a second chance. There is the experience of Jonah, the rebel prophet. There is the experience of Simon Peter, the weak and vacillating and denying apostle. There is the experience of John Mark, who turned and walked away from his responsibility and deserted God’s cause in the heat of battle. And these three experiences speak to us of the second chance that God wants to give to every one of us.
If you are looking for an outline for the sermon so you can take notes, it would go something like this: God gives a second chance to those who are disobedient to him, as Jonah was. God gives a second chance to those who deny him, as Peter did. And God gives a second chance to those who have deserted him, as John Mark did. And whether your failure is disobedience or denial or desertion, you can come back. There is a second half yet to be played and God is the God of a second chance.
1. God will give a second chance to those who disobey.
I want you to look first of all to the experience of Jonah because it tells us that God gives a second chance to those who disobey. The story of Jonah begins very simply: “The word of the Lord to Jonah.” God’s word comes to all of us. Sometimes as we read it, sometimes through an experience in life, sometimes through a sermon or a Sunday school teacher.
God has a way of coming to us and speaking his will, his desires, his longings to us and for us. And the word of the Lord to came to Jonah. That word was that Jonah was to go to Nineveh and preach. Jonah did not like the people of Nineveh and he had no desire to go and preach the word of God to them. And so Jonah chose to rebel against God. He chose to disobey the word and the will of God. And so the Bible tells us that Jonah rose up and he started for Tarsus. He went down to the seacoast to Joppa and he found a ship that was on its way to Tarsus. Now when you want to run away from God, the devil always provides transportation. There will always be a way, there will always be an opportunity. And God has given you the option of doing what he says or of disobeying him. And the devil is always there ready to provide a way out. And Jonah went down to the seacoast and there was the ship ready and waiting to take him not only away from Joppa but away from the will of God. Away from the plan of God. Away from obedience to God.
The ship was hardly out of the sight of land until God sent a great wind. Now you might think that God would say, “Well, if that is the way Jonah wants it, that’s the way it will be. I’ll let him go. I’ll find somebody else to preach in Nineveh. I can use anybody or everybody if I so desired. And I’ll just let Jonah go on his way and I will forget about him and leave him in his disobedience.” But God has a way of pursuing those who chose to disobey him if they are his children.
So the Bible says that God sent a great wind, a storm. Listen, the only thing you ever get when you run away from the will of God is a great unforgettable storm in your life. You look out. If God is speaking to you, if God is calling you to some work, for some task, some mission, if God is impressing on your heart his will and his way, and you chose to run away, watch out for the storms that will come in your life. That little ship was so cast about that they were afraid it was going to sink. And finally the sailors aboard concluded that all of the problems were due to the rebel prophet Jonah on board and they cast him over the side of the ship.
Not only did God prepare a great storm, but the Bible says that God prepared a great fish, commonly called the whale. The whale gobbled up Jonah and in the belly of the whale he suddenly realized the error of his way and down in that very unusual place, the prophet of God began to pray. He began to reevaluate his life and Jonah said, “Lord, if you will get me out of here I will sacrifice unto you. I will keep the vow that I have made. I will obey your word.”
Has there been a time in your life when you made a vow to God? When in some moment of crisis, some moment of difficultly, you said, “Lord, if you will get me out of this? Lord, if you will save my child? Lord, if you will heal my body? Lord, if you will take care of my marriage, I will keep my word to you?” Has there been such a time in your life?
There was in Jonah and in the belly of the whale he recommitted himself to God. And then this marvelous verse in Jonah 3:1: “And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time.” That means that God was giving Jonah a second chance. He offered him the opportunity to be his missionary, his preacher, his messenger of deliverance for the city of Nineveh.
Jonah had disobeyed God, refused God. He ran away from God, but God came to Jonah and offered him a second chance to serve him and to do his will. And I believe that God is ever and always the God of a second chance. And he is saying to your heart and to mine today, “Some of you have heard my call. Some of you have felt the tugging of my Holy Spirit. Some of you know my will for your life and you have continued to go on in your disobedience and in your rebellion, but I am coming today to offer you a second chance.”
And as the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, so it is coming to us a second time today to say that there is yet another opportunity in life. We can yet be right with God and become useful servants in his kingdom.
2. God offers a second chance to those who are disobedient.
There is another experience in the Bible that tells us of God’s second chance that has to do with Simon Peter. Simon, you know, was the first of the 12 apostles to hear and to answer the call.
Simon and his brother Andrew were the first to hear and answer the call of Jesus to come and follow him who would make them fishers of men. Now never was there a more unlikely subject of the ministry than Simon Peter. He was rough and burly and unpolished in every thing that he did. He so often spoke before he thought. In fact he spoke most of the time without giving any thought to what he had to say. And yet God was able to take this man, rough and burly as he was, and shape him into the kind of servant who one day would spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
But there was a time when Simon so miserably failed his Lord. When he actually denied any knowledge or allegiance to Jesus Christ. It all happened at the night of the Last Supper. Jesus met with his disciples in the Upper Room and he said, “One of you is a devil. He of you will deny me and betray me and sell me to the enemy.” And when Jesus said that, Simon in his boastful and arrogant and thoughtless way said, “Lord, these other men may do it. They may fail you. They may deny you, but Lord I will be faithful unto you even unto death.” And Jesus said to him, “Peter, before the rooster crows in the morning, you will have denied me three times.”
In a little while Jesus was carried away to trial. And Simon followed the proceedings of that trial. In the shadows he stood watching and listening and someone recognized him and came up and asked him on three different occasions, “Aren’t you a follower of this man Jesus Christ?” Frightened, intimidated, afraid of what might happen to him, he denied even knowing the Lord. You might think that after such an experience that Jesus would never have anything to do with Simon again. He had failed so miserably. His own heart was broken over his failure and he had disgraced not only his Lord and these other disciples, but he had disgraced himself. He thought he could never look at his friends or the world in the face again. But Jesus came to him not many days after that by the Sea of Galilee, singled him out, and took him on a walk by the sandy shores. He asked him, “Simon, the son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?” And Simon said to him, “Yes, Lord, I do love you.” Then Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.” He asked him a second time, “Simon, the son of Jonah, do you love me?” And Simon said to him the second time, “Yes, Lord, I love you.” And Jesus said, “Then feed my lambs.” And then he said to him, the third time, and it grieved Peter in his heart that the Lord should ask him a third time because it reminded him that three times he had denied knowing the Lord and now on the third time Jesus comes to say, “Do you love me?” And Simon said, “Lord, thou knowest all things. You know that I love you.” And Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”
And that day Simon who had denied the Lord realized he had a second chance. Jesus, who had called him by the Sea of Galilee years before, wanting Simon to follow him and become a fisher of men, was now recalling him. And reinstating him. He was forgiving Peter and giving him an opportunity to make up for the failures of the past.
And I think Jesus is saying in this experience and throughout the Bible to you and me, “You may not only have disobeyed me as Jonah did, but maybe you have denied me not just in word but by the very life that you have lived, by the very values that have possessed and dominated and characterized your life. You have denied that you are mine and you have denied that you know me and walk with me, but I want to tell you I am not through with you and I am willing to take you back to reclaim you and my service if you are willing.”
But as Jonah had to repent and had to make anew his vow to God, and as Simon had to re-confess his love and his devotion for the Lord Jesus, so you must come to that place of repentance where you realize your mistake and you are willing to turn from that. But if you are willing to come back there can be a second chance for you even if you have denied the Lord.
3. God offers a second chance to those who desert him.
There is not only a second chance for those who have disobeyed him and those who have denied him, there is a second chance for those who have deserted him. Do you remember the young man in the book of Acts called John Mark?
He accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. He had heard about the prospects of preaching the Gospel to the heathen. And visions of grandeur had leaped and danced in his mind. But when he found himself on the front lines of missionary service, it was not all he had anticipated. He got homesick for his family and his friends. He grew tired and weary of the walking and of the pressures and the difficulties that confronted them daily in God’s service and John Mark decided to quit and go back home. And halfway on the journey he threw in the towel and he turned tail and he went back home to Jerusalem.
This greatly hurt the apostle Paul. And so when it came time for their second missionary journey, his companion Barnabas wanted to take John Mark on that journey also. John Mark had had a change of heart. John Mark had decided he wanted to try it again, but the apostle Paul had lost faith in John Mark. He had no confidence in his courage, no assurance of his commitment. And Paul said no, we will not take him. He cannot be trusted. He cannot be depended on. He failed once and in an hour of need he will fail us again. No, he will not go. And there was such a contention between the apostle Paul and Barnabas, his friend and missionary companion, that they could no longer work together. So Paul took Silas and went on that second missionary journey and Barnabas, who was always reaching out to people who had problems and difficulties and people who had failed, took John Mark and went in another direction.
Years passed and we hear nothing, we know nothing of John Mark. What happened in his life. How he served God, what hardships he endured. We know nothing about that until the apostle Paul found himself in prison in Rome. He is at the end of his life and he is writing a letter to Timothy. And in 2 Timothy 4:11 he says this: “Only Luke is with me.” He has talked about all of those others who have deserted him, forsaken him, left him alone. Only Luke is with me. He says to Timothy, “Take Mark and bring him with you for he is profitable to me for the ministry.”
Somewhere between that first missionary journey and this last page of the last book that Paul would ever write, something happened to John Mark. And the deserter became the dedicated useful disciple of the Lord. And Paul said, “Bring him with you. He is valuable to me. He can help me in God’s work.” Somewhere along the way this young man who deserted and failed miserably was given another chance, a second chance to serve God effectively again.
Some of you once walked in close fellowship with the Lord. You could be counted on. When the chips were down, you laid it on the line for God. Something happened somewhere along the way. Maybe you just drifted away. Or maybe something happened with a preacher or with some other person in the church and you became so disappointed in them that it affected your relationship to the Lined. Something happened. Maybe you hit it big. Maybe you couldn’t stand success and prosperity. But there was a time when you walked with God and now you are a long way from him. Out of his service, away without leave from the Master.
Let me tell you, John Mark came back into usefulness in the kingdom of God. You can come back because the God of the Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ is the God of a second chance and he says to his rebel prophet, you can still go and preach to Nineveh. He says to his denying apostle, you can still feed my sheep. And he says to this deserting young man, he is valuable in my service.
And the good news of the New Year is that there is a second chance for you regardless of who you are. And regardless of what you’ve done. And regardless of how you failed. If you will come back to God in repentance and faith, God will give you a second chance. If that is not good news I don’t know what good news is.
On New Year’s Day in 1929 California was playing Georgia Tech in the Rose Bowl. And Georgia Tech was marching for a touchdown when the ball was fumbled. A California player named Roy Riegels picked it up and he lost his sense of direction. And instead of running toward his opponent’s goal line he turned and started running toward his own goal line and he ran 65 yards before he was tackled by one of his own men. The end result was that California surrendered a safety for two points and they were behind 2-0 at the halftime and eventually lost the game. And during halftime you can imagine the gloom in the California locker room. The coach tried to pep them up, to brace them and inspire them for the second half but all of them were down, especially Roy Riegels. He sat in a corner by himself with his face buried in his hands, ashamed and embarrassed by what he had done.
When the talk was over the coach said that the same team that started the first half starts the second half. And the men jumped and raced out of the dressing room, all except Roy Riegels. He sat there, face in hands in a corner by himself. And the coach went to him and he said, “Roy, get up and get out on the playing field. We still have another half to play.” Those who were in the stands that day in all of their years never saw a player play with the intensity of Roy Riegels in that second half.
God is saying to you and to me, the game is not over yet. There is still the second half and I’m the God of a second chance. Will you take it? Like Jonah, like Peter, and like John Mark come back to him with repentance and new commitment and make it the best half of all.