The Beginning at the End
Passage: Mark 16:1–16:8
The Beginning at the End
November 25th, 2007
Way of Grace Church
This morning we come to the end of a two-year journey. I pray that God has used the words of this book, the Gospel of Mark, to encourage and enlighten your heart. I know he has in my life. But there's one last section for us to consider, one that we cannot neglect.
So let's turn back, one last time in this series, to the Gospel of Mark. Turn with me to Mark 16:1-8 (page 853).
II. The Passage: "He has Risen; He is Not Here." (16:1-8)
Now you may remember from last week that it appears Mark's record of Jesus' life and ministry has concluded on a tragic note. Jesus had been delivered over to his enemies, abandoned by his friends, and executed by the Romans. Chapter 15 concludes with an account of the burial of Jesus.
But it's important to see that the very last verse of chapter 15 describes how two of the three women who were described by Mark in 15:40 as having witnessed Jesus' death, two of these woman also made sure they witnessed where the body of Jesus was placed. As we begin reading in 16:1 this morning, we see one reason these woman wanted to see where Jesus was laid. Mark 16:1...
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?" 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back-it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, "Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 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." 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
A. The Longer Ending
Now before we go any further, there is an important dilemma we need to resolve. I've made it clear that this is our last study in the Gospel of Mark. And yet, I stopped reading this morning at verse 8, even though your Bible undoubtedly goes up to verse 20.
Well, you've probably noticed that your Bible also has verses 9-20 marked off in some way, either by a short note, or in brackets, or in a footnote. The reason verses 9-20 are distinguished like this is that most scholars do not believe that these verses are an original part of Mark's Gospel.
There are two categories of evidence that I believe confirms that these scholars are correct, that Mark did not write these verses. The first category of evidence is the external evidence. Several very important and very early copies of Mark's Gospel do not include these verses. Add to this the rejection of these verses by many church leaders in the first centuries of the faith. Furthermore, there is another short ending that is sometimes found in certain manuscripts, sometimes after verse 8, sometimes after verse 20, sometimes by itself. This other questionable ending seems to have been written because originally, the Gospel of Mark did not have, in the eyes of many, an appropriate ending.
The other category of evidence is what we could call internal evidence. First, the a third of the vocabulary used in verses 9-20 is foreign to Mark. Secondly, the style of these verses is very different from the rest of Mark. Third, the beginning of verse 9 doesn't fit with the flow of the story from verse 8. And, finally, there are some questionable matters of teaching here.
It appears that verses 9-20 are a fairly early addition to the Gospel of Mark. If you're familiar with Matthew and Luke and Acts, you can see that these verses are nothing more than a simplified patchwork of other accounts of the risen Jesus taken from those books.
As I mentioned before, it appears that some in what was probably the second century, did not think this Gospel had a suitable ending. Now I do want to talk a lmore about the ending to Mark' s Gospel, but let's first consider what Mark does tells us in verse 1-8.
B. What We Do Have
Notice first, in verse 1, that we have the only mention in any of the Gospels, of what took place on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We're told that after "the Sabbath was past", which indicates Saturday evening, sometime after 6pm. Remember the Jewish day ended at sundown and a new day began.
Of course, what we're told here is not very exciting. We're told that these women who had witnessed the death of Jesus went to buy spices so they could anoint the body of Jesus. You might recall that Jesus had to be buried very quickly on Friday, late afternoon, because the Sabbath was coming when the Jewish people had to cease from activity.
Now, the very fact that these women we're going to anoint Jesus was simply a confirmation of their great love for him. They were not required to do this. But they felt Jesus was worthy, even in death, of great respect.
But notice in verse 3 that as they are going to the tomb, they suddenly remember one very large problem that will be waiting for them. There is a huge round stone that has been rolled in front of the tomb entrance. There's no way there moving it by themselves. Such an oversight is understandable when we remember the grief these women were experiencing.
But Mark, in verse 4, makes it clear that this very large stone, as he describes it, has already been rolled back.
Now at this point, I have no doubt that these women were starting to getting very concerned. Why would this stone be moved?'
But as the former chaplain of the US Senate, Peter Marshall, remarked: "The stone was rolled away from the door, not to permit Christ to come out, but to enable the disciples to go in."
That's what we see in verse 5. Look at what we find when the women enter the tomb. There is no Jesus, but there is a very-much alive young man, wearing white, sitting inside the tomb.
Mark rightly tells us that these women were "alarmed". Who was this man? Where was the body of Jesus?
Now, I'm sure it will come as no surprise to you that, with the some notable exceptions (like the High Priest), no one at this time, in this culture, ever wore white. Although Mark doesn't tell us explicitly, from the description this young man appears to be an angel. The other Gospels confirm this fact.
But look at what this young man tells these distressed women in verses 6 and 7. It's worthy repeating:
"Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 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."
Even though they are quite naturally alarmed at what they've seen, the angel is quick to tell them that their alarm should turn to joy and praise. "He has risen." The cross was not the end. This is not a tragedy. Jesus is alive.
This is incredible news. Even though Jesus has told his inner circle, on several occasions, beginning way back in chapter 8, that he would rise from the dead, these women probably hadn't heard this announcement. There is nothing that would prepare them for what they've discovered and what they've heard.
Notice as well that the angel gives them instructions. He commissions them as messengers. They are to go a tell this disciples and Peter that Jesus is alive and that he is going to meet all of them in their own region of Galilee, just as he shared with his disciples in 14:28 on the night before His death.
But look at verse 8. Look at how the women respond to this incredible announcement.
And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
They step out of the tomb and they bolt. Why? Because, "trembling and astonishment: had seized them. They are so bewildered that they are shaking. And instead of shouting this incredible news from the rooftops, they remain silent because of fear.
III Mark's Pattern, Mark's Point
Now, I think it's fair to say, coming back to this issue about the ending of Mark's Gospel, I think it's fair to say that like the women here, we might be feeling a little bewildered.
This is the end? This is how Mark's leaves things, this is how Mark concludes this incredible account that we've just spent two years studying; this is how he leaves it, with the women running away because they're scared? Where is Jesus? Where is the joy and adoration of his disciples? Why don't we read anything about his commissioning of the disciples?
If Mark's gospel really ends here, what are we to make of this ending?
You can see why many in the first centuries of the church wanted to add some further explanation.
Now, it's very possible that the last page of Mark's original manuscript was somehow lost early on, or that Mark was unable to finish because of persecution or death. But what if Mark deliberately ended it here? What if this was exactly how he wanted it to conclude? Why might he do that?
Well, something that might help us answer that question is the structure of Mark's Gospel; how Mark put this whole thing together. There are several general observations we can make about the Gospel of Mark.
First, Mark's Gospel is divided into two parts. The first part runs from 1:1 to 8:38. The second half stretches from 9:1-16:8. This division is clear from the fact that both parts of the book begin with a heavenly confirmation of Jesus' identity.
And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son;ï»¿ with you I am well pleased." (1:11)
And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son;ï»¿ listen to him." (9:7)
This division of the book is also clear from the fact the Jesus' ministry changes beginning in chapter 9, as he concludes his public ministry in Galilee and begins to head toward Jerusalem.
But what we also discover is that both halves of the book end with opposition and rejection. In the first half, this opposition and rejection comes from Peter, who, in 8:32, began to rebuke Jesus when he heard about his suffering and death. And of course the second half of the book ends with the opposition and rejection of the Jewish religious leaders.
At the conclusion of the first half of the book, there is the first prediction of Jesus' suffering and death. At the conclusion of the second, half, this prediction comes true.
But how does this structure help us with chapter 16?
Well, the final lines of the first half of the book, the final lines of Mark chapter 8 are both structurally and theologically the very center of Mark's Gospel. Now I think we need to look back to those words, but before we do, we need to remember that everything in Mark 1-8 has been confirming the identity of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.
And this is of course how the first half ends, with Jesus asking, "But who do you say that I am" and Peter answering, "You are the Christ, the Messiah".
So, generally speaking, we have this pattern in both halves of the book:
1)A divine confirmation of Jesus identity
2)Evidence confirming Jesus' unique identity and authority.
3)A rejection of Jesus
4)And finally, some sort of conclusion.
So here's the conclusion to the first half of the book:
34 And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? 37 For what can a man give in return for his life? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
That represents the very essence of what Mark is trying to communicate to us about Jesus Christ. Mark wants us to convince us that Jesus is the Son of God because the stakes are so high. They couldn't be any higher. Everything is riding on what you do with Christ. Everything.
And so the first half of the book ends with a question put to the reader: what will you do with this Jesus?
Let me suggest that this is also how the second half of the book ends.
IV. Mark's Conclusion, Your Conclusion
One of the things that is unique about Mark's account of the Resurrection of Jesus is that he leaves all of us in exactly the same place.
What do I mean? I mean that all of us are given an empty tomb and the young man's testimony, and that's it. It's almost as if Mark wants us to ask, "What will you do with this? How will you respond to this evidence, this announcement?"
The women did not see Jesus. We have not seen Jesus.
Mary, Mary, and Salome were called to go in faith. They were called to action in light of this incredible news about the risen Jesus. They went away bewildered and frightened.
Couldn't it be that this is exactly how Mark's wants to end this Gospel because this is exactly where he wants to leave all of us? The first half of the book ended with an invitation and a warning. The second half ends with a chance to respond.
Yes, the ending of Mark's gospel is abrupt. But I believe that abruptness is meant to drive us to consideration and decision. Haven't you ever seen a movie that ended abruptly? One that makes you ask, "Is that it? Is that the end?" What does it make you do? It forces you to think about what you saw, and what the filmmaker was trying to say. I believe that's what Mark is doing here.
I have three words for you. Three words that, in light of everything we've read in Mark's Gospel, three words that should drive all of us to the point of decision: Jesus is alive.
He's alive. He is not simply a fanciful character trapped in the pages of some ancient story. He is not simply an historical figure who has been, like all historical figures, lost in the sands of times. He is not just an abstract idea explained in the Holy Bible.
He is alive. Right now, he lives.
And that means his invitation to follow is still in effect. His offer of life is still on the table.
What will you do? Will you lose your life to find real life in Jesus? Or will you be ashamed of him?
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the linchpin of Christianity. Without it, everything falls apart. Without it, the cross of Jesus is nothing more than a tragic death. An act of love? Yes. But ultimately, useless.
The resurrection of Jesus is the proof that we can hope in the face of death. It is the assurance that we can be born again as I Peter 1 confirmed for us. It is the promise that we can walk in newness of life because of Christ.
It is the ultimate evidence that Mark can offer to convince us that Jesus is precisely who he claimed to be. He is the Son of God. He is Lord. And if that's true, all of us must respond.
The Apostle Paul described the right response this way:
...If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
I believe Mark and Mark's readers knew that Jesus' followers saw him alive. They knew about Jesus' commissioning of his disciples. They knew that he ascended to the right hand of God. They knew these things because they had heard the basic message that the Apostles took to the world.
They had heard the gospel, the Good News.
But Mark wants to bring them back to that very question Jesus asked in chapter 8. It's the same question we began with two years ago. It's the question we need to leave with. It's the question that the risen Jesus is asking us even now: "But who do you say that I am?"
It's not enough to respond with the right words. God calls us to respond with the right heart.
At the end of this Gospel, we are called to the beginning of faith.
My prayer and my longing for you is that you would trust that Jesus is alive, and that He invites you to come to him, to follow him. In love, He gave His life for you. He died that you might die to everything that keeps you from God, and he rose again that you might be remade and reconciled to God.
He has risen.
Listen to the words of the 8th century church leader, John of Damascus:
"Now let the heavens be joyful,
Let earth her song begin:
Let the round world keep triumph,
And all that is therein;
Invisible and visible,
Their notes let all things blend,
For Christ the Lord is risen
Our joy that hath no end."