“Show and Tell”
We begin the message today dealing with a technical issue. I’ll try to make it brief and simple so that we move on and discern God’s message for us this day. There is a lot of scholarly discussion that I can refer you to if you are interested. But for our purposes this morning, I will attempt to summarize. If you are reading from the King James Version of the Bible, you may be unaware of any issues regarding our text. But if you are reading from a New American Standard or New International Version or English Standard Version, you may see an inserted note somewhere around verses 8 and 9. Or you may see a line or something separating the text at this point. The reason for this may be indicated or not. For instance the ESV indicates that some of the earliest manuscripts do not include verses 9-20.
I’ve done a fair bit of research into the issue and my conclusion is that these verses were not written by the author Mark, but were an attempt to complete his gospel and harmonize it with some of the others. The reasons are, first, as the notes indicate this portion of the text is not included in earliest manuscripts. Today, we do not have any original copies of the Greek New Testament. What we have are thousands of copies of copies. And predominantly it is the ones that are dated earlier that are the more reliable.
Second, in textual criticism (which is the discipline to determine the original text) it is usually the shorter or more difficult text that is the accurate text. Insertions were sometimes added by scribes in order to smooth out “difficulties” or harmonize between other accounts.
Third, there is also an abrupt transition from verses 8 to 9. And verse 9 strangely introduces Mary Magdalene as if she was not referred to before. And we know that she has been a prominent character in the events surrounding the crucifixion. Fourth, in this section, there is vocabulary introduced that Mark does not previously use in the entire letter.
So what has troubled some people is an abrupt ending in verse 8. And many have theorized that either Mark never completed his gospel, or that perhaps part of it was lost. And so others have tried their hand at tying up the loose ends on a rather inconclusive finale. For our intents and purposes, we will conclude that Mark ends his account (quite intentionally) at verse 8. I will provide some reasons for this later on in the sermon.
I should mention that much of the material in verses 9-20 is included elsewhere and is not necessarily “false.” However, some cults have even begun based on things mentioned in verse 18 that practice the drinking of poison and handling of snakes, which I would suggest, at the very least, is not the emphasis of Mark’s message.
So, with this in mind, we will focus on verses 1-8 as the ending of Mark’s gospel. Please turn there if you haven’t already. Mark 16.1-8. The title of the sermon sets the trajectory for where this should go. This is a message of “Show and Tell.” Let’s read the text as we get underway.
And first, we have the Witnesses. There is no work on the Sabbath. We remember that the body of Jesus needed to be buried before the Sabbath. And this is where Joseph of Arimathea stepped up - according to the sovereign plan of God. He requested the body, purchased the necessary items, and used his own tomb for Jesus to buried.
We recall the several characters that surrounded the crucifixion. Simon of Cyrene was recruited to carry Jesus’ cross. There was the cry of the Roman centurion declaring Jesus to be the Son of God. We heard the cries of Jesus as he experienced the separation from his Father. And at the cross, there was also a cry of “It is finished!” found in other gospel accounts. Mark also records several women present at all the events. Mark lists a couple by name, noting that there were also other women there as well. This will become significant in our text today.
And after Jesus is buried in the tomb, all the events of the cross are for naught should Jesus remain there. Jesus has made bold claims of rising from the dead. If this is shown to be unfulfilled, then what other claims might also be nullified?
The Sabbath is now over. Several women approach the tomb in order that they might complete the anointing that was perhaps rushed due to the urgency of getting Jesus buried before the Sabbath. If there were other women, Mary and Mary are singled out by Mark – perhaps because of their familiarity. They rise early in the morning on the first day of the week. It would seem as though they were eager to go to the tomb. The shops would have reopened after the Sabbath in order to purchases any spices. And, of course, the women knew where Jesus was buried because they witnessed it.
One might think that the disciples would have been the major players at this point of the story. But Mark places the women at unexpected prominence at this vital juncture. It wasn’t the men who were the first to arrive, but the women.
There are several clues here that indicate that the women did not expect Jesus to have risen from the dead – as he had said. Though, they had shown some level of faith to this point, by standing near the events, it becomes clear that they too were filled with unbelief. The first clue is found in verse 3. They were walking in the direction of the tomb and questioning “who will roll away the stone for us?”
Understandably, this would have been a significant issue if they were truly to anoint Jesus - if he was still there. I mentioned briefly last week that this would have been a very large stone that was placed in front of the tomb. In fact, verse 4, confirms this. “It was very large.” In addition to this, the stone would have been rolled downhill in order to seal it. And other gospel writers indicate that there were guards placed in front of the tomb so that Jesus’ body would not be stolen. The women were obviously not thinking clearly at this point.
The second clue is in verse 4. It would appear as though they were walking with their heads hung low. Perhaps they were moping in the disappointment that they witnessed the death of their Messiah. But as they near the tomb, they lift their heads. And their question loses its significance. There would be no need for someone to roll away the stone. It had already been done. “It was very large.”
Commentators have suggested that this is a “divine passive.” We’ve come across a couple of these before in Mark’s gospel. A divine passive is a passive verb whose subject is attributed to God himself. In other words, the “stone had been rolled back” by God the Father. And it is here that he continues to complete the mission and unfold the plan for the discovery of his people. Only a miracle could move this stone.
It should be noted that the stone was not removed in order to let Jesus out. Do you understand this? Rather, the stone being moved was to let others witness this miracle. It is ultimately our responsibility to respond to events in faith. And so Jesus could have merely ascended to heaven after the crucifixion and left the tomb closed. He could have required faith on the part of his followers without witnessing this resurrection. But his grace moved the stone so that others could see and record what they saw.
So, their first obstacle was removed and they enter the tomb. To say the least, things are not what they expected. They did not see Jesus, but rather a young man sitting to the side. He was dressed in a white robe. And from what we know of other associations, this was an angel sent from God to declare the resurrection of Jesus. We know of other times when human beings are confronted by an angel and are alarmed. Most recently we would think back to the appearances to Mary and Joseph that would have announced the birth of Jesus. And you recall, they were initially alarmed and then comforted by the angel. The same is true here. The angel tells them not to be alarmed.
And then he states the obvious. Or perhaps they had forgotten. The angel says, “you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.” Yep. He’s got that right. “He is not here.” Yep. Can see that too! “He has risen.” Pardon? “He has risen. See. This is where they laid him. You saw it with your own eyes. He’s not here.”
And how important is this pronouncement?? We looked at this on Easter Sunday. In Corinthians 15, we noted that Paul refers to this as “of first importance.” Jesus died, was buried and raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. And then we considered what would be the case had Christ not be raised from the dead.
If Christ was not raised from the dead, 1 Corinthians 15.7 says, the Christian message is vain and our faith is in vain. And we are found to be misrepresenting God. In verse 17, if Christ has not been raised, we are still lost in our sins and alienated from God. In verse 19, if Christ has not been raised, Christians are most to be pitied. We have trusted in a dead Savior. And ultimately, there is no hope of resurrection for believers if Jesus has not been raised.
But in verse 20 of the same chapter, Paul emphatically states what the angel pronounces in our passage: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead!” It’s all true. “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here!”
So… Is that it? Is this the end of the story? Great news! All these great truths wrapped up in the resurrection. Let’s go back to our lives now. No! What are the first three words of verse 7?? But go, tell… Witnesses of Jesus Christ and the resurrection have an appropriate response to this good news. Go! Tell!
The women are given the task of going to the disciples to tell them of the good news. We know that Mary Magdalene went and told Peter and John. But notice what Mark focuses on here. In verse 8, he emphasizes the failure of the other women who respond in fear and failure. These women told no one. And this is where Mark ends his gospel. Can you see why others have wanted to find a better ending?
I think Mark is intentional with the way he has recorded these events. We mentioned at the outset that Mark is likely writing to Christians in Rome. He is writing to people who would already be familiar with these accounts. So as the reader is interacting with his gospel, we naturally fill in some of the details that others have included in their letters. Didn’t that happen with you? Your mind may have filled in more information that you know from Matthew, Luke and John. You know Mary’s interaction with the “gardener.” Or with Jesus with men on the road to Emmaus and so on…
Recall also that Mark does not focus on details, but action. He has bounced from one event to the next, unconcerned with elaborate teaching. To me, this plays out like a movie. Perhaps you’ve seen a movie or television show that you’re tracking with. You think you’ve got the ending pinned. Some end with guy and girl riding off into the sunset. Or the endings where the victors are celebrated in a parade and elevated to places of honor. Or the meeting in the Shire after defeating Sauron.
And then there are some movies that end abruptly and either throw a significant twist and leave you wondering – or leave room for a sequel. They just end! They leave you to think. Mark leaves us to think about our response.
With this abrupt ending, what are we to consider? We are to consider our Responses. You and I were not there physically to the events of the resurrection like these women and others were. But we are witnesses to the records of the witnesses. You now have enough information to these things to demand a response from you. Jesus was crucified for your sins, buried and raised to life. What is your response? Will you turn to him in repentance and faith or will you continue to deny him?
The resurrection is only the beginning of the gospel that must be proclaimed throughout the world. We know from elsewhere that the gospel must be proclaimed to all the nations. What is your response? Do you believe the message and then leave its proclamation to others? Or does this truth so rock you that you cannot hold back? Do you respond in fear and tell no one like these women? Or are you faithful to the task of making disciples of the nations?
It is ironic that throughout Mark’s gospel that many are told early on to keep quiet about the identity of Jesus and they cannot. At the end of the Gospel, some are told to go and tell and they don’t.
Notice also God’s response in this account. The women are told to first go and tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus is risen. The disciples had walked with Jesus for three years. And at the most significant and crucial times in Jesus’ ministry, they had abandoned him. We recall their unbelief throughout the ministry. They fell asleep on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane where he had called on them to remain alert and pray while he was undergoing temptation and suffering. The disciples quickly deserted Jesus when he was apprehended and taken to the Sanhedrin and Caiaphas. Peter even flat out denied him three times that night – despite his promise to be loyal.
God is interested in forgiving and restoring the disciples, namely Peter. Mark 3.28 says, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man.” Here this promise is being honoured. God will transform these weak-willed disciples and make them to be the bold preachers to the nations. Many of these will go to the death for preaching Christ!
God continues to do this today! For reasons unknown to me, God has chosen to save us from our sins. And then his plan includes using us to be the ones to carry this gospel message to others. This is so God receives the glory and not us. Discipleship is established by Jesus’ call and can only be sustained by God’s mercy and power alone! Successful mission cannot be dependent upon human performance.
Mark began his account stating that this is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The “gospel” means “good news” and implies that it is a message to be shared. Mark concludes by leaving us to respond to its implications for us.
One commentator noted that "We cannot allow the resurrection account to become a faded if cherished memory that is to be placed in a photo album and taken out once a year and admired. The ending forces us to enter the story. We are the next chapter."
And so I will conclude this message as abruptly. A greater and more detailed explanation of this text is not required for a response. We have been witnesses to these things – the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. We will we surrender to him and proclaim this message, this good news of Jesus Christ?