Let me give you a friendly warning. Don’t ask A.M. what she thinks of “The Lord of the Rings” movie. It’s not too flattering! I’ve rarely seen Amy get so animated as she did describing how ANNOYED the movie made her.
The book might be a literary masterpiece. Voted one of the greatest books of the twentieth century. But when it comes to the movie which is only based on PART ONE of the book (with two more parts to go). The movie just doesn’t SATISFY. Because it FINISHES when we’re only one third of the way through the story.
Which is okay if you KNOW that that’s what’s going to happen. But poor old Amy didn’t realise that the movie was going to finish with Frodo and Sam just STARTING the next part of the journey on their own.
It’s the sort of ending that’s BOUND to cause a response when you see it. Some people can’t WAIT to see the next movie. Others, like Amy, are frustrated that there’s no resolution. No finish.
And it’s the same range of responses that people have with the end of Mark’s story. Because it finishes quite suddenly.
Luke’s gospel finishes with lots of appearances of Jesus, and with the ascension. John finishes with Jesus appearing to Doubting Thomas, catching and cooking breakfast for the disciples, and then reinstating Peter to look after the church.
Then there’s MATTHEW’S Gospel. It finishes with the Great Commission. Jesus’ command to the disciples to go and tell everyone the good news. But there’s none of that in Mark. If you like, it’s the great OMISSION. The last thing we read/ is that the women said NOTHING to ANYONE because they were so afraid.
And lots of people think that it CAN’T be the end that Mark wrote. Because it doesn’t FIT the way WE would finish a story.
And so they decide that, somewhere along the line, we must have lost the last page, or something like that. And so, someone decided to WRITE another ending. One that ROUNDED THINGS OFF a bit better. And that’s the bit you’ve got in your bibles from verses 9 to 20. As far as we can work out, that probably happened sometime around 300 or 400 AD.
But WHO ARE WE to say that Mark’s done it the wrong way?
The BEST way to read the Bible is with a firm commitment that it’s just the way God wants. Complete with what WE might think are mistakes. And then to work hard to understand WHY God’s caused things to be written the way they are.
And that’s what we’re going to do today. WHY does Mark’s story finish in such an unusual way? What message is he sending his readers?
The plan is/ we’ll start off looking at what Mark says about Jesus’ resurrection. And then we’ll think about two questions that his ending raises. Two reactions we have as we read it.
1. An empty tomb!
But, first, let’s look at what happened that Sunday morning. At the empty tomb. And the first thing to notice is that Mark actually takes up the story the night before. On Saturday evening. Verse 1. “When the Sabbath was over”. That is, after sunset, Saturday night.
And the women who’ve been at the centre of everything since Jesus crucifixion are still active. They were WATCHING when Jesus was CRUCIFIED. They were WATCHING when he DIED. And they were watching when he was put in the TOMB. And here, at the first available moment, they go and buy spices for Jesus’ body.
And then they go home until the next morning. Because it’s too late to do anything now. And then Verse 2, They’re up bright and early. As soon as there’s enough light to see. They’re off to the tomb.
But as sometimes happens when you make an early start, you forget things. “Hang on a minute! Who’s going to roll that whopping great stone out of the way?”
I once had to preach at an early church service. 8 am traditional. And we were staying about 45 minutes drive away. So I packed the car the night before, and left my sermon notes near the front door, so they wouldn’t get packed at the bottom of the boot.
Well, we packed everyone in the car, and made it on the road in time. And we were about 15 minutes down the road, when I had this awful feeling. My stomach dropped. I’d left my notes at the front door.
We were on the Gold Coast freeway heading north to Brisbane. There were no exits, and nowhere to turn around, and go back.
Thank goodness for mobile phones! Our friends had found the notes as soon as we left. And taken off after us. We got in touch by mobiles. And we stopped by the side of the road for the pick-up.
It’s quite funny now, looking back. But it wasn’t too funny at the time.
Early starts can make you forget things. And it seems like that’s what these women had done. But they needn’t have worried. Because look at what happens when they arrive at the tomb. Verse 4.
(Mark 16:4 NIV) But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.
The whole thing was designed so that the stone could be rolled down into a channel fairly easily. But once it was there, it was almost impossible to budge. But SOMEONE had moved it.
And straight away the women find out who. Look at v5.
(Mark 16:5 NIV) As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
For some reason Mark doesn’t call him an ANGEL. He’s just a young man dressed in a white robe. But an ANGEL is obviously what he is. Because the women respond the way people do when they come in contact with the things of heaven. They’re ALARMED. AMAZED. Jaw-droppingly, hair-raisingly ASTONISHED.
He’s come from heaven. Because he’s got a message from God. Verse 6.
(Mark 16:6 NIV) “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.
He tells them NOT to be alarmed! And then he gives them the most ASTOUNDING news break ever. There’s probably never BEEN news that’s MORE alarming. Amazing. Astonishing?
He says not to be alarmed. But there’s NO WAY his message is going to calm their nerves. Because if they were astonished at a stone rolled away. And a young guy dressed in white. Then his news is going to KNOCK THEIR SOCKS OFF.
“You’re looking for Jesus. Yes, the Nazarene. Yes, the one who was crucified. You’ve got the right bloke. And yes, you’ve come to the right place. Because here’s where he lay. But he’s been RAISED. RESURRECTED. Brought back to life. And he’s not hanging around here anymore. He’s had QUITE ENOUGH of death.”
That’s the news. And then he adds a COMMAND. What they’re to DO with the news. Verse 7.
(Mark 16:7 NIV) But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'”
“The one who was dead. But isn’t anymore. Is going home. And he wants the disciples to follow him back to Galilee. And make sure you tell Peter. Just in case he thinks he’s not included.”
That’s the message. The angel’s done his job. And now it’s up to the women. But do they do their part? Hardly. Look at v8.
(Mark 16:8 NIV) Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
The angel told them not to be ALARMED. So they’re trembling and bewildered instead. Shaking like leaves. Shocked. Not knowing WHAT to do.
And so they run. But not to tell the disciples. To get as far away from the tomb as quickly as they can. And Mark finishes by saying, “They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid”. The last sentence in the greatest ever story. “They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid”.
I don’t know about you. But I have a sort of “Amy Moore/ Lord of the Rings” reaction to that finish.
How can FEAR be the final emotion? What about JOY? And cheering?
And where’s the PROOF? Noone actually SAW Jesus. All they see is a young man who SAYS he’s risen.
And how come they didn’t say anything to anyone? What sort of a finish is that? What chance is there of ANYONE finding out about Jesus if THIS is the best the women can do?
It’s all very unsatisying for the reader. Half-baked and unfinished. We expect to turn over the page, looking for part 2 to start.
But let me suggest that that’s EXACTLY what Mark WANTS us to think. Because he even SAYS that he’s only writing part 1. Look back at the start of the book. The very first verse. Mark Ch 1 v1.
(Mark 1:1 NIV) The BEGINNING of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Mark’s story is only the BEGINNING. The story CONTINUES. The story of Jesus continues FAR BEYOND his life and death and resurrection. It continues through the life of the church. The group of people who take on his name. Christian. And who keep telling each other the stories of Jesus. It continues in the lives of people who walk WITH Jesus every day/ through his Spirit.
Let me suggest Mark’s designed the end JUST THE WAY IT IS. To UNSETTLE us. And force us to ask these sorts of questions.
And there are two questions in particular we’re going to think about.
1. Is the MESSAGE of Jesus enough? And
2. Is the METHOD of Jesus enough?
2. Is the message of Jesus enough?
Firstly. Is the MESSAGE of Jesus enough?
One thing that’s not satisfying for me is that there’s no actual SIGHTING of Jesus. No PROOF. No eyewitnesses. Just the word of a young man.
And PROOF’s what I’d like to be able to give people. “Believe in Jesus. See, here’s the PROOF he rose from the dead.”
But Mark’s message is “That’s not the way it works. Whether it’s Mark’s FIRST hearers. In about 60 AD. Or today. Here in Doonside. We’ve got to take SOMEONE’s WORD for it. We have to TRUST the message.
Perhaps there were people in Mark’s time who were saying, “We can’t PROVE it. There’s noone left who actually SAW Jesus after he rose. How can I be SURE it happened?”
But whether it be 60 AD, or 2002 AD. That’s not the way Christian faith works. It’s not the way God designed it. We can’t PROVE anything. Faith involves TRUSTING something you CAN’T SEE. Clinging to something you’re FAIRLY SURE is there. And that’s not easy. If it was so easy – everyone would be doing it.
Don’t get me wrong. That doesn’t mean Christian faith is BRAINLESS faith. There are valid, rational reasons for believing. But ultimately, we need to TRUST the message. And the messengers, And, most importantly, we need to trust THE ONE THE MESSAGE IS ABOUT. Does what we read about Jesus ring true? Is he the sort of person I’m willing to trust my life to? The sort of person I’d risk DEATH for?
When we start to wonder “Is the message of Jesus enough?” we need to remember that it was enough for the Apostles. They met with the risen Jesus, and they told others. And the message changed their lives. And the lives of those they told. And the lives of those THEY told. And the lives of you and me.
The message of Jesus is STILL enough. The gospel still changes hearts. It doesn’t need to be ADDED to by multi-media presentations. Or slick advertising campaigns. Or the need to speak in tongues, or acts of healing. Or lives where nothing ever goes wrong.
Here’s the message. “Jesus lived to show us the Father. He died to pay for your sin. He rose from the dead, and defeated death for you. He’s gone home to wait for us”. That’s the message. And it’s still ENOUGH to change the world.
3. Is the method of Jesus enough?
The second question we might have is/ Is the METHOD of Jesus enough?
It seems a very dodgy strategy to leave the future of salvation in the hands of women who are too scared to say anything to anyone. Will the whole thing end with a whimper, rather than a bang? Who will tell the good news?
Yet, even though they were scared. Fear and amazement are the APPROPRIATE RESPONSES whenever human beings catch a hint of heavenly things. All through Mark’s gospel, that’s how people have reacted whenever they’ve glimpsed the transcendent, heavenly Jesus. Something beyond the normal, human everyday Jesus. And so it makes sense here at the END.
In Ch 2:12 Jesus heals paralysed legs. And the crowd are AMAZED.
In Ch 4:41, he calms the storm. And the disciples are TERRIFIED.
In Ch 5:15, he casts demons into pigs, and the crowd are AFRAID, and beg Jesus to leave.
In Ch 5:42 he raises a 12 yr old girl to life, and they’re ASTONISHED.
In Ch 6:50 Jesus walks on water, and the disciples are TERRIFIED.
In Ch 9:6 Jesus is transfigured into his gleaming, heavenly appearance, and the disciples are so FRIGHTENED, they babble like idiots.
And so when the women hear about the resurrected Jesus, and they’re too afraid, and alarmed, and trembling to tell anyone, it’s NOT THAT UNUSUAL. In fact, fear and awesome wonder is a perfectly appropriate response to glimpsing heaven.
Is that something YOU’VE experienced? Has a glimpse of Jesus affected YOU like that?
I can imagine those FIRST hearers of Mark’s gospel. Perhaps meeting in secret. Fearing Roman persection. Being thrown to the lions. Listening to Mark’s story being read.
“But if the women were too scared to say anything to anyone, what will happen to the message?” But then they looked around at each other. And the light gradually dawns. “Hang on a minute, we’re here today. That must mean the message DID get out.”
“They MUST have got over their fear. And told SOMEONE. Who told someone ELSE. And that’s how we got here today. And if THEY managed to get over THEIR fear. Then I can get over MY fear TOO. I can speak boldly. And pass the message on to someone else.”
And it’s exactly the same for us today. The message spread so far, it’s even made it to DOONSIDE. That’s a lot of people who spoke up, despite the fear.
Who told YOU about Jesus? Parent? Friend? Neighbour? Workmate? Someone swallowed their fear long enough to tell you the good news about Jesus! Thank GOD for them! Who will you do the same for?
Perhaps Jesus’ method wasn’t such a bad idea after all. It certainly DOES seem risky. But that’s the way he’s chosen to do things. Through US. We are his body. His means of working in the world. We SPEAK for him. On his behalf. We COMFORT, and HEAL, and SUPPORT, and PREACH, and ENCOURAGE, and REBUKE the world ON HIS BEHALF.
Jesus’s method for reaching the world is US. And it IS enough.
Mark finishes his story the way he does. Because his story is only PART ONE of the story. The BEGINNING of the good news of Jesus. We are part TWO. Where will it END? How will it end?
It’s up to US to write the rest of the story.