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The End of Mark’s Gospel

April 25th, 2016

As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “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.” (Mark 16:5-6)

Mark’s Gospel teaches clearly of the resurrection. Three times it records that Christ told the disciples that he would rise from the dead (8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34). The way that he taught them, he made the resurrection an indispensable part of his work, connected inseparably to his crucifixion. If Jesus as the Christ died then he also rose again, as foretold in the Old Testament prophecies.

But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. (Isaiah 53:10, NASB)

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures… (1 Cor. 15:2-4, NASB)

So when we come to chapter 16 in Mark and read the story of the women coming to the tomb, expecting to improve on the quick embalming job they did on Jesus’ body in the haste of his burial on Friday afternoon before the Sabbath began at sunset, we are not surprised to read that he is no longer there. An angel greets them and tell them, “He is risen!” Mark’s gospel proclaims the resurrection of Christ.

The Christian faith is not about merely the sacrifice of the Savior, but also of his eternal and overpowering life. We do not follow his teachings merely - we follow Him! He is a living Savior, a constant presence within us who believe and among us as we meet together. There is no question that the proclamation, “He is risen!” was central to the church’s message and her success. The resurrection of Christ was the single historic event that took the life of the Carpenter-Rabbi and made him the Savior of the world. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, we would have never heard of him or of his teachings, his miracles, and the significance of his death.

Christ was “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). The idea in Romans 4:25 is that Christ died in payment for our sins, but his resurrection completed the transaction on our behalf.

The word justification here seems to be used in a large sense, to denote acceptance with God; including not merely the formal act by which God pardons sins, and by which we become reconciled to him, but but also the completion of the work—the treatment of us as righteous, and raising us up to a state of glory. By the death of Christ an atonement is made for sin… [His resurrection] rendered his work complete. His death would have been unavailing, his work would have been imperfect, if he had not been raised up from the dead. He submitted to death as a sacrifice, and it was needful that he should rise, and thus conquer death and subdue our enemies, that the work which he had undertaken might be complete. (Albert Barnes)

The brevity of Mark’s final section. Mark’s gospel, however, ends abruptly - not with an account of the resurrected Christ interacting with others, but just with the angel’s pronouncement. The best and most reliable ancient manuscripts of Mark end at verse 8, with the women leaving the tomb trembling and amazed, yet too afraid to speak.

Yet Mark’s gospel ends without bringing into the picture the resurrection accounts or the commissioning of his followers. Why?

The answer is left in the heart and mind of God. There have been numerous theories - that the original ending was simply lost, as the last page of a papyrus that was passed around and read and reread until it was tattered and torn. Another theory is that Mark ended it there for dramatic effect. And another that he was interrupted by something and never got back to finish it - mainly to verify the eyewitness accounts. Still another theory says that Mark was the first of the four gospels written, and the other gospel writers learned of the benefit to the reader to include the resurrection accounts - as they were guided by the Holy Spirit, of course. But, ultimately, we will have to leave this matter in the hands of God.*

Mark 16:9-20: Yet what is in these final verses is still helpful. The historic church has still found benefit from reading these words, and many have simply believed that the Spirit inspired them no less than the rest of the gospel of Mark. We can find post-humorous writings in the word of God, most notably Deuteronomy 34 recording the death of Moses, and perhaps Proverbs 30-31. These do not argue against inspiration, merely that God used another person to complete that section. The acceptance of the inspiration of the books in the Bible was established among the believers themselves, who through the guidance of the Spirit identified what God had inspired and what he had not.

If we take the final section of Mark as still edifying to the church, then we will note the following:

Christ calls us to faith: With his ascension there began a new stage of the church’s life, one where faith would be increasingly important. Jesus of Nazareth is no longer walking about this earth, and now we, his followers, have become his feet, his hands, his voice, and his physical presence. We now need the faith that he had, and we need now to believe and trust and obey.

The centrality of proclaiming the “gospel,” the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection: Proclamation and witness comes to the forefront of the church’s mission. “To every creature” emphasizes the Creator’s right to his creation, and that he is claiming every soul through the gospel itself. “Preach the gospel” emphasizes the action we are to undertake - “preach” does not indicate only formal and ordained sermons, rather the act of proclamation, whether informal settings or informal ones.

The necessity of faith and in the importance of baptism: Here is a section where people have complained against the inspiration of this section, but there is not any need to in my opinion. It does not insist that we are saved through baptism, only that baptism accompanies salvation, as it should. It says, “He who believes and is baptized is saved,” emphasizing that these two acts of saving faith and testifying to one’s faith through baptism go hand in hand. It does not insist that baptism is essential for salvation for the next phrase, “He who does not believe will be condemned,” shows that only unbelief condemns someone, not the lack of baptism.

The reality of divine power for the church’s task: It says, “These signs will follow those who believe” (16:17). It does not insist that these signs will accompany every case or every church or every Christian - nor every preacher. Only that divine power will be evidenced in the Church Age through such things as these: power to cast out demons, speaking in new tongues, handling poisonous snakes, drinking poisons without dying, and the healing of the sick. Most of these matters were revealed in the age of the apostles in the New Testament, except for the drinking of poisons (See Acts 28:3-6). Speaking in “new tongues” means in languages other than their mother tongue, and it was miraculously fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2:11).

The exalted position of Christ in heaven: Sitting “at the right hand of God” is likely to be misunderstood today. It means to be the acting power, the executor of the will of God. A king’s “right hand man” would do the will of the king, and Christ sitting at the right hand of God emphasizes his power of leadership, the exercise of God’s authority, and the security of his position, he is siting after all. That Christ exercises his Lordship over the church through his Spirit is taught elsewhere in the New Testament, but the idea is certainly included here.

The compassion of the church: We must understand also that the very nature of Christ’s followers will be exactly what he spoke of during his earthly ministry - one of servanthood, of bringing salvation to people, of exercising authority over evil spirits, of taking the gospel to new nations and in new languages, and of healing the brokenhearted and the diseased of the world.

We must ask ourselves how faithful we are to these tasks. Do we believe as we should? Do we proclaim what we should - the gospel - and to whom we should - all creation? Do we call people to faith and to baptism? As a convinced Baptist I must say that we seem to stand alone emphasizing the importance of believer’s baptism by immersion, and even then we often lag behind in our own emphasis.

Do we expect Christ to lead us? Do we depend upon his leadership? Do we expect divine power and presence in and through our ministry and fellowship? Do we care for the hurting and troubled of the world? Do we love as we should, preach as we should, follow as we should, trust as we should?

If we feel our own inadequacy in any area - and I believe we will all feel inadequate in some area, no matter how faithful we have been in other ways - the remedy is to simply confess this to Christ and ask for his cleansing, for his redirection in our lives, and for his empowering in our lives for holy and obedient living.

And upon this stands the teaching of the benefit to our lives of God’s word in the first place:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV)

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* There are thousands of ancient Greek manuscripts upon which the New Testament of today is based, and not only copies of the Bible but also thousands of quotations from ancient Christian writings of the Church Fathers. The amount of research that goes into this matter is extremely exhausting, chiefly because Christians always want to get back to the purest, truest, and most reliable copy of the Bible.  A.T. Robertson (1863-1934) was one of the greatest Greek scholars America ever produced, and in his Word Pictures of the New Testament made the following comments. He used the technical name of the various manuscripts, “Aleph,” “B,” etc., and the abbreviation “MSS” that means “manuscripts”:

At this point Aleph and B, the two oldest and best Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, stop with this verse. Three Armenian MSS. also end here. Some documents (cursive 274 and Old Latin k) have a shorter ending than the usual long one. The great mass of the documents have the long ending seen in the English versions. Some have both the long and the short endings, like L, Psi, 0112, 099, 579, two Bohairic MSS; the Harklean Syriac (long one in the text, short one in the Greek margin). One Armenian MS. (at Edschmiadzin) gives the long ending and attributes it to Ariston (possibly the Aristion of Papias). W (the Washington Codex) has an additional verse in the long ending. So the facts are very complicated, but argue strongly against the genuineness of Mark 16:9-20… There is little in these verses not in Matthew 28. It is difficult to believe that Mark ended his Gospel with Mark 16:8 unless he was interrupted. A leaf or column may have been torn off at the end of the papyrus roll. The loss of the ending was treated in various ways. Some documents left it alone. Some added one ending, some another, some added both.

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The Events of the Crucifixion

April 22nd, 2016

Truly this Man was the Son of God! (Mark 15:39)

Mark’s gospel describes the crucifixion of Christ in simple language. It is the characteristic of a reliable witness that he does not embellish the true story, rather he just tells it as it was. Mark, the human author, would have likely been in Jerusalem during that time - a teenager, most likely. It is long suspected that he inserted an autobiographical description of himself as the young man who ran away naked in the Garden as Christ was arrested (Mark 14:51-52). But the details, what was not seen as an eye-witness, are well-researched, to know exactly what happened.

Here are the basic events as described by Mark.

Christ’s silence before Pilate, Mark 15:1-5: Christ was silent before his accusers, even before the man who held the legal power to free him or to determine the punishment. Christ admitted to being the “King of the Jews” - this was an ancient title of the coming Messiah. We read in Genesis: “The scepter will not depart from Judah or the staff from between his feet until He whose right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to Him” (Gen. 49:10). Christ came in the ancient authority of the prophecy as head of the Nation, yet was rejected by them or, as John wrote, “He came to his own, but his own received him not” (John 1:11).

It was in particular a Jewish matter, so Christ did not appeal to Pilate. The decision to accept Christ as the king of the Jews was a matter of Jewish loyalty. However, with no opposing testimony that would support Christ and counter the accusations of the religious leaders, Pilate had fewer legal options. In the Roman system a man had the right to assert his innocence, but Christ refused to give an answer to Pilate, he refused to try this matter before an unbelieving, non-Jewish, Gentile judge. It was not Pilate’s to decide, and Jesus, as the Messiah, as the future ruling king of all the earth, was not willing to appeal to Rome for leniency, or to bow before Rome in any capacity. The matter had been resolved with Jewish rejection.

Christ took the place of Barabbas, Mark 15:6-15: It was possible during Passover for Pilate to release a prisoner. He proposed Jesus, but the priests stirred up the crowd so that they would demand Barabbas. Barabbas was an insurrectionist, a rebel who had led others, who had committed murder. As such, he would have been in someway thought of as a “hometown hero.” Many Jews would have condemned his methods, questioned his judgment, rejected him as a potential leader, refused to follow him in battle, but they would have stilled admired his patriotism. Would it be Jesus of Nazareth, the Man of Peace, the healer, the miracle worker, the prophet, the teacher? Or would it be Barabbas, the rebel, the violent, the murderer, the angry man ready to strike at Rome violently?

The crowd chose Barabbas. It appears to have been a different crowd from those who had praised Christ on Palm Sunday. It was a crowd of temple sympathizers, urged on by the priests to hatred and to demand Christ’s crucifixion. The religious leaders orchestrated the entire thing, and they placed Pilate in a situation where, if his actions were audited, and they would be, he must do their bidding - even though he knew plainly how unjust the matter was.

Christ would die for Barabbas, and in so doing he would also die for all mankind. Christ was to bear the sins of the world. Barabbas has become an example of us all, an “everyman” in this capacity. He was released because Christ was condemned.

So often we choose those who are violent rather than those who are peaceful, those who will act in anger over those who would patiently love. Granted that the Bible does say that there is “a time of war and a time of peace” (Eccl. 3:8), and often in history those seeking to deal with aggression peacefully have in the end done more harm than good. One must stand up to a heartless aggressor. Yet, let us not be deceived that anger and war tends to promote in the end more bloodshed, not less. Violence promotes more violence. Peaceful means to resolve problems are always to be preferred.

Christ was scourged and ridiculed, Mark 15:15-20: The scourging of Christ was simply said in the text, but it was a brutal affair, quite possible of causing death by itself. Christ was brutally whipped with the infamous Roman whip that ripped flesh and shredded a man’s back. The soldiers then mocked him. Soldiers must be tough but not necessarily cruel, but it is not uncommon among the armies of mankind to encourage cruelty among the men, thinking that it helps them in battle to be merciless in heart as well as action. And, of course, the very people who ridiculed Christ, who abused him, he would die for. Here is love that patiently cares for others, even when those others are blind to their need and blind to love’s expression.

Simon of Cyrene helped to carry the cross, Mark 15:21: It is supposed that his name was given in the scripture because he became a believer later on, perhaps this is true. But Christ was unable to carry the entire cross - probably due to the scourging - and they grabbed Simon from the crowd. Here is a man whose name remains forever in the Scriptural record for he helped Christ in his greatest work, one soul who helped to carry the cross. But Simon himself could not absolve his own sins by his actions; he still needed Christ to die for him.

The inscription said “The King of the Jews”, Mark 15:22-32: Taken to a place called “Golgotha” or “Place of a Skull” he was crucified. He refused to take the narcotic offered - he would drink the cup “to the dregs” the Father had given him. They gambled for his garments while they crucified him naked. An inscription placed above his head said “The King of the Jews,” mocking his claims of greatness. The entire atmosphere was filled with ridicule, jesting, unbelief, and cruelty.

He cried to the Father, Mark 15:33-36: There are a total of seven sayings of Jesus from the cross, but Mark only includes one: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This was said in Aramaic, the mother tongue of Jesus, but it was a quote from Psalm 22 and called the entire psalm to bear witness to his crucifixion. We wonder why the religious leaders did not make the connection, for surely they were the perpetrators of the very fulfillment of a scripture they knew very well themselves. But envy and hatred create blindness and pride, and they were content with their hatred of this Galilean prophet.

But the cry to the Father teaches us that he who knew no sin became sin for us. He took the blame and the shame of sin and, for the only time in eternity or in history there was a division in the Godhead. God the Father turned away from God the Son, and God bore the sin of us all. This act was so great and so cataclysmic in its repercussions that God now has a means by which he can admit a sinner into heaven, and Christ is forever known as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

Christ died and the temple veil tore, Mark 15:37-39: The veil was a curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place in the temple, and its tearing indicated that now we have access with the Father through the death of Christ. It was torn from top to bottom, in a way that no man could do. It was as though God reached down from heaven himself and tore the curtain in two, allowing access now into his presence.

The centurion’s words, Mark 15:39: The centurion by his rank would have overseen the crucifixion, but he had given it to his soldier to carry out. The centurions in the New Testament were all described in positive terms, and this one, who fulfilled his duty and was an eye witness to his death, gave the final assessment: “This man was the Son of God.”

Buried in Joseph’s tomb, Mark 15:40-47: Women had attended to him during his life, and so at his death three of them stepped forward to take care of his body: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and Salome. Other gospels clarify the verification of Jesus’ death. Mark’s target audience appears to be the Roman, so his words were sufficient for them, that Pilate had inquired of the centurion whether or not Jesus was dead. The centurion said he was, and that was the end of it for Pilate, and proof enough for the Roman. But the other gospels clarify that at the site of the crucifixion, as Jesus’ lifeless body hung on the cross, a spear was run through the heart and lungs of Jesus, verifying his death.

Joseph of Arimathea was a prominent religious council member. We presume that he was not there during the “trial” of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, that he was excluded because his sympathies were known. But, nevertheless, he had the courage to step forward and ask for his body, and he gave his own tomb as the burial place of Jesus.

Seven Witnesses: Six people - (1) Simon of Cyrene, (2) the centurion, (3) Mary Magdalene, (4) Mary the mother of James and Joseph, (5) Salome, and (6) Joseph of Arimathea acted in some way to show sympathy, support, compassion, and love. The others were all steeped in meanness and cruelty, and they ridiculed Jesus to the end.  The seventh witness was the temple itself, that gave testimony through the tearing of the veil or curtain to the character and effectiveness of the death of Christ.

There is devotional benefit for us to simply read the story of the crucifixion and to meditate on it, to consider what our Lord endured for us, and how greatly he loved us. Love kept Christ on the cross, not the nails, just as surely as love put him there.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

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