The Great Commission

(Mark 16:19-20)

Have you ever been in a situation maybe reading a book or watching  a film and wondering how is this story going to end? You might even ponder the question is their going to be a twist in the tale, a surprise at the end. Sometimes when reading a book some people are tempted to read the final chapter instead to find out what’s happens in the end. Maybe for us, in this day and age, when we get to the end of reading the life of Christ, we are so familiar with what happens at the end, that this effects our reading of it from the very beginning. I am sure most of us, if not all of us knew when we started on this huge series through the life of that at the end he would be crucified, and he was going to die. We maybe even already knew that he was also going to be raised again and ascend into heaven.

All those events did in deed happen and are set out for us very clearly in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, however, the end of Mark Gospel account is full of surprises. Question have even raised because of the controversial nature of the text as to whether it should even be in the Bible. It almost appears to be teaching that we should be handling snakes and drinking poisons. This is a very challenging piece of scripture but it worth getting to the bottom of it.

I would like to begin by asserting that it should be in the Bible. Let me first explain why I believe this, and I will get to the other perceived problems as we progress. Sometimes if you have a modern translation of the bible (Like the NIV) usually before the last 11 verses there is a little Asterix directing, you to a footnote that says something like this.  [Some early manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20]. However, it is interesting to note that these verses appears in their entirety in the authorised, King James versions of the bible with no such footnotes or qualifications. Let me try and throw some light on these queries by first of all stating this text appears in every manuscript of the bible that have been produced except two. In those editions where the verses are missing there is still a blank space to draw attention to the fact that this is not the end of the book rather there is actually something missing from the end of this Gospel account. The two manuscripts that these verses are not contained in are dated around 350AD. However, the missing verses are referred to in the writing of a man called Arenaus who wrote in the latter part of the 2nd century, 150 years earlier. The text also appears in the writing of Justin Martyr who wrote about 100 years before those editions. The text appears in all the main manuscripts but although it doesn’t appear in a couple of early manuscript it does appear in writings about the gospel of Mark that were written approximately 100-150 years before those two manuscripts.

That’s the technical argument why Marks account doesn’t end at verse 8, but there is also a very practical reason why it cannot end there. If it ended at verse 8 the ending would be unnaturally abrupt, and it would be a completely abnormal ending. In fact, the final sentence of verse 8 isn’t even complete. (Mark 16:8)  Not a great way to end the gospel story is it? It’s hard to pick up in the English translation but in the original Greek text it actually ends with the word for…Anybody who knows anything about New Testament Greek knows you don’t end a sentence with for, it’s a bit like ending an English sentence with the word because. It’s just not reasonable because verse 8  exists to set up a situation where the apostles are scared and afraid. Verse 8 exists to set up the coming narrative where Jesus will appear to them one more time to help them overcome their fear and embolden them to go out and preach the gospel.

The text openings by telling us that Jesus appears too is Mary Magdalene.and she goes and tells the disciples. They are mourning, grieving and weeping and she comes in and says to them he is alive.  But 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. How disappointing, they don’t believe her. Previously in Mark 9:it said A”s they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead”. A few weeks earlier he had told them this was about to happen, they did because they had even discussed it. (Mark 9: 10) Later in the chapter they were even told, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” (Mark 9: 31) The talk about it again later  in  (Mark 10: 32-34) That was at least three times they have been told, and by Jesus himself, and it still didn’t sink in and now Mary come to them and says I saw Him, and they still don’t believe. It would almost be amusing, if it wasn’t so important.

Jesus firmly rebukes them for this. (Mark 16:15) In spite of rebuking them for unbelief, please note he doesn’t say, “I am done with you lot”, he actually says, “I am just beginning with you”. Even though they are riddled with unbelief, they are still commanded to go into the world and tell the people of the good news of Jesus. Some of the people he is telling to go here I few minutes ago didn’t even seem to believe he has risen from the dead.  But he tells them to go anyway. He gives them a commission and then he makes a promise and then this is where the really big surprise comes (Mark 16: 17-18) He commissioned them, and make a promise, and then lists 5 miraculous signs. 1 Cast out demons. 2 Speak with tongues. 3 Handle snakes. 4 Drink deadly poisons. 5 Heal the sick.

What does that all actually say? Let me tell you what it most definitely does not say. It does not say these signs will follow all who believe, and it does not say these signs will always follow everyone who believes. What I believe is being said here is that these signs shall be seen among those who believe as a group within the family of believers worldwide these signs will be witnessed. He then tells us the purpose of these sign, “the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied It”(Mark 16: 20b) At the beginning of the preaching of the word, these believers, the Apostles, were given these signs to confirm the message. That is why throughout early church history the particular signs and wonders mentioned in these two verses are usually called “apostolic signs” or described as “confirming” signs”. In my opinion, these particular confirming signs ceased after the apostolic era. In fact, in the book of Hebrews it tells us this will be so; This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Heb 2: 3b-4) I believe there is biblical evidence to say that the signs not specifically mention later in the Pastoral letters as ongoing gifts of the spirit would in fact cease after the apostolic era and the truth of the matter is, they did. There is absolutely no question that in the history for the church “some” of these types of signs did not occur after the apostolic era ended.

However it is worth noting that the apostles where commanded  to, go “out and preach everywhere and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. And that is what they did, various church traditions report the following about what the apostles did after receiving this command. The point I wish to make is they went everywhere, just as they were told everywhere. Mark finishes his gospel by saying these believers did what the lord told them to do.

The message of this closing passage is quite straight forward really, in that after Jesus arose, and he commissioned the disciples. He arose and told them to go preach the gospel to the whole wide world. Let me tell you what does not apply to us. Firstly, you do not have to drink poison, you do not have to handle snakes. Relieved! – Good Four of these five apostolic signs were reported as having been done in the Book of Acts. Apostolic signs and wonders are recorded for us in the book called “The Acts of the Apostles” for that very reason. However, what definitely still does apply to us today? “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”.(Mark 16:15b). Mathew tells a little more in his account in that this commission is to preach the gospel to all creation, to the end of the age. Could eleven people on their own fulfil that commandment? Clearly not. That means this commission also apples to us today and it will apply to all believers always until this done.

I have suggested in this lengthy series and I shall say it again, if we think of ourselves then we will remain silent However, it if you think compassionately about others, and about the Lord then you will tell other what He means to you. If we remain silent, others will stay trapped in their broken lives. We should think of others and speak about what the Lord has done because if we remain silent, other remain trapped and if we speak, other can be set free.


The Significance of an Empty Tomb.

Mark 16: 1-7

It’s Saturday and it is after 6.00pm in the early evening and the Sabbath has ended. Three women have bought spices and they are on their way to anoint the body of Jesus. Clearly, they were expecting to find a dead body at the tomb, or they wouldn’t have brought the anointing spices.

So, they are also discussing the practical problem of the large stone blocking the entrance that awaits them when they arrive at the burial site. These women knew about this stone and they knew they wouldn’t be able to move themselves. Therefore, on their way they were discussing among themselves how they might get someone to move it so that they could anoint the body of the Lord. But when they get to the tomb, this is what they see;  “that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away ”. Matthew identifies this young man as an angel. The women are alarmed, terrified some translations say. They were expecting a grave and a body, instead they get an empty tomb and an angel. The angels tells them to not be alarmed, for he is not here, he is risen. This verse also tells us that the angel confirms to the woman that they have got the right tomb and the reason he is not here he says is because, He is risen. The angel even points to the shelf and says, “see the place where they laid them”. In the gospel of John, we are told that what the ladies saw was not just an empty slab but discarded grave clothes. This was to show that the body has miraculously gone and not just been stolen, because if someone had stolen the body would they really have taken the trouble to remove the grave clothes before doing it.

This is what fully convinced them that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. They like us cannot understand the empty tomb unless they understand the resurrection of Christ. They like us cannot understand the significance of the death of Christ unless we understand that the empty tomb means resurrection. Jesus had told them that He was going to die for their sins however anybody could say that, even I could say that. Indeed, I might then die after saying that, you might think, “big deal”. How would you know someone had really done that, you wouldn’t if they just died like anyone else. However, Jesus did indeed say he was going to die for the sins of the world, but He also said he was going to come back again. Therefore, the empty tomb was telling us he did what he said he would do. The empty tomb is evidence of sins forgiven and demonstrates that this was not just an ordinary death on the back of an empty promise. It the evidence that Christ forgives sin.

The angel instructs them to go, tell his disciples and Peter.  I believe he specifically mentions Peter because Peter had just denied the Lord and at this point, he was set apart, probably depressed, no doubt ashamed of himself. Perhaps he even no longer even considered himself to be a disciple. There is a special message for Peter here, a message that says, “Peter you are forgiven”.

The unique message of this passage is, God forgives those who have sinned, always. Have you ever fallen away from the Lord, or did you ever once feel you were close to Him but are no longer so? I have good news for you right here, you can come back again. Good news because Christ is calling you back, calling you home. God is always willing to forgive you and calls you back into his service. God forgave me when I was a young teenage, but I wandered far from Him, but he forgave me again when I was 30 years old and called me back into service. Furthermore, he didn’t make me go through all kinds of torment to do that, he just reminded me that he had forgiven me, and He let me pick up on my discipleship we it had left off. The message of the empty tomb is forgiveness, and that Christians are not perfect, they are just forgiven.

The famous inventor Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric light-bulb said that along with his whole team of men it took over 24 hours to make each of the first 6 individual light-bulbs. He talked about the first one he created, and when he finished it, he passed to a young apprentice to take it up stairs to the testing room. You can guess what happened next. He tripped and dropped it and it broke, it took the team 24 hours to make the second one. Do you know what he did with the next one…. He gave it to the same young lad.

That’s what God is like, so you messed up, OK, let’s try again. That’s what the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is all about, forgiveness. You can always come back and acknowledge your mistakes, acknowledge you sins, and he will forgive just like he did before.

God forgives sinners and God forgives sin. Do you know what the answer most people in this country give to the question, do you know for sure that if you were to die you are going to heaven. The number 1 answer is, “I hope so, I hope I have lived a good enough life”. Well I am here to tell you, its not about being good enough, it’s just about receiving a gift.

A friend of mine told me of a story when he was out one Sunday afternoon walking in his local park when he came across a man sitting reading  bible track. He said to the man, was he assured that if he died, that he knew he was going to heaven. The man said. I never could be good enough to get to heaven. This is what my friend said in reply; “Okay, if we accept that as true, however, if God were to make a special exception in your case, and give you salvation outright as a gift, would you then accept it. The man replied, “of course I would, who would be daft enough to turn down a gift like that”. That’s exactly what people do every day. The gift has been paid for, the gift can be yours, you just have to receive it.

In 1830 in America a man named George Wilson killed a government employee who caught him in the act of robbing the mail. Wilson was tried and sentenced to be hanged, however the President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, intervened and sent Wilson a pardon, but Wilson refused to accept delivery of the pardon. No one seemed to know what to do because of this, so Wilson’s case was sent to the equivalent of the supreme court at that time.  Chief Justice Marshall judged the situation and wrote the following conclusive opinion: “A pardon is a slip of paper, the value of which is determined by the acceptance of the person to be pardoned. If it is refused, there is no pardon”. George Wilson was subsequently hanged.

The death of Christ on the cross is the pardon God has sent but before it becomes our pardon, we must accept it in faith and obedience. We must accept that offer of forgiveness and accept the sacrifice made on our behalf Then we can live a life in the light of having received that wonderful gift…. Amen

Take Courage

Mark 15: 40-47

 Maybe you’ve been to a funeral and learned something about the person who has died that you didn’t know before? When attending a funeral, you can not only learn a lot about the person who has deceased, but also sometimes get added insight into their life by who chooses to attend. There was one particular funeral I believe there is something we can learn from if we look at the people who attended this particular event.

There were two groups of people at the burial of Jesus, or at least one group and another individual. A small group woman and someone called Joseph of Arimathea.  There are a number of places in the New Testament were this small group of women are mentioned but it is interesting to note that on each occasion they are mentioned Mary Magdalene is always mentioned first. Many bible scholars say this indicates that she was probably their leader. Another woman mentioned is also called Mary, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph. Then there is Salome and we are told elsewhere she ministered to the Lord with her worldly goods.

Remember at this point in the story there has been great hostility shown towards the Lord which has climaxed with Him being crucified only the day before. This suggest to me that these women should have been fearful after all the disciples fled because they were followers of Jesus and they probably thought they were next. However, the women had overcome that fear and remained faithful until the end. Their devotion to the Lord had meant that they had put him above their own personal welfare. They were faithful to the very end, more so than even the disciple.

Now we come to the second person in this passage, namely Joseph of Arimathea, “a prominent member of the Council”. That is interesting because saying he was a member of the council means he was a member of the Sanhedrin. Johns account actual tells us that he was in fact a disciple of the Lord, but keep it secret for “fear of the Jews” Here is a man who was a prominent respectable member of the ruling council of the Sanhedrin who had come to believe that Jesus was the Christ. However, he is understandably frightened of how his fellow members of the Sanhedrin might react if they knew this. The key statement, as it says in some translations that “he took courage” and “boldly” went before the council and requested that he might have the body of Christ. We see in this passage that Joseph stood up and spoke up for the Lord. However, he did more than just that, he stood up, he spoke up, and then he sacrificially served the Lord. He did so by taking down his body wrapping it in linen and placing it in a tomb.

On a practical level Joseph could not have removed Christ’s body from the cross all by himself, as a matter of fact, we are told in the gospel of John that Nicodemus helped him. Nicodemus was also a member of the ruling council, the one who secretly came to meet with Jesus in the middle of the night. There is a really significant sacrifice being made here because what is really significant in this is that they handled the body. For a Jew to handle a dead body meant they would have been disqualified from taking or participating in the Passover. On the eve of the Passover they did something that made them defiled in the eyes of their people and their faith group. So, they bury Jesus in a tomb cut out of rock and they roll a large stone against the door of the tomb.

I believe a lesson to be learned in all of this is that we too need to overcome our fears. Fear of the crowd or  what people might think can stop us in our tracks, it certainly stopped the disciples, who in a matter of a days had all turned and fled. It had stopped Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus from standing up prior to this point.

So, what’s the solution when we feel challenged or afraid. Should we wait until the fear subsides before we take courage or is taking courage the solution to the fear. Perhaps we are called not to wait until the fear is gone, but to speak when we are afraid. Paul writing in 1st Corinthians 2: 3-5 says;

 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Take heart and be courageous but please note this is not an arrogant attitude, haranguing people of there status before a holy God. This is a place of humility, coming in weakness, with great fear and trembling. Paul himself says he came to them in weakness and in great fear and trembling. He didn’t wait till the fear subsided, he took courage and spoke authentically even whilst he was afraid.

That I believe is an important part of the lesson of this passage. Were the woman afraid? Probably. Was Joseph afraid? Definitely because the text says he was, but neither of them let their fear control them. Courage is only courage if you are doing what you are afraid to do, there can be no real courage unless you are afraid. Next time you are afraid, try taking courage, and do the right thing whilst you are afraid. Sometimes we need to look fear in the face and take courage in spite of being in great fear and trembling. You don’t need to rely on persuasive words, you just need to get out of the way and let God demonstrate it through His Spirit’s power Because regardless of any loss we might experience today a day will come when because of that courageous step you will stand before the God who created this universe and because one day you will one day stand before the king and be given your reward.