2016 04 24 am Mark 16:9-20 The Astonishing End to the Beginning of the Gospel

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

What we have before us in these verses is the astonishing end to the beginning of the gospel.

Let me explain why I have described it so:

  • The first verse of Mark says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” And so, having come now to the last verses of this book, you might think that we come to the end of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  But what we are going to see is that despite being at the end of the Book, we are still very much at the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  And it is the astonishing things that we read in these verses that will make plain why that is the case.
  • But this is so for another reason as well. You will see that there is a note between verses 8 & 9, which says something like, ‘some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20.”  And if you read commentators on Mark’s Gospel, you will find pages and pages of debate about vv9-20.  But know this: Of the 25,000 NT manuscripts in existence, 99.9% of them have vv1-8 and vv9-20.  So we may be confident that the text before us today is a part of the Holy Spirit inspired, inerrant, Word of the Lord.  So that too is why these verses are the astonishing end to the beginning of the gospel.
  • But there are many more reasons why this is an astonishing end to the beginning of the gospel. And they really are the most important reasons.
    • Some of the reasons are the people we read about in these verses and the astonishing effect that the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, had on them: they came to believe in Jesus Christ and their lives were changed.
    • And some of the reasons are the many people that this gospel has had the same astonishing effect on ever since Jesus left earth for heaven, including the many of us here today who believe in Jesus Christ and whose lives have been changed.
    • And if you are here today as one who is not yet a believer, then I want you to know that it is my prayer, and I am sure the prayer of all of us who follow Jesus, that you also may know the astonishing effect of the gospel today – as you hear Him and hear about Him, may you also become another reason why these words are the astonishing end of the beginning of the gospel.

So let’s consider five E-words as we come to these end verses: Evidence, Example, Encouragement, Effect, and Exhortation – The Evidence of the resurrection, The Example of faith, The Encouragement to pray, the Effects of the Gospel, and the exhortation to proclaim.

  1. So first of all then, the evidence of the resurrection.
    1. Several weeks ago now, as we considered Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we noted that one of the reasons why Jesus asked Peter, James, and John to accompany Him into the Garden was so that there would be the required number of witnesses to verify that all that was said and done in the Garden truly happened. Well, we find that same principle here in ch. 16.  To demonstrate the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, we are given a record of three post-resurrection appearances – Mary Magdalene in v9, the two walking in the country in v12, and the eleven disciples in v14.
    2. And you can read more about each of these appearances in the other Gospels and the Epistles also. In 1 Corinthians 15, for example, the Apostle Paul gives a list of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances.  And he includes an appearance of Jesus to a group of over 500 people at one time.  And he tells us that most of those people were still alive when Paul wrote his letter.  So if you were one of the first Christians to read Mark’s Gospel or the First letter to the Corinthians, you could have tracked down these eye-witnesses and spoken to them yourself.
    3. So this evidence is given as an aid to faith. We have previously said that Mark’s Gospel was written to Christians in Rome who were suffering heavy persecution.  And one of Mark’s chief aims was to strengthen their faith by reminding them that Jesus rose from the dead, which they could be certain of because there were many eye-witnesses!
      1. You see, a daily reality that persecuted believers face is death.
        1. That was the case for persecuted believers then and it is the case for persecuted believers in countries like Pakistan and Syria and Iraq and elsewhere today.
        2. But they are not alone in that. In the last two weeks, around 1000 people, in Japan and Ecuador, died in earthquakes.  They went to bed or to work or were going about their business or their studies, and moments later they were dead.
        3. And we have elderly brothers and sisters and those struggling with serious illness among us who know that death draws closer each day.
        4. But even if we are free of persecution and healthy, none of us have a guarantee that we will be alive this time tomorrow. The awful and consuming power that is death is always just a moment away for everyone.
        5. But if we consider the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and we believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and that He is the Christ, the Son of God, who came to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, we need not fear death!
          • 1 Corinthians 15:20 tells us that “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” If you believe in Jesus, then just as He was raised from the dead, so you shall be also!
          • As the believer thinks a bout death, he or she should join with the Apostle Paul and say, “”Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And that, people of God, is the pay-off of believing the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus that we are given here.  Some of us stood beside the grave-side of Rhyllis Davey earlier this week.  Were there tears?  Of course there were.  But we don’t grieve “as others who have no hope.”  We believe that Rhyllis and all those who died as believers, shall rise when He returns to enjoy eternal life in heaven.

  1. But note secondly the example of faith that we read of in v9, where we are told that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene, “from whom He had cast out seven demons.”
  1. Now, when you read about demon possession in the Gospels, you read about extremely evil and wicked behaviour. In Mark 5, we are told of a man who was possessed by many demons.  And “he lived among the tombs.  And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces.  No one had the strength to subdue him.  Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.”  And we may be sure that even if Mary’s specific circumstances and sins were not exactly the same as this man’s, her life would have been similarly desperate and wicked.  But Jesus released her from that existence.  Jesus made her life better!  And since then, as we see in 15:40, she had been one of a group of women who “followed [Jesus] and ministered to Him.”
  2. But now she has seen Jesus die. And now she has seen Him rise.  Now, she knows that she needs much more than a better life on earth; she needs to be rescued from the guilt of her sins that make her deserving of eternity in hell.  She needs forgiveness!  She needs salvation!  She needs a Saviour!  And because of His death and resurrection, He must be the Son of God – the Saviour that she needs!  So Mary believes in Him and becomes a saved one.
  3. And in this, Mary serves as an example of faith to those of you who think that you are too wicked to be forgiven and saved. Earlier in Mark’s Gospel, the toffee-nosed, self-righteous Pharisees were disgusted that Jesus was eating with sinners, who would have been people like Mary.  And when Jesus heard them expressing their disgust, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but those who are sick.  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
  4. If you are sitting there, sickened by the sinfulness of your sin, whether it be for the first time or the thousandth time, then learn from the example of Mary that Jesus came to call burdened sinners like you. It doesn’t matter what sins you are guilty of or how many times you have committed them.  Listen to the words of Jesus from Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  My friend, you are not among a gathering of the perfect today; you are among a gathering of sinners like Mary who have found in Jesus a friend and Saviour.  Go to Him, today; seek Him in prayer.  Tell Him how you have sinned and tell Him that you are sorry for your sin and ask Him to give you the peace and forgiveness and rest that He has promised to those who call on Him in faith.
  • So Mary is an example of faith. But note thirdly the encouragement to pray that arises from what we read in these verses.
  1. Many times now we have noted that Jesus told His disciples, on three, separate occasions, in very plain language, that He would soon die and then rise again on the third day. And everything has happened now just as He said it would.  So Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, and, as we see in v11, she went and told the disciples.  But what do we read?  “They would not believe it.”  And then, in vv12-13, we read of Jesus’ appearance to the two walking in the country.  And they also went back and told the disciples.  And what do we read?  “They did not believe them.”  So they had Jesus Himself tell them what would happen a number of times.  And what He told them was what the OT prophesied.  And at least three people told them that they had seen the risen Jesus with their own eyes.  But still they refused to believe!  And so, finally, in v14, Jesus appears to the disciples and “He rebukes them for their unbelief and hardness of heart.”  As one commentator says, “Never perhaps was there so striking an example of man’s unwillingness to believe that which runs counter to his early prejudices.  Never was there so remarkable a proof of man’s forgetfulness of plain teaching.”
  2. And this ought to serve as an encouragement to pray.
    1. We should pray, firstly, for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters in Christ. For just like the disciples, we are subject to the same human weaknesses.  And there may come a time when doubt rises in our own hearts.  So let us pray that we may not give in to those doubts.  Let us pray that we may be delivered from the power of doubt.  Let us pray that the Spirit of Christ would remind us at those times that Jesus is our risen Lord and Saviour.
    2. But the power of the disciple’s unbelief should also spur us on to pray for those whom we know and love who do not yet believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Many of us have close family members who have heard, many times, in plain language, that Jesus died and rose again for the forgiveness of sins.  And there was a time when they openly spoke and lived as believers.  But now they speak and live as unbelievers, and perhaps even as hardened  But we should pray that they come to a living faith in Jesus because while these verses tell us of the power of unbelief, they also tell us of the greater power of Christ to conquer unbelief!
  1. But now we come, fourthly, to the Effects of the gospel that we read of in vv17-18. We will finish with Jesus’ command to proclaim the gospel in vv15-16 in a moment.  But after He gave that command, He said, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  The effects of the gospel would be seen in these spectacular and miraculous signs.
  1. Now some of you might know that there are churches in the Southern part of the USA who take what is said here quite literally. So, and I kid you not, they actually have snakes in their worship services because Jesus said those who truly believe “will pick up serpents with their hands.”  Here we pass around an offering bag but there they pass around a rattle-snake J  And you can probably guess what happens!  Every now and then, you get a newspaper report like this one from July 29, last year, “A Kentucky snake handler was bit during Sunday service at Mossy Simpson Pentecostal Church in Jenson last weekend and died shortly thereafter … [John] Brock was the second Kentucky snake handler to die from a bite during the past few years.”
  2. Congregation, what Jesus is talking about in these verses are the miraculous signs that accompanied the preaching of the gospel during the time of the Apostles, when there was, as yet, no NT. And you can see that in v20 as you read about the Lord working “with them” and confirming the message by accompanying signs.  And you see this also as you read the Book of Acts and the NT Epistles.  Because there was no NT, these signs confirmed the truth and the power of the preached gospel.  But once the NT was complete and joined with the OT, the need for these signs ceased.
  3. And yet, having said that, let’s be very clear that the message of the gospel must still be confirmed by accompanying signs today. But they are not the ‘spectacular’ signs that we read of here and in Acts and two chapters of 1 Corinthians, but the ‘ordinary’ things that we read of throughout the NT.
    1. For example, Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” You will see in someone who comes to faith in Jesus Christ as the risen Son of God, growth in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
    2. And from Ephesians 5 & 6 we learn that the gospel of Jesus Christ, the risen Son of God, produces wives who submit to their husbands as to the Lord, and husbands who love their wives as Christ loved the church, and boys and girls who obey their parents in the Lord, and parents who bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, and employees who work as servants of Christ, and employers who are just and fair because Christ is their Master.
    3. From Romans 13 we learn that the gospel of Jesus Christ, the risen Son of God, produces people who “walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.”
    4. From Hebrews 13 we learn that the gospel of Jesus Christ, the risen son of God, produces people who obey their “leaders and submit to them.”
    5. From 1 Timothy 2 we learn that the gospel of Jesus Christ, the risen Son of God, produces men who are eager to pray and women who are content to ‘learn quietly with all submissiveness.”
    6. And from Ephesians 4 we learn that the gospel of Jesus Christ, the risen Son of God, produces people who are “kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave [them.]”
    7. It is changed attitudes and behaviours like these, brothers and sisters, that are the accompanying signs that confirm the message today. As you see these things in yourself you may be sure that you are a follower of Christ.  As you see these things in others, you may be sure that they are followers of Christ.  There ought to be visible and audible effects of the gospel.
  1. But finally, we must also take note of the exhortation to proclaim that we read in vv15-16.
  1. Having rebuked the disciples because of their unbelief, and they obviously having believed, Jesus says to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”
    1. Now, would you turn back with me, very quickly, to Mark 8:27. There Jesus asked the disciples to tell Him who the people thought He was.  And they answered Him.  And then He asked them who they thought He was.  And Peter replied, “You are the Christ.”  But we read in v30 that “He strictly charged them to tell no one about Him.”  So there Jesus says to the disciples, Don’t tell anyone about me, but here He says to them, Tell the whole of creation!  Why the difference?  What has changed?  Well, it is simply this: Back then the disciples had not yet seen all they needed to see about Who Jesus was and What He had come to do.  Back then Jesus had not yet died and risen.  Back then the disciples didn’t know enough about the gospel to be effective proclaimers. But now they do!
    2. Earlier I referred to 1 Corinthians 15 and Paul’s list of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Listen to how he introduces that list: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to [many].”  That’s the heart of the gospel, you see.  When you know and are convinced that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that He died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins and was raised again on the third day, you are ready to proclaim the gospel to others.
    3. Romans 1:16 says this, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” God uses the proclamation of the gospel – people who tell others that Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose again for the forgiveness of sins – to bring people to faith.
  1. And that is exactly what we see in verse 16 where Jesus continues, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” And by the way, Jesus is not teaching salvation by baptism, but simply that those who believe in Him will be baptized as a sign and seal of belonging to God.  The key point here though is that those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the risen Son of God, and that He died for the forgiveness of their sins, will be saved, while those who refuse to believe will be condemned.
    1. When we began this sermon series, I told you of a rather surprising quote about the gospels that I found on Wikipedia. It reads, “[The Gospels] tell their readers (or hearers) that Jesus was something special, and they expect them to respond accordingly.  No neutral stance is possible in relation to a gospel.  Depending on your response, its message will turn out either to be good news for you – or bad.”
    2. And in the light of that quote, I told you about E.V. Rieu. He worked as a translator and he was asked to do a modern translation of the four Gospels from Greek into English.  When he began the work, he was not a believer.  His son, on the other hand, was a minister in the Anglican Church.  And when he found out what his father was about to do, he said, “It will be very interesting to see what Father makes of the Gospels.  It’ll be still more interesting to see what the Gospels make of Father.”  And in less than a year, Dr. Rieu had joined the Church of England, convinced, now, that Jesus was who He claimed to be.  Dr. Rieu chose to believe.  Dr. Rieu became another part of the astonishing end to the beginning of the gospel.
    3. But what about you? Have you chosen to believe in Jesus as your Saviour and Lord?  Can the effects of the gospel be seen in your life?  Are you another part of the astonishing end to the beginning of the gospel?
    4. If so, are you obeying the command of Jesus in v15 to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation? Our earlier reading from Psalm 72 ends with these words: “May the whole earth be filled with His glory.”  But for that to happen, believers must proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  It is a gospel of resurrection life!  It is the gospel of our risen Lord Jesus.  It is the only hope for sinners.  Believer, go and proclaim this gospel.

Let us pray: