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Believers

Mark 16

            This year we have spent our Lenten season focused on Mark’s gospel.  We’ve seen how one woman’s extravagant, expensive gift to Jesus showed He was beloved.  A piece of bread was ironically both the means Jesus used to identify His betrayer and symbolize His body.  According to the plan laid down by God even prior to creating the world, Jesus was betrayed by those closest to Him, putting His life in the hands of evil people.

            Last week we observed Palm Sunday, commemorating Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.  We saw how the people blessed Jesus, honoring Him as their king.  While we’re on that subject, there was a Palm Sunday some time back when five-year-old Johnny was required to stay home from Palm Sunday worship because he’d caught a cold.

            When the family came home, everyone was carrying palm branches.

            Johnny asked what they were for.  “People held them over Jesus’ head as He walked by,” his father explained.

            A dark look clouded the boy’s face.  “Wouldn’t you know it,” he fumed.  “The one time I don’t go, He shows up!”

            Today we celebrate the empty tomb.  Jesus died, but He did not remain in the grave, but rose from the dead.  That tomb had been supplied by a member of the Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea.  The gospels tell us Joseph had been secretly following Jesus, but in an act of courage, he went to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to ask for Jesus’ body to bury it.  That act meant he was a secret follower no more!

            From a source outside the Bible, we have discovered a portion of that conversation between Joseph and Pilate.

            PILATE: “Joseph, I don’t understand.  You’re the richest man in the region.  You have made this brand-new tomb for you and your family and now you’re just giving it to this Jesus?”

            JOSEPH: “No sweat, it’s only for the weekend!”

            I’m joking, of course. 

            Joseph did all of us an extraordinary service by retrieving Jesus’ body and entombing it.  As you’ve heard me say many times before, the empty tomb is the single most important piece of evidence to prove the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  As the Resurrection is the single most important doctrine of our faith, we have reason to celebrate today.

Jesus left the empty tomb!  We might call it His “Triumphal Exit.”

1. The women were “shocked, alarmed, bewildered, and frightened.”

            The women who went to Jesus’ tomb were also present at His crucifixion (15:40).  They had seen the brutality of His death and were eager to do something good in response.  Let me briefly introduce them to you.

            First, Mary Magdalene.  All four Gospels attest Mary of Magdala was the first to receive the news of Jesus’ resurrection.  Her name is mentioned 12 times in the gospels, more frequently than most of Jesus’ disciples.  In v. 9 Mary Magdalene is described as THE WOMAN FROM WHOM [Jesus] HAD CAST OUT SEVEN DEMONS. (Luke 8:2)  In the Bible, seven is the number used to signify completion.  The number of demons may imply Mary was completely under their control.  

            The term “Magdalene” means she was from the town of Magdala, a thriving economic community in Galilee, the chief industry being the salting and pickling of fish for export.  This may mean that Mary was a woman of some wealth, which she used to support Jesus’ ministry.  She was one of very few women who travelled with Jesus and the Twelve as He ministered.  One tradition says that Mary evangelized southeastern France, spending her last 30 years in an Alpine cavern.

            Secondly, Mary, the mother of James the Younger and Joseph (15:40).  We know very little about this Mary, apart from her traveling with Jesus, her son James being one of the Twelve, and the support she gave Jesus’ ministry.

            Thirdly, Salome.  She was the wife of Zebedee.  Together, they were parents to James the Elder and John, who were, with Peter, in Jesus’ inner circle.  Salome travelled with Jesus and the Twelve.  On one occasion, recorded in Matthew 20:20-28, she approached Jesus to ask Him to elevate her sons to positions of power and authority in Jesus’ kingdom.  She was a biblical “stage mom.”  Her name is a variation on the word “shalom,” which means “peace.”  She was not a peacemaker when she approached Jesus on behalf of her sons.

            The emotions these three women felt were based on their surprise at finding Jesus’ tomb empty, except for an angel. (5-8)  Here are the four emotional descriptions we find here in Mark 16.

- SHOCKED (5) = intense perplexity or excitement.  Its only other New Testament use is in Mark 14:33 by Jesus to describe His own emotions in the Garden of Gethsemane.

- ALARMED (6) = a synonym to SHOCKED in v. 5, it describes great astonishment.

- BEWILDERED (8) = ekstasis (Greek) = “ecstasy.”  It can be translated as “bewilderment, confusion, astonishment, or terror.”  It literally means to be “beside one’s self,” so scared you’re having an out of body experience.

- FRIGHTENED (8) = phobeo (Greek) = “phobia.”  An unreasonable degree of fear.

            In the original ending to Mark’s Gospel (8a), the women were stunned into silence.  Later editors of this gospel combined information from the other gospels and the book of Acts into this “Read.  The women were the first to receive the news that Jesus was not among the dead but the living.  At first, they had a “discipleship failure” as severe as the male followers of Jesus.

            The expanded ending of Mark’s gospel relieves the reader of the “cliffhanger” ending by explaining how the women found their voices and went to tell Jesus’ disciples (8b + 10).  Unfortunately, their exciting news was not well received by the disciples.

2. The men were “grieving and stubborn.”

            Their emotions were based on disbelief of the testimony of the three women and the two Emmaus walkers. (9-13)

            Mark described the male disciples as GRIEVING in v. 10.  There are many reasons people have for mourning.  These men grieved the loss of their beloved rabbi, the disappointment of all their hopes, and the shame of their cowardice.

            Mark also called the men STUBBORN.  Stubbornness (14) is literally “hard-heartedness,” but it can also be translated as “cold-hearted” or “obstinate.” The men were so broken-hearted they refused to accept any testimony contrary to their pain.  Even though Jesus had warned them all this would happen, they refused to let go of their grief to replace it with the joy of this good news.

            To counter their unbelief Jesus confronted and commissioned the Eleven.

            He appeared to them in person and rebuked (reprimand) them. (14)  Does it seem a little callous to rebuke grieving people?  Consider this: though it may have been born in grief, the disciples’ resolve to disbelieve was not a faithful response to grief.  This was a conscious decision, an ongoing refusal to believe the testimony of the witnesses.  As the text says, THEY REFUSED TO BELIEVE THOSE WHO HAD SEEN HIM AFTER HE HAD BEEN RAISED FROM THE DEAD.  There were a few other occasions Jesus rebuked His disciples and it was for this same reason - their unwillingness to accept the truth.  Jesus effectively told them to “Stop being so hard-hearted and get busy telling others about my Resurrection!”

            He commanded them to be His witnesses to the world. (15-18)  Jesus commissioned them to GO INTO ALL THE WORLD AND PREACH THE GOOD NEWS TO EVERYONE.  This command is akin to the Great Commission reported in Matthew 28:18-20.

            Verse sixteen has, over the years, confused some people.  It teaches that belief in the Good News will save you, refusal to believe will condemn you.  Baptism is not a condition for salvation or it would have been mentioned in both parts of the verse.  Belief is mentioned in both parts, therefore, one sign of genuine belief.

            There has also been confusion about the miraculous signs in vs. 17-18.  These supernatural events are, like baptism, a sign of genuine belief.  Notice the disciples were not commanded to do these things, they were gifts of grace that accompanied the witness of the Eleven as they were obedient to take the Good News to everyone.

            Mark gave some examples of miraculous signs in vs. 17-18.  These are not to be considered an exhaustive list, just samples.  However, every one of these signs are confirmed in the book of Acts.  These supernatural things actually happened.  These signs were promised to the Eleven.  There is no promise of these signs accompanying anyone else’s Gospel ministry.

            The expanded version of Mark ends with Jesus taking His place in heaven and the disciples did His work on Earth. (19-20)  Mark started his gospel with these words, THIS IS THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT JESUS THE MESSIAH, THE SON OF GOD.” (1:1a)  This is the first “bookend” of his account; the Good News is front and center from the beginning to the end.  These two verses provide the opposite “bookend:”

            First, Jesus’ triumphant return to heaven.  Luke and Acts tell us about Jesus’ Ascension.  The fact that He returned to heaven, to His place at the RIGHT HAND of God the Father is proof of His authority and power exercised by making intercession for all of us.  That is ongoing Good News!

            Second, the disciples were obedient to Jesus’ command in v. 15 and God was faithful to supply the MIRACULOUS SIGNS promised in vs. 17-18, to confirm their teaching and authority, making them successful witnesses to the Good News.

Jesus left the empty tomb!  We might call it His “Triumphal Exit.”

            One of contemporary Christianity’s great thinkers was a gentleman named Mike Yaconelli.  We conclude today with a parable he wrote called “The Fireman.”

            “Once there was a little boy who, ever since he could remember, wanted to be a fireman...Deep in his heart there was a longing to someday be able to help people; to save them from the ravaging grasp of a fire.

            “Growing up never changed his mind... Then the big day arrived.  He was accepted to one of the best fireman schools in the country... As graduation day approached, he realized that the long-awaited moment was within reach.  But suddenly he began to have doubts...he was unsure, afraid...

            “It was then that one of his professors suggested he travel to Europe and study under one of the greatest fireman theorists of all time... Once again, graduation day loomed before him.  Once again he was haunted by indecision...

            “Then he was offered a position to teach at one of the most respected fireman schools in the country.  He accepted.  For twenty-five years he taught with honors and received recognition world-wide...

            “He died last year and when they read his memoirs they came across a strange passage written on his deathbed: ‘I lie here today reviewing my life.  I still remember my dream, my passion to be a fireman.  More than anything else I wanted to put out fires... but I realized something today.  I have never put out a real fire.  Never.’”

            Let those who have ears hear what the Spirit is saying to them.

RESOURCES:

            biblestudytools.com

            sharonwilharm.com

            bibleplaces.com

            Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 1979.

            Darrell L. Bock, Cornerstone Bible Commentary, Vol. 11, The Gospel of Mark, 2005, pp. 552-558.

            Joel F. Williams, The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, Mark, 2002, pp. 173-175.

            Mike Yaconelli, The Wittenburg Door, February-March 1976.

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