Monday, July 25, 2016

An Embarrasing Ending

 This week at church camp was tremendous.  Our young folks accounted themselves well as they learned and grew with others–learning about Superhero faith.  I won’t bore you with all the details, but I will share with you this morning one fascinating thing I observed.  One of the Bible readings on the Wednesday of camp was our Gospel reading from the book of Mark–the resurrection story of Jesus.  It was read no less than three times that day: at morning worship; during Bible study; and at evening worship.  And every time the lesson was read, verse eight was omitted.  I can’t say that I necessarily blame them for omitting it.  It’s rather embarrassing.

 “8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

 What in the world is wrong with the gospel writer?  I mean, who in their right mind would stop right here at the end of this story?  Who in their right mind would quit with the women hiding in terror after what they had seen and heard?  Who in their right mind would stop without having Jesus appear and talk to the disciples; let them know that He is indeed risen; and send them out to proclaim the news?  Who in their right mind would stop right here?  It’s embarrassing.

 Indeed, several commentaries I consulted this week said that Mark must have had a longer ending.  They believe that the early manuscripts were either mutilated or had pages lost.  Mark could not have ended right here.  In fact, later scribes even took it upon themselves to add endings to the book of Mark.  If you want to have a little bit of fun, you can check out a good study Bible, and they will have two separate endings for the book of Mark available for you to see. 

 Some of you might ask, “How do you know that someone else added them?  When I took Greek, we translated a huge portion of the book of Mark.  When you get a chance to study someone’s writing style, you get a chance to see how they write, and you can definitely tell when someone else is being quoted or is writing.  In the Greek text, it is blatantly obvious that whoever wrote the two endings attributed to Mark is not Mark.  The earliest texts that we have end at verse eight.  They told no one because they were afraid.

 This is not the Easter message that we are accustomed to.  This is not where we like to end up.  The Christian faith has a huge mandate to tell the good news that Christ is risen not to cower in fear.  I mean, without the resurrection, Jesus would probably have been less than a footnote in the pages of history.

 William Lane says this in his commentary, “Were it not for the resurrection, Jesus of Nazareth might have appeared as no more than a line in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, if he were mentioned at all.  The witness of the four Gospels is unequivocal that following the crucifixion Jesus’ disciples were scattered, their hopes shattered by the course of events.  What halted the dissolution of the messianic movement centered in Jesus was the resurrection.  It is the resurrection which creates, ‘the good news concerning Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.’”

 It would seem that Mark would have known this and would have written accordingly.  But maybe, just maybe he did.  For you see, as I have preached through this book, I have come to see Mark as a literary genius.  Each story has built upon the previous one.  Each story is deeply rooted and grounded in the Old Testament understanding of the Messiah.  Throughout the Gospel stories and words are chosen to bring things together into a brilliant message of the revelation of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah who has given His life as a ransom for many.  There is a method to Mark’s madness that culminates in a brilliant ending.  Let’s look at that ending now.

 First, Mark tells us about the women who come to the tomb early in the morning, just after sunrise to bring spices to anoint Jesus’ body.  It was customary for Jews to bury their dead and put a lot of spices and fragrant oils around the body as the body decomposed.  After a year, relatives or friends would enter the tomb and collect the bones and put them into an ossuary or bone box.  The spices and oils helped mask the smell of the decomposing body.  Because Jesus’ body was buried with haste these spices and oils were not put upon him.  The women came to give Him one last dignity.

 But they were presented with a problem: a large stone had been rolled into place to cover the opening of the tomb.  Presumably it was so large and difficult to move that these women would not be able to do that by themselves.  They were going to need some help, and it is highly probable they were expecting a gardener or someone of the same sort to be there to help them.

 What they discovered, however, was completely unexpected.  The stone was rolled away.  This caused them no small amount of consternation.  They entered the tomb unsure of what they might find.

 Much to their surprise, they find a young man seated on the right hand side in the tomb.  Now, several weeks ago, when I preached on the betrayal scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, we also saw Mark tell us about a young man who was in the garden.  This was a “neoniskus.”  The Greek word connoted someone who was strong, handsome, vital, and brave.  Mark also informed us that this young man was wealthy as he wore a linen robe.  This “neoniskus” was last seen fleeing from the Garden of Gesthemane naked; his robe in the hands of those who were sent to arrest Jesus.  All of the young man’s courage, wealth, looks, vitality, and strength were nothing.  All of these things failed him as he raced away naked, alone, and embarrassed.

 I don’t think it coincidence that Mark uses the same word to describe this young man at the tomb.  Mark is not one who uses coincidence.  There is a definite reason the “neoniskus” reappears because there is a stark contrast to the time we saw him before.  Now, this “young man” is seated; fully clothed in white, calm, collected, and seated in a position of power and authority.  He is no longer running or scared.  Something has happened to transform him mightily.  What could that have been?

 You know the answer.  He has met the resurrected Jesus, and he now tells the women exactly what has happened.  “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

 The women flee.  They do not walk away in a state of euphoria.  They do not marvel at this news in some sort of holy stupor.  They run!!  Terror and amazement had seized them, and they told no one!!  They told no one.

 Why?   Why wouldn’t they have told anyone?  This is madness.  If Jesus truly is raised from the dead, then hope is restored.  The news that the Kingdom of God was at hand is powerfully relevant.  That proclamation did not die with Jesus upon the cross.  God is indeed on the move!  Why aren’t they sharing this?

 Scholars pose several reasons.  One is that the women believed that the end judgement was at hand.  For if Jesus had been resurrected, then this was the beginning of the immanent and promised resurrection of the dead–when God would render His final judgement.  It was a time to be dreaded and feared.  The women were cowering because they believed this event was unfolding before their very eyes.  This interpretation could be very true. 

 But now, let me share you Mark Edwards’ take on this from His commentary:

 It is an encounter with the resurrected Lord, not the empty tomb that produces faith.  The resurrection does not magically dispel fear and cowardice, transforming fallible human characters into faithful disciples.  Faithful discipleship consists of following Jesus, not contemplating doing so; acting courageously on his behalf, not standing on the sidelines and watching...Throughout the Gospel, Mark has warned that signs, miracles, and portents do not evoke faith (8:11-13).  The same note persists at the resurrection, the greatest of all signs: even the visitation of angels at the empty tomb fails to produce faith.  Faith comes rather through hearing the gospel and personal encounter with the One who was crucified and is now raised from the dead.  Even at the close of the story, the human characters fail the divine will: in his earthly ministry, Jesus commanded people to silence, and they spoke; in his resurrected state, the women are commanded to speak, and they flee in silence!

 It is the resurrected Lord, not the empty tomb that produces faith.

 It is the resurrected Lord, not the empty tomb that produces faith.

 It is the resurrected Lord, not the empty tomb that produces faith.

 The women had seen the empty tomb.  They had been told that Jesus was risen from the dead, but they had had no encounter with the risen Lord.  They had not come to faith.  They would eventually, by the way, but at this moment in time, faith was an impossibility.  It went against all rational judgement.  It went against all they had ever known.  It went against all they had ever been taught and all they had ever assumed.  If indeed Jesus was raised from the dead, everything was now different.

 Everything was already different for that “neoniskus”.  His entire life was different.  No longer naked, ashamed and embarrassed; no longer fleeing for his life while deserting Jesus; he is now clothed, sitting with power, and sharing the good news.  He has been transformed from head to toe, from inside to out.  He has encountered the risen Lord.

 Mark leaves us with a stark contrast between the young man who had encountered the risen Christ and the women who had not.  He leaves us hanging by a thread asking us to consider, “Who is going to go and tell the news?  Who is going to tell others about what Jesus has accomplished? Who is left who has seen Jesus heal the sick and make the lame to walk?  Who is left who has heard of Jesus calming the storm and feeding the multitudes?  Who is left who saw Jesus transfigured on the hill with the voice from heaven confirming that Jesus is God’s Son?  Who is left to tell of how Jesus came to give His life as a ransom to many?  Who is left to stand at the foot of the cross as the Roman centurion did and say, “This truly is God’s Son.”?  Who is left to tell of the empty tomb and the resurrection to new life?

 Who is left to tell the world that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him?  Who is left who knows these things; who has encountered the risen Christ; and who will now proclaim?

 The answer, my brothers and sisters is: you and me.  You and I have traveled through these stories.  You and I have seen and heard what Jesus has done.  You and I have witnessed these events through the eyes of Mark.  And now, we must ask ourselves: have we encountered the risen Jesus?  Have we encountered the One who died for us?  Have we encountered the one who has saved us and forgiven us from our sins?  Have we been clothed with new garments, had our shame removed, and filled with power? 

 If you profess Jesus as your Lord and Savior; if you have encountered the risen Jesus, it is now up to you and me to write the end of Mark’s Gospel.  It is now up to you and me to move into the world to tell others what Jesus has done.  It is now up to you and me to invite others into a relationship with the living Lord.  The women were amazed and terrified.  They told no one.  May we have the courage to do differently.  Amen.

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