Good to see you. If you don’t already have Mark 16 open, feel free to grab a Bible near you and turn to Mark 16. Or at home, if you’re following along on livestream, it’s good to have you. On January 3rd this year, we started Mark 1 with a message entitled Shock and Awe. And since then, we’ve been journeying through the Book of Mark, standing in awe of Jesus. And we’ve come today to the final chapter of Mark. And there are three — many things — but three primary things in Mark 16 that are shocking: the movement, the manuscript, and the message. So, let’s look at each of these one at a time.
First of all, the movement of Mark 16 is startling because the chapter begins with trembling, and then it moves down to disbelieving, and then all of a sudden you have this spreading, this preaching of the gospel. “Trembling,” verses 1-8, when the women encountered the empty tomb and the angel early on Sunday morning, “They were,” verse 5, “alarmed”; verse 8, “trembling.” Verse 8 also, “astonishment had seized them.” They were kidnapped by shock. It’s a fascinating word there. And then in verse 8 also, they went away “afraid.” And when they told the other disciples, the disciples didn’t say, “Yeah, we knew he was going to rise from the dead.” They were disbelieving. Verse 11, “they would not believe it.” And then when Jesus appeared to two of them on the road to Emmaus and told others, verse 13, “they did not believe them.” And then Jesus appeared to the Eleven and “rebuked them,” verse 14, “for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.”
But then he commissioned them, and this is another shocking part. Wait a second, you’re commissioning the ones who just disbelieved you? Verse 15, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” He promised signs would accompany them as they were, verses 15-20, preaching, spreading this message. Verse 19, “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.”
So, the movement of this chapter, if you slow down and read it with fresh eyes, is shocking: trembling, disbelieving, and then preaching. So, regardless of where you land on the manuscript question, which we’re going to get to in a moment, we know this movement accurately reflects what happened because the other gospels confirm it, and we are here today, 2000 years later. A bunch of disbelieving, confused followers began spreading the message throughout the world, and it continues today. So, the movement of Mark 16 is quite shocking.
Secondly, the manuscript question is also a bit startling, and for some Christians, it can be extremely unsettling. If you have an ESV, for example, you will notice it puts verses 9-20 in brackets, and then it says,
“Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20.”
This question can be a real point of confusion for Christians and ammunition for non-Christians.
For example, a man in our church got a sales call a week or two ago, and he said to the guy on the phone, the salesperson, “I’ll listen to your presentation if at the end of your presentation, you’ll listen to me tell you about Jesus.” And the guy said, “Sure.” And so he listened to the presentation, and then he got a wonderful opportunity to share with this man, who is a Muslim in another country, about Jesus. And as they were walking through the gospel, he referred to the Bible … the man in our church referred to the Bible … and the reaction he got was very strong, just almost screaming, “That’s a lie!” And when he asked him about that, he said, the Muslim said, “Well, your Bible has lots of versions, lots of changes. It’s been contaminated. Our Bible has one author, one version. It’s pure.”
And this, by the way, is a point of real pride for Muslims, that Christians have a contaminated Bible with many variations and versions, but Muslims have a pure Koran — one version, accurate, complete. What they don’t tell you is how they got the one version. When Mohammed died in AD 632, his followers had memorized large sections of his revelations and written them on scraps of leather, paper, leaves, a shoulder blade. I mean, they were recorded all over the place, many different versions, and according to Zayd, one of Muhammad’s trusted secretaries, as Islam spread through jihad, many of these followers, who had memorized large portions of the Koran, were dying in battle. Also, rival prophets were rising up, and many different versions of Islam were beginning to appear. So, around AD 650, Caliph Uthman, who was the third caliph of Islam, son-in-law of Muhammad, ordered the organizing and copying of one version and then ordered that all other versions, all other copies — leaves, leather, paper, shoulder blades, everything — be burned, said that there’s one version. So, no one can critique the one version or even evaluate if that’s actually what was originally written. It’s quite brilliant: you end up with a perfect copy because it’s your only copy.
Now, our New Testament is quite different. Early Christians did not go on jihad or crusade, but they were hunted. People did not … People did try to burn the Bible, but it was the Roman authorities persecuting the church. So, God used the multiplication of manuscripts to preserve his Word, and these were done by hand. So, there are many small and some large variations. But what’s fascinating, when you look at these, is none of them change the essential message at all. But they all allow us to piece together the original text with remarkable accuracy. The variation we’re talking about today is the largest, and many view it as the most complicated, of the variations. So, that’s why, if you’re visiting I apologize. Today is going to be a little more technical for a few minutes. But I think it’s important to do this periodically so that we understand the history of our Bible.
I want to give you the pros and cons — pros to keeping it in there, cons to taking it out. Mark 16:9-20 — “should be included” first. So, this is the pro: external evidence and internal evidence. External evidence — We have more than 5000 Greek manuscripts today, over 25,000 if you add in other languages. Most Greek manuscripts we have today include these twelve verses. Church fathers, like Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Tatian, quoted from these verses or referred to them. That’s external evidence.
Internal evidence — The ending of verse 8 is extremely abrupt, and it seems unfinished. The style of writing in verses 9-20, while different from most of Mark, has some parallels. So, these are the pros that these twelve verses are part of the original.
Cons — Mark 16:9-20 “should not be included.” Let’s look at the external evidence and the internal evidence, and you’re going to quickly notice I’m going to give a lot more on this position because it’s the one I hold. External evidence — Two of the oldest and best manuscripts lack verse 9-20. Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus. Codex Sinaiticus is our oldest, complete manuscript of the New Testament. It’s currently in the British Library. It is fascinating … the beautiful columns. And it’s actually in really good shape for being a document that is moving toward 2000 years old. Many Greek manuscripts that include verses 9-20 have different endings and or notes that raise doubts regarding the authenticity. So, the point we’re making here is that even the many manuscripts that include verses 9-20, some of them have notes in the margins that indicate the scribes are acknowledging that this might not have been in the original. The old Latin Sinaitic Syriac and about one hundred Armenian manuscripts leave out these verses. Some other later manuscripts contain a shorter ending to the book, and you’ll see one of those in your footnote. Most ESV translations have that shorter, possible, shorter ending. Clement and Origen of Alexandria don’t refer to these verses, and Eusebius and Jerome argue that the best Greek copies lack verses 9-20.
Let me just give you one example: a Christian named Marinus wrote to Eusebius when he was the Bishop of Caesarea around AD 300. Eusebius had endured intense persecution during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. He and his mentor Pamphilus had been imprisoned. His mentor had been martyred. And Eusebius wrote this:
“We saw with our own eyes the houses of prayer thrown down to the very foundations, and the divine and sacred Scriptures committed to the flames in the market-places.”
Now there’s so much in that. You could just picture people gathering in the marketplaces, piling the texts into bonfires, and eliminating the Scriptures. He saw the intense opposition to the sacred Scriptures. He valued every word from God. And the reason this point is important, he is not, Eusebius is not some Ivy League scholar sitting in the comforts of suburbia, questioning the Bible. His life has been on the line for believing these words.
So, his response to Marinus’s question is very significant. Marinus asked him about a possible tension between Matthew 28:1 and Mark 16:9, and I don’t think the tension is important. I don’t even think it’s a real tension. But Eusebius’s response is significant. He said this:
“The accurate ones of the copies define the end of the history according to Mark [at 16:8] … In this way, the ending of the Gospel of Mark is defined in nearly all the copies.”
So, Eusebius is observing this very early before the Greek copies could multiply, without being burned by the authorities, and Eusebius is saying the majority of Greek manuscripts and the most accurate ones leave out verses 9-20 — strong external evidence.
What about internal evidence in the text? There is a lack of continuity between verses 1-8 and 9-20 in Mark 16. One example — Why is Mary Magdalene introduced in verse 9 as the one from whom he had cast out seven demons when she has been at the center of the action in the previous verses? Typically, when you’re going to introduce a character and give descriptions of that person, unless they’re specifically relevant to the material at hand, you introduce them when you begin talking about this person. But Mary Magdalene is going to the tomb in 16:1. She’s at the cross in 15:40. She’s at the burial, she saw the burial in 15:47. Why introduce her now? Seems to be a lack of continuity.
Number two, the style and words of verses 9-20 are different from the rest of the Gospel of Mark. There are eighteen brand new words introduced that aren’t used in the rest of the Book of Mark. There are new ways of describing and referring to Jesus. Some of Mark’s characteristic writing styles, which we’ve seen throughout the book, are not in this ending. So, I believe the ending was added, but — this is important — it was added very, very early on, probably at the beginning of the second century. Imagine scrolls — this is way before the printing press. Scrolls had to be written by hand and were passed around. So, when you have a scroll that’s either left open or handled, often parts of that scroll can be worn off; especially the beginning and the end are quite vulnerable.
So, question — What happened to the real ending? Some believe the gospel ended with verse 8. Today, this is quite popular. Mark’s open ending, open-ended ending. We are told that today our faith fills in, our faith response to the resurrected Jesus, fills in the ending. I struggle with this because it doesn’t seem to fit Mark’s typical teaching style. Have you noticed throughout Mark, Mark’s very direct? When he wants to tell you something, he tells it. Look at the way he begins Mark 1:1. He writes in a very direct manner. So, the open-ended style seems more modern; write-your-own ending seems more modern than Markan. Some believe the ending has been lost. And so, these other suggested endings get thrown in.
Some believe that the content of Mark’s ending is in Matthew 28:9-10 and 16-20, and I believe this. We know that Mark was written earlier than Matthew. Matthew drew a lot of his source material from Mark. Actually 95% of Mark is in Matthew. Inspired by the Spirit, Matthew added material. That’s why Matthew is much bigger than Mark. And since God preserves his Word, it makes a lot of sense to me that the end of Mark is in the end of Matthew.
Let me show you how this might work. Mark 16:8 … we’ll put it on the screen.
“And they went out [the women went out] and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Matthew 28:9-10, “And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ and they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.’”
Matthew 28:16, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
This seems to fit God’s tendency to communicate his perfect message through broken means and to accomplish his perfect ends. The manuscript — a bit shocking.
Third, the message. So, what do we walk away thinking about from Mark 16? And there are so many things here. I just want us to lock in on five words. Remember, from start to finish, the book of Mark is a workshop in wonder, full of shock and awe. But one of the things that is most shocking about Mark 16 is its predictability. To be surprised, to be shocked, you’re not supposed to know what’s coming. But when Jesus was raised from the dead, the women were alarmed, the men were AWOL. Look at verse 6, Mark 16:6,
“And the angel said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter [love that … the guy who just fell flat on his face] tell him that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him [here are the five words] just as he told you. And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
I can’t get over those five words. Just. As. He. Told. You. And I keep playing it over in my head. Was the angel sarcastic? You know, “I’m having a great time in heaven. I’ve got to come and deliver this message that he already gave you, ‘Just as he told you.’ I really wanted to deliver some new news, tell you something you didn’t know. But he told you everything that has happened, and you’re shocked!” This has to be alarming to us — the alarming part. They were alarmed because Jesus did what he said he would do.
Every Tuesday morning for the past year, when we have our worship planning meeting, and I just come in for part of it, but Ryan starts it each time by asking the question all year: Any thoughts about Jesus? Things we’re observing as we work through Mark or in our own reading? Who is he? What is he like? And we just … somebody throws out an observation, very short, simple, and we pray.
This angelic jab. This angelic statement: “I don’t really want to say I told you so, but he did. He told you so.” That says something about us, and it says something about him. What does it say about us? We can hear something over and over again, know it’s going to happen, but it never clicks because our expectations as to what we think he should do block out his clear statements of what he said he would do. And we never get it.
But this also tells us something about him. He always does what he says he will do. Just let that soak in because we live in a world of lies. Constant. Politicians, news media, movies, music, even the songs about how everyone’s lying — teeming with lies. But then the problem is deeper than that because it’s not just out there; it’s in here. We can deceive ourselves. We can be utterly convinced that what we think about something or someone or God is true when we don’t have a clue. And so it’s actually hard for us to even imagine someone existing who is pure truth. He is the way, the truth, the life. He never lies. It’s not just his words. His whole being, his thoughts, his character, who he is — absolutely true. You can count on him. When he speaks, what he says actually comes to be.
And I had a blast this week just walking through the Book of Mark and looking at his words. If we had a couple hours, we would take that journey. Let me just give you a sampling from the beginning. He said, 1:17,
“Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
How many times do you hear somebody say, “Hey, hey, if you join my group, be part of my team, I’ll do this for you,” and it never happens. Jesus is saying to a bunch of relatively uneducated fishermen and others, “Follow me … And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” And by the end of the book, they’re doing what he said he would make them do. He would transform them, but at a level they never could imagine.
He taught on the Sabbath, verse 1:22,
“And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority.”
He wasn’t just an echo of the latest news media. He rebuked the demon, saying, 1:25,
“‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the demon, convulsing him crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.”
He touched a leper with the words “Be clean.” And disease evaporated. Leprosy was gone. When he said to the paralytic’s son, “Your sins are forgiven,” the paralytic was healed and amazed.
When he spoke to wind and waves … So, he’s not just talking to people, he’s talking to demons, he’s talking to wind, he’s talking to waves. Listen, when you meet someone who talks to things like that, typically there are places you send them. But with Jesus, the wind ceased, and the waves calmed, and the disciples feared, 4:41,
“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
This is the part where I cut out pages and pages and pages. Just think about a couple of more examples. You know how every time Jesus would do a miracle near the beginning, people would want to spread the word and he would say to them, “Be silent. Don’t tell anyone”? He told people. He told demons. Here’s a list of some of those references.
Why would the one who came to spread the word call for silence? That’s an important question because Jesus did not come to fulfill our political expectations. In other words, he’s not just campaigning or wanting fame for fame’s sake, or he didn’t come to merely dazzle us with breathtaking displays of power so that shock-and-awe is an end in itself. He just wants to wow people. No, he came to reveal his true identity and mission through his death, burial, and resurrection, “just as he told you.”
Let me remind you a few of those times that the angel was referring to: Mark 8:31,
“He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
Mark 9:31, “… for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.’”
But they were agnostic. That’s the Greek word for “agnostic”; we get “agnostic” from this. They didn’t understand the saying and were afraid to ask.
Mark 10:33, “See, we are going to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days, he will rise.”
And Mark 14:27, “And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away, for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’”
“Just as he told you.”
So, for us today, is it possible that Jesus is repeatedly saying something to us, yet we are not listening? And if Jesus actually did what he said he would do, we would probably either miss it completely or be shocked that he did what he said he would do. Is it possible that we are hearing words, maybe even seeing miracles? God has been doing so many amazing things lately, and yet we are not believing. Our expectations of what we think he should do blind us to what he promised he would do. And we don’t get it. The disciples’ example and the angels’ words are warnings to us that it’s possible for us to allow our expectations of him to blind us to what he promised he would do.
Let me show you an example from another gospel that is very similar in John 6. Remember after the feeding of the 5000, the people wanted Jesus to be their king because they assumed, “Hey, this is what we’ve been waiting for: someone who could feed us, lead us, miraculously provide for us. He’s like a human food truck. We need to make him king.” And Jesus pulled away from that. And he said in John 6:26,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”
And stop there for a second. That’s a really important distinction: the purpose of a sign is not in itself. A sign does what? It points beyond itself. And so, Jesus is saying, “You’re getting all caught up in the signs. You want the miraculous power, you want the provision, you want your needs met, you’re not looking through the sign to the one the sign points to,” Jesus is saying, “to me.”
“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God, the Father has set his seal.” [John 6:27]
Verse 35, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger’”
And notice the promises embedded in here with the warnings:
“And whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”
Verse 51, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
And the disciples started to say things like, “This is a hard saying. Who can listen to this? Because this sounds a lot like cannibalism, and it feels creepy.” And so the next verse, verse 66,
“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom are we going to go? You have the words of eternal life.’”
Who else can speak words that result in life? We can build a food truck. But who can speak words that produce life in us?
And Peter, at this point, didn’t even understand it all, but he knew whoever he is, whatever he says, that’s what I need. Who else can say what he will do and then do it? Who else is the bread of life? Who else feeds us with the food that lasts forever, who promises that I will never cast you out? “If you come to me, I will never cast you out.” Who else gives himself for the life of the world? And these promises, if you look at them from a human perspective, sound crazy. Unless the one who spoke them can actually do them. And that’s why the angel said, “Just as he told you.”
Let’s pray. Jesus, in a world spinning with false promises, fabrications, in a world where we can even dupe ourselves, we just can’t even imagine someone like you. Our minds can’t even get around that, that everything you say is true. Everything you promise, you do. And no doubt, we warp, and we garble. We filter through your promises and get them all tangled up in our social and political expectations. But Lord, when we just take you at your word, you will always do it. You are the way, the truth, the life. Everything you are and do and say is truthful. And when you promise, you deliver, which is why you went to Jerusalem, which is why you gave your life for us, caught in webs of lies, many we can’t even identify. And yet you melt them away with your words of truth. You pour into us the Spirit, who is truth, who convicts us, encourages us, and bears witness with us that we are yours, who empowers us and gifts us to take this message to the world, the world you gave your life for.
So, Jesus, as we end this study of Mark, we just want to stand in awe of you. You’re unlike anyone else we know. You are truth, and Father, I pray, if some of us are still sniffing around for someone else to trust or looking in our own brains, trying to figure out a way we can make life work for ourselves, I pray that today would be a call from you, Jesus, for us to put our faith in you. We repent of our own way. We believe in your way. We’re not looking for a messiah of our own making. We want you, just as you are, Lord. We’re not going to try to bend you into our own image. We’re going to be bent into yours, actually straightened.
God, thank you that your Spirit is not speaking to condemn, but to save, to encourage, to heal. And when you do break us down, you break us down in order to build us up, new and improved, transformed. So, Lord, thank you for sending that angel, who reminded the women what you said. And may we hear that message: just as he told us. We thank you in Jesus’s name, amen.