The sequence of our Easter meditations at Eastside has followed the chronology of Scripture:
(i) Palm Sunday - Jesus received with Hosanna’s
(ii) Thursday - the night that He was betrayed, Jesus celebrated the Passover and instituted what we now know as the Lord’s Supper.
(iii) Friday - the cross
(iv) Saturday - the silent day when Jesus rested on the Sabbath day from His finished work on the cross
(iv) Sunday, the first day of the week (16:2) - the day of the Resurrection.
Everything happened, just as Jesus had said earlier in Mark 8:31; Mark 9:31 and Mark 10:33-34.
He had said that He would be killed and after three days He would rise again.
On this Resurrection Sunday I want us to consider Mark 16 which is not often used because of the controversial ending. I need to briefly comment on that note in your Bibles which says concerning the ending to Mark’s gospel, “Some of the oldest oldest and most reliable New Testament manuscripts do not include Mark 16:9-20”.
The oldest manuscripts referred to here are the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus. The King James Bible of 1611 contains vv. 9-20 without the footnote because the translators of this version used the Textus Receptus, the text handed down through the church age. Since 1611, however, older manuscripts have been discovered, notably in 1844 when the archaeologist Constantin von Tischendorf discovered ancient manuscripts at the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mt. Sinai. These documents did not include vv. 9-20.The conclusion has therefore been that these verses were added later. This may disturb some and you wonder whether there has not more tampering in the Bible. We can put your fears to rest. When these more ancient documents were discovered by von Tischendorf in 1844, and later the discovery of the Dead sea scrolls from 1946 onwards, it was found that there were some discrepancies with the Textus Receptus, but not of a major nature. No major or even minor doctrine was affected by the differences.
But what can we say about what is taught in vv. 9-20? Apart from verses 17 and 18 there is nothing unusual or controversial here. It is entirely in harmony with the other gospels. So, we are free to focus on the great theme of this chapter, namely the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this chapter we see two repeated thoughts concerning the resurrection:
The first is, “They did not believe”.
The second is, “He appeared“.
These two phrases dominate the content of Mark Chapter 16. Let’s consider them in greater detail
1. The ever present problem of unbelief
Think about this. Nobody lived physically closer to Jesus than these people here mentioned in our text. They were privileged to see with their own eyes His real miracles and the evidence of His sinless life. They were privileged to hear His convicting preaching. They heard him say on numerous occasions that He would be killed, buried and raised again. The sobering reality is that against all this no-one of Christ’s close associates really believed Him when He said that He would rise from the dead! Whilst we take note of the recurring “unbelief“ of all concerned, we must not read ‘unbelief’ here as something of a final fact. These people all had loved Jesus deeply in life. They were missing him sorely now. They mourned and wept (16:10). Mary Magdalene owed him her very life, for Jesus had cast out 7 demons from her (16:9). The two walking in the country (16:12) were according to Luke (24: 13-35) talking about these things on the road to Emmaus. It is clear that they were depressed at this thought that Jesus had been crucified and buried in a grave. They had no expectation of His resurrection. The language of the text reveals this. Now again, this has nothing to do with cynical unbelief. In their minds they were simply not able to bring themselves to believe that Jesus would come back from the dead, even though He had proven that He had the power over death in the raising of Lazarus in John 11.
Now let’s take a look at a cross section of these people.
The women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, after the Sabbath was past, and early on Sunday morning they went to the tomb to anoint the dead body of Jesus. That in itself is a sign of unbelief. If Jesus said that He would rise on the third day, then there was actually no need to buy and apply these funeral spices. All they needed to do was to wait for the resurrection! But they clearly did not expect the resurrection. So, when they came to the tomb the next day (the first day of the week) they saw that the tomb stone had been rolled away, but still they made no connection. John records that Mary Magdalene had run back to tell Peter about this. She reported (note the language of unbelief) … “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” (Jn. 20:2,13). No thought of the resurrection. Even when Jesus appeared to her a little later, she thought that He was the gardener (Jn. 20:15) supposing that he might have carried the body of Jesus away. Only when Jesus addressed her by her name, “Mary”, did she recognise Him. This is the power of unbelief! There are none as blind as those who will not see! A closed mind chooses to see what it wants to see. This is what we are up against when we share the Gospel! However, as I have reminded you, this is not cynical unbelief- and yet we shall see that it is still sinful unbelief.
The disciples: the angel at the tomb confirms the fact of the resurrection to the women: “Do not be alarmed, you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here … but go and tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he has told you” (vv. 6,7). When they told the grief stricken disciples, they too would not believe her. Even though they have heard the Lord Jesus speaking to them plainly about His resurrection they did not hear Him! Observe the power of the closed mind, the stuck mind, the power of unbelief! We all engage in selective hearing. We all choose to hear what we want to hear! The doctrine of election is a classic case. How many of us have not initially refused to hear this clear biblical truth and were angry with those that preached it? Jesus repeatedly challenges us to consider carefully how we hear, e.g. Mk 4:9,23,24; 8:18
The 2 men on the Emmaus road : In vv. 12 &13 we find an incident which described in greater detail in Luke’s gospel (Lk. 24:13-32). Two men are walking on the road to Emmaus. Lost in grief and depressed about the things that had happened to Jesus in Jerusalem, ‘their eyes were kept from recognising him’ (Lk.24:16) as He joined them. Later He opened their eyes to recognize Him (Lk.24:31). For the first time we are helped to see the remedy for unbelief,… they were helped to see !
The 11 disciples: In v.14 we find the 11 disciples in Galilee when Jesus suddenly joins them. We read, “...and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.” This is an important insight. Jesus categorizes this unbelief as a sinful hardness of heart!
Now, you may say, “I believe in the resurrection of Jesus with all my heart“. We, modern New Testament believers, having been exposed to the Easter story for so many years find it easier to believe in the resurrection than the women and the disciples, because we have become so used to hear this familiar story! So let’s see whether we cannot try another avenue to test our own tendency to unbelief. If you believe in the resurrection of Christ and do not question this because the resurrection is now an established, historical fact, then do you also believe in the second coming of the Lord Jesus? To get close up and personal: are you living in the constant anticipation of His appearing, whether by your death or by His personal appearing in the clouds? And does it make a difference to the way in which you live now and make decisions now? Do you get the point?
2. He Appeared!
This is the act of Grace: He appeared to deal with their unbelief!
He appeared - this phrase is repeated 3 times in vv.9-20:
(i) 16:9 “He appeared first to Mary Magdalene”
(ii) 16:12 “he appeared in another form to two of them”
(iii) 16:14 “Afterward He appeared to the Eleven themselves...”.
He came to deliver His beloved people from unbelief by His post resurrection appearances. And these were not the only. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 the apostle Paul speaks of many more resurrection appearances, “…he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
Paul wrote these words about 20 years after the resurrection. Many of those who met the risen Jesus Christ were still alive at that time. From Paul’s perspective the evidence for the resurrection is utterly overwhelming! And the resurrection appearances were not that of a ghost. This was a physical Christ! He spoke to Mary. He spoke to the men on the Emmaus road. They also had a meal together on that occasion. The apostles ate fish that Christ had caught and prepared at the seaside. Ghosts don’t do breakfast for their friends!
He appeared says Mark three times. He appeared, says Paul 4 times in the letter to the Corinthians just quoted. Peter says the same thing in Acts 10:39-41 in the home of a Roman soldier: “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name”
This is what we also affirm today on this Resurrection Sunday. He appeared! And He will appear again at the second coming. We have to get over the fact that supernatural is not irrational! Yes, we do not understand how a man can die and live again, but are we saying and assuming that we can know everything? Surely our own experience tells us that we don’t know everything!
There is the planet Mars, and we have a rover there, but the truth is that we know very little about Mars. But we know that Mars is there, and we trust that we will see more of it in years to come. The Resurrection of Jesus is a fact. The evidence is there, and Jesus took care to present the evidence in His post resurrection appearances. He knows how weak and unbelieving we are, and so He took care to strengthen our faith by His post resurrection appearances. Don’t be slow to believe all that is written in the Scriptures. And thank Him that He works even this day to overcome our unbelief with Grace. Thank God for the gift of the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit given to us at Pentecost.
Where does the knowledge of the Resurrection leave us?
The ending of Mark (16:15-20) like Matthew 28:18-20 leaves us with the Great Commission: The resurrection leaves us with an evangelistic duty.
For almost six weeks before the Ascension, the Lord Jesus Christ was with the disciples and then He gave them a great commission. He said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned”. (vv. 15,16)
Go and tell! Do not be unbelieving, tell people about His life, death and resurrection.
Verse 20 tells us, “and they went out and preached everywhere.” They went out and it was not long before their world knew that there was a resurrected Saviour whom God had sent to save those who would believe in Him, from their sins. Soon there were believers everywhere – in Rome, in Corinth, Ephesus …in every major city in Asia minor in the Roman and Greek world, and spreading into North Africa and Europe and into the Far East. Many of them experienced persecution and sufferings; numbers lost their lives doing this work. They endured it all. Would they have done this if they weren’t convinced that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead and had commanded them to go? What else can explain the fact of the growth of the church in the world today? Do not be unbelieving… Grace has been given to you not only to believe but to be active in the sharing of your faith? Does your neighbour know about Jesus?
Cure the unbelief of the world by the proclamation of the grace of God !