Resurrection Sunday ~ 20200412 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
4/12 Resurrection Sunday; Boldness or Fear? The Short Ending of Mark; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200412_resurrection-sunday.mp3
Today is Easter, or Resurrection Sunday. And I have to warn you; if you are hoping for a message that will be uplifting, comforting, a little shot in the arm pep talk to encourage you to hang in there and everything will be all right, then you’d better sign out right now.
My prayer for today is that this will wreck you, shake you, challenge you, stir you up and make you uncomfortable. Today I want to invite you in to a choose your own adventure story – you know, one of those interactive stories where you play a part, a story that has decision points that you have to make, and what you choose affects how the story line unfolds.
We are going to look at Mark’s gospel. We’ll start with chapter 8, where Peter acknowledges Jesus as ‘the Christ’,
Jesus tells his closest followers that he is headed to the cross, and Peter doesn’t like that direction.
Peter misunderstood the whole mission of Jesus. He thought the story would end a different way. But Jesus is taking it in a very different direction than Peter is comfortable with. Then Jesus,
Here’s the key. Here’s what it means to follow Jesus. You have to risk everything. The goal in the choose your own adventure is to stay alive as long as possible, to survive. Here Jesus tells us that that is not the goal here. Success in Jesus’ context means following Jesus whatever the cost, losing your life for his sake and the gospel’s.
The Textual Problem
I want to look at Mark’s account of the resurrection of Jesus today. What I’m about to say might make some of you nervous or uncomfortable. This might seem like I’m airing dirty laundry; but I think it’s best to be open and honest with the evidence. And really it is no secret, so it’s best to deal with it head on rather than try to brush over it or just look the other way and pretend its not there. If you have almost any current translation of the Bible, you probably have a note after Mark 16:8 that reads something like this:
What do you do with that? I believe that the Bible is God breathed, God’s very words, without error in the original manuscripts. But we don’t have the original manuscripts. We have copies. The fact is we have more copies than any other ancient document, more copies than we can keep on top of cataloging. And we have very early copies, copies closer to the date of writing than any other ancient document, and we have copies that are scattered over wide geographic areas. Manuscripts, which by definition are hand written, have mistakes. But with the sheer volume of manuscript evidence that we have access to, any errors are self-correcting. We can examine the evidence and see what kinds of mistakes were made in some of the copies, and why they were made, and what the original reading was.
The ending of Mark is one of the biggest textual problems we have, because it affects 12 whole verses. Here’s an overview of the issue: over 90% of the manuscripts in existence today contain verses 9-20, so it is clearly the majority; many of the early church fathers knew of these verses, and most of the early translations contain these verses.
But our two earliest and best manuscripts, Codex Siniaticus (aleph 01) and Codex Vaticanus (B 03) (4th cent.) both end at verse 8. In addition to this, the oldest of the translations into Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, Sahidic Coptic end at v.8. As for the early church fathers, neither Origen (d.339) nor Clement of Alexandria (d.215) seem to know of this passage. Both Eusebius (265-339) and Jerome (347-419), who had access to extensive libraries state that the accurate copies and the majority of copies that they had access to ended with what we know as verse 8. Jerome mentions that almost all the Greek codices are without the passage. So although the majority of manuscripts that we have today include these verses, that was not always the case. A number of the Greek manuscripts and the translations that do include verses 9-20 have markings or notes that express doubts concerning the authenticity of these verses.
And we don’t have only two options here, we have five. There is the short ending, which simply ends with verse 8, and there is the longer ending that includes verses 9-20. But there is one manuscript that adds several lines between verses 14 and 15, and there are other manuscripts that contain an alternate intermediate length ending, which is clearly late. Some manuscripts have this intermediate ending followed by the longer ending. We see evidence with this of the scribal tradition, when in doubt, preserve everything.
[If you want to know more about this, I talked about the transmission of the New Testament and specifically about the ending of Mark’s gospel in the second session of our Foundations study, which is available online.]
So what do we do with this? The longer ending is very early, and it is included in the majority of manuscripts that we now have. But many even of those who think it should be retained recognize that grammatically and linguistically it doesn’t fit with Mark’s style. It is evidently tacked on later, and not very smoothly. It seems to be a patchwork compiled from pieces of Matthew, Luke/Acts, John and some of Paul’s writings. So if this longer reading is included, we don’t have anything added to God’s word, and if this is left out, we aren’t missing anything that we don’t already have elsewhere in the Bible.
So what should we do? When in doubt, preserve everything, as many scribes did, but be honest and include it with a note that warns the reader that the earliest and best manuscripts end at verse 8 and don’t include this addition.
It seems that many were uncomfortable with Mark’s gospel ending at verse 8, and so a more fitting ending was pieced together to make it more like the other gospel narratives, and more comfortable.
But I believe Mark intended to make us uncomfortable. Let’s look at what Mark is doing in his gospel.
Response of Fear and Failure
Mark is widely recognized as Peter’s gospel, assembled by Mark as he ministered alongside Peter and listened to his preaching. Peter would have been looked on in the early church as a hero. But the portrait painted of Peter here is anything but glamorous. We already looked at Peter’s greatest moment in Mark 8, acknowledging Jesus as ‘the Christ’ followed immediately by Peter’s rebuke of Jesus, for which he was called ‘Satan’ who has his mind set on the things of man, not the things of God.
When Jesus calmed the sea with a word in Mark 4, his disciples:
In Mark 6, when he came walking on the water in the storm,
In Mark 9, when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain
Later in chapter 9, Jesus was teaching his disciples that he would be killed and after three days he would rise,
In chapter 10, Jesus, resolutely marching toward his death,
Peter, after boldly arguing in the garden that even if all the rest of the disciples abandoned Jesus, he would follow him to death (14:27-31), could not even stay awake one hour (14:37, 40-41). And when Jesus was betrayed, ‘they all left him and fled’ (14:50). Then, having followed from a distance, when Peter was accused of being one of Jesus’ followers by a servant girl and then by the other bystanders (14:66-72)
Mark’s narrative paints the disciples as ignorant, arrogant, bumbling, misunderstanding; deeply flawed failures. They respond to supernatural events not with faith but with fear. Jesus’ greatest miracles evoke trembling and fear even in the crowds.
It seems that only the women (and John) were bold enough to watch the crucifixion even from a distance. (15:40), or to visit the tomb on Sunday morning.
Mark’s gospel is a chronicle of flawed followers, characterized by fear and failure.
In Mark 4, when his disciples asked him privately about the parables,
Jesus was giving the secret of the kingdom to his disciples. He contrasts them with those outside, who would ‘see but not perceive’ ‘hear but not understand’ and would miss forgiveness.
To them it had been given, and yet they were as outsiders, not understanding. When Jesus walked on water, they were terrified. After they took him into the boat and the wind ceased,
In Mark 7,
In Mark 8,
When Jesus’ disciples ought to have understood, they didn’t. He entrusted to them the secret, and they still missed it.
Keep it Secret Until...
That brings us to another theme that emerges when we look at Mark’s gospel. From chapter 1, when Jesus cast out demons who knew who he was, he commanded them to be silent; he would not permit them to speak (1:25, 34, 3:11).
In 1:43, after Jesus touched a leper and healed him,
Do you see what is happening here? Jesus is going to desolate places, praying alone, leaving town when everyone is looking for him. He commands silence to those he heals, but the healed disobey and instead talk freely and spread the news.
When he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, he did it privately,
When he healed the deaf and mute man away from the crowd,
When he healed the blind man outside the village,
When Peter made his confession of Jesus as the Christ, what was his response?
When Peter, James and John were coming down from seeing Jesus transfigured, conversing with Moses and Elijah,
Keep it secret until… He charged them to tell no one until. Until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. And their response? What might ‘this rising from the dead’ mean? Again they don’t understand.
He Is Risen!
Jesus’ closest disciples see his greatest wonders and are filled with fear not faith. He reveals to them the secret of the kingdom and their hearts are hard and they are without understanding. Those Jesus heals are commanded to be silent, but they talk freely and spread the news about him everywhere. Even the demons are declaring who Jesus is. He reveals his identity to his closest followers and commands them to keep it quiet until… until he has risen from the dead.
With this background in mind, let’s look at how Mark ends his gospel. Joseph of Arimathea, a Pharisee, not one of the disciples, ‘took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus’ (15:43).
The women go to the tomb to pay their last respects to the corpse of Jesus, doing what they didn’t have time to do earlier. But they didn’t think through how they would even get in. None of his male disciples were willing to come with them to move the stone.
They see a robed young man, probably an angel, who tells them not to fear (as angels often do), who declares to them that the crucified and buried Jesus not in the tomb. He is risen. He is alive, just as he predicted he would be. Come see, then go tell. You will see him. He is alive! He is on the move!
Period. Full stop. The End. Now you see why people have been uncomfortable with that kind of ending? We scream out ‘No!’ You can’t leave it there! They’re supposed to go and tell! The restraining order has been lifted. He is risen! Now the disciples are free to tell everyone who Jesus really is!
A leper is commanded by Jesus not to say anything to anyone, and he goes out and ‘began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news’ so that everyone was coming to Jesus. And now these women who have heard the greatest news of history, that Jesus is risen, who are commanded to go and tell, they flee, afraid, they are seized with trembling, and they say nothing to anyone? Do the disciples ever find out? Does anyone go to Galilee to meet with their risen Lord? Does the message die with them? The disciples were clearly inclined to fear rather than faith, they were hard hearted and without understanding. But now do the women fail him too?
Mark’s style is to invite the reader into the story. It’s full of action. He ends abruptly with the witnesses to the resurrection not telling anyone, and the reader cries out ‘No! But you have to tell someone!’ and then the reader is forced to ask, who have I told?
The Beginning of the Gospel
Mark starts his gospel with these simple words:
And Mark leaves us asking, how does it end? What is my part in advancing the gospel. How will I advance the story? Will I be filled with fear and say nothing to anyone? Or have I been so transformed by Jesus that I cannot be silent, but talk freely and spread the news everywhere?
And we know the rest of the story. We know that these women may have been silent and afraid for a moment, but they did go and tell, even though they were not immediately believed. We know that Jesus keeps his promises, even in spite of the flaws and failure of his followers. His gospel, the good news that he died in the place of sinners and rose from the grave, has reached even to us! This unstoppable message can’t even be frustrated by our fears and failures. Jesus is risen! Has he changed your life? Will you go and tell?
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org