Mark 16:9-20. “When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. Afterwards Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.’ After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.”
The oldest and most reliable manuscripts of the New Testament don’t contain this ending to Mark’s gospel. For fifteen hundred years people were copying these gospels by hand, and making copies of copies, and then copies of copies of copies, so that little mistakes inevitably crept in. God made no promise in the Bible that he would supervise all the activities of churches in their decisions, decrees, encyclicals, pronouncements and confessions of faith. He did not say that whatever a church did would certainly be infallible, rather even the most holy of their actions would be mixed with sin. What all Christians must accept is this that the process of the initial writing of the gospel of Mark – and the other gospels and letters – was supervised by God so that what the apostles wrote down was exactly what God wanted them to say.
None of those manuscripts – the autographa – survive, and again you must remember that God made no promise that they would. Moth and rust corrupt, and thieves break through and steal the most precious objects in the world. We do not even have the original ten commandments written on tablets of stone by the finger of God, but we do know exactly what God wrote at Sinai. We also know with certainty over 99 percent of what the prophets and apostles initially wrote. When men discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls over half a century ago there they found a scroll of Isaiah the prophet which is a thousand years older than any other copy of Isaiah extant. What did that ancient scroll reveal? How carefully the ancient scribes had copied the Scriptures. What the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah displayed was the same text of Isaiah that we already had.
Men say to us, “What’s the use of saying that the Scriptures as originally written are infallible when we no longer possess those Scriptures?” The answer is that we know what the prophets and apostles wrote, and when there are variants in a verse the decision as to what is the correct choice is usually very clear. Though occasionally there is some uncertainty about words and accents the general sense of the passage is not in doubt, and never is any trunk and branch teaching of Scripture challenged by any variant readings. You will see occasionally at the bottom of the pages of your Bibles a reference to the fact that “some early manuscripts do not have so and so” or that they have this alternative reading. Those readings are about trivia so that our eyes barely drop down to consider those footnotes. What Scripture says so unmistakably is our priority. I say that in 99 per cent of the Scriptures we know precisely what the gospel writers and apostles first wrote down. Sinners’ problems are not with the uncertainties of the original text but with what is only too certainly given to mankind in the Bible. You hold the Word of God in your hand today, just as Mark and Peter and Moses and Jeremiah were inspired at that time to write it down. There have been mistakes made in the transcription of the text of Scripture during the history of the church, and these are the mistakes of men, but there were no mistakes in the original manuscripts.
Now when you come to chapter sixteen of Mark you have this extra ending. As Sinclair Ferguson writes, “It is not difficult to see how, for example, some verses might be added to Mark’s Gospel. If someone had copied out the text, and realised that it had (as Mark’s Gospel does) a rather sudden ending, they might well add an appendix, summarizing some of the relevant teaching of the other Gospels, or the different traditions of the church. It seems likely that this happened in the case of Mark, since the two most reliable early manuscripts of the end of Mark’s Gospel conclude at verse 8 with the words, ‘because they were afraid’. They do not include verses 9-20.” (Sinclair Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1999, p.274). What can we say about the truths taught in the extra ending?
1. THE FACT OF THE RESURRECTION APPEARANCES.
One of the interesting features of verses 9-20 is the repetition of the phrase ‘he appeared.’ You meet it in verse 9, “he appeared first to Mary Magdalene”, and then in verse 12, “he appeared in a different form to two of them,” and then verse 14, “Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven.” The appearances of Jesus were the grounds for believing in his resurrection. Now this ending was written a century or even two centuries after Mark had written the gospel but we can go back to testimonies much nearer the very resurrection itself. Turn to I Corinthians 15, and verse 3-8; “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that 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.” You notice how the word ‘appeared’ is there again on four occasions. Paul wrote these words twenty years or so after the resurrection. Many of those who met the risen Jesus Christ were still living. Paul gives us a list of the appearances of Christ and this list would go back to Paul’s conversations with Peter and James in Jerusalem . He spent a fortnight with them about three years after his conversion. Paul was converted in the year 33 and so within five years of Jesus’ resurrection Paul is talking to those other eye-witnesses who like himself had been given a sight of the risen Saviour. In order for these sightings to be legends rather than facts – a much longer time scale needs to have taken place. In other words, you need a core of stories about Jesus the rabbi and healer and then they must be given time to evolve over two generations. Story tellers around fires in the long evenings need to embellish them with the preternatural, and other hearers add to them and pass them on. You understand how legends develop? The historical core gets supplanted by fanciful materials and these finally wipe out the hard core of historical facts about a warrior, or a healer, or a teacher. I am saying that there is just no time for this sort of embellishment to have happened in the New Testament. Paul is talking to Peter and John five years after the resurrection of Christ. He is writing his letter to the Corinthians twenty years after the resurrection. Many men and women who saw the risen Christ are still around; only a few have died. Already a number have laid down their lives for a fact, not an ideology, for the conviction that Jesus rose from the dead.
The evidence for the resurrection is utterly overwhelming. The Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day. It is prejudice that makes men reject it. All the gospels tell us of his appearances. He was in the garden when Mary met him, but then he left her; he was no longer in the garden he had moved on and was on the road to Emmaus; then he was no longer in Emmaus he was in the Upper Room; then he was no longer there he was at the side of the lake; then he was no longer there he was in Galilee. Have you ever pondered that? He was in one place at one time; he was not everywhere at the same time; the God-man wasn’t existing ubiquitously in the hearts and minds of all his disciples. That is not resurrection. He existed objectively in a certain place at a certain time, and today it is exactly the same. The risen Jesus Christ exists this moment at the right hand of the majesty on high. We know where he is today, and he is as real as you or me, not existing as a disembodied spirit, but as a risen and embodied Saviour. He has a physical form and he is in a place where there are other people who have been brought there and they are seeing him, just as once long ago five hundred people on a mountain in Galilee saw him. From that place, in the world that is out there, he will one day physically and literally return to this universe. He will come back to this earth. The Christ of the resurrection appearances is a physical Christ.
Think how that is presented to us, how Mary saw him and heard his voice speak her name as he’d called to her many times; then the disciples saw him and Thomas was invited to touch him and put his finger in the holes left by the nails. A ghost doesn’t have a body you can touch. Then Cleopas and his friend in Emmaus talked for a long time to him as they walked down a normal highway with other people overtaking the three of them or approaching them. All the time they were talking and finally they stop for a bite to eat. Then they saw him picking up a loaf of bread and breaking it – just as really as you have seen me break the loaf of bread at the communion table again and again. It is all very physical. Then the apostles ate with him by the seaside after Christ caught and killed a quantity of fish, gutting and preparing them for cooking on a fire he’d made on the Galilee beach. Ghosts don’t prepare breakfast for their friends! The physicality of it all is very significant. It is not that Christ continues to exist through living on in the memories of his disciples. It is not that his spirit survived death. Both of those are true but they do not constitute a resurrection. There was a bodily resurrection. The five hundred saw him as he spent time walking about this big crowd, talking with many of them individually. The grass bent under his weight as he stood at one place before them. The Christian tradition reflected in this long ending of Mark says, “he appeared . . . he appeared . . . he appeared,” and Paul writing twenty years after the event tells the Corinthians in skeptical Greece, “he appeared . . . he appeared . . . he appeared . . . he appeared . . .”and that identical claim is what we’re saying today on this resurrection day, the first day of the week. This is a real 24 hour day isn’t it, in which some people are born and others die all over the world? Today is not ‘holy history’ it is real history and a perfectly normal day. So Jesus’ resurrection was not in ‘holy history’ but in real history.
Let me press this physical resurrection further. If you want to hear how Peter spoke about this event when he went evangelizing all over the Mediterranean basin for fifty years or so then we have a summary of one of his sermons preserved for us in Acts chapter 10. Peter is in the home of a Roman soldier and his friends and servants have all been invited in to hear the Christian message. This is what Peter says, “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” (Acts 10:39-41).
We ate with him, like we will eat with some of you after the service today. He talked to them, as we will talk to some of you today. He talks to us about our sins needing to be forgiven. Do you see how our Christian message of the risen Christ is very relevant to you because of your sin? If you have sinned you are guilty, not just in your own eyes but in the sight of our holy Creator. You have an enormous problem and it is this, how can your sins be forgiven? The Bible’s answer is that it is through the name of Jesus. In other words it is not through any other name whatsoever, of any god, or especially of your own name. I cannot go to God and say, “I stand before you in the name of Geoff Thomas; I have lived a decent life and tried my best and helped my neighbour, so forgive my sins.” No. My name doesn’t carry any weight before God because it is the weight of an old sinner, but Jesus’ name carries a great deal before God. It is the name of the Son whom God loves. It is the name of the only sinless man who has walked this earth. It is the name of the blameless Son who became the Lamb of God to take away our sins and obtain for us forgiveness of sins. That is why he came, not to be served but to serve, and this was the pinnacle of his service, to give his own life a ransom for many others. Peter told his first century hearers, “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:41). You say, “That’s what you Christians are always talking about, our sins, and our need of forgiveness, and that this comes through believing in Jesus Christ. How does anybody know?” Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; that tangible fact has changed history. It confirms our preaching, the message we tell people, and we tell the whole creation this message all the time, not just preachers, but every one of us, that the Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that he was buried and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.
Let me share with you a letter I got last week from a friend in Canada named Christine Farenhorst; “We are off to Ottawa this Friday. My husband Anco has to teach a one day course in Ottawa next week on scrapie in sheep and we are leaving early so that we might be able to visit with our future daughter-in-law’s family in the area. Our son, Christopher, will drive up as well and we will do some sightseeing together with him and Melissa.
“I am reminded of the time, approximately two and a half years ago, when we were in Ottawa for a similar reason – Anco also had to either teach or attend a course. I was able to catch the bus from our motel and get to one of the universities there. In the late afternoon Anco would pick me up as I waited for him in a small foyer of sorts. As I was waiting the second day, half-shivering with the foyer doors opening and closing to let a lot of students in and out, I noted a young man standing at the opposite end of the foyer. He was a Muslim and looked remarkably like Osama bin Laden. It made me not a little nervous. Silly, isn’t it? It just so happened that this was a day that Anco was kept late and my wait in the foyer was prolonged. In the end it was just me and Osama. I became tired and sat down on one of the wooden chairs against the wall. The fellow must have become weary as well and he sat down a few chairs away from me. I prayed away my fears and asked him what time it was. He told me and I sighed wishing out loud that my husband would come soon. I have to tell you that I was dressed in a long skirt, which is acceptable apparel for Muslims. I asked if he was waiting for a ride as well and he told me that ‘yes’, he was being picked up by a brother. I smiled and he overcame his apprehension of me (as I had of him) and moved over to sit right next to me.
“I asked about his family and he told me a little about his mother and brothers and father. I told him about my family. I then asked if he was a believer in Allah and in doing good works so that he could go to heaven. He confirmed that and I said that I believed in God. ‘Just like me,’ he said. But I said, No, that I believed in a triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and that I also believed in good works, but good works done out of thankfulness to God that our sins have been forgiven by the death of God the Son. He was quite interested and began asking questions – questions about how I could believe that Jesus was God if He actually had died on the cross. I answered him by saying that Jesus had not just become the Son of God when he was born in Bethlehem , but that he had always been God’s Son – had, in effect, always been God. He obviously was floored by this and I asked if I could tell him the Bible’s story from the beginning. He nodded and listened and I told him about creation, and Adam’s fall and about the inherent sinfulness of mankind and the need for a Saviour so that our sins could be forgiven. He was very interested and then his ride came. He asked if I would be there again the next day. I said, ‘I sure will be, at the same time.’ But the next day I did not see him. Anco was in good time. I often wonder what happened to him and if my friendliness and feeble words were used by God. Well, who knows who we will meet this weekend?”
Why was Christine compelled to talk about this fact to this Muslim? If you go back far enough it is because of the risen Jesus Christ giving the church the great commission. Do you see from what I have said that belief in the resurrection of Christ though it is supernatural is not irrational, that it is based on those sensible eye-witnesses, hundreds of them, who had seen him alive from the dead over a period of almost six weeks? They all insist it was a physical resurrection; he had a proper body which ate food. Listen to Luke’s introduction to the book of the Acts of the Apostles, “After [Jesus’] suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God . On one occasion, while he was eating with them . . .” (Acts 1:3&4). You see the picture? Mutual affection and fellowship; meals together; Jesus at the head of the table as in the old days, and as they eat they talk to him about the kingdom of God . “What did you mean by that parable you told us in Galilee ?” Then our Lord explained things to them. Now that Jesus had died and risen from the dead they could see things which they had blotted out of their minds and refused to believe earlier on. The resurrection of Christ transformed everything about these men. Once they were weak; they ran away; they swore they had nothing to do with him; they found it impossible to believe that anyone could rise from the dead, but the force of truth transformed them.
The resurrection appearances are proof that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; there is this scientific evidence that he is the Lamb of God – documents reporting what eye-witnesses saw and heard and touched; there is this foundation that our sins can be forgiven, that I need not go on through life bearing this growing burden of guilt which in the end will crush me in death and judgment. Through Christ’s name there is forgiveness, and so a Christian lady is sitting in the entrance to a university in Ottawa and she sees a young man there and she by quietly crying to God overcomes her natural shyness and modesty to share with him the grace and mercy which she has received through the risen living Saviour. The more you read the latter chapters of the gospels and I Corinthians chapter 15 the firmer becomes the rock on which our belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is based. “he appeared . . . he appeared . . . he appeared.” So this long ending bears witnesses to the appearances of Jesus Christ.
2. WHAT DOES THE RESURRECTION MEAN TO US TODAY?
i] The resurrection reminds us we have an evangelistic duty to perform.
For almost six weeks 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 preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned’” (vv. 15&16). This is the writer’s version of Christ’s great commission which is found at the end of Matthew’s gospel. They were to leave Jerusalem with their families, friends, homes and jobs, and go far away to alien countries where they spoke other languages and functioned in terms of other religions. They were to persuade all creation to believe their message that Jesus Christ had risen and forgiveness of sins was to be found in him. They were to baptize every new convert, and to warn those who refused to believe of their certain condemnation. The extraordinary thing is that they all obeyed. You could not be a Christian and defy that commission. Not everyone left Jerusalem ; some were too young, others were too old and infirm, but every able-bodied man gave himself to this work of preaching the good news of a risen Saviour. The twentieth verse tells us, “then the disciples went out and preached everywhere.” They went out and out and it was not long before there was to be a formidable group of believers in Rome itself, as well as in every major Greek city. One African went to Ethiopia with this message – all within the next few years. They believed that the one who had been raised from the dead had told them to make converts and baptize them. They bade good-bye to their wives and children and off they went preaching to every community and individual in creation about the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. 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 so that today it fills the world? You have other religions in the ghettoes of the Middle East, and India , but this religion is in north and south America, Africa, Europe, Australia and Asia . It would conquer the Middle East too, and one day we are sure it will, but today there are draconian measures including the death penalty preventing a man like me going there and preaching the risen Jesus Christ to them. I say to you that there have never been so many people in the world who say that Jesus Christ rose from the dead as there are today. Are they all crazy? Are they all weaklings needing a crutch whereas you are so strong! Are they refusing to look at the evidence whereas you search it out? Are they thickheads while you are a straight A’s man? I am asking what started off this remarkable religion? What was the explosion that has caused such far flung ripples? That a great teacher was killed by crucifixion? Never! Where is the inspiration in that? That a group of people invented the fiction that he rose from the dead and some of them were prepared to die in excruciating pain for a lie? Never! There are people who say, “Elvis lives!” but none who’ve been ready to be tortured to death for that fancy. The resurrection has made us all evangelists.
ii] The resurrection says that we live in a supernatural universe.
Unbelieving people say, “People stay dead. No one comes back.” We see the great uniformity and predictability of the world in which we live, the way that every event follows another with the most unfailing regularity. Men forget that all such regularity is the constancy of the operations of God. The world moves in God. It is a humbling exercise to ponder in the light of 20th century physics that when the world moves what that actually means. I think I have some faint glimpse of that. We ourselves as human beings are great bundles of restless atoms, neutrons and electrons, constantly on the move. There is such immensity and complexity of movement even in this building at this moment such as no finite mind could compute, and it is all moving in God.
Then you see there are those special moments when the finger of God intrudes in a miraculous way. There are occasions when God makes known to us that at his will he can erupt into the process. God can disturb; God can disorder; God can reverse things because it is his world. It happened at the incarnation which was the greatest of all supernatural intrusions. It happened in all of our Lord’s miracles, and it happened at the resurrection of Christ. There was the putting forth of God’s power, and there was nothing in the universe – or the whole complexity of natural law that we so often personalize as ‘nature’ – that can say to God, “Don’t you dare interfere!” It cannot do that. At will God interferes; at will God raises the dead; at will God opens the hearts of men and they give attention to the gospel; at will, at his own chosen will, he’ll one day close down the whole vast universe in which we find ourselves; he will cause its every element to melt with fervent heat. This whole world, created, and sustained, and guided by God will be brought to its close, at that moment of his choosing. That is what the resurrection means. We live in a world open to the intrusion of God.
iii] The resurrection says that we shall live also.
As certainly as there was a tomb for the Son of God so there is certainly a tomb for you and me. There is a moment when we too will breathe our last and give up the spirit. That is a great solemnity, as we look at this most certain of predictions anyone can make about his future. I heard recently of an Irish preacher telling his congregation that he was going to give them the devil’s text today. The text was, “Ye shall not surely die.” Those were the devil’s words at the beginning and they are still the devil’s words today. Let me ask you if you have hope at the end. What lies after death? Mankind is divided; a little minority say you are snuffed out like a candle, non-existence is our destiny. The great consensus of human longing and aspiration say that there is life beyond.
Yes, says the word of God. Beyond the grave there is life, but there is more than consciousness and it spells out the nature of that life. It is not an attenuated life; it is not diluted, ghostly, vague and insubstantial. The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth casts its own bright light on life after death. We shall live also, and according to the measure of this living hope, our souls immortal, and our bodies raised by the power of God. In that great eternal order which has a permanence – which our own lacks – in that place we shall exist not as human spirits alone for there in our midst will be the risen Lamb; there is the redemption of the body. What a tremendous consolation it is; our dead shall rise. It is a great thing to stand before the elemental and simple words of this gospel of Mark written by an almost illiterate man, and read the words of its climax, “he is not here; he is risen.”
That will be true of every grave and every tomb and all the dust of the cremated body. The earth shall give up the dead that are in it, and the sea shall give up the dead that are in it. Your dead men shall rise and in my flesh shall I see God. “Sown in dishonour . . . raised in glory.” There is before us the reconstitution of our personalities and we shall become whole men in Christ. There will be the reconstruction of severed relationship as we stand for ever with the Lord, for he is not here, he is risen. This resurrection of Christ speaks of our evangelistic task, and the universe open to the intervention of God, and the certainty of immortality and eternal life. One more thing;
iv] The resurrection speaks of the glory of Jesus of Nazareth .
How so? It tells us this, that this man whose life we have been considering for the past few years is alive. There is nothing more glorious than that. You will hear many things less familiar to us, and less novel, and many things that are less astounding, but you will hear nothing more glorious than this. “Christ is risen indeed!” The Lord Jesus is alive! It is not a memory that lives on, not a force, not an influence, but a person of consummate power who is upholding all things, in whose hands is our breath, who’s got the whole world in his hands. He is alive; he is really alive! He is alive as Jesus Christ the Son of God. What Mark first wrote in the words of his opening sentence he confirms throughout the gospel and consummates in the resurrection of our Lord, the Son of God. What marvellous strength was his, what integrity and loveliness of character, everything bears it out.
There came into his holy life the appalling contradiction of that long chapter 15, the scourging and the crucifixion. He was killed and the church was left with just a pathetic regret . . . “we thought . . . we had thought . . .” Then you see it all reversed; he is declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead. God cancels the great word which that cross had declared. The cross said that this man was a liar, and he was a failure, and a blasphemer. The resurrection said, “He is the Son of God with almighty power.”
How do we respond to that? The early disciples responded by worshipping him. They fell spontaneously at his feet as if they were dead. We remember the great moving words of doubting Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” Now that is great theology; he is Lord and God. It is great Christology too, but that is not the ultimate thing; it is great personal religion. “My God!” He is certainly Lord and God beyond question, beyond vision and beyond modification. That what he is to you? Is he my Lord? Is he my God? Is he your Lord and God? Have your knees bent? That is the great thing. Is every head bowing before Christ? Is there a single soul in this congregation whose knee has not bent? Is there one who would dare to stand and disprove these resurrection appearances, and would go on to deny that Jesus is risen indeed?
If he is risen why are your knees not bending before him? Why are you not saying, “My Lord and my God?” Do we know the glory of that? Let us all know the glory of worshipping the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth.
26th February 2006 GEOFF THOMAS