Reader: “Go into all the world”
Response: “and preach the Good News to everyone.”
Scripture: Mark 16:9-18
After Jesus rose from the dead early on Sunday morning, the first person who saw him was Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went to the disciples, who were grieving and weeping, and told them what had happened. But when she told them that Jesus was alive and she had seen him, they didn’t believe her.
Afterward he appeared in a different form to two of his followers who were walking from Jerusalem into the country. They rushed back to tell the others, but no one believed them. Still later he appeared to the eleven disciples as they were eating together. He rebuked them for their stubborn unbelief because they refused to believe those who had seen him after he had been raised from the dead.
And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages. They will be able to handle snakes with safety, and if they drink anything poisonous, it won’t hurt them. They will be able to place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
The passage of Scripture for today does not appear in the earliest Greek manuscripts of Mark’s gospel. All of the oldest codices end at verse 8. Without going into great detail, biblical scholars believe today’s portion was composed and added in the first half of the second century by an anonymous writer in an effort to include the resurrection. Even in our translation the wording, tone and phrasing is different from Mark’s style of writing. You’ll notice there is an abrupt change in topic and tone from verse 8 to verse 9. It is also generally believed that Mark was the first gospel written in the 60’s with Luke and Matthew coming later and John’s being the last written around 90 A.D. The latter three include a full description of the resurrection. There are long and differing discussions concerning this passage which are beyond our purposes. Suffice it to say, the bottom line is that this portion of Mark’s gospel is accepted as part of the divinely inspired Scriptures. Now to the text.
As we have mentioned previously, the very first person to see the resurrected Lord was Mary Magdalene. In those days, women were not to be believed and were unable to act as a witness in court. So it is interesting that God chose a woman to be the first to encounter the risen Christ. True to the culture of the day, the disciples did not believe her testimony. Mark records an abbreviated mention of the Jesus encounter by the two men on the road to Emmaus. These men were not believed by the disciples either. And finally, Jesus appeared to the eleven and reprimanded them for not believing Mary nor the two! Notice how Christ challenged the prevailing view of women in the culture as well as their unbelief in him.
The next section is interesting for a number of reasons. First we have a version of the Great Commission where Jesus calls all his followers to spread the gospel throughout the whole world. But then, some screwy interpretations have come from some of the following verses. “Any who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Some people have erroneously interpreted that baptism is a necessary part of salvation. In other words, if a person is not baptized they are not saved. That is not at all what is being said here. The purpose of baptism is entirely different from the process of salvation. (The thief on the cross was not baptized for example.) Baptism is a sign in the same manner as was circumcision in the First Testament (Col. 2:11-12). One of the essential things one must do when interpreting a passage is relate that pericope to the whole of Scripture. The Bible is the best commentary on itself.
Next there is reference to exorcism and speaking in new languages both of which happened with the disciples. Then there is the phrase about handling snakes. Again, there have been weird stories about people acting foolishly in regard to these verses. The New Testament does record Paul being bitten by a poisonous snake and suffering no ill effects (Acts 28:3-6). And finally, the disciples did heal people of various infirmities as we read a few days ago.
So what do we gain from this passage? In the biggest picture, whoever added this portion to Mark’s gospel wanted to be sure that whoever read it would know without a doubt that Jesus rose from the dead, appeared several times to various people, commissioned followers to spread the news of the gospel and ascended to heaven. What they wrote is very descriptive of the action and feelings involved. The writer wanted to make sure the reader knew that this was a real event and not a “spiritual experience” of some sort. It was flesh and blood reality. In this passage there is an inherent challenge to all that read it to spread the news of salvation in Jesus to everyone. Easter was not a one day “Hallelujah” for the early Christians. While it was a fifty day season leading up to Pentecost and the receiving of the Holy Spirit, spreading the gospel was their way of life. Their calling is our calling.
Music: “Ain’t a That Good News” University Singers Univ. of Minn. Duluth
Bonus: “Ain’t a That Good News” Kathleen Battle arr. Robert Sadin
Our gracious and loving Father in heaven, forbid it that we should ever become familiar with the glorious account of the resurrection of our Lord. We’ve read the account in the Scriptures multiple times. We know the story, the characters, their actions and all that followed. But I’m afraid all too often we’ve inoculated ourselves to the wonder and current power of the truth. We read the resurrection story and move on to the next thing we have to do. For us, the astounding has become common, the miraculous has lost the mystery, the urgency of the gospel has been swallowed up in the repetitious mundane, and the sense of the daily presence of Jesus left us with his ascension to heaven. Our great God, grant that our spirits would be awakened again as we read your holy word. Crack the hardness of our hearts that we may get tender hearts and read, not with historical eyes, but with eyes of childlike astonishment and love for our Savior. Keep us ascending in faith, good Lord. Don’t let us get ancient and dull. This we pray through Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.