Some of you have seen that YouTube video of children in a room with a plate that has one marshmallow on it. The adult says, “I will leave and come back in fifteen minutes. If you have not eaten the marshmallow I will give you two.” For some of the kids those fifteen minutes were pure torture. Patience is hard. Lord, give me patience and give it to me right now. Waiting is hard. I still have issues with long lines and certain drivers. Christianity is waiting. We have been waiting for 2000 years. A huge part of being a Christian is about patience. It’s part of the fruit or evidence of the Holy Spirit. The Bible recounts some great stories and testimonies of great patience. Abraham and Sarah waited twenty five years for God to fulfill His promise of son. Joseph languished years in slavery and imprisonment before being elevated to number two over all of Egypt. Simeon and Anna waited all their lives in the temple to see the Messiah.
This text is very controversial, but not for the reasons you might guess, not because of the snake handling and drinking deadly poison. This text is controversial because there is a huge debate whether Mark 16:9-20 is original. Most modern scholars say it’s not. Several of my newer commentaries don’t even comment in these verses, they end with Mark 16:8. It’s a debate in seminaries whether pastors should preach on these verses. If you have an NIV Bible before verse 9 they have inserted a parenthetical statement: [The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.] The ESV says: [Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.] That’s true in so far as it goes but it leaves a lot out. It’s true two of the earliest major manuscripts don’t have these. But earliest aren’t necessarily always best. The fact is there are also many early manuscripts that have this longer ending to Mark. In fact a majority of Greek manuscripts have this long ending. Furthermore several early church fathers refer to verses in this part of Mark. Add to that the Christian church has recognized these verses as canonical for over eighteen hundred years. Our own Heidelberg Catechism quotes verse 16 in Q and A 26. Some argue that the language of verses 9-20 is too different from the rest of Mark. But so what? If someone else finished Mark that doesn’t mean it’s not canonical. Someone else wrote the end of Deuteronomy that describes the death of Moses, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the Word of God. Many modern scholars say the original ending has been lost. That casts doubt on the authenticity of these verses and calls into question the doctrine of the preservation of the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit. If we say that here what about other parts? There’s value to studying and comparing ancient texts but there’s enough textual evidence to follow the majority of manuscripts, the majority of church fathers and the majority of the church through the ages and to trust the preservation of the Word by the Holy Spirit. I know I am in the minority and I know it’s possible I could be wrong, but I think too much is at stake to cause God’s people to doubt the authority and authenticity of God’s Word and put the judgments of man over the promises of God. So let’s proceed with the conviction that this is the Word of God, breathed out by the Spirit and profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.
We have finally arrived at Mark 16 the end of Mark’s Gospel, but not the end of the Gospel. Heaven forbid that the gospel of Jesus Christ should ever come to an end. In fact the words, “the first day of the week” indicate a beginning, not an ending. On Good Friday Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished.” The work He came to do was finished. On the seventh day Jesus rested. The eighth day is the first day of the new week, the first day of the new creation. And for two thousand years we have been celebrating the resurrection on the first day of the week. We turn this morning to the chapter in Mark that gives the ground of all our hope as Christians. As Paul says in I Corinthians 15, if this is not true then we are most to be pitied. But the first resurrection Sunday didn’t start out anything like today. No organ preludes, no lilies, no people dressed up in their Sunday finest, and no joy or hallelujahs. It started out in fear and unbelief, in doubt and anxiety, in despair and sadness. We know the whole story too well to be able to put ourselves in their sandals, so let’s look more closely at this familiar story but from a different perspective for what God would say to us this morning.
Last year on Palm Sunday I preached from Mark 11, the triumphal entry text. Since then I have preached 21 more sermons from Mark’s Gospel and today we are up to Good Friday. 21 sermons on the last five days of Jesus’ life. Clearly this was the most important week in history and our text records the most important day in history. Jesus was born to die. Jesus came to earth to take on human flesh to be the ransom for our sins, so He could bear the eternal wrath of the Father for the sins of the world. When we last considered Mark 15 Jesus, who had been denied and deserted by His own disciples, was being crucified by the Romans, taunted by the crowds, mocked by the Jewish religious leaders, and reviled by the criminals. Jesus was utterly alone in His torment and pain. Jesus’ suffering began around nine in the morning but at noon there was a dramatic shift. A profound darkness engulfed the land for three hours.
If you want to start an interesting conversation sometime ask, “What’s the most important event in human history?” You will hear an amazing variety of answers. The beginning of civilization, the invention of writing, the codification of law, the rise of the Roman Empire and western civilization, the invention of the printing press, the Renaissance, the discovery of electricity, penicillin, the atomic bomb, landing on the moon, tearing down the Berlin Wall, 9/11. And on and on. It’s a bit unsettling that for Christians our most important event in human history is a torture and execution on a Roman cross. But the fact is the cross is central to the Gospel of Jesus, central to the Christian faith, and central to the whole of human history. This is the dividing moment, the crossing of the Rubicon, the point of no return, the laying down of the gauntlet, the continental divide. Everything flows from this event. Everything before anticipated and pointed to this event; everything after looks back to this event. This is God’s answer to the question, what’s the most important event in human history. Of the tens of thousands of crucifixions that have taken place in history, this one towers above all the rest in significance. This is our focus this morning, the cross of Jesus.
“What then shall I do with this one called Jesus?” That’s the question, that’s the question that divides history, the question that divides nations, and divides rulers and divides families. That’s the question that determines destinies. What then shall you and I do with this one called Jesus? Mark 15:1-5 We know what the Jewish leaders intended to do with Jesus. Mark’s opening words remind us that the Sanhedrin had been meeting in the night against their own rules for a fair trial. Now at daybreak they hold a quick mockery of a trail making a mockery of justice. And the mockery isn’t over. They bound Jesus like a common criminal, maybe for extra effect, and delivered Him over to the Roman’s since they had no power to put anyone to death. Their charge against Jesus was a charge of blasphemy. But that charge created a problem. No Roman official would recognize a charge of blasphemy. That was nothing to them, they couldn’t care one wit whether someone spoke against their temple or their God. The Jews changed the charge into a charge of treason, saying that this Jesus claimed to be the King of the Jews. That was a different matter, that was sedition, that could be the beginnings of a coup, an insurrection and Rome would quickly deal with something like that.
I know Him not. But Peter, He chose you to be one of His own disciples. I know Him not. But Peter, you were there when He healed your wife’s mother. I know Him not. But Peter, you were the one who said, “Lord, if it is you let me walk on the water” and you did, and when you almost drowned He saved you. I know Him not. But Peter, you were the one who said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” and He said to you, “You are the rock on which I will build my Church.” I know Him not. But Peter, you were with Him on the mountain and saw His glory and said, “Lord, let us build shelters and stay here.” I know Him not. But Peter, you went out in His name and with His authority and healed and cast out demons and did miracles in His name. I do not know this man of whom you speak. But Peter, you heard Him say, “whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven; but whoever disowns me, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” I tell you. I do not know the man! But Peter, you were just in the Upper Room with Him, He washed your feet, you drank the cup. You lie! I swear to you, I don’t know Him. But Peter, you were just in the garden with Him. You drew a sword to defend Him and cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear. May I be damned to perish in hell if I ever had anything to do with this man. I deny ever knowing Him. And the rooster crowed a second time. And the Word of the Lord that is sharper than a double-edged sword pierced his soul and cut him to the heart and he broke down and wept bitterly.
For our guests allow me a brief explanation. We are preaching through Mark’s gospel and we have come to the last couple of days of Jesus’ life which will conclude with the resurrection on Easter morning. The fruit of this is considering again who Jesus is and all that He suffered and did for us and for our salvation. Because of Jesus’ work we can have the hope of being a work in progress. Jesus overcame evil with good so that we also in His strength can overcome evil with good. Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. We encounter another one of Mark’s sandwiches, inserting one story between another one. We have a contrast here of the story of Peter’s unfaithfulness surrounding the story of Jesus’ faithfulness. We will save our business with Peter for next week and focus on the trial of Jesus before the Council of the Jews.
If you were a betting person and you were going to bet today, which way would you bet? Would you bet that the majority of sermons preached today would have a super bowl reference or not? Would you believe me if I told you that this afternoon while you are watching the game Christians are going to be persecuted? Not like in Rome, where Christians were killed in a stadium before big crowds, but persecuted the way Christians in America are persecuted today. Our faith is going to be mocked and ridiculed and made fun of and denied and betrayed all afternoon. Our faith will be mocked by the immodesty of the cheerleaders and commercials and halftime entertainers. Our faith will be mocked by the in-your-face appeals to greed and lust and pleasure in the advertising. Our faith will be mocked by all the passionate attention and focus on purely worldly interests and pursuits. So enjoy the game and the great competition, but don’t be deceived, don’t be drawn into the big lies that will assault all your senses and undercut your Christian values. Speaking of betrayals and denials and even a bit of immodesty, let’s turn to our text.
Human history began in a garden. Human history was completely rewritten in a garden. Adam ate of the fruit in the garden and plunged us all into sin and death. Jesus agreed to drink of the cup in the garden and raise us all to holiness and life. The first Adam ignored the will of God and results were disastrous. The second Adam sought the will of God and the results were hard but very good. In the first garden sin and Satan won and the curse was begun. In the second garden sin and Satan lost and the curse was about to be broken. Adam was put to the test in the garden and failed miserably. Jesus was put to the supreme test of His life and triumphed. We come to one of the most powerfully moving and emotionally charged scenes in the life of Jesus, certainly one of the most human scenes.