The Prospectus of the Servant
Topic: Gospels Passage: Mark 16:1–16:20
Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founding President of Dallas Theological Seminary, wrote regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
“Had not Christ arisen...every divine purpose and blessing would have failed; yea, the very universe and throne of God would have dissolved and would have been dismissed forever. All life, light, and hope would have ceased. Death, darkness, and despair would have reigned...It is impossible for the mind to grasp the mighty issues which were at stake at the moment when Christ came forth from the tomb.”
As we arrive at the final chapter of Mark’s Gospel this morning, I would like for us to ponder the significance of what may be called—without any exaggeration—“history’s most important event.” As darkness began to set in on that late-Friday afternoon, the lifeless body of Jesus had been taken down from the cross and hastily laid in a nearby tomb. Although He had predicted it, no one truly anticipated that within thirty-six hours He would rise from the dead. We must approach these verses with that in mind. Happening when it did and how it did, the resurrection of Jesus caught everyone—even His closest followers—by surprise.
“At no moment in time, however, were these great issues in jeopardy. The consummation of His resurrection was sure, for omnipotent power was engaged to bring it to pass. Every feature of the Christian’s salvation, position, and hope was dependent on the resurrection of his Lord.”
We turn our attention to these sacred words as they are recorded in Mark 16:
1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
We’ll be primarily focusing on those eight verses this morning, although I do want to comment on the remaining verses of this chapter before we conclude today.
As has been his pattern throughout this record, Mark’s account of Jesus’ resurrection is not as detailed as those of the other three Gospel writers. It is helpful for us to remember that each wrote to different audiences and had different purposes in mind. We believe that Mark wrote to Christians living in Rome and so that he might portray Jesus Christ as the ideal Servant. His theme is best summarized in the words of Jesus Himself in chapter 10, verse 45, where we read, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark wanted his readers, as followers of Christ, to know that they were to model that same mindset.
Throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus had been preparing His disciples for the events that were now transpiring. On at least three occasions, He had plainly taught them that He would suffer at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders, be put to death, and after three days rise again (cf. Mark 8:31, 9:31, and 10:33-34). But they were unable to process what He was telling them because their minds were closed and their hearts were hard. Don’t they remind us so much of ourselves?
So, when “the hour” had at last come (cf. Mark 14:41)—when they should have recognized what was taking place—they all deserted Him. They hid in fear as Jesus endured a series of pseudo-trials, was mercilessly scourged, and was nailed to a cross... left there to die. And die He did...just as He had said.
A “secret” disciple named Joseph of Arimathea, who was a wealthy member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, had requested and been granted the body of Jesus. Because of the lateness of that Friday afternoon with the Sabbath starting at nightfall, Joseph hurriedly wrapped the body and laid it in his own tomb. A stone was then rolled against the entrance to the tomb. Matthew (28:62-66) informs us that the tomb was sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers so that no one would be able to steal the body and boast of a resurrection that had not really taken place. In fact, subsequent history would record multiple fanciful theories regarding the resurrection, all of which have been debunked by Christian apologists and sound biblical scholarship.
But what did happen to the body of Jesus? To answer that question, we need to look into Mark 16. The first thing that we encounter in these verses is...
The arrival at the tomb (verses 1-4)
...by the women whom we last saw at the foot of the cross. Correlating the events surrounding the resurrection can be difficult, given there are four separate accounts. Relying solely on Mark, there seem to be two separate times in view in verses 1 and 2. The mention of “the Sabbath (being) past” may well be referring to nightfall on Saturday, because the Sabbath began at or around 6 p.m. on Friday and ended twenty-four hours later. Perhaps the plan of the women was to “anoint” the body of Jesus that evening when they thought they would not be observed. They seem to have overlooked the fact that a huge rock had been rolled in place to block the entrance to the tomb, that it had been sealed, and that a guard was standing nearby. Thwarted in their attempt, they went home and returned the next day.
Their second visit to the tomb early the next morning—which Mark purposely identifies as “the first day of the week”—was for the same purpose. What is clear is that they did not expect Jesus’ body to be raised to life. They had come to “anoint” His body and to complete the process of burial that Joseph had hastily begun on Friday afternoon. This would not have involved embalming the corpse, but rather by placing spices and fragrances upon it to offset the stench of decomposition.
Their first concern, as they approached the site was, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” But upon arriving, verse 4 tells us that they looked up and “saw that the stone had (already) been rolled back.” And Mark inserts the reminder, “It was very large.” That added detail was for the purpose of explaining that not only would the three women have been unable to roll back the stone, but that its removal from the entrance had been accomplished by unexplainable and, dare we say, supernatural means.
The stone had been rolled away, not to let Christ out but to let eyewitnesses see that He was not there. Jesus had repeatedly said that He would “rise” on the third day. And since Hebrew reckoning counted any part of a day as the whole, this was that promised day. Could it be that Jesus had actually come back to life...just as He had said He would do?
As this question filled their minds with both anxiety and anticipation, they next encountered...
The appearance of the messenger (verses 5-7)
Verse 5 expresses it this way: “And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe.” Matthew (28:3) identifies this one as “an angel of the Lord,” and describes his appearance as being “like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.” I have never seen an angel, but I can imagine that I would react much as these women did. The text says, “They were alarmed.” That is a rather mild translation. That word (“εκθαμβεω”) means “terrified” and “distressed.” Interestingly, it is the same word that Mark used to describe the intense agony Jesus Himself experienced as He prayed to the Father in the Garden on the night of His arrest (cf. Mark 14:33).
Breaking the silence that must have overtaken them at that moment, the angel speaks in order to assure them and to inform them: “Do not be alarmed,” he said. “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.” And then he declares these amazing words, spoken for the very first time—please say them with me—“He has risen; he is not here.” And then he invites them to peer inside the tomb, examining for themselves that Jesus is not there!
“He has risen”...it is but a single word in Greek (“εγειρω”), and it could more emphatically be rendered by the single word, “risen!” Have you ever paused to consider that the entire Gospel and the turning of the ages hang on that single declaration? “Risen!” In Christ, death has been defeated!
I am reminded of the line in the song we sing so often:
“One day the grave could conceal Him longer,
One day the stone rolled away from the door.”
In considering that thought this week, I could not help but recall from my youth competing with my friends in a swimming pool and seeing which of us could hold his breath underwater the longest. For each of us there would come a moment—often a sudden and rapid moment—when we would arch upward and shoot to the surface, bursting through the water and into the air. So it was with Jesus, only the wager was infinitely higher.
The actual resurrection of Jesus Christ is nowhere described. No human eye ever saw it, but not even the most extreme skeptic can deny that the grave was empty, not even the early Jewish polemicists. So, where was the body? The Jews did not have it, for they would have produced it post-haste. The disciples did not have it, for if they did it would have been psychologically and spiritually impossible for them to live the dedicated martyrs’ lives and deaths they did. They were fully persuaded—beyond any doubt—that Jesus had risen from the dead. If you are among those who happen not to believe in the resurrection, then I ask you, “What happened to the body of Jesus?” “What other reasonable explanation is there?”
The angel then gives the women a commission in verse 7, saying, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” I remind you that the women were eyewitnesses to the crucifixion (cf. Mark 15:40), the burial (cf. Mark 15:47), and the empty tomb (cf. Mark 16:5). Therefore, they would have been among the most qualified to bear testimony to Jesus’ resurrection. In that day, however, Jewish law declared women ineligible to serve as witnesses, so they would have understandably been hesitant to speak of what they had seen. But there had to be apostolic authentication that Jesus was alive for the news to have spread beyond the relatively small band of His followers. Therefore, the two Mary’s and Salome are charged to go and find the disciples and share with them what they had seen and heard. Everyone who is a follower of Christ has been given a similar commission: “Go and tell others what you know to be true.” That charge is ours, just as it was theirs. Others may not take seriously our words, but we too must “Go” and “tell.”
The special mention of Peter serves two purposes. In the first place, as we pointed out several weeks ago, it is believed that Mark drew much of the material that went into the writing of this Gospel from Peter. And secondly, and of more practical significance, by singling out Peter by name the point is made that despite that apostle’s sorrowful denial of His Lord, Jesus still had plans for him. The mention of “Galilee” recalls our Lord’s earlier statement to Peter just a couple of night’s earlier. Right after the meal that evening, Peter had vowed to stand with Jesus no matter the manner of evil that would befall Him. But Jesus forewarned him that His spiritual courage was not as strong as he imagined. And then Jesus added, “After I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee” (Mark 14:28). Despite Peter’s subsequent failure, the Lord was reminding him here that he was still invited to “the grand reunion” that was about to take place. And now here was the proof that He was indeed alive!
It is a powerful reminder to us all that, until Jesus returns, no failure on our part needs to be fatal or final. “With the LORD there is mercy, and...abundant redemption” (Psalm 130:7, NKJV). Just as it was true for Peter, so it is true for you and me as well.
As we move into verse 8, we are told of...
The astonishment of the women (verse 8)
This is a curious verse and a strange way to bring Mark’s account of Jesus’ resurrection to a conclusion. The women are no doubt awestruck at what their eyes have seen and their ears have heard on this otherwise quiet and still Sunday morning. Still dazed by it all, we read that “They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
The response of the women to the evidence of God’s decisive intervention in raising Jesus from the dead is described in terms of sheer fright and abject terror. They speedily fled from the tomb, unable to control the dread which overwhelmed them and reduced them to silence. For a time they kept their experience to themselves because “they were afraid.” “Astonishment” (“εκστασιs”) or “bewilderment” indicates their “ecstasy” of mind. They were literally “besides themselves” in knowing how to describe what had happened.
The closest parallel we have to the women’s silence is found in Mark’s transfiguration narrative (cf. Mark 9:6), where after the disciples had blurted out an impulsive and inappropriate comment, Mark writes that they “did not know what to say, for they were terrified.”
Before we criticize them, we need to consider the biblical record that where consistently those who are confronted with God’s direct intervention simply do not know how to react. Divine revelation lies beyond normal human experience, and when it occurs there are no “typical reactions” available for people to understand and respond appropriately. The default human response is “overwhelming fear.”
We do know from the other Gospel accounts that the women were obedient and did carry out their assignment of bringing word to the disciples. (cf. Matthew 28:8, Luke 24:9, and John 20:2). That is not in question. So then, what would compel Mark to end his record in the manner that he did? It is abrupt and, quite honestly, somewhat shocking.
“But wait,” you say. “Mark didn’t end his record there. There are twelve more verses in my Bible before this chapter and the book comes to an end.” Without taking away from the momentous events we have already looked at, I need to invest a little time into explaining why it is believed that the Gospel of Mark actually does conclude his account with verse 8.
To do so, I want to offer an explanation for the...
The “additional” verses in the book (verses 9-20)
...and why they are thought to not be a part of the original text. I will preface my remarks by inviting you to be back with us on Wednesday evening as we will take up this matter in greater detail at that time. So if you are interested—and I hope many of you will be—we will dig deeper into this subject then. For now, I will try to keep my remarks as “low-shelf” as I can while still sending you home with the information that you need.
If you are reading from an English Standard Version Bible this morning, then I call your attention to a parenthetical statement that appears between verses 8 and 9, and which separates the first part of the chapter from the latter. That statement reads, “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20”. There is also n explanatory footnote at the bottom of the page, that I make you aware of but will not refer to at this time. If you happen to have another translation of Scripture with you, then you will quite likely find a similar note of explanation in the margin or in a footnote. I want you to be aware—if you are not already—that these so-called “additional” verses are not accepted by most conservative scholars are authentic.
Because none of the original manuscripts of any Old Testament and New Testament writing have survived, all contemporary translations of Scripture are based upon copies of those originals or copies of the copies that have been passed down from generation to generation. The question that has arisen in the transmission of the Scriptures through the centuries is which copies are the most reliable. Since the translation of the King James Version in 1611, earlier manuscripts which date back closer to the time of the original documents have been discovered. In the four hundred-plus years since the KJV was completed, the more recent discoveries of earlier documents have revealed “variant readings” in certain passages. Despite what liberal critics may tell us, none of these “variants” affect any of the biblical doctrines that evangelical Christians hold dear. In other words, even without them, we are have not sacrificed any theological integrity.
That being said—and this may surprise you—the many manuscripts and manuscript fragments that are now available yield four different endings to Mark’s Gospel. It would be time-consuming and not necessarily productive to discuss all of those here and now. In brief, let me just say that the longer ending is lacking in the oldest and most reliable manuscripts. Several of the early Church Fathers, including Clement of Alexandria and Origen in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, knew nothing of an ending to Mark’s Gospel beyond verse 8. In the 4th century, two others—Jerome and Eusebius—stated that the extended sections were missing in most of the manuscripts available at that time.
All of this bears ample evidence to the fact that verses 9 through 20 were likely a added later by a well-meaning scribe in an attempt to bring clarity to Mark’s abrupt ending. In doing so, however, he inadvertently short-circuited Mark’s intended purpose which, I believe, was to leave the reader in a state of wonder and amazement regarding the resurrection of Jesus.
Were we to venture into the content found in the longer ending, we would discover that it actually seems to include—and, perhaps, even borrow from—material found in the other Gospels, as well as within the Book of Acts. For example,
• verse 12 appears to summarize Luke’s account of Jesus’ appearance to the two disciples on the Emmaus Road following His resurrection as recorded in the 23rd chapter of Luke (verses 13 through 35).
• verse 15 parallels the Great Commission passage found in Matthew 28(:19).
• and verses 17 and 18 describe the confirming signs that accompanied the apostles’ ministry in the Book of Acts (cf. Acts 2:4, 5:12, 8:7, and 28:3-6).
On the basis of the known manuscript evidence, we are able to conlcude that either Mark ended his Gospel with verse 8 or the real ending is no longer extant. But if it no longer exists, then our belief in a complete canon of Scripture is dealt a serious blow. I, for one, am not willing to concede that because we are promised that “The word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Therefore, I am confident that Mark fully intended to end his account with verse 8.
So where does this leave us? Precisely with the record that God has preserved for us from the day that Mark first penned these words. There are those who want to believe that Mark died or was arrested before completing his account of the ideal Servant. I don’t for a minute believe that to be the case.
My contention is that Mark concluded his Gospel with verse 8, and he did so for a very good reason. He wanted us to understand that an authentic encounter with the Gospel is compelling. It is not something that can be responded to lightheartedly or haphazardly. Encountering the life-giving Christ is mind-boggling, breath-taking, and renders us speechless. The ending of Mark leaves us to ponder with awe the meaning of the empty tomb as interpreted by the angel’s revelatory message. It might even be said that it ends with the unasked question, “What does the resurrection of Jesus Christ mean to you?”
Mark does not record for us the post-resurrection history that the other Gospel writers provide. How fitting that his ending is dramatic and abrupt. After all, what more can be said that has been said? The truth is in the resurrection. And it is enough!
A dead Savior cannot save anyone. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead proves that He is who He claimed to be, the very Son of God. As S. Lewis Johnson put it, “The resurrection is the Father’s ‘Amen!’ to His Son’s ‘It is finished!’”
As we come to the end of our study of the Gospel of Mark, let me say a concluding word about its author. I remind you that John Mark, like the disciples, had at one time lost his way and needed to be restored. He had traveled in good company. He was close to Peter and later accompanied Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey. But early on, for reasons we do not fully know, he turned back. His departure created a fissure that could have potentially wrecked the Church’s plan to take the Gospel to “the end of the earth” (cf. Acts 1:8). But he was forgiven, and he was restored. He became useful to Paul, who at first refused to take him back. And as this marvelous book bears testimony, He became useful to the Lord as well as to us who profit from his record today.
The good news that we can take from this book is that God is still in the business of recovering and restoring wayward sons and daughters. And as we have been reminded today, it begins with arriving at the empty tomb, hearing and responding to the message about a risen Savior, and being astonished that “He was delivered over to death for our trespasses, and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25, Berean).
I close with a thought from Josh McDowell taken from his classic apologetic work, Evidence That Demands a Verdict: “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men and women, or it is the most fantastic fact of history.”
As those words hang in the air, we are all left to answer, “What does the resurrection of Jesus Christ mean to you?”