For some of you history buffs out there, the name Hiroo Onoda might ring a bell to you. If the name doesn’t spark in your mind, then his story might. Hiroo was a Japanese man who died in 2014 at the age of 91. In World War 2 he was a young intelligence lieutenant stationed on Lubang Island near in the Philippines.
He was given one order, to conduct guerrilla warfare and not to die. So for twenty-nine years, Hiroo carried out his orders. With three other soldiers by his side, Hiroo conducted attacks on the local population killing about 30 people. Attempts by search parties and leaflet drops were made to stop Hiroo, but he chalked them up to America ploys.
Finally in 1974, Hiroo’s former commanding officer was flown in to rescind his original orders.
Hiroo was a man who fought with everything he had. For almost three decades he followed his orders. Even when all the world had moved on, even trying to bring Hiroo along with them, he still did what he signed up for.
Hiroo believed he was still in a war, and for almost 30 years, nothing could change his mind.
That’s where we come to the last chapter of the Gospel of Mark today, a place where what we believe is called into question.
Now, this is the last chapter. There’s no more from the hand of Mark as he listens to Peter speak about Jesus. And to understand everything so far, let’s take a step back and get a snapshot of what we are supposed to walk away with.
From chapters one thru four, Mark focused heavily on who Jesus was. He was a person who held authority over God’s Word, and both the physical and spiritual realms. Again and again, through these chapters, we see that Jesus is no mere man, but God come who entered our world.
Then in chapters four through eight, we saw Jesus’ focus shift from teaching to great crowds, to purposefully building up his disciples to take over from him. Culminating in Jesus’ question to Peter, “Who do you say I am?” When Peter answers, “The Messiah,” Jesus’ agains shifts his focus, this time to the cross.
And from chapters eight through fourteen, Jesus works with his disciples and their lack of understanding and faith. It’s a two steps forward, one step back type of situation.
Finally, at the end of chapter fourteen and into fifteen, Jesus is arrested, tried, and crucified.
Mark’s Gospel is a journey for us to take, to see what we will do with Jesus. We start out with Jesus, learning about him as the disciples did. We experience their victories, but as soon as we do, we begin to see their defeats. And with every moment of movement closer to understanding Jesus, there’s a new revelation about him, that challenges the way we think. We are to walk this journey with the disciples as they discover who Jesus is. And we are challenge, just as the disciples were, to be prepared for a time when our faith will be rocked. Jesus tells us to be on our guard. Then the moment of trial comes, and we are faced with the question, do we still believe? When Jesus is ripped away from us, do we still believe? Or have we become like the disciples who left Jesus?
It’s at this point we come to Mark’s final chapter. Let’s read starting in verse 1.
1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, 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, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
9 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. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.
12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.
14 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.
15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 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.”
19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
Now, in most Bibles you’ll see that there is a break between verse 8 and 9. It’s says something like this, “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.”
That means that as we discover older and older manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark, the older manuscripts don’t have verses 9-20. Now, if the earliest manuscripts didn’t have verses 9-20, then why do we keep them in?
Are they unbiblical? Well, no, we see similar words and actions by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, and the book of Acts.
Should we cut them out? Well, they have been a part of translations of thousands of years, and are consistent with biblical teaching, so we don’t. But we are made aware by the translators that it could be that the Gospel of Mark ends at verse 8.
Here’s my thoughts, if God desired that these words not be put in, it would have been a simple process for him to keep them out. So we’re going to approach this by including all 20 verses. But, no matter if we stop at verse 8 or at verse 20, the point of Mark is the same.
In verses 1-8, we pick up from Jesus being laid in the tomb. Mark doesn’t give us the details about the guards, or the conspiracies that surrounded Jesus’ missing body that are talked about in the other Gospels. Instead, all we’re told is that a handful of woman showed up to perform the proper Jewish burial rituals, but find that Jesus is gone.
Instead of Jesus, the women find a man, an angel, in a white robe, and he tells them that Jesus has gone to Galilee. The man also tells them to tell all the disciples, singling out Peter, that Jesus is on his way.
And what do the women do? What any sane person would. They run off and they keep their mouths shut.
Now if we end here, there’s some interesting things: First, we get no final dialogue from Jesus, no final words to close on from him. We just end with the angel’s words that the women need to tell the other disciples that Jesus has risen. Secondly, Peter is specifically called out for restoration. The angel’s words are meant to let all the disciples know that Jesus is desiring to meet with them. With Peter being assured that Jesus wants to meet with him as well. The thirds interesting things, is that the Gospel would then end on a choice. What do the women do next? Mark is sharing, do there as to be more to the story about what happens after the close of the Gospel.
If we end here, we could come away with the question looming over our heads, “What would you do if Jesus rose from the dead? Would you keep quiet, or would you go tell?”
A good cliff hanger to end on. This type of ending brings us back to the question that Mark has been trying to have us answer. The question that Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?” With Mark’s cliffhanger, we’re asked the same question in a slightly different way. The question becomes more of, “What are you going to do with Jesus?”
Are you going to follow Jesus, or are you going to reject him?
Yet, we know there’s more to the story. And whether we just haven’t found the older manuscript with this ending, or it was a way for the early Church to remind people that Jesus sent his disciples to spread the Gospel, it gives us a little more insight into what that more is.
From these we see that the women eventually did share with the disciples that Jesus had raised from the dead, but, in what has become their regular routine, the eleven disciples didn’t believe.
If fact, we’re told twice that they didn’t believe. And when Jesus eventually does show up, he rebukes them. Chastising them for not believing. But really, what else did Jesus expect? They haven’t really been believing Jesus since they had their spiritual high back at the end of chapter five. Their still living in past victories.
This passage ends with Jesus sending the disciples out, in his authority, and them actually doing it.
So, with this ending we get a more happy ending, and who doesn’t like a happy ending? The women believe, the disciples believe, and everyone’s out there fighting the good fight.
So, as we finish up the Gospel of Mark after forty-one weeks, and around a 100,000 words said, what do we walk away from this whole experience with? Well, I wish I could be a better preacher, a better teacher, a better expositor of God’s Word, but you know what, I only get one thing.
And that’s, it’s hard to believe. No matter if we end at verse 8, or verse 20, I see the same people struggling to believe. The women struggled to believe that Jesus had risen. The eleven struggled to believe that Jesus had risen. And if I’m honest with myself, there have been times when I find myself just like these disciples.
Now that’s probably not something that you want to hear. A pastor struggles with Jesus’ resurrection? And the reality is yes, there have been times when I have.
Even though I know the arguments, even though I know the evidence, there’s that voice that says, “Did he really?’
And it’s easy to not believe, because people don’t seem to raise from the dead that often. In fact, I’ve done a few funerals, and not one of those people has came back to life yet.
But Mark leaves us on that idea, it’s easy to not believe. What’s hard is to trust and follow Jesus. After 16 chapters, we end with this, it’s easy to not believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and it’s hard to trust and follow him.
Yet, that’s what God calls us to do. To believe, to trust, to accept his word on the subject, and to move forward. To go out and be a part of his work. To share with others, what Jesus has done. To draw ever closer to him when the good and the bad happen.
There are some amazing things Mark tells us about Jesus. Things that, even in our day, people don’t do. I’ve seen a magician try to walk on water, to with he did, but as he said, with the help of about a dozen people. I have seen great people speak and open Gods’ Word to me in new and different ways, but they always point me back to Jesus, who was greater at it.
And we are called to believe this Jesus, who we have never met in the flesh, like these disciples did, and it can be hard to believe it.
When are physical things of this life, poverty, stock market crashes, being laid off from work, people dying. With all those things, we are called to believe this Jesus. Mark is calling us to believe this Jesus, and even those who were with him have trouble doing it, just like me. It’s easy to not believe.
And when I do step out in trust of Jesus, I find that it is hard. It is hard to trust, when I see people suffer. It is hard to trust, when I see the struggles. It’s hard to trust, when everything around me says don’t.
But it’s when I trust, when I move past my unbelief that I find it all makes sense. And the closer I cling to God, the more clear the picture becomes. And everything Mark is asking me to believe in, falls into place.
So the natural question then is, where are you? Where are you in your relationship with Jesus? Have you started? Have you accept Jesus’ work on your behalf? Have you recognized your sin, and your need for God to save you? Each of us has to come to a place where we recognize that we are fall short of God’s goodness, because it’s only at that place that we are ready to believe what Jesus has done for us to bring us into God’s goodness. Not by anything we have done, but because of everything he has done for us. If you haven’t accepted Jesus as your Savior, now is the time to take inventory of what you have done, the perfection that God requires, and the work of Jesus on your behalf. Then all that is needed to receive God’s gift of salvation is to accept it and to follow.
If you have accepted Jesus as you Savior where are you now? Are you doubting? Are you disbelieving? Are you at a high point, or a low point in your relationship? Are you active with God in his work? Or are you taking a break?
At the end of Mark we are all challenged to evaluate our relationship with Jesus. To ask, am I moving closer to him, or further away?
My challenge for you this week is to answer this question, “Where am I in my relationship with God?” And be honest. If you have no relationship, I challenge you to seek the truth. Learn the arguments for and against God. Challenge your thinking of who he is.
If you have accepted Jesus, then where are you now? Is he just a roommate in your life, or is he the Lord of it? Are you working for him, or trying to get him to work for you.
Let us be honest with where we are, because if we’re not, how can we move on from Mark, when we’re not willing to answer it’s most important question, “Who do we say Jesus is?”
Now may the Father who sent the Son to die for us, empower you by the Spirit to move ever closer to him in relationship. Amen.