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An Uncommon Ending: We Still Don't Get It
04/27/2003
Scripture: Mark 16:9-20
Track 19 of 19 in the Encountering a Changing World series
Running time: 19 minutes, 39 seconds.
Address the issue of still needing to grow, even beyond our failure to understand.



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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.


Sermon for Sunday, April 27, 2003
"An Uncommon Ending: We Still Don't Get It"
(Mark 16:9-20)
G. Charles Sackett

Back in 1993, they tell me this is a true story, checked out by whoever checks out these dumb, true stories - San Diego, California Southwood Psychiatric Hospital - under investigation for insurance fraud. After several hours of reviewing medical records, the agents had worked up an appetite and so they called a nearby pizza parlor to order dinner. Here's the conversation; Agent: Hello, I'd like to order 19 large pizzas and 67 cans of soda. Pizza man: And where would you like them delivered? We're over at the psychiatric hospital. The psychiatric hospital? That's right, I'm an FBI agent. I don"t even have to read the rest of it do I? Ha-ha. You know where this is going. That's right, I'm an FBI agent. You're an FBI agent? That's correct. Just about everybody here is. And you're at the psychiatric hospital? That's correct and make sure you don't go through the front door. We have them locked. You'll have to go around to the back to the security entrance to deliver the pizzas. And you say you're all FBI agents? That's right. How soon can you have them here? And everyone at the psychiatric hospital is an FBI agent? That's right. We've been here all day and we're starving. How are you gonna pay for all of this? I have my checkbook right here. You're all FBI agents? That's right. Everyone here is an FBI agent. Can you remember to bring the pizzas and the sodas to the service door in the rear. We have the front doors locked. I DON'T THINK SO!

You know, some things are just a little hard to believe, aren't they? It's hard to imagine how difficult it must have been in those early days, after the resurrection of Jesus to think about what might possibly have been going on, to try to sort out how that could possibly be true. And Mark's gospel ended in such an unusual way because in Mark's gospel you don't get an opportunity to find out, well, exactly what was going on because it ends with the statement that the ladies that left were in fact frightened and silent.

Somewhere along the line, however, it became apparent in the construction of the gospels, Mark's gospel in particular, that ending wasn't very satisfying. And that early church that collected the writings of the scripture wanted to finish it, somehow. They wanted to say something different than what was being said. So, there are a number of different endings to Mark's gospel. They come in little short versions of one or two verses to this very long version that we have in most of our Bibles from verse 9 down to verse 20. In fact, most of the Bibles you have in front of you, certainly our pew Bible would be true, there will be some kind of note, either in a footnote or some kind of statement in-between verses 8 and 9 that says something like this. It's what it says in my Bible - The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16: 9 - 20. Well, there's a lot of evidence for the fact that was not original. The key major manuscripts don't include it. The early church fathers appear to have known nothing about it. A bit later, in the history of the church, some of the chief historians like Eusebius and Jerome suggest that this didn't exist in the early manuscripts. However, it's intriguing to note that what's in Verses 9 - 20 were pretty typical kinds of comments made in other gospels.

In fact, if you read Verses 9 - 20, here's what it sounds like;

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 baptized 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.

You can walk right down through the text and just earmark other places. For example, Verse 9 shows up in John, Chapter 20. Verse 10 shows up in John, Chapter 20. Verses 11 and 13 are in Luke 24, as is Verses 12 and 13 in Luke 24. Verse 14 is in both Luke 24 and John 20. There's a piece of Verse 14 that's a little bit unusual and it may be referred to in John 20, but maybe not. Verse 15 is obviously the same as Matthew, Chapter 28 and Luke, Chapter 24. Verse 19 is the same as Luke 24 and then that "stuff" in the middle, 15, 16, 17, 18, all of it except the drinking of poison, which shows up in the book of Acts, very clearly as the experience of, in fact, the early church. So there's nothing unusual about what's in this particular text. What's unusual about it is that it wasn't there to start with. It's intriguing, because I think what it says is, first of all you can have a great deal of confidence in the Scriptures that you have because these stories are all repeated in other places and secondly, the early church wanted to make sure that there were some things that we didn't miss.

So, lest we not get all of the story, we're not going to let this end at Verse 8 with silence. We're going to go ahead and carry this message one step further consistent with what the rest of the church believed.

Here's what I think the early church would encourage us. I think they would encourage this; we should believe based on the testimony. You heard how clearly whoever wrote Verses 9 through 20 identified with the rest of Mark's gospel, that sense of lacking belief. The two people on the road, but they still didn't believe them. Mary Magdalene, but they still wouldn't believe. Jesus rebuked them for their unbelief. There's that sense in which they understood, having been written here 20 years after the death of Jesus, that most people would have never had the opportunity to see the resurrected Christ. But the only way that they would ever come to faith was based on testimony. It was the only thing they would ever have. It's almost as if they understood something that you understand and that I understand, that if I want to come to faith in Jesus, if I want to believe in Jesus, it's not gonna be because of what I've seen. It's gonna be because of the testimony of other people of the Scriptures, themselves, of the historians, of the life of people. I'm obligated to believe what I cannot see, based merely on the testimony of what other people have said. And you know how hard that is? Well, you saw how hard it is, even when you see it, it's hard to believe and when you just have to trust somebody else, it gets more difficult. I think they would at least tell us that. We should believe, based on the testimony.

I think they would tell us this too. That we should be baptized in spite of the cost. You notice that emphasis in Verses 15 and 16. 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. It's the odd command of scripture that so many people in the 21st Century, the 20th Century, the 19 centuries previously, have stumbled over. Why in the world would God asked us to be dunked into a tank in order to identify with his Son? And the answer to that question is: I don't have a clue! I mean, he just decided that it's what we ought to do. I suppose he could have chosen a lot of other symbols, it's just that symbol makes a lot of sense, because it so clearly ties us to the resurrection of Jesus, that death/burial experience that he's had. But it's humiliating isn't it? I mean, you came to church dressed up, prepared, and all of a sudden, somebody says I want to put you up there in public, in front of everybody and I want to stick you down in a tank and I want to bring you up out of that tank and your hair's going to be a mess and your clothes are gonna be wet, your gonna look like you just came out of the shower. And I want you to do that, in spite of the fact that people are going to go--what's the matter with you? It makes that experience such a powerful, public statement-- I believe so thoroughly in Jesus, I will do whatever he says in spite of what it costs me because what that marks is--I can't go back now. Everybody knows! See faith in the heart is pretty easy to hide if you want to. Baptism in a tank of water is pretty easy to NOT HIDE.

Will Willamon(???), who is the Dean of Duke University, does as good a job as anybody I've ever heard identifying just how clearly the New Testament teaches that experience marks us as having made that remarkable decision. And now we're going to carry that out in the future and we're not going to hide it from anyone.

Well, I think those early church people who understood in an era of persecution, how costly that could be, have said in this latter part of Mark's gospel, in spite of what it costs--you still ought to do it. I think they would tell us that. I think they would tell us that we believe based on testimony, that we're baptized in spite of the cost. I think they would tell us this, that we should expect great things from God.

Now I don't know what all this implies for the contemporary church. There are these signs that certainly accompany the early church. All you have to do is just read the book of Acts and you see people raised from the dead. You see people healed, you see the shadow of one apostle bringing healing, the handkerchief of another apostle bringing healing, the apostle Paul bitten by a snake that was poisonous and it didn't seem to bother him at all, the ability to move from culture to culture and speak a language they didn't understand. There were all kinds of signs that followed that early church. These were never intended to be a check list that, somehow if you don't experience these signs, that somehow you're not a real Christian, in spite of our friends in Appalachia who still think in order to have a real church service, you have to handle poisonous snakes. That's not what this is about, any more than any other sign is required of anyone. But what it does say is when God is involved, you can expect absolutely remarkable things to happen. Now, it may not be something so visible as some miracle. It may just be that your life has been absolutely, radically transformed and you can't explain it any other way than what happened in Jesus Christ. But the early church would say, trust us on this one. When Jesus comes into the picture, remarkable things happen.

I think they would tell us this as well, we should preach the gospel to the whole world. Go into all the world, he said, and preach. Everyone in the church becomes an evangelist. That command was not just given to the limited few. This was for all of the church to go into the world, it's not for the paid staff to make the disciples, alone, that's part of our job. It's your job, as much as it is anybody's job--to be able to take the gospel to another generation of people, simply by sharing that by which God has commissioned in his word for us to know--that unchanging word.

Helmut Taillike (??) made this comment. I am fascinated by this statement. The gospel must be preached afresh and told in new ways to every generation. Since every generation has its own questions, the gospel must be forwarded to a new address because the recipient is repeatedly changing his place of residence. He's not talking about geographical moves, he's talking about the fact that every generation that comes along has a new way of thinking, requires for the gospel to be shaped and couched in new terms. By the way, Helmut Taillike preached in the 1940's right after WWII, but the truth that he said is still the same. The whole world still needs to hear and every generation needs that gospel shaped in a way that makes sense to them.

And so, on family Sunday, we are reminded that we don't do the things that we did around here 20 year ago the same way that we did them, because it's a new generation. And it won't be the same 10 years from now than it is now because it will be a new generation that needs that same message passed in a new shape, so that they have an opportunity to hear and understand what we've had the privilege of hearing and understanding.

This story comes out of the mid 1990's in New York City, a section, in fact, of New York City where it was identified as the most likely place to get killed. The preachers name is Bill Wilson. He was stabbed twice, shot at and had a member of his ministry team killed. They did a children's ministry off of the streets of New York. They ran 50 buses to gather kids for after school and weekend programs. In their church service, a Puerto Rican woman had become a Christian. Though she didn't speak English, she said to this preacher, I want to do something and I want to be able to be involved. What do I do? He said, I don't know what you do. She said, I just want to do something. Give me something to do. So he said, Alright, every week you ride a different bus and you just love one of the kids. So she would. Every Sunday or every Saturday, whatever day it was - she would get on a bus and she'd pick out the child that looked most needy. She'd sit by that child and the only thing she knew how to say was this - I love you and Jesus loves you! That was her English vocabulary. So she would love that kid on the bus and she'd say I love you and Jesus loves you. And then pretty soon, she found one scraggly little kid that wouldn't talk and she said to the preacher - I don't want to ride any other bus - I just want to ride this one. So week after week, she sat with that little boy and she rode and she would say to him, over and over again, I love you and Jesus loves you. On the 2:30 afternoon bus ride home, this little boy, for the very first time, turned around and said, I, I love you too and gave her a big hug. And at 6:30 that afternoon, they found his body in a trash bag. His mother had killed him, and thrown him into one of the trash bins. So far as we know, the last little words that the little boy heard were these; Jesus loves you.

That's our job. And the early church would remind us that it's our task, to make sure there are no little boys in this town who do not know that Jesus loves them.

You don't have to know much to be able to say that much. So we all become the evangelist to the world.

To say what we can't show them, to simply give them the testimony that Jesus is raised from the dead and he loves us. Well, what would those early church people tell us, if they had a chance to tell us something. I think they'd tell us this. Trust Jesus and do what he says. Trust Jesus and do what he says.

Mark's gospel is interesting to me because it seems like it finishes in a sense of, kind of unfinished business. The women go away and their silent and afraid. I don't know how long it took for the fear to go away. This much I know - by the time Acts 2 rolls away, and the Holy Spirit has come, they are no longer silent and they are no longer afraid and they are now preaching a word that's making a difference in the world and the message is exactly that message. Trust Jesus and do what he says.

And my question to you this morning is really very simple. What's the unfinished business that you have - between you and the Lord? What is it that's hanging out there waiting for you to do? Is it a person you need to talk to? Is it a decision that you need to make about your life? Is it identifying with Jesus in the waters of baptism? Is it becoming a part of a church, where you can really plug in and make a difference? What's the unfinished business that you need to resolve this morning? We're going to give you that chance to resolve that today. If you have a decision that you need to make in public, we invite you to come while we sing, if not, please grab us in the hallway. Come by the hospitality room. Don't leave today with unfinished business - with an unended message. . . . .

Do what he says. Let's stand.