November 11, 2012
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Follow the Leader


Do you love surprise endings?  My favorite novels or movies are the ones with a big surprise ending!

Today, we read the surprise ending in the Jesus story as told by Mark.  We started this series in the Gospel of Mark in June 2009; we covered chapters 1-8 in the summers of 2009 and 2010.  This summer, we picked it up in chapter 9, and today, we finish in Mark 16!  We made it!  It only took us three years—off and on—to finish!

And what a finish it is!  Last Sunday, we read the sobering story of Jesus’ brutal death on the cross.  If the story ended there, it would be one of the most tragic stories ever.  But it doesn’t end there.  And no one would have ever guessed the ending—except Jesus, who predicted it.  It’s the ultimate surprise ending!

Today, we read the end of the story…which is really just the beginning!


Of all the surprises you’ve had in your life, none is bigger than the surprise that awaited the women who went to Jesus’ tomb on Sunday morning.  They went to anoint His dead body with perfumes—a Jewish ritual designed to honor the dead and lessen the stench of a decaying body.  Their big concern was how to move the stone from the entrance to the tomb so they could do their work.  To their complete surprise, the stone was moved, the tomb was empty, and a young man—an angel?—told them that Jesus had been raised and was alive!  Here’s the story and here’s:

The Big Idea: Jesus is alive!  In Jesus, you can have a new life!

Scripture: Mark 16

Mark 16:1–20

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 good news 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.


Before we dive into the story, we have to address a question:

Why are there different endings?  You may have noticed a line dividing verses 9-20 from the previous verses; or verses 9-20 may be in brackets; or there is a footnote at the bottom of the page that says something like this: “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.” (NIV)

Here’s the story.  We do not have the original writings of the apostles; we have copies—thousands of copies, many of them very old.  Generally, the older a copy, the more reliable it is considered to be.  The oldest copies of Mark end at verse 8; they do not contain verses 9-20.  However, those verses are contained in most manuscripts, even many very old ones.  

So there are two questions scholars have wrestled with.  First, is the longer ending of verses 9-20 authentic to Mark, or a later addition?  Second, if it is not authentic, did Mark intend to end his gospel at verse 8, or is the gospel unfinished or the ending lost?

First question: are verses 9-20 authentic to Mark?  Most scholars believe that verses 9-20 were not written by Mark, but were written by someone else in the late first or early second century. The verses are not in the most ancient manuscripts, and they use very different vocabulary and style than Mark.  Many of the ancient manuscripts that contain these verses have bracketed them or in some other way indicated that they are a later addition.  The early church fathers knew of them and considered them to be an addition.  And yet they kept these verses in their Bibles, albeit with an asterisk.  Why?  Because they felt like something was wrong with the ending of Mark.

Second question: did Mark intend to end his gospel at verse 8?  If so, the story ends with an announcement of the resurrection, but no resurrection appearances of Jesus (unlike all the other gospels).  And it ends with the women running home in bewildered silence.  It seems strange that Mark opens his gospel with a bold declaration that Jesus is the Son of God, and then ends with a wimper—bewildered silence, rather than bold proclamation of the resurrection and victory of the Son of God.

Some scholars believe that Mark intended to end his gospel like this as a challenge to the readers: what is your response to this confounding announcement?  They believe that it is consistent with Mark’s handling of the mystery of the gospel to leave some questions unanswered.  Dr. Jim Edwards at Whitworth thinks that this is unlikely, that this explanation is a more modern way to look at it (we like “choose your own ending” novels), and that ancient authors were more likely to write a clear ending than leave it to the readers to fill in the blanks.  

Most scholars, like Jim Edwards, believe that Mark did not intend to end at verse 8, and that he was either interrupted and unable to finish (if he was writing in Rome during Nero’s reign, he may have been abruptly arrested and executed), or that the ending was somehow lost.  This explains why some early Christians felt it necessary to cobble together a different ending with resurrection appearances and Jesus commissioning His followers.

When I say that verses 9-20 were cobbled together, what I mean is that almost everything in them can be found in the other gospel accounts.  Whoever first wrote these verses drew from the resurrection story in Matthew, Luke and John, and from ideas contained in the rest of the New Testament.  This explains why the ancient church fathers kept these verses, but with an asterisk.  They were comfortable acknowledging that they weren’t from Mark, but were a true representation of what happened, and the faith of the early church.

So let’s make some observations about the story.

1-8 Resurrection announcement

Who were the first witnesses to the resurrection?  Women!  You go, girls!  It was Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome—the same women who in chapter 15 were at the cross when He died, and at the tomb when He was buried.  Mark is saying that the same people who saw Him die and be buried were the ones who found the tomb empty.  

And they were all women.  Why is this important?  Women were not considered reliable witnesses in that culture—sorry ladies, I’m just reporting the facts.  In fact, 200 years later, the pagan Celsus mocked the Christian faith, saying it was “the gossip of women about the empty tomb.”  If you were making up the story and wanted it to be believed, who would have witnessed the resurrection?  Men!  Yet all four gospels agree that it was women who found the empty tomb, and that Jesus appeared first to a woman, Mary Magdalene.  The best explanation for this otherwise damaging information is that they weren’t making this up—they were simply reporting what happened.  

So a shout out to the ladies!  The women were the first to see, the first to believe, the first to tell the good news that Jesus is alive!  And that is in keeping with the message of the Jesus that the last would be first.  The gospel always raises those who have been marginalized.  Women were marginalized in that culture, and Jesus said, “I think I’ll fix that!” and appeared to the ladies first.

ILL: One fun story from Kenya.  We did a two-day seminar, training 300 church and community leaders, equal parts men and women.  On the first day, David Opap taught a men’s-only class and talked from Ephesians 5 about loving your wife like Christ loves the church and died for her.  The culture is very chauvinistic.  The men wanted to know how to make their wives obey—David and Sammy kept pushing them to love and serve like Jesus did.  

On day two, David opened the seminar by giving the schedule, and then announcing that at teatime and lunch, ladies would go first.  In that culture, men eat first, then the ladies.  The men’s jaws dropped and they looked at each other in amazement.  And the ladies broke out in laughter and cheers!  I wish I had it recorded!  So here’s a picture of teatime—and the line is 100% ladies!

The gospel always raises those who have been marginalized.

Speaking of being marginalized, I want you notice something special in the young man’s message to the ladies. 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.’ ”  Peter is singled out—why?  Because of his spectacular failure, he must have assumed that he was out, rejected, not wanted any longer.  We know from John 20 that Peter was so discouraged and ashamed that he abandoned his post and went back to being a fisherman.  But from the get-go, the resurrected Jesus had nothing but forgiveness for Peter—in fact, for all of them.  They had all deserted Him, and Peter had denied Him, but Jesus invited all of them—and Peter specifically—to meet Him in Galilee.  Peter’s story is in some ways my story and yours too.  We all tend to overestimate how good we are, and when we fail, we want to give up and quit.  But there’s no quit in Jesus.  He keeps coming after us, even when we belly-flop in the most important moments.  This is the gospel: you are more broken than you ever imagined, and more loved than you ever dreamed!  You can put your name in the story instead of Peter’s—Jesus wants you in spite of your failures.

Verse 8 ends with the women bewildered and silenced.  We have a resurrection announcement by the young man, but no one has seen Jesus yet.  That happens in the next section.

9-14 Resurrection appearances

The author—we don’t think it was Mark—combines appearance stories from the other gospels.  Jim Edwards describes this as “an early Christian resurrection mosaic.”  The resurrected Jesus makes three appearances:

First, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene (9-11).  All four gospels represent Mary as one of the first witnesses of the resurrection, and Luke also reports the disciples’ disbelief of her testimony.   “They did not believe it” when she said that Jesus was alive and she had seen him.

Second, Jesus appears to two disciples walking in the country (12-13).  This story is reported in Luke 24; two disciples encounter the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  When they realized it was Jesus, they rushed to Jerusalem and “reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.”  Do you see a theme developing here?

Third, Jesus appears to the 11 disciples during a meal (14)—reflecting the appearance stories in Luke 24 and John 20.  Jesus rebukes them for “their lack of faith and stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him.”  

Here’s the deal: no one was expecting a resurrection!

The women who went to the tomb weren’t—they were on a mission of mercy to honor the dead—they were totally taken by surprise.  

The disciples weren’t.  They stubbornly refused to believe anyone who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus.  

And understandably!  A resurrection is pretty unbelievable.  Granted, Jesus had predicted his suffering, death and resurrection.  But in the shadow of the event itself, it’s no wonder they either forgot that prediction, or thought, “Yeah, right.”  If I told you my son had been raised from the dead, and I’d seen him, what would you think?  Honestly, you’d probably recommend medication and therapy!  You wouldn’t believe it—and they didn’t either.  Why is this important?  The record shows that the disciples weren’t a bunch of gullible galoots from Galilee—they were skeptics.  They were ordinary working stiffs who knew a dead body when they saw one, and knew that dead people don’t rise.  They didn’t buy it—until they saw Jesus—then they couldn’t deny it!

This is why the appearances of the risen Jesus were so important—they didn’t believe until they saw Him.  I haven’t seen Him, but I believe based on the testimony of those who did.  And here’s what Jesus said to Thomas about that:

John 20:29 “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

I think Jesus said this for you, and me, for all of us who would have to believe without seeing.  

By the way, we shouldn’t be surprised if someone doesn’t believe the story at first—Jesus’ best friends didn’t believe it at first!  Don’t give up—faith comes slowly to most of us!

15-20 Resurrection proclamation

Matthew 28:18-20, Luke 24:46-49, Acts 1:8, John 20:21-23

The final section is about proclaiming the good news of the resurrection of Jesus.  It is the Great Commission, also found in various forms in each of the references on your outline.  Here is the crux of it in Mark:

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Earlier, the young man at the tomb had told the women to go and tell.  Now Jesus tells all of them to go and tell the good news.  Go where?  Into all the world.  Tell whom?  All creation.  Go everywhere and tell everyone!  All—it’s universal, it’s for everyone.  Jesus didn’t just come for one tribe, but all tribes; not just for me and people on my side, but for those on the other side.  For all.  “For God so loved the world.”  All of it.  Every person, and tribe, and tongue and nation.  It’s good news for everyone!

What about the signs?  This part wigs some folks out!  

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.”

What does Jesus mean?  Look again at verse 20.

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.

The purpose of these signs was to confirm the gospel message when it was preached.  All of these signs (except drinking poison) are found in the book of Acts or the letters of the New Testament.  Let me give you a clear example.

In Acts 28, Paul is shipwrecked on the island of Malta.  As he is gathering firewood, a poisonous snake bites him.  When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they thought he was a dead man.  They assumed he must be a murderer; though he escaped from the sea, justice was still served.  But Paul just shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.  The islanders kept waiting for him to swell up or fall dead, but finally when nothing happened, they changed their minds and thought he was a god.  The net result of this is that when Paul preached the gospel, they listened.  God’s protection of Paul was a sign that got their attention.

When Jesus said, “they will pick up snakes with their hands, and when they drink poison it will not harm them,” He was promising divine protection for those preaching the gospel as a sign to confirm it.  He wasn’t suggesting we handle snakes or drink poison to show off our faith, like this: Pastor Mark Wolford in W. VA was killed in May when the rattlesnake he was handling bit him.  

All of these signs—power over Satan, speaking in tongues, protection from danger, and healing the sick—accompanied people who went and told the gospel, and were used by God to confirm His message.  The emphasis is on go and tell.  

And the Big News is that Jesus is alive.  He is not dead and buried somewhere.  He is alive!  In Jesus, God has defeated sin and death.  Our old enemies have been vanquished!  On the cross, Jesus died my death; He paid my penalty.  

I am often asked, “Why did Jesus have to die?  Why couldn’t God just forgive us?”  

ILL: Let’s say I drink and drive and run a red light, and t-bone you.  Your car is totaled, and you land in the hospital with serious injuries.  You never fully recover; your injuries prevent you from ever going back to work.  We go to court, and after hearing the evidence, the judge says, “Oh well, he didn’t mean to hurt you.  Let’s just forgive and forget.”  How do you feel?  You want justice!

What does justice look like?  In this case, I should replace your car, and replace your lost income, and make up for some of the pain and suffering you will experience the rest of your life.  And maybe some punishment for driving drunk.  

You want justice.  Everyone does.  Even small children!  It’s a universal desire.  Where does this come from? I think it’s there because we were made in God’s image and God is just.  God can’t just turn a blind eye to injustice.  Just like you don’t want the judge to say “Oh well”, you don’t want God to either.  And God can’t, because He is just.

So back to court.  I am guilty, justice must be served. So the judge says, “I find Joe guilty of all charges and order that he buy you a new car, pay for all past and future medical expenses, pay for all past and future lost income, pay an additional $5 million for pain and suffering, and relinquish his driver license and never drive again.” That’s just, but I can’t afford to pay it.  And the judge knows that.  So he goes on: “Furthermore, since Joe can’t pay this, I will.  I will personally pay all of it, and remit my license in place of his.”  

I forgot to tell you that the judge is my father.

Why did Jesus have to die?  Justice had to be served. I am guilty before God.  Justice demands that I pay for my sins, and the penalty is death.  But I couldn’t afford to pay it, so God did.  The Judge is my Father.  God’s love satisfied God’s justice.  

It’s never as easy as just saying, “Forgive and forget.”  Back to our courtroom story, if you forgive me and I don’t pay for your losses, who does?  You do.  You absorb the loss; you pay for my sin.  Someone has to pay.  The question is who.  In the gospel, God pays; He pays our debt out of His deep love for us.  

So Christ died to pay our penalty.  Someone has to pay—God did.  But here’s the rest of the story: After a criminal does his time, fulfills his sentence, the law has no more claim on him.  Justice has been served; he is free to go.  Christ died to pay our penalty, and He must have paid it in full, because on Sunday, He walked out of the grave alive and free.  The resurrection was God’s way of stamping “Paid in full” across our debt of sin!

And our response to that good news is:

Application: Believe and be baptized, then go and tell!

16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Believe the good news—believe that God has paid your debt in full, that Christ has risen to give you a new life.  And be baptized as a sign of that faith.  Then go and tell the world.  Share this good news with everyone, everywhere.

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.

In just a moment, we are going to worship.  We are going to celebrate that Jesus is alive and we are alive in Him.  And we are going to celebrate with people who are being baptized.  

Romans 6:1–4 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

When we are baptized, we share in Christ’s death and resurrection.  Our old life dies with Christ, we are buried with Him, and we are raised to live a new life.  

ILL: It’s like a criminal who decides to go straight and testifies, then is put in the witness protection program.  He is renamed, relocated, and reinvented.  He gets a second chance, a whole new life, free from his past.  He gets a re-write on his story.  

That’s what happens when you believe and are baptized.  Your story takes a new and different trajectory. You become a new and different person.  In the early centuries, Christians were given new names at baptism to symbolize their new life in Christ.  

Jesus is alive—we celebrate that in every baptism—and we are alive in Him!  


Conclusion: It is finished!