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The empty grave

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Date: June 3, 2018

Speaker: Eric Stillman

Series: Savior and Lord

Scripture: Mark 16:1–16:8

This morning, we are finishing up the gospel of Mark as we look at the resurrection of Jesus in chapter 16. This last chapter of Mark is shrouded in mystery, more so than any of the other resurrection accounts. The long and short of it is that the scholarly consensus is that only verses 1-8 appear to be original to Mark’s gospel, while verses 9-20 are most likely a later addition and therefore should not be included in the Bible. So before we even read the passage, I need to explain a couple things about how the Bible has come to us and how scholars make those determinations.


The New Testament was originally written in Greek. There were no chapters or verses – there weren’t even spaces. Chapters were added in the year 1227, and verses were added in 1551. In 1560, the first English Bible was translated, known as the Geneva Bible. In 1611, the King James Version of the Bible was translated into English from Latin. These early translations of the Bible contained verses 9-20 of Mark 16, because at that time the earliest known Greek manuscripts contained that section. Since the 17th century, however, many more older, more accurate manuscripts have been discovered. What scholars have found is that the oldest and most reliable Greek manuscripts, as well as important Latin, Syriac, Armenian, and Ethiopian manuscripts did not contain that section. Furthermore, many of the ancient church fathers reveal no knowledge of verses 9-20, including Clement, Origen, and Eusebius. Even the style and vocabulary seems out of step with the rest of Mark’s gospel. So, the scholarly consensus is that verses 9-20 were a later addition.


This is also why you will occasionally come across a verse that is missing in your Bible. It’s because the earliest manuscripts do not have that verse. Now, it is important to note that the variants found in earlier manuscripts have not affected any doctrine or message of Christianity. In fact, the information found in verses 9-20 is not heretical; the weirdest part about it is the part where Jesus says that his disciples will be able to drink poison and pick up snakes and not being harmed, but even that happened in Acts 28 when Paul was bitten by a snake and was not harmed. The earlier manuscripts just help us get closer to the original sources.


If the scholars are correct, what does this mean the options are?


Option A – 9-20 should be discounted       

Option B – 9-20 still contain truth, even if they’re not original to Mark


Probably Option B. Mark probably left it open-ended and paradoxical, and the early Christians felt a need to write a more suitable ending.


Option A – Mark’s gospel ends at verse 8

Option B – Mark’s original ending was lost


Who knows on this one? For the sake of today, we’ll assume it ends at verse 8, and reference the other gospel writer’s resurrection accounts, as well as the rest of the New Testament, in order to understand what the resurrection means for us today.


Mark 16:1-20 - 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.


This morning, I want to focus on the significance of the resurrection. If you want to hear the proofs of the resurrection, listen to my Easter sermon from two months ago. For this morning, let’s ask this question: What is the significance of the resurrection? Three things in particular I want to highlight:


  • Jesus proves who he is, the Son of God


Consider the claims He has made throughout the Gospel of Mark.


Mark 1:2-3 – Mark quotes Isaiah 40:3 that John the Baptist has come to prepare the way for the Lord, a highway for our God.

Mark 2:5-11 – Jesus claimed to have the authority to forgive sins

Mark 2:19-20 – He calls himself the bridegroom, which was how God referred to Himself with His people

Mark 2:27-28 – He calls himself the Lord of the Sabbath, the one who has authority over the Sabbath, which was instituted at creation

Mark 10:18 – no one is good but God alone

Mark 14:62 – Jesus calls himself the Son of Man, a divine figure, who will come again to judge the world


Furthermore, Jesus has claimed that he would die and rise again.


Mark 10:33-34 - "We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles,  34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise."


And now He has done it. Coincidence? Or is He truly the Messiah, the eternal Son of God, come to die for the sins of the world and to bring us back to God.


John 3:13 - No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven-- the Son of Man.


At the very least, He deserves to be listened to and taken seriously.


  • Death is not the end – there is life beyond the grave


The resurrection means that there is life beyond the grave for all who believe in Him.


1 Corinthians 15:20-22 - But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.


Jesus is the first fruits of a new kind of human life, a life in which his body was made perfect, no longer subject to weakness, aging, or death, but able to live eternally.


1 Peter 1:3-4 - Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-- kept in heaven for you,


We will one day rise again and receive perfect resurrection bodies.


1 Corinthians 15:42-44 - So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable;  43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;  44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.


He is a perfect physical body.


Luke 24:37-39 - They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.  38 He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?  39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."


And so we can say:


John 11:25-26 - Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;  26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"


  • Everything you do for the Lord matters


Do you know your grandparents’ names? What about your great-grandparents? Their parents? If you don’t even remember them, who does? And who will remember your name in 100 years?


If there is no life after death, what is the best I can hope for? My name on a building? A YouTube video that lives on?


The problem for the atheist is that without God, there is no objective meaning. You can create whatever meaning you want, but you’re really just pretending to believe in something for which there is no actual evidence (the same thing atheists accuse Christians of doing).


But the resurrection means that it all matters. Everything done in the name of the Lord matters.


1 Corinthians 15:58 - Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.


Because everything we do to bring people into the kingdom and build them up will have eternal significance.


Mark 9:41 - I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.


Matthew 6:19-21 - "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


Focus on our future heavenly reward as our goal. All the struggles of life will be repaid. In some way we don’t yet understand, there will be some continuity between this life and the next, that just as we will inhabit real but renewed bodies, we will inhabit a renewed earth, where everything done in the name of the Lord becomes part of the fabric of the new creation. Consider this passage:


Revelation 21:22-26 - I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.  24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.  25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.  26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.


Somehow the glory and honor of the nations will be a part of the new creation. Because of the resurrection, everything matters. The best illustration of this truth is J.R.R. Tolkien’s short story Leaf by Niggle. Tolkien came to an impasse while working on his masterpiece The Lord of the Rings. He began to despair of ever completing the work of his life. And in the midst of that despair he wrote this story.


The story starts by introducing a little man called Niggle who had a long journey to make. The journey, as we will find out, is a metaphor for death. He was a painter, but wasn’t successful. Partly because he was too ambitious for his skill – he’d spend forever on a single leaf, trying to catch its shape, sheen and dewdrops glistening, but at the same time he wanted to paint a whole tree, birds, forest, and mountains. But he couldn’t finish it. There were always interruptions – he had to care for other people, like his neighbor Parish, who had a bad leg and was always asking him to help with things. And sometimes he was just idle. But even when he was doing other things, he was thinking about his painting and what he hoped to accomplish.


The Inspector comes, because there was a flood, and they need canvas and wood to make houses, so he takes his canvas, and at that time the driver arrives to take him on his journey. He cries that his painting is not finished. A corner of his painting is eventually hung in a corner of a museum, with the painting called Leaf by Niggle, for a few years until the museum burns down and the painting is forgotten. But Niggle boards a train for the journey, and gets off the train in another country. And on the journey, this happens:


Niggle pushed open the gate, jumped on the bicycle, and went bowling downhill in the spring sunshine. Before long he found that the path on which he had started had disappeared, and the bicycle was rolling along over a marvelous turf. It was green and close; and yet he could see every blade distinctly. He seemed to remember having seen or dreamed of that sweep of grass somewhere or other. The curves of the land were familiar somehow. Yes: the ground was becoming level, as it should, and now, of course, it was beginning to rise again. A great green shadow came between him and the sun. Niggle looked up, and fell off his bicycle.


Before him stood the Tree, his Tree, finished. If you could say that of a Tree that was alive, its leaves opening, its branches growing and bending in the wind that Niggle had so often felt or guessed, and had so often failed to catch. He gazed at the Tree, and slowly he lifted his arms and opened them wide.


“It’s a gift!” he said. He was referring to his art, and also to the result; but he was using the word quite literally.


He went on looking at the Tree. All the leaves he had ever labored at were there, as he had imagined them rather than as he had made them; and there were others that had only budded in his mind, and many that might have budded, if only he had had time.


He goes on to see the birds, the Forest, the Mountains.


Tolkien was eventually able to finish The Lord of the Rings. If this is true, if there is some continuity between this life and the next, that, as Paul says, our labor in the Lord is not in vain, that the many things we never finish that were done for the Lord will follow us into the next life – there is something beautiful and right about that.


Go and preach the good news! Eternal life is knowing God now and forever.


Mark 16:15-16 - 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.


Even though that is found in the section not belonging to Mark, it lines up with Matthew and Luke:


Matthew 28:18-20 - Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."


Luke 24:46-47 - He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,  47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.


Why did they go from being scared disciples to boldly proclaiming Jesus as the one who is alive and reigning in heaven? Because they saw him risen from the dead. Go and proclaim the good news, that Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification:


Romans 4:25 - He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.


We have been justified – by raising him from the dead, God is declaring that there is no penalty left to pay for our sin. Go and preach the good news that Christ is risen from the grave!