"MARK'S CLIMATIC CLIFFHANGER"

APRIL 21st, 2019                                                                                         PASTOR DON PIEPER

Right On The Mark                                                                                     1 PETER 1:3-12

EASTER SUNDAY                                                                                     MARK 16:1-8

"MARK'S CLIMATIC CLIFFHANGER"

Is it just me or was that a rather abrupt ending? Mark spends a third of his gospel on Jesus' last week, but a mere eight verses on Jesus' resurrection! It's the Reader's Digest version... We have a rock-sealed tomb, mysteriously standing wide open, a stranger in white saying the dead man's alive and no­where in sight and an ending that leaves us hanging in limbo: "The women fled from the tomb, ...and said nothing to anyone!" (Mark 16:8) And then? What happened next? How did Peter and the others find out? And where is Jesus? The story's incomplete. It's the original, ultimate cliffhanger!

You're familiar with what a cliffhanger is right? If you google it, you'll get some interesting

options. For example, there's this one..... •               {Changer — (cartoon man clutching clifft)
For all of you native to the northwest, you might have this in mind...

We've gag ourselves a cliffhanger! —          (goats clinging to side of a cliff)

To stretch the pun a bit further, you could always go with this one...

{What a cliffhanger — the suspense is killing me — (coathanger on cliffs edge))

And for those of you challenged to actually hang on to the cliff, who better than young Calvin?

Calvin:            It's true, Hobbes, ignorance is bliss!

Hobbes:           We're heading for that cliff!

Calvin:            I don't want to know about it.

Both:               WAAAUGGGHHH! !

Hobbes:           I'm not sure I can stand so much bliss.

Calvin:            Careful! We don't want to learn anything from this.

(The Days Are Just Packed, p. 79)

Actually, a cliffhanger is defined as 'a story that concludes in unresolved suspense or tension'. Mark's cliffhanger ending certainly leaves the reader in suspense, wanting to finish the story. In fact that's exactly what later editors did. The earliest manuscripts of Mark end at verse 8, but later copies have more detailed endings. In two weeks, on May 5th, we'll take a closer look at the longer of the two.

Many scholars believe that Mark's original ending was lost, but even so, the Holy Spirit, has left us a hummer of a cliffhanger. I love Mark's gospel. It has a raw, unpolished feel to it, an urgency to it like no other. It's the uncut, unabridged version - and it's the original, written between 55 and 60 A.D., just 20-30 years after the events it conveys and a good decade or more before Mathew or Luke...

Mark's testimony of Jesus' resurrection is compelling in three ways. First, it provides the basis on which all of the other resurrection accounts rely - that the tomb was found open and empty, that the first witnesses were women, and it occurred at sunrise on the third day of Jesus death, just as he'd said: "Then Jesus began to tell them that he....would be killed, and three days later he would rise again."

(Mark 7:31)

Second, there's Mark's sense of urgency. Mark stands out in his use of the Greek imperative, a verb tense that expresses passion, unresolved action and a tremendous feeling of urgency. Mark has used it throughout his gospel. It ends with the imperative just as it began there, heard in Jesus first msg: 'The time has come! The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the good news!'

(Mark 1:15)

Now, in Mark 16, the angelic messenger speaks in short, quick sentences, like you'd expect of someone who's really excited, or out of breath, having raced to deliver a message of vital importance: "Don't be alarmed! You're looking for Jesus? He's risen! He's not here! Look! This is where they laid his body! Now go! Tell his friends...! Jesus has gone ahead of you to Galilee! You will see him there...!" (Mark 16:6-7) The short sentences coupled with the use of the imperative verb tense express an intense sense of urgency!

Third, its compelling because of some of the fascinating elements that make it unique. For example, Mark alone provides the name of all three women who arrive at the opened tomb. This provides Mark's original audience the means to check his story as his gospel is written so soon after the events it depicts that anyone could easily have checked and cross-examined these women's testimonies.

It's also significant that it was women who were the first witnesses of the resurrection as their testimony was not allowed in the Jewish courts. Mark took a tremendous risk basing the credability of his resurrection account on their testimony. When Paul gave his testimony, he left this detail out. The only reason Mark would take such a risk was because that's actually how it happened.

But there's another unique element at work here, the one we started with, that of the abrupt ending at verse eight: "The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, saying nothing to anyone because they were too frightened to talk." (Mark 16:8)

So that's it? End of story, end of gospel? I thought the women were supposed to tell the others? Instead they race off, quiet as you please, stunned into silence. So what kind of ending is that?

There's something unsettling about having a good story come to an abrupt ending. We want to know how it comes out, what happens to the characters we've grown attached to. Will the crisis be averted, the threat overcome, the mission accomplished? Mark's gospel leaves us hanging.

No one knows for sure why Mark's gospel ends so abruptly. Many scholars over the centuries have surmised that it once had a longer ending that was lost over time, but what if Mark deliberately ended his gospel this way? What if he wanted to leave us a cliff hanger, wondering, where is Jesus?

Mark reports that Jesus came bearing the Good News that God was neither distant nor angry but wanted to draw close to those who would seek him out: "The Kingdom of God is near!" (Mark 1:15)

Jesus showed what this kingdom looks like by loving on those no one else would touch, and he demonstrated the power God releases in this kingdom by healing those who are sick, crippled, blind or held captive by their own brokenness or demonic forces.

He was less concerned with preserving tradition as he was bringing redemption, less focused on rules as he was in nurturing loving relationships and healing the weary soul. "What do you benefit," he asked, "if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process?" (Mark 8:36)

But there were those who didn't like the way he ignored rules and traditions, who were put off by his forgiving sins and raising uncomfortable questions and so they had him arrested, beaten, flogged and crucified. And when he was dead and buried they figured that was the end of the story, but his story was far from finished. Jesus lives on and even now he invites you to be part of his story.


 

Mark ends his gospel with a cliffhanger because the story is unfinished. Jesus lives on! He has risen and he goes ahead of us to continue the work he began long ago, healing and loving us into the kingdom, doing so among and thru us by the presence & power of the Holy Spirit, just as He did then!

His story is still being written in the hearts of those who discover that they need what he alone can provide — hope and meaning for our lives. J.R.R. Tolkien, a believer in that story, captured the essence of that life-giving truth and put it on the lips of a halfling by the name of Sam...

[DVD clip from The Two Towers; 2:44:45 — 2:46:50j

Jesus came with a very similar message. That there is something in this world worth fighting for, not with weapons of warfare, but with weapons of the Spirit — with weapons Jesus came wielding: the sword of truth, by which we are set free from the lies that entrap us in fear, pain and anger, and the transformative healing power of God's unconditional love, that is unleashed among and thru us as we pray for one another in his beautiful name, that is, by his authority.

My friend, Jennifer, is a living eg. Jen found herself struggling with addiction and wound up in an A.A. group. A few months later at an evening of Alpha half a dozen new folks showed up telling us that they were there because of Jennifer. Like Mary and Salome, Jen had experienced the new life Jesus offers and had taken to heart the words from Mark 16: "Go and tell the others...!" (Mark 16:7)

Not long ago, after moving out of the area, Jen sent me a rather moving Facebook message...: Dear Pastor Don, I wanted you to know that your support and love, even when I couldn't love myself has not gone unnoticed. Through prayer and the Holy Spirit, God changed my path of destruction and turned my life around. I've been so blessed in my life to have people like you and the family of believers at Redeemer that I truly believe are sent from God above to help those who lose their way. Together you make a difference. You helped me see that Jesus believed in me when I couldn't believe in myself. God made you his messengers with the ability to meet those like me right where we are in our lives.

When I asked her permission to share this week, Jen sent me this update...:

God has used my addiction by having me be a foster mom and take in children who have come from addicted parents. We go to church every Sunday and my oldest foster child recently asked to be baptized and told me she wants to go to Redwood Christian School with my son where I'm on staff.. I'm currently in the process of adopting a baby who was born addicted. Her mom, who's an addict, left her and never looked back. God has filled my house with laughter and love. Who knew he would use my addiction to take children who were born addicted or abandoned by addicted parents. My house is full now. I'm a mom of three boys and two girls. Life is good and I finally found the joy within that I had been missing. The Holy spirit has filled me with joy and its been an amazing journey.

Thru God all things are possible. Our Father in heaven has blessed my life and I know I'm on the right path. I'm exactly where God wants me to be. Amazing!! Jesus is very much alive! Love, Jen

At the close of the trilogy, Sam observes his dear friend, Frodo, writing his last words in his book and comments that he has finished it. In response, Frodo smiles at his friend and replies, "There's room for a little more. The last pages are for you, Sam. You're part of the story will go on!"

from J.R.R. Tolkien's Return of the King)

Mark left his gospel unfinished because Jesus' story is ongoing. There's room for a little more. The last pages are for you! His story is still being written in the hearts of those who seek what he alone can provide — hope and meaning in our lives, and healing for a hurting world. Jesus lives on! He has risen and he goes ahead of us, healing and loving us into the kingdom, and he does so among and thru us, by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, just as He did then!


"So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead..! You can live with great expectation...,

because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead!"             (1 Peter 1:3, 6)