There is a dispute about the Gospel text. In some ancient manuscripts, the book of the Evangelist Mark’s Gospel ends at the end of verse eight. The last words of the book would then be: “[The women] said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” That seems like an unsatisfying way to end a Gospel, but perhaps the Holy Spirit through Mark intended to leave it hanging that way.
Bibles often have a footnote here and brackets or some other way of telling you that these words are in dispute. Other Bibles leave no footnotes or marks at all, but simply leave the words as they are.
So what do we do with this dispute? There are three main questions here: First, did Mark actually write these words? Second, are these the inspired Word of God? Third, did the events described actually happen?
Partly, I am simply going to shrug my shoulders at this problem. There are a lot of opinions out there, but it is hard to prove anything. This does not mean that I do not care whether this is the Word of God or not. It simply means that I am not God and cannot tell you what is hidden from human knowledge.
But I can say that there is nothing in this passage that goes against Christian doctrine. There is nothing here that appears inaccurate. In other words, nothing at the end of Mark sixteen contradicts the other Gospels.
Can we trust this Holy Gospel? Sure we can. Even if it was not written by Mark, it was written by somebody in the early church who did not introduce new and strange doctrines in this text.
Doctor Luther and the Lutheran Church have endorsed this passage, at least to some extent. The Small Catechism says, “What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. Which are these words and promises of God? Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.’” This is a quote from Mark 16:16, which is part of our Reading this evening. Luther, and our church that subscribes to these words, hold that Christ indeed spoke those words. But even if He did not, those words are not contrary to the Biblical teaching on Baptism. There are other passages that describe the benefits that Baptism gives. We are not inventing a doctrine out of a disputed passage.
So we can depend on these words, whatever our opinion of their origin or status.
What do these words tell us tonight? That the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.
From this we can learn that our Lord Jesus is not like other people who were raised from the dead. They did not sit down at the right hand in glory, which is to fill all of heaven and earth at the highest place of favor and authority. Christ rose and was triumphant in every way.
So we shall be triumphant on the Last Day. We will sit in glory and be raised in immortal bodies. We will not fill all things as Christ does. Yet we will enjoy the full favor and blessing of God.
The Lord Jesus is not distant or disinterested in His Church. No, as the next verse says, He has been working with His disciples. He openly showed that He was with the disciples by miraculous signs. Yet He also works with the Gospel wherever it is preached purely. He works with it by sending His Spirit who bestows faith and salvation when and where it pleases Him.
So the One who is most of all working to build the Church is not us. The One who works mightily is Christ with His Spirit, and therefore also the heavenly Father who sent and approves of His Beloved Son. As in Baptism, when the Triune Name is placed upon us, so also in our worship. All is done in the Name of God who is one and three. If it is in His Name, then it is by His power and authority. He is the One who does it, whoever’s earthly hands may pour the water or hold out the wafer and chalice. Whoever’s tongue is proclaiming the Gospel, the voice you hear is Christ’s.
What great comfort! The Lord Christ has not left us alone as if we were abandoned orphans. If left to ourselves, our natural unbelief would try to reject the promises of God. Indeed, the disciples who heard Christ in the flesh speak for some three years did not at first believe the resurrection message because of their hardness of heart. If they could do that, then surely we also can stumble and fall.
But Christ knows our weakness and helps us. He is ascended, and therefore fills heaven and earth so that He can help us lowly sinners.
He also is able to help us in His Body and Blood. Since He is not trapped in heaven, unable to get to earth, then He is able to provide His Body and Blood for forgiveness and strengthening of faith. Here the glorious ascended Christ will sit upon this altar for our sake.
The Lord work in us to believe His promises through His Gospel. Amen.
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