I think that the Gospel according to Mark has a wonderfully appropriate ending. The last verse of the text for Easter Sunday—and of the entire account—goes this way (in the ESV): ‘And they [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’
If you take the Gospel according to Mark as a whole, it is certainly an appropriate ending. The beginning of this account was just as abrupt.
Jesus had already grown up; there are just a few verses about John the Baptist and his immense popularity. When Jesus shows up, the heavens are ripped open, and he is called God’s Son. I think that even more important is the fact that Jesus starts to tell people to repent and believe in the gospel.
This is an extremely early quotation of what Jesus said. It is important to note that the word ‘gospel’ is extremely important to him.
The first verse of the entire account states that this is the BEGINNING of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is certainly not the end.
When this gospel account is in its normal spot as the second of the four accounts, this short ending is certainly appropriate. In some manuscripts, though, this gospel account is the last of the four.
With this account as the last of the four, the two apostles who wrote are first (Matthew and John), and then the two secretaries who wrote are second (Luke and Mark). Also, the longer account is put first, and that is the normal ordering as well for that time period.
Having the four accounts ordered in such a way makes some sense. It focuses your attention more on the reliability of the work as a whole. And it also makes some sense to have, at the end of such a massive work, a better ending than the women leaving the tomb and not saying anything to anyone.
The ending that appears in some manuscripts, 16:9-20, has components from the other gospel accounts, and that is okay as well. I would encourage you not to think of these four accounts as written by four people in four different areas throughout the Roman Empire to be read in front of four different churches.
The four different accounts are meant to be four different perspectives of an extremely gracious God. And THAT is a good point to end on for ANY Sunday of the year.
The Gospel text for this Sunday, Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion, is a huge one—essentially chapters 14 and 15 of the Gospel according to Mark. It is like going into one of those Global Market stores and seeing various foods from all over the world (It just so happened that I did that today). Which ones should be my focus this time? Which one is going to be the best? (In some way, they all became famous enough to make it there!)
Unfortunately some people have the idea that the Gospel according to Mark is early and basic, that the more interesting details were added later. Voelz, in his Concordia Commentary, differs from this view significantly. Yes, when a message is just starting out, it may tend to be shorter. But also when a critical event happens, in an emergency, then a message also tends to be significantly shorter. When time is important, you say what is important.
There has been a significant amount of attention given to something unique to this account—that a young man who has been following Jesus into the Garden of Gethsemane, when grabbed by the authorities, runs away, leaving his ‘linen garment’ (14:51-52).
Some people think that this is Mark. That would make sense. But rather than going in the direction of source—who this young man is, I would rather go in the direction of deity—now what does this mean for Jesus, the so-called ‘Son of God’?
This young man in Mark 14 has been compared to the young man in Mark 16 who appears at Jesus’ tomb (on his right, interestingly enough) and tells the women what happened to him. But the one in the tomb has on a white robe.
One other person has on the same ‘linen garment’; it is Jesus, and he was wrapped in it after he died.
It is interesting that he is called a corpse at that time. But that will only be true for a very short time.
Both men are seized; both men are wrapped in a ‘linen garment’, and both men escape. There is too much in common to be a coincidence.
The act of being seized—and the basic word used here means ‘strength’—is a significant one. Jesus has acted like the second living creature, the lion, pretty much all through this account. Now his enemies have shown some strength and fought back, but, ultimately, they fail. And now Jesus has the upper hand—quite literally, if you think about it.
The Gospel for this Sunday is the request of James and John to sit at Jesus’ right and left (Mark 10:35-45). This text comes right after the third and final Passion prediction. And it shows how different Jesus’ kingdom is to ours, how different his definition of glory is.
Those two words, ‘kingdom’ and ‘glory’, are the words the disciples use to describe what they think should be ahead for Jesus. Matthew records the word ‘kingdom’, and Mark, the word ‘glory’. That is not surprising since, when considering the four living creatures and their connections to the four accounts, Matthew is connected to a man—someone who can have a kingdom—and Mark is connection to a lion—an animal that has a high amount of respect when it comes to fighting. It is also not surprising that, in Matthew, the mother of James and John come with the question, and, in Mark, these ‘sons of thunder (Mark 3:17)’ are described as coming on their own.
What I really liked when I compared Matthew and Mark’s rendering is that Mark uses a word that Matthew is quite fond of. It’s found many times in Matthew but only two in Mark. It is the word for ‘to think’ or ‘to suppose’. In Mark 6 the disciples thought that Jesus was a ghost, a phantasm. And, in Mark 10:42, there are those who are thinking or supposing to rule.
The ESV translates this phrase as, ‘…those who are considered rulers….’ And I think that is an okay translation. A king or a queen may THINK that he or she is in power, but it is really the Lord who rules.
I would like to ‘switch gears’ at this time to give you another example of this. I like this example because, at first glance, it is one of the most boring chapters in the entire bible. Genesis 14 mentions a bunch of kings, and then it talks about how Abram (eventually his name is Abraham) saves Lot and his stuff because he was captured by some of those kings.
You might want to read the chapter at this point, but here are some of my observations about the text. It seems like the kings are going out by themselves to fight. Of course their armies are doing most of the work. With this perspective, the kings are seen as powerful people. And, in contrast to these kings (the title of which has not been mentioned in the previous chapters), Abraham is called a ‘Hebrew’ (and this is for the very first time).
The word ‘Hebrew’ is very close to the verb, ‘to cross over’. Abraham follows the promise that God made to him. He is different from the rest. He is different from the other kings.
The real king is God, and this is clearer in what is said about ‘God Most High’ at the end of the account. He is called the ‘Possessor’ of heaven and earth two separate times (Genesis 14:19, 22). This is the same word that Eve uses to name her son Cain when she says, ‘I have gotten a man….’ And this is also the word used when someone buys something. This refers to something that is REALLY yours.
God already possesses whatever we buy. God already has whatever we think we have. God rules over everybody who thinks that they rule. And Jesus is headed in a certain direction, with certain people on his right and his left, to rule over sin, death, and the devil—for all people, for all time.
The context of a text is usually an important thing. And usually it is overlooked when looking at a Sunday reading.
The Gospel text for this Sunday contains, I would say, the most well-known verse in the bible—John 3:16. So it is important to get the context for such an important verse.
Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, an important man among the Jews. And it is also important to note that Jesus is talking to Nicodemus in a way that is confusing him.
It may be helpful to note that Nicodemus, when he begins the conversation with Jesus, talks about how he is a teacher from God and that God is with him. Jesus begins the conversation with Nicodemus about what he needs while here on earth (John 3:3; ‘…unless anyone is born from above/again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’).
Nicodemus wants to connect Jesus to God, and Jesus wants to connect Nicodemus to God’s kingdom. There is a significant difference between those two things.
When God shows up, THAT is a significant event. Usually the subject switches to fear. When God’s kingdom shows up, that is also a significant event. But the subject can more easily focus on love.
I found a unique phrase within the first words of the text, that ‘whoever believes in [Jesus] may have eternal life (3:15).’ The word ‘believe’ usually (I have been told it happens 34 other times this way!) is connected to the preposition ‘into’ and not ‘in’.
The word ‘into’ strikes me as more complete, more certain, and more caring. Some manuscripts actually have the preposition ‘into’ instead of ‘in’ here because it is so frequently used.
But I can see a case for the preposition ‘in’ here. Jesus just described Moses lifting up the snake IN the wilderness, and Jesus compared himself to that snake. And, if you want to follow the strongest evidence (and, admittedly, the ESV has unfortunately not chosen to do so), Jesus, just before this verse—and this text—described himself as ‘the Son of Man WHO IS IN HEAVEN.’ (See the footnote to John 3:13 that might be in your bible.)
I see a wonderful contrast here. Jesus has said that he is not only sitting there, talking to Nicodemus, but that he, being fully God, is also in heaven. He has also connected himself to being in a wilderness.
Wherever Jesus is, that is a place where he can be believed ‘in’. And whether you feel like you are in heaven or in a wilderness, Jesus is there, and his gifts are ready to be given out in a kind and loving way.
The Gospel text for this Sunday (John 2:13-22) jumps to the Gospel according to John, and that usually means a jump into very deep water. The words are relatively simple, the points are relatively straightforward, but some of the things mentioned within the text are simply huge.
The text is Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, and that is a big topic in itself. The first few verses describe the situation. At a midway point (v. 17), there is a remembrance of the disciples (an interesting structure to this text is that, at the end of this section, there is another remembrance). Both the Jews and Jesus have an ‘answer’ to the situation, and both groups also have something to ‘speak’. The grammatical way both these groups are set up, there is a strong contrast between the two.
In verse 21, the translation usually says something like, ‘But he [Jesus] was speaking about the temple of his body.’ A more literal translation would be, ‘But that one was speaking about the temple of his body.’ I hope you notice the difference.
It almost seems disrespectful to call a person ‘that one’, but the writer wants to set up a contrast between the two groups, the two sides. This setup can also be seen in a very early Christian document called ‘The Didache (did-ah-kay’)’, literally, the teaching.
Without some context, it would be easy to say that, if there are two choices, two roads, two groups, then it is up to a person to pick the right one. But this gospel account DOES have a context. And the first three accounts do fit very well together with this fourth one, although this one is significantly different.
Jesus is so much the center of ALL these accounts. And it should be argued that the so-called Acts of the Apostles also focuses on what God does … through these particular people.
A reminder of this emphasis is in the ‘extra’ verses that could be read on this Sunday as well, from John 2:23-25: ‘Now when [Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.’
Believing in Jesus is not about us. The way faith is used in scripture, it is about receiving a gift. The Church is about Jesus as well. After all, it is HIS body.
What is ‘in man’ is not worth talking about. More important is that we, the Church, are ‘in Christ’.