Welcome to Becomning Closer! 


Good News

Mark 16:12 -- 20

We come to the end of Mark’s Gospel. This is the 27th lesson in the series – and even at that it seems to be too soon to leave. But endings often have lessons of their own, as we shall see:

12Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

14Later 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.

15He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18they 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.”

19After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

The Rebuke

It is well known to those who follow Christ: he whom Christ loves, Christ disciplines and rebukes.[1] Often we resent the discipline and ignore the rebuke. But as we shall see, we are not the ones in control.

  • Our Lord rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith. Not for the first time, his love for his own causes him to point out their failure. We may not like it – but it is a sign of his love.[2]
  • Mark expresses it this way: “stubborn refusal.” The problem is not the disciples unwillingness to change; it’s their stubbornness. Sometimes stupidity becomes a matter of principle.
  • But see that even in this grave matter, Christ brings a greater good out of evil. Had the disciples been quick to believe, we might wonder about the truth of the resurrection. They too would benefit; they would not say, “I must be in great favor with God; I saw the resurrected Lord.” Every time the words would form in their mouths, they would have to remember how stubbornly they refused to believe.

“They should have known better.” Yes, it looks so simple from this side of the resurrection. It is a lesson in human nature; even after three years with Jesus, faith was still hard to come by.

The Great Commission

Mark’s version of the great commission is somewhat different than other writers. We need to remember that exact quotation may not be implied here. As usual, Mark gets down to the basics quickly.

The basics – Who? Where? What?

The disciples are told to preach the Gospel. We often use the word “share” today, but the command is “preach.” The Greek word might also be translated “herald.” To put it shortly, they are to go out and in as public a place as they may find they are to tell the world about Jesus Christ.

  • To whom? To all the world. The Greek word used here is ethnos, which can also be translated tribe. It is the root word of our word “ethnic”. Some hold that until every tribe hears the word, Christ will not come. Who can say? But one thing is certain: the church is to carry the message to all.
  • Where? In our age of air travel it is easy to say, “the whole world.” But look at it from a first century perspective. The Roman empire was huge enough – so the task looked impossible. But Christ provides even for that; miraculous signs to authenticate the heralds of the Gospel.
  • What? Ah, now that is a troublesome question. Just exactly are we supposed to preach? Here it is called “good news.” Often in the Scripture we see the phrase, “the good news of the kingdom.” We are to preach the kingdom of God – not our own interpretation of it.
Steps in the process

If you’d like to start a rousing argument, get a bunch of evangelicals from different church names and ask them to lay out the minimum requirements for salvation. You won’t have to wait long for the sparks.

  • Here, Mark gives us two criteria: belief and baptism. Belief we must understand in the active sense (believe and do) as opposed to the intellectual sense (believe alone). Baptism is the initiation rite of all Christians.
  • But what about the other steps? Where’s repentance? Where’s confession? Surely these are required, and various groups will come forward with selected passages. Surely one thing is clear: this is not clear.
  • This points up the problem. There is no one passage of Scripture which lays out the complete process of salvation. There may be a reason for that: perhaps it cannot be pigeon-holed into a process. Perhaps we’re not dealing with a process, but a Person.
What about Aunt Tillie?

I suspect each of us, if we looked hard enough, could find an Aunt Tillie in our family tree. Aunt Tillie (God rest her soul) was a devout and faithful Christian, evidenced by her piety and good works. Unfortunately for either us or Aunt Tillie, she was in the wrong congregation. Alas, she was sprinkled, or she was baptized as an infant and confirmed. So the question arises, “Is Aunt Tillie in heaven?”

There are two questions confused in that:

  1. What is the minimum that a man must do to be saved?
  2. Is the specific person (Tillie) in heaven?

You can see how the answer to the second would limit or expand the answer to the first. If Tillie is in heaven, even though she was sprinkled, then sprinkling is OK with Christ, right?

Wrong. If you want the right answers, you have to ask the right questions. If you ask the minimum a man can do, you asked the wrong question. What’s the right question? “What must I do?”[3]

Mark in this passage gives us two “must do” things.

  1. Believe. Do not ask “believe what?” if you are looking for the minimum.
  2. Be baptized. This is the greatest change in life a man can make; surely it should be marked in time. This is that marker.

The Ascension

No fact in Scripture provides greater evidence of the Resurrection than the change in the disciples. In a very short time they went from fear to boldness, and then turned the world upside down.

But the Resurrection brings with it a problem. The church has always taught that Christ was raised in a physical body. Indeed, the body in question is somehow connected with the body laid in the tomb. And that poses a problem.

If the Risen Lord were some form of ghost he could fade in and out of the story of the church. But Jesus has a body, and if He leaves, the body leaves. Jesus must leave so that the Holy Spirit will come. But how to do it?

Human beings need to mark such things. We have funerals. Funerals are not for the dead but the living. They help the living mark and go through the transition in life. Such a transition – though completely joyful – happens here. If you have a body, and you’re leaving, you have to go someplace.

Where then? To sit at the right hand of God.

  • “Seated” implies that he is equal with God the Father. Even today it is impolite to sit in the presence of royalty without specific command.
  • “Right hand” implies that he is first in importance in the kingdom. We still use the phrase “right hand man.”
  • But not forever; for he is returning in similar manner.
Gone – but not gone

His body is gone, but his body is still here. That body is the church, the visible presence of Christ on earth. We are his body; therefore we must perform his tasks.

  • As He preached the good news of the kingdom, so must we.
  • He did works of healing and feeding the poor; so must we.
  • In short, our lives are to be lived in “the imitation of Christ.”[4]

You’ll notice that nowhere in this lesson have we said, “Just exactly what is the good news?” That’s a question that has pushed many a debate. But may I share with you one of the better answers? It comes from Dorothy Sayers:

“The right Faith is, that we believe that Jesus Christ is God and Man. Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.” There is the essential doctrine, of which the whole elaborate structure of Christian faith and morals is only the logical consequence.

Now, we may call that doctrine exhilarating or we may call it devastating; we may call it revelation or we may call it rubbish; but if we call it dull then words have no meaning at all. That God should play the tyrant over man is a dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find Him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed. Any journalist, hearing it for the first time, would recognize it as news, and good news at that; though we are apt to forget that the word Gospel ever meant anything so sensational.

Perhaps the drama is played out now, and Jesus is safely dead and buried. Perhaps. It is ironical and entertaining to consider that once at least in the world’s history those words might have been spoken with complete conviction, and that was upon the eve of the Resurrection.


[1] Revelation 3:19

[2] A personal note: My right eye does not function correctly. From the circumstances I have inferred this is God disciplining me. The eye patch that stares back at me from the mirror is a reminder, both of my sins and his love.

[3] OK, so you’re worried about Aunt Tillie. Just remember: she is now God’s problem. He needs no assistance from you. Admission to the Kingdom is personal – and the person you need to know is Jesus, the Christ.

[4] And for those of you who’ve never heard the phrase, you should know WWJD – what would Jesus do?

Previous     Home