Who Do We Say that He Is?

Mark 16:1-8; 8:29

Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015

Do you know what the books Wuthering Heights, Little Women, Great Expectations, Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows all have in common with each other? All five are books that have appeared on a recent list of great books with terrible endings. In both lists, one published in The Atlantic Monthly Magazine and the other from The Huffington Post, a total of eighteen books were discussed that by and large were all widely liked and well loved but all of which had a fatal flaw – all, again, were deemed to have terrible endings.

I bring this up because among the four gospels, the one with the ending that we don’t like is without question the gospel of Mark which is our text for today. While most of our Bibles include a shorter and a longer ending to Mark 16 which carries the chapter from verse 8 through verse 20; in all likelihood, your Bible, like mine, also has a note at the bottom that points out that the oldest versions of Mark end with verse 8 where we ended our reading early today.

What most folks don’t like about this is very simple – ending with Mark 16 verse 8 means that while Mark gives us the good news of an empty tomb, it also leaves us without having experienced the story of the resurrected Jesus that we learn about in Matthew, Luke and John.

This makes Mark different, unique, and for some, troubling. But personally, I think this makes Mark challenging and in turn it allows Mark to offer us a very different perspective. What Mark reminds us of is the fact that ultimately trusting in Jesus requires a personal decision. It requires a decision of faith.

On that first Easter Sunday, the women went to the tomb and they found it empty. We know what conclusion they came to – they came to believe that Jesus was alive, that he was the son of God, the he had without question overcome death itself and the other three gospels share with us that they saw him face to face over the next 40 days.

But, the empty tomb of Mark also begs a question of us. What do we say happened on that fateful Sunday morning? Who do we say that he was?

Last Fall here at First Baptist, we spent four weeks studying the history of Baptists. As we did, we talked about the fact that we as Baptists emphasize the fact that everyone must make a decision for themselves as to who Jesus is. No one else can make this decision for us – our parents can’t, our spouse can’t, our friends can’t. In light of Mark 8:29, we must declare who we say that he is. We must answer the question, and in fact, not to answer it or to put it off is most certainly to answer. The women said what they mad of the empty tomb and we must declare what we make of it too.

That’s not all however. The ending of Mark not only invites us to declare what we make of the empty tomb but it also invites us to finish the story of the empty tomb. Here is what I mean.

When I was a boy, from the time I was twelve until the time I was 18, I spent every summer and every long break from school for Christmas or Spring Break helping out at our family business. We had a pharmaceutical business with a huge warehouse in the back. They was always a truck to unload, local deliveries to make, office to clean, a yard to mow or a delivery truck to wash. If there were child labor laws at the time in Alabama, my father was unfamiliar with them. We lived on a 40 acre farm about 30 minutes from the offices. So, the day also included a nice drive to and from work with dad.

His radio in those days only picked up one station, WDRM, a country station from Decatur, Alabama. Though I hated country music at 12, I learned to like it by 18. I also had leaned to like the daily visit on the radio from Paul Harvey and his unusual news stories. But, of course, the best part of Paul Harvey was the daily yarn about some obscure aspect from a famous person’s life. Almost always, it was a story about a famous person that added a dimension to their live that you had been unaware of before. As the piece ended, Paul Harvey always said, “and now you know the rest of the story”.

So, let me make the connection right here between Mark’s strange ending and this old tag line from Paul Harvey.

I think Mark’s ending with an unfinished and unresolved Easter story is a perfect theological point – for now, we must not only answer the question of who he was and is for ourselves but with our words and with our lives, we must provide the rest of the story to the world.

On the one hand, we must provide the rest of the story with our words. We must have the courage to honestly say who Jesus is for us and who he can be for others. We must have the willingness to speak when the world is silent. We must have the desire to finish the story when those around don’t know it, don’t know what it means or don’t know what to do with Jesus. In 2015, the world needs believers willing to speak and unafraid to give the rest of the story that started on that first Easter. After all, as the old quote says, “history will have to record that the greatest tragedy…” was not “the strident clamor of bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people…” (Martin Luther King Jr)

On the other hand, we must also provide the rest of the story with the actions of our lives. I am not sure that it is always true to say that actions speak louder than words. No, sometimes words are quite powerful and needed as has already been stated. But, if we are believers, I do think we must question the authenticity of our words or the ultimate effectiveness of our words over the long haul if we are not also finishing the story with our lives. Without question, our priorities tell the rest of the story. Our decisions tell the rest of the story. Our attitude tells the rest of the story. Our hope in the midst of despair tells the rest of the story. Our care for one another tells the rest of the story. We indeed have a story to finish and we must finish it with our lives!

And yet, thanks be to God that in a world where so many people are simply looking for meaning and for a reason to be – we are given the chance to have a purpose, to have meaning, to have a story that we have the privilege and honor of helping to tell.

A few weeks ago, Tommy, Phillip Dean and I visited a community in Texas where we are hoping to offer a mission trip later this year. The day we visited happened to be Dr Seuss Day and so we went with the Superintendent to visit two classrooms. The Superintendent picked up a copy of the book “Horton Hears a Who” and read it to the class. He did so with voice changes, sound effects and great gusto. The children seemed to really love it. When he finished, he looked at the boys and girls, and then over to thr three of us and said, “now that I have read you a story, my friends are going to do the same.” Having started the story telling session, he left the ending to us. The Gospel of Mark on Easter does the same. Mark takes us all the way to the empty tomb and then stops. Then Mark looks at us and says, “now you, as believers today, finish the story, this resurrection story, with your own words and with your own lives.”

Paul Harvey said “and now you know the rest of the story…” Mark spins it this way, “and now your know how the rest of the story is to be told…” Amen.