Saturday 12th March 2022

MARK 16 (“The Amazing Jesus”):

Possibly the most studied chapter in the New Testament – but not for the reasons you might expect!  When theologians are chatting over their pre-dinner drinks, the conversation may drift to “What do you think about the ending of Mark’s gospel, then?”.  All reliable manuscripts have verses 1 to 8, but then the differences appear: most end at verse 8: “…They went out and fled from the tomb for trembling and astonishment had gripped them and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.”

Verses 9-20 (which are usually found in italics in modern bibles) come across in a very different style, they sound rushed and even ‘clunky’ in a way that is very different from Mark’s concise detail.  These verses skim the surface and appear to be ‘lifted’ in chunks from the other three gospels.  They have the feel of an ending that was quickly knocked together to ‘fill the gaps’, in the opinion of the church of the day.

For example, verse 9 doesn’t really link to verse 8.  A masculine pronoun ‘He’ begins the verse, even though the last people to be reference in verse eight were the women – we have to infer that the writer means ‘Jesus’.  Then, Mary Magdalene is introduced as though it was the first time that we have met her.  We have a collection of verses that sound like parts of the endings of Matthew, Luke, and John’s gospels.  The vocabulary is found nowhere else in Mark (at least 18 words, apparently).  Some of the theology concerning snakes and poison is obscure, to say the least!

Scholars have debated the existence of a missing ending to Mark’s gospel – although nothing has ever been reported or commented upon by any of the ‘Church Fathers’ of the day.  Perhaps Mark intended his gospel to end at verse 8, just as abruptly as it began – have another look at Mark 1:1.

I read a very informative and persuasive article by John MacArthur of ‘Grace Ministries’, which makes a strong case for verse 8 being the true and original ending by Mark.  MacArthur’s sermon is also a comprehensive review of the incredible confidence we can have in the reliability of scripture and its historical accuracy.  Give it a read!  https://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/41-85/the-fitting-end-to-marks-gospel .  You can also download a .PDF of the transcript from:  https://1drv.ms/b/s!AqmXwc9NXEEFgcpJpdTXIjf_MpCEzA?e=SXqj5T

MacArthur makes the point: “But there’s something else here that strikes me.  The last word that Mark wrote was the word “afraid, fear”.  That’s kind of a key.  They were afraid.  Not in the sense that they were afraid for their lives, or they were afraid of being harmed or that they were in danger.  This is the word ‘phobeo’ from which we get phobia, which means an irrational experience.  They’re literally experiencing bewilderment, amazement, astonishment, wonder.  There are no human explanations.  This thing ends in wonder”.

He adds: “Could I retitle this book ‘The Amazing Jesus’?  What else do you expect Mark to say to finish than that the women fled trembling, and astonishment gripped them, and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid?”  This is absolutely consistent with how Mark ends everything.  This is his pattern, and this is the most amazing thing of all.  He’s used this all the way along to punctuate absolutely everything.  And he moves from one point of amazement to the next.  So, it ends where it ought to end.  It’s not incomplete.  It ends where he loves to end.  It ends with amazement and wonder at the resurrection.

“Are you amazed?  I’ve been amazed since we started this thing. I’ve been amazed for 43 years.  The story of Jesus is amazing.  Isn’t every lesson amazing?  Isn’t every word in the gospel of Mark amazing?  Isn’t every miracle amazing?  Isn’t every confrontation amazing?  Isn’t every insight amazing?  Isn’t everything about him stunning and overwhelming and why not end it all with the glory and wonder of the resurrection that proves he is the Son of God and we all walk away in amazement?”  (John MacArthur, Grace Ministries)

I agree with MacArthur in his conclusions.  We have The Amazing Jesus to deal with in our own lives.  Are we sufficiently amazed today?  This Jesus, who was crucified to death is now alive and lives forever!  He is risen!  He is ‘going ahead of us, into Galilee’.  For the apostles, that was their home region of Israel.  Perhaps the take-home message of Mark for us today is that we will meet Jesus in our hometowns, our local streets, our own households, and our birthplaces.  He will meet us there and stay with us and together we will make a difference!

LEVITICUS 26 and 27

If you were a gambler, living at the time that Leviticus 26 was written, and you wanted to place a substantial wager on whether or not Israel would obey the Lord and keep his covenant or disobey him and rebel… you might want to count up the number of verses promising rewards for obedience (13) compared with the number of verses promising punishments for disobedience (33).  No contest!  By keeping God’s covenant, Israel was promised sufficient rain and abundant harvests, peace and protection in the land, blessings in marriage and children, and the presence of the Lord in their midst at all times.  This was Plan ‘A’.

The punishments for disobedience came in ‘waves’:  Diseases, famines, fear, invasion, and captivity by enemy nations; attack and infestation by animals and insects; ruined cities, desolation and death.  The fortunate ones, the survivors, would be taken a great distance in captivity to a foreign land.  Knowing that Israel would always choose Plan ‘B’, in his mercy, the Lord made provision for repentance and confession of sins to bring restoration of the covenant and resettlement of the nation.  The duration of that exile was for seventy years exactly and was timed to match the exact number of Sabbath Years that should have occurred – but didn’t – in the preceding 490 years of Israel’s rebellion.  In the end, God gets his way!

If the majority of Leviticus is concerned with the compulsory offerings from Israel to God, the final chapter mainly describes the giving of freewill gifts, over and above the minimum.  A person could be dedicated to the Lord by giving a monetary amount equivalent to the notional ‘value’ set by the priest.  For example, the value of an able-bodied male was about three months’ salary for an agricultural labourer.  The poor were not excluded from making such an offering of themselves, since the priest was authorised to set a much lower value relative to the person’s income.

Animals (of good quality), houses, land and precious things could all be dedicated to the Lord – and could also be ‘redeemed’ (purchased back) at the same value plus 20%.  The only things that could not be dedicated were the firstborn, since they legally belonged to the Lord already!

An even more permanent form of giving was by devoting something to the Lord – this meant handing it over for ever and for such use that it could never be used in an every-day way again.  Sometimes, during the campaign to occupy Canaan, the Lord demanded that whole cities of Canaanites be devoted to him – which essentially meant to be killed without mercy or exception.  Failure to do this – or an attempt to steal a devoted item – was punishable by death.  It was the reason that Israel met defeat in battle in those early years, and the reason that those guilty were judicially executed.  (See the first few chapters of the Book of Joshua.)

Finally, the Tithe (or ‘Tenth’): this, for Israel, was compulsory and was probably three tithes in some years.  The first was the regular annual tithe paid to the Levites (see Numbers 18:21) who in turn paid a tenth of that to the priests.  The second was another annual tithe devoted to a huge annual meal and party that included the People who gave what was offered and also the Levites (Deuteronomy 14:22-27).  The third was paid every three years and was given to the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).  Giving is always of benefit to both the recipient and the giver.  Generous giving is a powerful antidote to materialism and provides opportunities for faith and a change of heart.  Perhaps we should adopt the same approach in our giving today: some to the church to enable bills to be met and the full-time workers to be paid a generous living wage; some for mission, celebration and festivals; and certainly some to meet the needs of the poor – who will always be among us.  “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse… Test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” the Lord says to us.  “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also!” 

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