Whoever Believes

Key Texts:  Mark 16:9-18

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.  She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.  When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

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

 Later 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.

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

These verses are more than a little controversial.

  • Some take issue with the fact that Mary Magdalene was possessed by demons, no fewer than seven as a matter of fact, and that Jesus exorcised them.
  • Some take issue with the fact that it says the risen Jesus rebuked the Eleven for their lack of faith, preferring the accounts of Jesus appearing that feature his more compassionate greeting of “Peace be with you.”
  • Some think Jesus little commissioning speech sounds too canned; too rehearsed – like something written by a preacher years after the fact rather than the spontaneous words of the risen Lord shortly after his resurrection.
  • Some are quick to point out that the “oldest and best” manuscripts don’t even have these verses. Perhaps there was some editing done – but, as Biblical Scholar William Barclay said, surely Mark could not have attended for his gospel to end at verse 8 – with everyone being stuck in fearful paralysis.  This begs the question then: even if added later, does it mean the added verses are untrue, or simply replacing something that had been lost in the earlier manuscripts?

As I said, these verses are more than a little controversial.

Controversy aside, though, what can we take from the heart of what they have to say?

I believe it is this – a believing faith is a powerful, and essential, thing.

Lack of faith isn’t just a problem – it’s right up there with demon possession and snakebite and deadly poison.

Christ followers are called – commissioned – to go not just where it is comfortable, not just where it is safe, not just where it is politically correct, not just where their message will be welcomed – but into all the world.

They are to take a belief in Christ that is radical and affirming and risky to share.

That is, if they expect to change the world with it.

The end of Mark’s gospel is filled with controversy but not just because there are questions about who wrote it and why.

It is filled with controversy because it dares to say to a broken, fallen world: Christ is real and He needs to be taken seriously.  More than that, it proclaims that whoever believes in Christ will triumph over death itself – just as He did.

Now that’s what I call a controversial idea.

By Paul Simrell

The Reverend Paul W. Simrell has served for over thirty years in a variety of congregational and institutional settings. He is a recognized minister with standing in the Virginia region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada and is nationally endorsed by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for specialized ministry in both pastoral counseling and chaplaincy. Ordained in 1982, he has served congregations in Kentucky, Texas, Florida, and Virginia. He currently serves as the pastor of Elpis Christian Church, a small, historic congregation located just a few miles west of Richmond, Virginia. Elpis is the Greek word meaning “expectant hope.” He also serves on the associate clinical staff of the Virginia Institute of Pastoral Care, Richmond, Virginia, both as a pastoral counselor and a ministerial assessment specialist, specializing in executive, clergy and relationship coaching. He is a graduate of the University of Florida and Lexington Theological Seminary and has done advanced clinical training in chaplaincy and pastoral counseling at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky, Children’s Medical Center and Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas and the Virginia Institute of Pastoral Care in Richmond, Virginia. He is a Certified Pastoral Counselor, an ACPE Practitioner, and a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. He is a Certified Facilitator of the Prepare-Enrich relationship assessment and skills-building program and served as a volunteer chaplain for over twenty years with the CJW Medical Center campuses in Richmond, Virginia. His avocational interests include playing the piano and drawing. He is very happily married to his wife Elizabeth Yeamans Simrell, a free-lance writer, who is also a Certified Facilitator for the Prepare-Enrich program. Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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