John the Baptist appears around the Jordan river, telling people they need to repent of their sins, baptizing them in the river as a sign that they intend to do so. And he has another message. Someone else is coming, he says, someone much greater than he. This other person will baptize not with water, but with the Holy Spirit, the sure sign and seal that God has touched their lives.
Jesus shows up and is baptized by John. As he is coming up out of the water he sees the Spirit descending on him, and there is a voice saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus then spends forty days in the wilderness, where he is tempted.
He next comes to Galilee and proclaims, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” He calls people to follow him, to become his disciples, and they respond. He teaches in the synagogues and people are “astounded” at the way he teaches, at what he says about the Bible. He comes across as having authority, as one who speaks from both the mind and the heart.
Along the way, as he travels, he heals people, a man possessed with unclean spirits, a woman with a fever, someone with the dreaded condition of leprosy, a paralyzed man, a man who was blind, a man with a withered hand. He even brings the daughter of a man named Jairus back to life. Interestingly, although none of the people around Jesus know his true identity, the demons know him. Because they are spirits, they recognize him as someone possessed by the Holy Spirit, which is opposed to the destruction they bring into people’s lives.
He becomes known as someone who eats with tax collectors and sinners. As it is today, in that time and place you are known by the company you keep. And in that day no one likes tax collectors, because they work for the Romans, who have conquered and are in control of Israel. So the so-called righteous people, religious leaders of the day, point their fingers at Jesus and say, “Look at this guy. He claims to speak for God, and yet he is buddy-buddy with these terrible people.” Jesus responds, “Hey, if you’re not sick you don’t need a doctor. My job is to call sinners back to the ways of God. So you go do your thing and I’ll do mine.”
The religious leaders don’t like that answer. They keep an eye on Jesus, and jump on him every chance they get. They don’t like that he’s attracting big crowds with his teaching that God cares more about how people treat each other than the proper way to wash your pots and pans and what your hair is supposed to look like; all those picky little things the scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees think are important. Eventually those folks say, “We’ve had enough of this Jesus guy. We have to find to find a way to get rid of him once and for all.”
Jesus teaches in parables, little stories about commonplace things. He says suppose a man goes out and sows seed, and some of it falls on the path and is eaten by the birds. Some falls on rocky ground, and it comes up, but can’t survive in the rocky soil. Some falls among thorns, and the thorns choke it out. But some falls on good soil, and the seed produces abundant crops. His disciples ask him about this parable, and he says it’s about people hearing the good news. Sometimes it falls on deaf ears. Sometimes people hear and say they believe, but they don’t last, for various reasons. But sometimes it takes deep root, and when that happens, their lives are never the same.
One time Jesus and his disciples are in a boat on a lake, and a huge storm comes up. The disciples are scared out of their minds, and they wake up Jesus and say, “We’re all about to die!” But Jesus calms the storm and says, “What’s the big deal? How come you were afraid?” Another time he feeds five thousand people using just a few fish and a few loaves of bread. Another time the disciples are in a boat and Jesus comes to them, walking on the water. People are amazed at his powers. But they still don’t recognize him as the Messiah, the Son of God. Finally, Peter says, “Yep, you’re the Messiah alright.” But right after that Peter shows that he doesn’t really know what that means.
Every now and then Jesus says to the twelve, “I’m going to have to undergo great suffering. I’m going to be put to death. But after three days, I will rise again.” But they didn’t understand.
One time he takes Peter, James and John with him up a mountain, and amazing things happen. Moses and Elijah appear. There’s a voice which says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” But Jesus orders the three not to tell anyone what they have experienced until after he has risen from the dead.
Another time people are bringing children to him. Children are not considered to be very valuable or important in that day, and the disciples try to stop the people from bringing them. But Jesus says, “Children are valuable! God loves the little children. All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in my sight. I love the little children of the world.”
It comes time for Jesus and his disciples to go to Jerusalem. So he tells a couple of them to go into a village and get a colt. They do, and he rides into the city on it. People are all excited and they shout things like “Hosanna!”, which means, “God save us!” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” But Jesus knows that before long, people will be shouting something very different, something like “Crucify him!”
One time one of the learned religious guys comes and asks Jesus, “So…there are all these commandments in the Bible. Which one is the most important?” Jesus says, “Well, there are two. Love God with everything you have, and love other people at least as much as you love yourself.”
Then, sure enough, the religious leaders find a way to convince the Roman authorities to have Jesus crucified. Along the way he is beaten and mocked. All of the twelve are in hiding, but a few of the women who have followed him watch from a distance. It’s Friday, the day the Sabbath begins, and his body is put in a tomb.
Because he is put in the tomb late on Friday, Sunday morning is the first opportunity for the women to go and properly prepare his body for burial. That’s because such work is not allowed on the Sabbath, which is sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. But when they get there, instead of a dead body, there is a young man in a white robe sitting in the open tomb. He says, “Don’t be scared. I know you’re looking for Jesus. He has been raised. Go tell Peter and company that he will be in Galilee, and they can meet him there.”
Mark ends his gospel with these words, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Period. End of story.
But of course it was not the end of the story. We know that somehow the news of Jesus’ resurrection does get told. But how? By whom? Why would Mark end his writing so abruptly? Did he die or get arrested before he could finish? Did the rest of it get lost?
Most scholars believe the way it ends is the way Mark intended. They believe, and I agree, that Mark wants to leave the early Christians hanging. Mark is probably writing around the year seventy. By then more than likely almost all of those who had been eyewitnesses to Jesus had died. It is the beginning of the second generation of Christians. So naturally, their question would have been, what do we do? How is this faith in Jesus as the Messiah going to carry on? What’s our role? What’s our job?
Mark says, your job is to finish the story. To go and tell. To carry on the work of Jesus and those first witnesses. Mark’s implied ending is, if no one tells the story of Jesus, it dies in one generation. If no one tells others, he is risen!, then the good news will cease to exist. So it’s up to the those who hear and read Mark’s story to tell others, this is who Jesus is, and he is risen!
So it’s up to us. Mark poses the question to us, are we going to be afraid to say anything to anyone? Are we afraid people won’t believe us? Are we afraid the story sounds too crazy to be true? Are we afraid we’ll sow seed that falls on the path or the rocky ground or among the thorns?
We might. But in not just what we say but in how we live, we might sow the seed that falls on good soil. In how we treat other people, in how we use the time and money and abilities and resources God has given us, we might be those who are able to be the seed for someone who produces abundantly.
We have to finish the story. We have to be the ones who say, Jesus is the Messiah, and he is risen! We have to be the ones who tell about what he said and did. We have to be the ones who tell about the difference he has made in our lives. We have to finish the story. Amen.