St. Mark, Evangelist April 25, 2021
14Afterward [Jesus] appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole 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 cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” 19So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into Heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.
In the Name of Jesus.
There are some things we assume, so we don’t need to talk about them.
The sun will come up in the morning. We don’t go around reminding everyone that the sun will come up, everyone knows it. If you drop a hotdog on the floor, the dog will eat it. Who needs to be told that? It’s assumed.
In the Church, maybe we assume something too. Because, we know it. We’ve learned it since childhood. It’s the proclamation of the Gospel.
Jesus Christ crucified is your Savior. Jesus forgives your sin and cleanses your conscience. Jesus is resurrected from the dead, and his resurrection is your resurrection. We’ve learned this from childhood. We’ve heard the proclamation of the Gospel in our family devotions. Our families repeat it each week in the Creed at the Lord’s Service.
It’s assumed, taken for granted—as sure as the dog eats the hotdog fallen to the floor. So we don’t need to keep saying it to one another, as if we didn’t already know it.
But we do need to.
In the Church, it is the Day of St. Mark, Evangelist, and we learn something of the proclamation of the Gospel in the account Mark left for the Church.
We know a little about Mark. He was a young man. He was not one of the twelve Apostles, but came along it would seem later in Jesus’ ministry.
Mark even seems to slip in a sly little reference to himself toward the end of his Gospel account. As Mark gives the account of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest at Gethsemane—that’s where Judas brings into the garden a group of thugs from the chief priest wielding swords and clubs to arrest Jesus, and where all the Apostles flee Jesus out of fear, leaving him alone in the grip of Judas and the thugs, Mark writes of a certain young man who was there. Mark 14:51:
And a young man followed [Jesus], and he had nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized the [young man], but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.
Not a very flattering story to tell of yourself. But maybe that was Mark’s way of keeping our eyes upon Jesus and his suffering, even as his disciples ran away and abandoned him.
These disciples who belonged to Jesus, the twelve Apostles but also some others such as young Mark, were not men of impressive faith.
They were sinners. They thought of themselves and their own safety. But they were cared for, and brought back and restored, and given the gift of faith again and again by the Lord who loved them and was on his way to the cross for them. But they were not men to impress us with their faith.
Now, in the text we have before us, in the last chapter of Mark’s Gospel, we hear again of their faith.
It is after his crucifixion, and after he has been raised from the dead, as Jesus is preparing them for his Ascension to Heaven, whereupon they will no longer see him in the flesh. The Apostles are gathered around a table, and Jesus appears. He’s giving them last instructions before he ascends. But first, he rebukes them for not having faith. They had disbelieved that he would be resurrected from the dead. Then, when he was resurrected, they disbelieved the reports of the witnesses who first saw Jesus resurrected.
With Jesus, it’s all about his Gospel for the sinner, it’s all about faith. He wants no one to be left living without the gift of faith in his forgiveness. He wants no one on their own, trusting in their own strength, or their own worthiness, or their own ability to justify themselves. So, he rebukes them for not having faith in him and his resurrection. Mark 16:14:
[Jesus] appeared to the eleven as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.
Why did Jesus need to rebuke them? Had they not heard the Gospel enough times before? Did they not already know of his cross where he ransomed all sinners, of his resurrection from the dead?
With their own eyes they saw Jesus cleanse the lepers; with their own ears they heard him forgive sins; they heard him call Lazarus out of the grave. They sat at table with him as he was on his way to death; he gave his last will and testament, telling them to eat this bread and drink this wine in which he was giving them his Body and Blood for the forgiveness of their sins. They were there at the cross. They saw it all.
So what did they not know of forgiveness of the Gospel? They knew it all. Can this Gospel not be assumed? Do you need to tell a child that the family dog will eat a hotdog dropped to the floor?
We should think that the Gospel should be able to be taken for granted. But it’s not. The proclamation of the Gospel is never assumed.
For we still live in sinful flesh, and sinful flesh does not want the Gospel—sinful flesh wants to justify self by its own works and feelings and decisions.
And we are afflicted the demons. And the demons do not want us to live confident in the grace of Christ Jesus, so they daily tempt us to doubt that our Lord is faithful to his promise to us.
And we live in our sinful world. And our sinful world does not want to live by the free gift of the Gospel, but wants to control everyone with the Law.
So when Jesus appears to the eleven, he doesn’t assume the Gospel. He knows their sinful flesh. He knows the affliction of the demons. He knows the sinful world they live in. So he doesn’t assume their faith; he doesn’t assume the Gospel.
He rebukes them for unfaith, calling them back from unbelief in his promise. Then he again gives the Gospel, as he has done so many times before:
[Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
The Gospel to be proclaimed is the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. The Gospel to be proclaimed is the promise given the sinner in Baptism. This Gospel is never assumed, but is given to the sinner again and again, daily, and at every Lord’s Service to dispel every doubt, as Jesus did again and again with his Apostles.
Whoever has faith and is baptized will be saved. Baptism begets faith. Faith clings to Baptism.
So it’s not the absence of Baptism which condemns a sinner, but the refusal of faith—whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
It’s unbelief, unfaith which condemns.
But Jesus desires always to bestow the gift of faith. How? By going to his Apostles who disbelieved, and giving to them once again the Gospel, and sending them out to baptize families.
How is Jesus bestowing the gift of faith? By never assuming the Gospel even for us and our families, but calling us again and again back to the promise of Baptism, and again and again to the table of his Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
And he is bestowing the gift of faith among us as he gives us to never assume the Gospel among ourselves and in our families, but gives us to continually build up one another in his grace, and to daily speak to each other the compassion and mercy of his Gospel.
In the Name of Jesus.