Sunday, April 25, 2010

St. Mark's Day Sermon -- Mark 16:14-20

April 25, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said to [the Eleven]: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”

The Lord’s instructions to the Eleven are short and to the point: Go and proclaim. That’s what they are called to do. Where should they go? “Into all the world.” Their mission is not limited to the streets of Jerusalem, but to the farthest ends of the earth. What should they proclaim? “The gospel.” That is, what Christ had done among them to bring about salvation. Who should they tell? “The whole creation.” For Christ’s redemptive work was to bring forgiveness, life, and salvation to every single thing which was corrupted by the sin of Adam. That is the charge the Eleven are given, the charge that they fulfill as their Lord sends them.

But as the accounts of the Eleven’s work are read, it is readily noted that others were brought into this enterprise of going and proclaiming. Just a matter of days after receiving this instruction from the Lord Jesus, the Eleven fill the vacancy among them, bringing Matthias into their company as the replacement for Judas, the Betrayer. As the Church in Jerusalem grew, there were others brought into leadership positions, others who were entrusted with Christ’s gospel to proclaim. And when the apostles began their movement “into all the world,” beginning with the cities of the Mediterranean, aides and successors were added.

So it was for Mark, whose festival day the Church celebrates on April 25. This believer from Jerusalem was added to the roster of workers by the apostles. It is easy to see why. Mark was a member of the inner core of the Jerusalem Church, the son of a woman whose house served as a meeting place. It put Mark right into the company of Peter and the other apostles. He was a relative of Barnabas, a leader of the Church in Antioch. Mark was taken with Barnabas to accompany Paul on his first missionary journey. And though Mark would abandon the journey and return to Jerusalem, he would also prove to be a vital help in the mission of the Church. For even Paul would give the instructions to Timothy near the end of his life: “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.”

Mark was useful indeed. For through him, the apostolic preaching was recorded for others to hear. It is through his work that the gospel is taken into all the world. The Twelve who left from Jerusalem only traveled so far. Their travels took them west to Spain, east to Persia and India, and south to Egypt. Mark himself ended up in Alexandria, leading the Church there. Yet there was much more of the world to be seen, more of the creation to be told the gospel. The apostles could not get there, but their proclamation did. For what they preached was heard and believed and retold. It was memorized, written down, and published.

This publishing of the gospel is where Mark was truly useful. The young man from the Jerusalem Church recorded the Chief Apostle’s preaching. Peter’s proclamation about Jesus—“the Christ, the Son of the Living God”—was heard by Mark from the very beginning. And through Mark’s pen, it was published for others to proclaim. His book begins with the simple statement: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” And then unfold the words and works of Jesus, the teachings and actions which bring redemption to the fallen world, which bring redemption to you.

This festival day is truly about your receiving the proclamation about Christ. That is why the Church remembers and speaks about Mark. She does so, because she has first heard what the Evangelist remembered and spoke. It is through him that you know about Jesus of Nazareth, about His identity and labor. Mark’s Gospel identifies Jesus as “the Son of Man,” the fulfiller of Daniel’s and Isaiah’s prophecy. His book reveals that challenge of hardheartedness. Mark’s record of Christ’s teaching includes the purpose statement about why Christ died for you: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Through Mark’s pen, you are given the great promise that the Risen Christ makes: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

It is for this reason why Mark is remembered and revered. The Collect of the Day puts this well: “Almighty God, You have enriched Your Church with the proclamation of the Gospel through the evangelist Mark.” The Church has been enriched—you have been enriched—because the apostolic message has been given to you. Because you have been so enriched, you recognized Mark as great. He fulfills the description given by the Prophet Isaiah: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” That is the message that is brought to you through the Evangelist’s account.

Mark’s Gospel does not present an impotent, weak, wimpy teacher found holed up somewhere in seclusion. No, he shows you One who carries authority: an authority that the Twelve recognize, that demons fear, that the creation obeys. He records the signs that accompany Christ’s work, so that even in His death the centurion who watches declares: “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” The Evangelist gives to you the record of the prophecy’s fulfillment: “The Lord has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” This is what Christ has accomplished, and that forms the message that He sends with His apostles into the world.

To show the authority that Christ has and to confirm His message, He causes similar signs to accompany the apostles’ work: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in My Name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they 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.” This is what happens during the apostolic mission. They carry Christ’s authority into the world with Christ’s gospel: “They went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.” His work is done through the apostles. His words are proclaimed through them. His salvation is delivered through them.

That is what you have received through the Evangelist’s record. For by his account of Christ’s words and works, the gospel has been proclaimed to you. As the Holy Spirit has worked through Mark and those who have delivered his account to you, your hardheartedness and unbelief have been removed. You have believed those who saw Jesus after He had risen. You have been baptized to be joined to that Crucified and Risen Christ. You are saved because the Lord Jesus has been taken up into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God, but has also left His authority with people here on earth. His commission was given and fulfilled: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” And that is what has taken place here. You are far away from Jerusalem, but what transpired there—Christ’s sacrificial death and glorious resurrection—has effects here.

And so you remember Mark because he has presented what Christ has done for you. Your honor of the Evangelist is not faith or worship in him. No, even Mark would tell you the words of the psalm: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs he returns to the earth; on that day his plans perish.” Instead, the Evangelist points you away from himself and toward Jesus: “Believe Him. Believe what He did and what He promised—the words and works that I merely recorded. Believe in His death and resurrection, for through those actions the Lord Jesus saves you.”

Mark was indeed useful for ministry. He was useful for you, so that you may know the Lord Jesus and be saved. The divine promise is given through Mark’s account to you. Even in the ends of the earth, you have seen the salvation of your God. May you firmly believe the glad tidings that the Evangelist has brought to you and daily walk according to Christ’s Word that he has proclaimed: “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.” So the Risen Christ has declared through Mark, His useful servant, to you.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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