Life As Jesus' Successors
Ascension Year B
Mark 16: 15 — 20
Some Notes On The Text
In this verse which opens our reading, Jesus uses a rabbinic expression, "preach the news to all creation", meaning to humanity in general i.e. making the message accessible by all people.
In verse 16 baptism is declared necessary for those who have heard the Gospel message and believed. Verse 16 is not a condemnation of those who have had the message preached at them but do not accept it.
A necessary component is the inner hearing. Those who do hear in this way should be baptised to become active participants of Jesus' saving work. It is not the want of baptism that condemns a person, but the contempt of it. The latter part of the verse means that conversion is an offer that has its hour; one should not let it slip by.
Verse 17 and 18
This is followed by a stunning promise: signs will accompany belief. Jesus says "In my name they will…". We need to be careful not to miss the key emphasis due to fascination with the signs listed.
The prophets spoke "in the name of the Lord". The Apostles did likewise (Acts 3: 6 etc). But there was an important difference between Jesus and all the other messengers God sent into the world. He acted in his own name; they in the name of another. He wielded his own power; they were instruments, by which God put forth his powerful arm to save. He was therefore God and this is a final affirmation of the fact as the Gospel draws to a close.
The signs which follow were to be a demonstration that the disciples were exercising authority Jesus has given them. All, except the drinking of poison, were witnessed in the scriptures. Of particular significance to Jesus' listeners was the reference to picking up snakes. This was easily recognised in the early Church as the working out of the New Exodus in the time of the messiah. The Lord had worked mighty wonders for his people on their pilgrimage to the Promised Land. They believed he would continue to do so in light of Jesus' promise. It was in the view of this that Psalm 91 became the regular night prayer of the infant church, and it has remained so ever since, for many Christians.
This clearly describes the ascension, in language borrowed from the Old Testament. The imagery of the ascent of Elijah (2 Kings 2: 11) is combined with Psalm 110 (verse one). So the early Christian interpretation of the Lord's ascension is clear; it is the triumphal ascent, to be followed by enthronement. Psalm 110 is the great messianic psalm, where Melchizedek's priesthood is promised to the Lord. It is the psalm quoted by Jesus to the authorities when he asked them the difficult question about David's son, who was also David's Lord (Mark 12: 37).
Mark's Gospel emphasises the power of Jesus, as well as his servant-hood. Jesus' life and teaching reflect values quite distinct from what is often seen. The common view of power is to control others in order to get your way. But Jesus, with all authority and power in heaven and on earth chose to serve others. He held children in his arms and let them flop all over him as he talked. He healed many who were sick. He washed the feet of his disciples, and died for the forgiveness of the world's sin. Being a disciple of Jesus means succeeding him in his mission of service and it means receiving the same power to serve. We are called, as believers, to be servants of Jesus Christ. As he served, so are we to serve.
Conclusion: Encouragement From The Saints
Commenting on Mk 16: 14 — 20, and referring to the faithful follower of Christ, he writes:
Commenting on the same passage he says:
Teaching us not to give up because of our weakness he says:
Suggestions for Biblical Prayer
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