The Longer Ending of Mark
Remember that the words in Mark 16, Acts 2, Acts 22, and 1 Peter 3 were words spoken before baptism, while the words in Romans 6 and Colossians 2 were spoken after baptism.
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned. (Mark 16.16)
We would suppose that most Protestants become a bit apprehensive over this verse. When they see it, they change it in their mind to read “He that believeth and is saved shall be baptized.” The Lord, however, has not so said. In order to escape the error of the Roman Catholic Church, Protestants unwittingly alter God’s word and thus fall into another error. The Lord speaks clearly that “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” No one is authorized to change it to “he that believeth and is saved shall be baptized.” According to Mark 16.16, to be baptized is to be liberated. Baptism thus stands as a great liberating force from this world and all that is of it. Yet baptism is even more than a liberation, it is also an entry; through baptism we enter into Christ because it is a being baptized into His death.
These signs shall accompany them that believe: in my name shall they cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mark 16. 17-18)
Blessed be Jehovah God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things. (Ps. 72. 18)
Mark 16.17-18 are words spoken by our Lord to His eleven disciples. They speak of their doing wondrous things. How do we look at these things today?
One thing we need to be reminded of, and that is, nothing in God’s word is for performance and none can perform it. Not only the words of Mark 16. 17-18 are not open to man’s performance; all the words of God are not subject to human acting. God is willing to hear the prayer of Elijah on Mount Carmel and send down fire to prove that Jehovah alone is God, and not Baal (see 1 Kings 18. 30-39). Indeed, God will work wonders to prove himself to be God, but He will not allow any man to work wonders for the sake of performance. Some people think of using these two verses in Mark 16 to validate their performance, but God will turn away from them and let them fail. You cannot accuse such people of not believing in the words of Mark 16, for they do believe; yet God will not support their claim nor defend their supposed integrity. For God is God. He will only do what He wants to do; He will not act according to man’s idea.
Let us well remember one spiritual principle: that faith is most natural and effortless. Some Christians do not understand much about faith, so having their prayers answered seems to require much labor. Each time they try to obtain God’s answer, they have to apply such a heavy dose of faith that they almost cry out, “I am here believing! I am here believing!” Although their prayers may be heard, they have believed to the point of exhaustion. After having enough experience and having learned more, they pray, they believe, and God hears them, but they now have no need to exert so much effort as before. They will pray quite naturally, and God will answer them quite naturally. Formerly, their faith was so forced that it nearly broke their heart. They wanted to believe but they could not believe. They believed till they were exhausted in their faith. Now their faith is something very natural; it is spontaneous faith.
Faith is spontaneous, and wondrous works are natural. No one who works wonders fancies he is working wonders. To the one who truly believes in God, wondrous works are quite common. Only those who are far away from God deem them extraordinary. All who live before God and close to Him consider wondrous works to be something ordinary.
At one time or another we must have all read the story of the children of Israel crossing the Red Sea. The first time we read it, we must have been amazed at the multitudes of people who crossed the Red Sea. Yet the Bible never recorded anything like shoutings by the people on this side of the Red Sea, saying, “How marvelous, the waters are divided!” or “Look, what a wonder this is!” No, they simply composed a song and sang only after they landed on the other side of the Sea. As they looked back, they realized what a great wonder it was. It is the same with the believers today. When the Lord works wonders in their lives, they have no idea that these are wondrous works. Only when they look back do they comprehend the greatness of God’s works.
Recall, if you will, how many times God has healed your sickness. At those times, did you really think great things had happened? Many times you have encountered problems which were solved through God’s grace, but at those moments did you understand God as working wonders? No, not until you looked back did you realize what great things had happened. Even this looking back is natural, and not deliberate.
Some people, viewing these verses from the human side, misconclude the words in Mark 16. 17-18 to signify the things mentioned there to be quite extraordinary. Yet as we think upon God, we will not at all be surprised. Compared to the crossing of the Red Sea by the children of Israel these other things in Mark are quite insignificant. The words in Mark do not mean that a believer can drink deadly things every day without dying. No, if anyone should drink deadly things deliberately, he will surely die. On the contrary, the Mark passage simply suggests our knowing God and His power: we acknowledge that there is nothing He cannot do. For wonders do not come by believing with great effort; they are the manifestations of God’s mighty power. He is the God who works wonders. Whenever He works, wonders are performed. And furthermore, you and I will have no sense that doing wondrous works is difficult at all. The problem today lies in viewing these wonders from a great distance divorced from a true consideration of God. And thus wonders, within that kind of context, cannot help but become something very extraordinary. To those who are near to God, however, wonders are something quite commonplace in the house of God.
Formerly there was a girl who lived by the seashore, since her family fished for their living. Later on, she got married to a man who lived in the mountain. Life on the mountain was very hard. Due to inconvenience in transportation, daily commodities were rare. One day her father-in-law was very angry at her, saying, “This daughter-in-law knows nothing about frugality. She is truly a great spendthrift. For she consumed a crab in three days.” He angrily went to her family in order to complain. While he was there, he was asked to eat with them. On the table were many crabs. Later he found in their yard piles of crab shells. He swallowed his complaint and returned home.
Many believers look upon wonders in the same fashion as that gentleman of the mountain looked upon crabs. They may experience some wondrous work only once in ten years, or even only once in thirty. No wonder they consider wonders to be extraordinary. But to those who truly live close before God, wonders are very common phenomena. The hand of God is the source of all wondrous works, and He is always working wonders.
Hence wonders do not require our effort. Wonders happen when the power of God is manifested in our lives. Paul was once bitten by a viper but he simply “shook it off into the fire” and “took no harm” (see Acts 28. 3-5). Watch how this wonder worked that day in Paul’s life. He had not said to the islanders of Melita, “Come, I am going to perform a wonder for you to see.” He blew no trumpet but simply shook off the creature into the fire. Those who do not know God glory in the wondrous works, but those who truly know Him never boast of them. (Of course, this does not mean that all who do not magnify wonders know God. For some of them do not believe in Him, and therefore they cannot believe in wonders.) In fact, those who know God will never brag of wondrous works simply because wonders are quite natural to them.
Let me ask you: when your prayer is answered, do you feel you have done a marvelous thing. If so, this proves that your faith is yet immature. Were you truly to believe in the power of God, you would receive the answer to prayer unconsciously. Without knowing it, it would simply have been a case in which God had performed a wonder for you. Under such circumstances, wondrous works are natural, most effortless and common.
Let us always remember that wonders are something done unconsciously. If we are conscious about performing wonders, they will not come forth. In other words, when we decide to work wonders, these very things distance themselves from us. It is almost as if it were a case of: “to will is present with me, but to do that which is good is not” (Rom. 7. 18). However, as we live before God and believe in Him, wonders will happen unconsciously—just like Paul, who on the occasion already mentioned, quite unconsciously performed the wonder of not being hurt by a viper. He could not repeat the act were it to be publicly requested; nor could we imitate Paul under the impulse of people’s persuasion. We can neither imitate others nor repeat ourselves. Here we touch one of the important principles in Christian experience; that is to say, God hearing prayers and doing wonders in our experience is something most natural and unpretentious. In the early days of our Christian walk, we might reckon ourselves as having great strength and unbelievable faith; yet as we progress in our walk and learn more, we will sense them no longer. We are not even aware of how we believe, but in simply committing ourselves to God, wonderful things are done.
Many signs and wonders occurred in Paul’s life, yet he confessed himself to be “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2. 3). God is willing to work through men, but He will not work through one who thinks he is able. People who do not know God proclaim that some particular person is able to do this or that wonder. Yet the one who truly knows God will concede that he does not know he is able. The person who is really used of God does not sense he can. What is done is done, that is all. Thank God, He is so powerful that He does everything without the need of us. The longer we are Christians, the simpler we should become. Whoever grows more complicated is being sidetracked. The more we know God, the simpler we are. Even believing becomes effortless. As we live before the Lord, we become simpler day by day. From the bottom of our hearts we shall readily acknowledge: “It is God, not we.” If we truly know the Lord, His works in our lives will be most natural.