Summary: An Easter Sunday sermon
Recently I came across a collection of the best last lines of books ever written:
“Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.” –Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (1936)
But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before. –Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)
I never saw any of them again—except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them. –Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye (1953)
‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.’ – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing. –A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner (1928)
It’s often the final few words of a book that linger on. On the ofther hand, there’s nothing worse than a good book which is spoiled by a lousy ending. Yet the Gospel of Mark risks such an accusation. The book ends very suddenly and the reader is left to decide whether or not the abrupt ending is a fitting conclusion to such an INTRIGUING story.
Mark describes the events of the resurrection in a MERE eight verses. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and SALOME go to the tomb with spices in their hand. Clearly they were expecting to see a corpse. Instead they see an angel who says that Jesus has risen and they ought not be alarmed by this turn of events. The angel’s not terribly convincing, for according to Mark 16:8, ‘trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid’ (Mk 8:8). And the book ends.
It’s a strange way to end an account which wants us to believe in the resurrection. We are not told that the women believed, we are not told that they threw their spices away and jumped for joy. They didn’t even want to tell anyone what they had seen. It’s an BLUNT ending to a provocative book.
Such a bizarre set of circumstances has led others to add another ending which is probably printed in your Bible. But this addition is not in the earliest documents. The NIV inserts a comment after verse 8, ‘The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9–20’. Most Bible have a similar notation. The extended might tidy up a few loose ends, but it also creates more problems than it solves—demons, tongues, snakes and healingonly add to the mystery.
What sort of ending would YOU write? ‘And they lived happily ever after’ DOESN'T work too well. Surely MARK could have said that ‘the women eventually pulled themselves together and realised what had happened. And they spread the news that Jesus is alive’. Other suggest tacking the last few verses of the Gospel of Matthew to the end of Mark.
But we have none of these things. What we do have is this: 'Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid' (John 16:8). We must contend that Mark chose to end his gospel at verse 8 and on this rather surprising note.
The commentaries are equally perplexed. ‘The note of panic is in itself a surprising way for Mark to continue the story, and still more to conclude his whole work. But much more inexplicable is his comment that the women, who have just been given a message of supreme importance to deliver, remained silent’ (R.T. France). Another comments, ‘It certainly seems very odd that Mark’s good news about Jesus should end with the blunt information that the women said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid’ (Donald English, BST series).
To add the intrigue, historian John Dickson says, ‘If you were making up a story about the resurrection and you wanted your fellow first-century Jews to believe it, you would not include women as the first witnesses, unless, somewhat embarrassingly, that really was the case’ (Dickson, Life of Jesus, 118).
It’s a testimony to the accuracy of Scripture that we are given such inconvenient truths. Why do you think MARK ends his gospel this way? Fear in the presence of the supernatural is not uncommon. Although Mark says the angel looks particularly human, it was enough to alarm the women who choose to opt out as quickly as possible. At a deeper level, Mark has already told us that signs and miracles do not produce faith (Mk 8:11–13) and the women confirm this observation.