As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. Mark 16:5-6 (NIV)
The gospel is good news because Jesus has conquered death. He is alive today, and He invites us to come to Him to find grace and mercy and to receive the power we need to live lives that are pleasing to God.
That’s the end of the story?
Before we come to the message of the resurrection this morning, I want you to notice that we are faced with a problem in the last chapter of Mark’s gospel: Where does it end? If you are using the New International Version, you’ll see that after verse 8 it says: “The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.”
If Mark ended his Gospel at verse 8, as I believe he did, let’s look at what we’ve got:
- The women visit the tomb. They find that the stone is rolled away, and the tomb is empty (v 1-6).
- An angel tells the women what has happened: Jesus has risen! (v6). They are to go and tell the disciples that Jesus is going ahead of them into Galilee (v7).
- But the women are overwhelmed with fear and tell no one.
And that’s the end of the Gospel?
Put this alongside the other Gospels and there seems to be something missing:
Matthew ends with the Great Commission. The Risen Christ says to the disciples: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19,20).
Luke ends with the Ascension and the promise of power by the Holy Spirit. “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high… And then “he was taken up into heaven…” (Luke 24:49,51).
John ends with Peter being restored and commissioned: “Peter do you love me? Feed my sheep,” and then Jesus says to Him “Follow me!” (John 21:15-19).
But Mark ends with “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid! (v8).
I can see why some people in the early church thought that Mark’s Gospel needed a better ending than that! If Mark’s gospel ends at verse 8 there are no resurrection appearances. There is no great commission. And there is no ascension into heaven.
If the Gospel ends at verse 8, it looks like an unfinished story. So it is not surprising that some folks felt that they had better spice up the ending by adding things that were already known from the other gospels.
So which way are we to go—the unfinished story or the longer ending? This is not a question of preference. The Bible is not like Burger King with their slogan—Have it your way. “How would you like your Bible today, sir? Would you like it with the unfinished story or would you prefer the longer ending? Have it your way.”
There really is only one question here: What did Mark write? Where did Mark finish? Scholars who have studied the various manuscripts of the Gospel, along with the grammar and style of these last twelve verses have overwhelmingly concluded that Mark ended at verse 8, and that verses 9-20 were added later.
I am convinced that Mark’s Gospel ends at verse 8, and that God intended it to be so. God has something to say about the resurrection of Jesus through this gospel that is distinct from the other three. God gave us four gospels, and each one has a distinct witness to Jesus. There is a something that God wants us to know from the ending of this Gospel that you will not find in the others, and I want us to grasp it today.
Faith Rests on God’s Explanation
They saw a young man dressed in a white robe. (v5)
Matthew tells us that they saw an angel (Matthew 28:5). Mark describes the appearance. Matthew describes the identity.
The angel said: “Don’t be alarmed… You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him” (v6).
It is the angel from heaven who tells the women that Jesus has risen. It was not Mary who went into the tomb, found it empty and said to Salome, “Jesus must have risen from the dead.” That thought did not even occur to the women. It was the angel who told them.
That’s important because some people have the idea that faith is about creating your own reality. The suggestion is that the disciples had such an intense desire for Jesus to be with them that they created this reality in their minds. But that’s not what happened here.
The women went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. Their minds were not filled with thoughts of Him being alive, but with him being dead. The issue that dominated their minds on the journey was who would move the stone. Even after they find the tomb empty, they still have to be told that Jesus has risen. And after they are told this by the angel, they are bewildered, terrified and silent. These women weren’t creating their own reality!
I wish I had a dollar for every person who has heard the gospel and then said to the person who told them “Well that’s just your interpretation.” The resurrection was not the women’s interpretation. It was God’s explanation, revealed to them and to us by the angel.
Christian faith hangs not only on what God has done, but on God’s explanation of what He has done:
If all we had at Christmas was the story of a baby born to a virgin, lying in a manger, we would never know who this child is. What we need is for God to send someone from heaven to tell us. God gives us the explanation: Jesus is God’s Son.
If all we had on Good Friday was the story of Jesus dying on the cross, we would never know what it means. God gives us the explanation. Jesus died for our sins.
If all we had at Easter was the empty tomb, and were left to our own interpretation, we would never know the truth of what happened. So God gives us the explanation. Jesus rose from the dead!
The birth, death and resurrection of Jesus are events outside of our experience. How could we possibly interpret them? We have no categories for them. How could we understand these events, unless God explained them to us?
God gives us the interpretation. God tells us what happened. Christian faith does not rest on personal feelings, insights or interpretations. Christian faith rests on God’s explanation of His own actions revealed to us and recorded for us in the Scripture. He has risen! Who says so? God says so! And you can stake your life and your eternity on that!
Some people will say “You are just assuming that there is a God who speaks.” If you do not believe in a God who speaks, then you do not believe in the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is the God who speaks. He made Himself known to Moses. He makes Himself known in Jesus Christ. The reason He speaks and the reason He makes Himself known is so that we may know Him. And apart from God revealing Himself to us, we have no other way of getting to know Him.
Thank God that Christian faith doesn’t rest on personal interpretation, but on God’s revelation. We are not following the impulse of the women, or of the disciples, or of the early church. God has revealed to us from heaven who Jesus is, why He died, and that He has risen. And you can stake your life and your eternity on the Word of God—not private interpretation, but God’s revelation. That is why we believe Jesus has risen from the dead.
A Challenge for the Church
I used to enjoy watching a sports quiz show back in the UK. The contestants were made up of a panel of popular sports figures. In one segment of the show called “What Happens Next?” they would play a sports clip, freeze it in the middle, and then ask the contestants “What happens next?”
In one of my favorite episodes there were a couple of boxers in the ring, they exchanged a few punches and the clip freezes. The question is “What happens next?” One of the boxers, in a remarkable freak accident, actually missed a punch aimed at his opponent and knocked out the referee—which is a pretty difficult thing to guess!
If you read through Mark’s gospel and freeze it at verse 6, and asked “What happens next?” Would you really guess verse 8? I don’t think you would. But it is of great importance what Mark records for us here. After receiving this revelation from the Lord, after receiving this wonderful news that Jesus is risen from the dead, Mark records in verse 8:
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. (v8)
The other gospels make it clear that the women later told the disciples what they had seen and heard, but Mark wants us to know that at first they were silent! That is the distinctive witness of Mark here. He is the only one who records that they were silent at first.
Christ has risen, but the people to whom this message is given are afraid, bewildered and silent! You have a risen Christ, and a ‘church’ entrusted with this message, but there is no witness and no power, only fear.
The ending of Mark’s Gospel is a challenge to the church: It is possible for a church to be evangelical in doctrine—to believe in the incarnation, the substitutionary atonement and the bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ—and yet have no effective witness to the world, no confidence to pursue it’s God-given calling, and instead be inward looking and bound by fear.
In Matthew, you have the Great Commission; in Luke, the promise of power from the Holy Spirit; in John, the call to discipleship, “Follow me!” In Mark, the church is entrusted with the Gospel, but it is bewildered, wandering in the world, and gripped by fear.
If you look at the history of the church through the last 2000 years, you’ll see that what is described in cameo at the end of Mark’s gospel is precisely what has happened. And it is the challenge of Mark’s gospel for the church today.
When I read the ending of Mark’s gospel, I say “That’s not the kind of church we want to be!” That’s not the kind of Christianity you want for yourself, or for your children. We don’t want a Christianity that leaves us wandering around bewildered in the world, and gripped by fear. When you read the ending in verse 8, you say “That can’t be the end! There’s something missing.” Precisely!!
Some of us have been brought up believing that Jesus was born of a virgin, that He died on a cross, and that He was raised from the dead. We have always accepted these things. But what difference has this made to your life? That’s the question the ending of Mark’s gospel raises for us. And we need to face it honestly.
Maybe you are a person who believes that Jesus was raised from the dead, but your life is dominated by fear. It is a belief, but it has not brought change or a new direction as a follower of Jesus Christ. You have not known the power of the risen Christ to change you from the inside. That is not where you want to be. That is not where any of us wants to be.
An Invitation to Meet Jesus
Go, tell his disciples and Peter, He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you. (v7)
This is a great invitation: Tell the disciples that the risen Lord Jesus Christ wants to meet them. He is going ahead of them to Galilee. They will see Him there. Notice that the disciples must go to Galilee. There is something for them to do. There is an invitation that the disciples must take, if they are to meet the risen Christ.
John tells us what happened in Galilee. Peter was restored, and the disciples were commissioned. But Mark leaves us hanging. He doesn’t tell us what happened. He just tells us that there is this invitation from the risen Lord Jesus Christ to go to Galilee. I’m convinced that this is what God intended.
Mark’s gospel is an unfinished story. The invitation is not only to the disciples, it is also to us. Not to go to Galilee, of course. You won’t find Jesus there. You will find Him where the Bible says He is right now, at the right hand of the Father. If you say, “It gets hazy for me right there,” think about what it was like for Peter to go to Galilee, or for any of the other disciples, and it will shed some light on it for you.
Put yourself in the shoes of Peter: “Peter, go to Galilee. Jesus will meet you there.” Galilee is a long way away. It is a couple of day’s trip, if you’re going on foot. You are not going to Galilee, unless you are persuaded in your own mind that Jesus is really there. “Am I going to go all that distance? Is He really there? What if He’s not there?” The first thing he has to decide in his mind is: Do I really believe that Jesus is there?
The second question Peter has to settle is this: Do I really want to meet Jesus? “He heard me when I denied Him and cursed. I’m so ashamed of these things I’ve done in my life. I’m not sure I really want to be near Him.” Peter has to get over that and come to the place where he’s ready to say: “I want to come to Him because I’m sorry for the way I’ve failed Him in the past. I want to be a different kind of person.”
For Peter to go to Galilee there has to be faith and there has to be repentance. That’s exactly the way any of us come to Him. These are the very same issues you will face as you consider whether to go to Galilee.
Mark’s Gospel is an unfinished story. Jesus came into the world so that through Him you might be reconciled to God, live for His glory and spend eternity in His presence. The Gospel story won’t be finished until the day Jesus stands in the presence of the Father and says “Here am I and the children you have given me” (Hebrews 2:13).
Christ has come to us. That’s good news. But Mark ends his gospel with an invitation that you should come to Christ.
The story completed…
Imagine a family living in abject poverty. They sleep in rough shelter where the roof leaks. They have no money. They scavenge for food. And the kids’ clothes are in tatters.
One day they get a call: A distant uncle has died and left them 10 million dollars—that’s good news! But the 10 million dollars will not change their lives. It is what the 10 million dollars can do that will change their lives.
The 10 million dollars can buy them a home with central heating, air conditioning and a bedroom for each of the kids. The 10 million can buy a new wardrobe for each of the children. The 10 million can provide a lifetime’s supply of the finest pizza, or whatever food they should choose to eat.
But suppose that the 10 million dollars remained in the bank and was never used. If that should happen the kids would be in the same clothes, still living under the same leaky roof. And with 10 million dollars in the bank that could change their lives, this would be tragic.
The man who receives this good news must go to the bank. He must draw on what has been deposited in his name. He must realize the value of what he has been given, and he must use it according to the purpose for which it was given: To change His life and the lives of his family and many others. Because 10 million dollars can do much more than change the lives of one family!
Jesus Christ has come into the world. He died for our sins. He rose to bring us into everlasting life. He offers forgiveness and new life, and joy in the presence of God for eternity. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is good news! But it’s what this Lord Jesus Christ can do in your life that’s really going to make the difference.
Mark’s gospel, in the purpose of God, is an unfinished story. We are told the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ, of all that He’s accomplished, but now you must draw on what He has purchased for you. The invitation is right there at the end. He invites you to come to Him, as He has come to you.
The unfinished story of the good news of the Gospel will be completed in your life, as you draw near to Him, as you receive what He has promised, as you follow the example of the disciples who believed, and who overcame their own sense of shame and guilt and failure, and found new life in Jesus Christ, the beginning of everlasting life.
© Colin S. Smith
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