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Mark XXVIII: Trembling and Astonishment - Mark 16:1-8

Maybe the most shocking thing about the end of Mark’s gospel is what’s missing. V. 6 tells us that the biggest thing that’s missing is Jesus – “He is not here!” the young man says. Jesus is gone from the tomb. He no longer lies crucified, dead, and buried. He’s been raised, and He cannot be found among the dead. The resurrection of Jesus is the most shocking event in the history of the world.

But here’s another surprising thing that’s missing from the end of Mark’s gospel: any expectation of resurrection on the part of the disciples! Verses 1-2 tell us that these women aren’t heading to the tomb to confirm that Jesus rose from the dead; they’re going to anoint a corpse. Even though Jesus predicted His resurrection in Mark 8:31, 9:9, 9:31, and 10:34, the disciples didn’t understand what He meant, and so they weren’t expecting His body to return to life.

When the women make it to the tomb, the stone is missing from the entrance where it had been placed only about forty hours before. The women fully expect it to be there, and they’re discussing in v. 3 what to do about it, since the three of them won’t be able to move it. But when they look up in v. 4, they see that the massive stone has been rolled away.

In v. 5, everything the women expect to find is missing, and what they don’t expect is a young man clothed in white hanging around in Jesus’ tomb. They came expecting soldiers, a stone, and a corpse, and they find no soldiers, no stone, no corpse, and an angel! And then the angel delivers his unbelievable message: this was Jesus’ tomb, but Jesus isn’t there, as they can clearly see by looking at the empty place where His body was placed just days ago. Everything is so shockingly unexpected that the women are trembling and astonished.

But there’s still something missing from Mark’s ending: witness. The angel gives the women a message to spread, but since they’re in shock, the gospel comes to an abrupt end in v. 8: “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” That’s how the book ends! This doesn’t seem to be disobedient fear, however, but rather a very human response to the unveiling of God’s power. And as it happens, the other gospels tell us that the women soon recover from their shock, and then they are obedient to their charge to tell the disciples what happened.

But notice that: we only learn this from the other gospels. Mark doesn’t tell us that, and that’s the last shocking thing that’s missing from Mark’s gospel: an ending. What’s printed in your Bibles as Mark 16:9-20 is actually a postscript added later by the Church, which over time became confused with the gospel itself. The earliest copies of Mark’s gospel end at v. 8, and in many of your Bibles, there’s a note to that effect. The postscript provides a good summary of what happened next, probably summarizing from Matthew, Luke, and John, but it isn’t properly part of Mark’s gospel. This ought to raise questions in your mind about how we got the Bible, how we can trust the Bible, how we can know what is and isn’t part of the Bible. Those are great questions, and there are good answers to them, but that’s not our focus right now.

Our focus is on the empty tomb, the resurrected Christ, and the shocked response of the disciples. You should reach the end of Mark’s gospel and be stunned at what God has done in Jesus Christ. The grave is empty, and Jesus is alive! His prophecies are proven true, His priestly sacrifice was accepted by God, and He has defeated all His and our enemies. The resurrection establishes what Mark claimed at the beginning of his gospel: Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, is the Christ, the Son of God. It was a shocking claim to begin with, but now it’s even more shockingly been proven by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

And so that’s where Mark leaves you: in trembling and astonishment. He’s filled your head with information about Jesus, but he’s also jolted your heart with the overwhelming shock of what it means that this is all true. So are you amazed by Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, who lived, died, and rose again to ransom His people and bring about God’s kingdom? By leaving the ending open, Mark invites you into the way of Jesus, so that God can write a million different endings to the gospel through your faith in Jesus and your lives as His disciples. So let us respond in amazement, in faith, and in worship.

Posted on Friday, October 19, 2018 by CJ Bowen