When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 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. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Mark begins his gospel with his foot on the pedal, setting the stage for a condensed, yet thrilling look at the life of Jesus. He seems to end his gospel with his foot hitting the brake abruptly at an unexpected moment in the story. When reading Mark 16:1-8, one is almost left with more questions than answers. Those who have dedicated hours, if not years, to studying Mark have differing opinions on this ending. For my purposes, I am going to assume this ending was intended. And the ending as it stands has beautiful implications to our lives as Christ-followers in the 21st century.
Mark includes many of Jesus’ signs and wonders, showing his power and authority. Right after the feeding the four thousand in Mark 8, the Pharisees have the audacity to ask for a “sign from heaven” in order to test him. Jesus says, “Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation” (vs. 11-12). We see in this story that even obvious signs do not equate to faith.
Then in Mark 9 his disciples fail to cast out an evil spirit after the transfiguration. Jesus shows frustration saying, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!” (vs. 19). The boy’s father asks for Jesus’ help and adds “if you can.” Jesus responds, “If You can? All things are possible to him who believes” (vs. 23). The father’s response, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (vs. 24). From there, Jesus performs the miracle.
So fast-forward to Mark 16. Three ladies enter an empty tomb and encounter an angel who announces that Jesus is living! The angel instructs them to tell the others that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. And Scripture records their response: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid,” (Mark 16:8) and that is the end of the story.
What would you do? I find myself standing in judgment. I would like to think that I would actually GO. SPEAK. OBEY. CELEBRATE. But if I were honest, I probably would freeze with fear and uncertainty. (Just like my assessment of being in the Garden of Eden… I would eat the fruit.)
James R. Edwards in his commentary The Gospel According to Mark says:
“The resurrection does not magically dispel fear and cowardice, transforming fallible human characters into faithful disciples. Faithful discipleship consists of following Jesus, not contemplating doing so; acting courageously on his behalf, not standing on the sidelines and watching… Faith comes rather through hearing the gospel and personal encounter with the One who was crucified and is now raised from the dead.” (pg. 296)
Mark ends with the human failure in the midst of the greatest wonder of God, the resurrection of the Jesus Christ.
Signs and wonders do not give birth to faith. Mark hammers this point. Faith must be the backbone of our lives and faith isn’t always clean. But what do you do with your failures, when your faith doesn’t have two feet? When it isn’t obedient? When it’s wavering?
You go back to the empty tomb where God’s strength and human frailty meet. Where the power of God conquered death and new life was birthed for those who have faith. You stand in awe, maybe “trembling and bewildered,” and you remember that the dead do not live among the living. So when the “dead” unbelief creep in, you learn to grasp tightly to the faith of Jesus Christ, who conquered death, who sits at the right hand of God and who lives in you.