“He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).
For the past two years, I’ve been writing about passages in the gospel of Mark. We are now at the end and just here it’s worth noting that Mark ends his book much as he began: As the book opened, Mark described it as the beginning of the gospel. He ends with Jesus’ command to go preach the gospel. Chapter one described John the baptist dressing like Elijah. As Jesus cried out on the cross, people thought he was calling for Elijah. The first miracle Mark mentions is Jesus casting out a demon. At the end, Mark mentions Mary Magdalene out of whom Jesus cast seven demons. Jesus is baptized in chapter one. At the end, Jesus commands baptism for all who would be saved. At Jesus’ baptism, God proclaimed that Jesus was His son. At Jesus’ death, a centurion proclaims Jesus to be the son of God.
I find it interesting that throughout the book, people have had trouble understanding and accepting that Jesus was God’s son (the Jewish ruling council made this the cause of Jesus’ condemnation). And yet, at the end, the person who “gets it” is not one of the disciples. In fact, Jesus is critical of the disciples for their lack of belief (16:14). The person who “gets it” is not a Jew. The person who “gets it” is a gentile centurion – perhaps the least likely of anyone we might expect to come to faith.
You never know who will respond to the good news about Jesus. But our task is not to decide who will respond. It is simply to make the gospel known.
“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).
A good many folks believe the Gospel of Mark should end right there. Yes, I know you have eleven more verses in your Bible, but even your Bible will have something of a question mark about them.
I will turn to the long ending next week, but for today, let’s grant that Mark ended with verse eight. What might have been the purpose of such an odd ending?
The women mentioned in this verse had been told to go tell the disciples, and Peter (probably “especially Peter”), to meet Jesus in Galilee. Mark says they don’t. But just here you should see a connection with the beginning of the book. At the end of chapter one, Jesus heals a leper and “sternly commands him” to tell no one. But the leper does anyway.
Written for Christians, the Gospel of Mark addresses the call to discipleship. Those who read Mark for the first time knew that the story didn’t end in disobedience. The disciples changed, made the message known, and began a movement that spread like fire across dry prairie. But to keep it spreading would depend on new people in succeeding generations faithfully following Jesus.
Perhaps Mark’s readers are being given an invitation: They can believe the story is over and go back to their lives. They can believe the story continues with a call to them – but never respond because of fear. Or they can, like the women and apostles did, get on with following Jesus.
If I’m right about Mark’s intention here, we are being given an invitation too. How will you respond?
And when [Pilate] learned from the centurion that [Jesus] was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph” (Mark 15:45).
The resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the gospel, for it is the resurrection that settles forever the identity of Jesus. The first sermon preached by the disciples after Jesus’ death mentions the resurrection three times. It is mentioned twice in the second sermon (Acts 3) and once in each of Peter’s two speeches before the Jewish ruling council (Acts 4 & 5).
Paul wrote that the resurrection is the declaration (the proof) that Jesus was the Son of God (Romans 1:4).
Of course, all that, and the total of Christianity, becomes but a lie if in fact Jesus didn’t really die, and over the years several theories have been offered. One is that Jesus didn’t really die, but just fainted – after all, no one died from crucifixion in just three hours. It was usually a long painful death, lingering for days before dying from exposure, thirst, or asphyxiation. In the cool of the tomb he revived and made his escape (though how he got past the guards is left unexplained).
Mark tells us that when Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus, Pilate was surprised Jesus had already died. He sent an officer to make sure – someone experienced in the death business. The report was “yes.” Jesus was dead.
But he didn’t stay dead, and that’s the power behind the “good news” of the Jesus story. His resurrection provides hope for our own. “Through Christ you believe in God, who raised Jesus from the dead and glorified him, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:21).