“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16.8).
If ever a book had an unconvincing ending, then this is it, surely? The resurrection is the great claim and challenge of the Christian faith. It is Christianity’s bold assertion that Christ conquered death, when He rose bodily from the tomb. In this resurrection we have the proof that death is not the end. And in this resurrection we have the assurance that those who die in faith in Jesus will not fear the judgement seat of God, but will be raised to everlasting life in heaven. A Man lives forever in heaven, and has prepared a place there for us, too.
So why finish this extraordinary witness to Jesus’ life, ministry, death and then resurrection with a picture of trembling women running in terror from the tomb? Did Mark really think that his readers will be won over by the claim that it was women who saw the tomb empty? Afterall, a woman’s evidence wasn’t admissible in a first century Jewish court. And why the bewilderment, when, according to Mark’s often-reported words of Christ, they were assured by Him that He would rise from the dead? Forgetfulness, misunderstanding and then fear aren’t a good basis for anyone’s witness, or personal faith, are they?
True. But there is a faith which is honest. There is a faith which is born and nurtured in the context of doubts, mistakes, and false starts as well as setbacks. Likewise, there is a witness to Jesus Christ which might actually be authentic because it admits its own stumbles. No, an angel doesn’t go and tell the world that Jesus is alive. And yes, it could be left to these nervous, scared women to do that, joined later of course by even more nervous and far more scared men. There’s actually no good historical evidence that the verses slipped into many Bibles after this event were ever written by Mark. The facts suggest that they were someone else’s bright idea, designed with good intention to “tidy things up”, giving a more impressive ending to the Gospel, and maybe a more convincing one.
Well, I’m unconvinced. And the longer I try and live the Christian Faith the more I’m convinced by, and marvel at, the genius of Mark’s ending as we have it, finishing at v.8. Mark wants to lay this resurrection event before us in its stark challenge. Did it happen? Did Jesus Christ really rise from the dead? Was the tomb empty? Was an angel really there? Did the women really witness it? And if they did, and it’s all true, what does it mean? And should we believe it, too?
Are you convinced about Jesus, as we leave this Gospel? Or are you bewildered, perhaps, and need time to weigh the evidence more carefully? We cannot be indifferent before such an incredible life, death and empty grave. As Mark began his Gospel, He teaches us that the coming of Jesus is Good News. Do we understand that? Will we open our lives to His Lordship? He is, as Mark teaches us, the Son of God. We need Him.