Mark’s true ending is very brief — almost shockingly, stunningly so. It’s dramatic and abrupt. Mark ends with trembling, astonishment, speechlessness, fear — awe. The women are in a state of terrified bewilderment, gripped by the wondrous reality of the resurrection. They know He’s alive; they saw the empty tomb and heard the angel. They are speechless, and so is Mark.
And I think it is fitting to end the Gospel in a way so dramatic and so powerful that the women can’t speak and Mark can’t write. Mark had introduced his Gospel as, “The gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and the resurrection proved it. Case closed. Seeing this, the women were put to flight out of sheer rapturous bewilderment, and that is where Mark ends. It’s abrupt, but I don’t believe it’s in any way incomplete or inadequate.
However, some people in the early church thought this ending was too short. Somewhere along the line they started tacking more on to the end. And that is the part of Mark 16 that appears in brackets. This part, Mark 16:9-20, does not appear in the earliest copies of Mark. It was an attempt by later editors to “help” Mark with his “insufficient” ending. But let me show you why it is fitting for Mark to end exactly how it does, by giving you a tour through the book. Look at how fear and amazement at Jesus is a theme all the way through:
They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach. They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Mark 1:21-22)
And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” Throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” (Mark 1:25-27)
And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.” (Mark 2:12)
And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? How is it that you have no faith?” They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mark 4:39-41)
They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened. Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine. And they began to implore Him to leave their region. (Mark 5:15-17)
And He looked around to see the woman who had done this. But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. (Mark 5:32-33)
Taking the child by the hand, He said to her, “Talitha kum!” (which translated means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl got up and began to walk, for she was twelve years old. And immediately they were completely astounded. (Mark 5:41-42)
Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished. (Mark 6:51)
Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified. (Mark 9:5-6)
Immediately, when the entire crowd saw Him, they were amazed and began running up to greet Him. (Mark 9:15)
The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:24)
They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking on ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were fearful. (Mark 10:32)
The chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching. (Mark 11:18)
And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed at Him. (Mark 12:17)
Then Pilate questioned Him again, saying, “Do You not answer? See how many charges they bring against You!” But Jesus made no further answer; so Pilate was amazed. (Mark 15:4-5)
And so, having read all of this, why should it surprise us that Mark ends his Gospel by again recording a shocked reaction to Jesus’s works?
Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed.
And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.’”
They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:5-8)
I can’t think of a better ending, can you? Mark ends where it begins: with amazement over the Lord Jesus Christ. When you stop where you should stop in Mark, you step back in awe of the amazing Jesus. Every lesson, every miracle, every stunning answer that He gave, every insight, every righteous word, every righteous act fills you with stunned amazement. You are left speechless, like the women seeing the tomb.
If there is anything missing in modern preaching, it is Jesus Christ. There are too many little homiletical talks about how to fix your life. The massive hole in the church is the vacuum of the dominating presence of Jesus Christ.
Paul said, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2). May we have a heart to never take our eyes off of Christ.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 2012, titled “Confidence in God’s Word, as It Is Written.”
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