The short ending of Mark bothers a lot of people. It is just so – unsatisfactory. The women encountered a miraculous sight. They were given explicit instructions. And then they ran away, fearful, and said nothing to anyone.
There was no appearance of Jesus Christ in the flesh, and there was no real indication the women were going to muster the courage to tell people the tomb was empty.
And so the longer ending was added.
My own belief is Mark finished his gospel with the shorter ending – at verse 8. It fits with everything we’ve seen from the followers of Jesus to that point. They were a people who grappled repeatedly with fear, and Jesus was consistently telling them they needed to have no fear. It was faith that counted.
And the disciples were a people who repeatedly failed to follow through. We’ve already noted how the Twelve disappeared from view in Chapter 14. They were rocky soil – they had no root, and when the sun rose, they were scorched. When trials and tribulations came, they disappeared. They ran away.
When the women ran away trembling, it was like the last hold-outs of faith had finally fallen. The women in Mark, generally speaking, were the strong ones. But there they went at the end, fleeing from the tomb, “for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
And again, fear has no place in the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ. After Jesus calmed the storm on that boat with the Twelve, he turned to them: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40). The battle in Mark’s Gospel is between faith and fear. It is severely disappointing to see the women followers of Jesus running away in fear.
With all of that said, we know verse 8 isn’t the last word on the Jesus movement. The fact we are here today, worshipping the risen Christ, is evidence enough those women didn’t stay stuck in their fear. It is evidence enough to know that they did tell someone!
I think Mark gave us this abrupt ending because he wants to test what kind of soil we are. This is the “soil-test” ending. Farmers and gardeners will occasionally do soil tests to determine the composition of their soil – to know whether the soil is good and improving, or whether there is still more work that needs to be done to make it good soil.
Mark was giving us a soil-test. This ending was designed to trigger a response. Are we going to be silent and fearful like those women? Or are we going to share the good news of Jesus Christ’s resurrection with the people around us? Or maybe more to Mark’s point, Do we believe Jesus Christ is the risen Son of God or not? Now is the time to decide.
The gospel of Jesus Christ requires a response. Our own salvation is dependent upon our response to this good news. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
We must “receive” Christ in order to experience eternal life – to enter into the family of God. It is not enough to read the story of the gospel and say, “Well, that’s nice,” and then move on with our lives.
Please read the first eight verses of Mark 16 again. What is your response today?