Sunday, April 24, 2011

Many Endings But One Conclusion: An Easter Sunday Reflection On The Endings of Marks Gospel

I watched the movie “16 Blocks” recently on DVD. It was a good movie with a gripping story. All the way through the movie runs a theme that the main characters wrestle with: can people change? A criminal who is now giving states evidence against crooked cops is wanting to turn over a new leaf move out west and open a bakery and a warn out cop crippled with guilt has a chance to do something right for a change. They both have the chance to change from their past. I don’t want to ruin the movie by telling you the end. But I do want to tell you that the movie has two endings. On the DVD you can choice to watch the movie with the ending that went out on the cinema release and also an alternative ending. The cinema ending is a typical Hollywood one leaving you smiling, and all warm and fuzzy inside. The alternative ending is sadder and you may need your tissues. But either way at the end of the movie it comes to the same conclusion people can change. Marks gospel is kind of like that movie it too has several endings. Scholars in fact identify three endings: It cuts off abruptly at v 9 and leaves us dangling in the air, there is a shorter ending found on some manuscripts that tries to tie everything together and there is a longer ending that does not appear on early manuscripts but seems to be a later writers attempt to finish Mark’s gospel by rounding it out with all the other gospel narratives about Jesus resurrection. Three different endings but one irrefutable conclusion Jesus is Alive.

Mark starts his ending with an account of the women coming to the tomb.

The women named again as the ones who had faithfully stood at the cross and faithfully followed Joseph of Arimathia to see where Jesus was buried bought spices to anoint Jesus body as soon as the Sabbath had ended. Then having spent the night waiting at first light they went to the tomb wondering as they went who would roll the stone away for them.

They arrive and find the stone already rolled away and a young man dressed in white sitting on the right side of it alarms the women. Their reaction and the young mans opening words “do not be alarmed “ are enough for us to realise that this was no man but rather an angel. Every time people encounter angels in the scriptures they find themselves filled with alarm and fear and the first thing that the angel has to do is calm them down: fear not, don’t be alarmed.

The angel then tells the women that Jesus of Nazarene is not there that he is risen and he is alive, that they are to tell the peter and the disciples that he has gone ahead of them to Galilee and will met with him there.

Then the earliest manuscripts finish up in the air and with great irony. All through Jesus ministry he had told people not to tell about the wonders he had done, its what we call the messianic secret. It’s as if we have been let into the secret of who Jesus is as we read the gospel and the people in his time have to work it out for themselves. But now when the angel tells the women to go and tell the greatest news of all these women who had courageously been at the foot of the cross and had followed Jesus even when his disciples had deserted him are too frightened and do not say any thing.

Scholars have wondered if Mark never really finished his gospel, the whole gospel the feel of being a hurried account of Jesus life all the way through and maybe because of something that happened to him he never finished it off. But the conclusion is very clear. Jesus is alive.

Even if it stops here somewhat up in the air there is a lot for us it’s enough. Peter and the disciples had run away and deserted Jesus. Peter had denied Jesus three times, but in the message from Jesus that he has gone ahead of them to Galilee is Jesus offering them a chance to be reconciled with him to have their sins forgiven and follow him. In John Chapter 21 the disciples say lets go back home lets go fishing and there is the wonderful account of Jesus meeting them there on the lake front and Jesus asking Peter the question do you love me three times giving him the chance to publicly declare himself for Jesus. They may have thought they were running away but according to Mark Jesus went before them to meet with them. Jesus is alive and the invitation to all of us is to come and meet with the risen Jesus Christ. Come and have the past failings and sins forgiven, the slate whipped clean and start afresh following Jesus. If you never have or even if you feel like you’ve blown it and blown it and blown it Jesus offers the chance to start again. He is alive you can meet with him and be renewed.

The faithful women who are rewarded by being the first to hear the good news that Jesus is alive were afraid to tell the others at first. In the other gospel accounts we know that they got over that and told the disciples. But in Mark’s gospel we are left with the invitation to declare what the women know. The gospel leaves it in our hands to proclaim the good news Jesus is risen from the dead just as he said he would do. It is the singularly most important fact for the Christian faith and we are invited to proclaim that at the end of the narrative. With all that it means.

There is also a shorter ending to Marks gospel, which appears in a few later Greek manuscripts.

They reported all these instructions briefly to Peter’s companions. Afterwards, Jesus himself sent out through them the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.

It’s treated as a latter inclusion and in most new translations of the bible it’s not included in the text like the more common longer ending. Scholars say that the language used is totally different than the language Mark uses in his gospel. But again its a different ending with the same conclusion, Jesus is alive. It ends not with the messianic secret, not giving us a chance to declare our own affirmation that Jesus is alive but to add our cry to those of the disciples and apostles and people down through history who Jesus himself has sent out with the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. It is many endings from one conclusion: Jesus is alive.

It is the end of the hold of sin and death on us. Nicki Cruz was recently in New Zealand invited by affiliates of the gangs in this country to them the story of how the risen Jesus Christ had turned him from a feared gangland warrior into a follow of Christ. You may know the story Niki and his gang the MauMau’s were invited to a gospel meeting by David Wilkinson and they had arranged with their arch rivals to battle it out to the death at this stupid preachers rally. They would lock the doors and the last gang standing would rule it all. But Nikki and many others met Jesus Christ that day. The next day many were seen returning goods they had stolen to their rightful owners. They went and apologised to the police for causing so much trouble asking the police to sign their bibles. Nikki began working with drug addicts and gang members to have their lives turned around. Jesus is alive the power of sin is defeated.

The good news of eternal salvation lead Paul to proclaim ‘death where is your victory, where is your sting death has been swallowed up victory. For those who believe death is not the end but rather it is a doorway through which we step from this world knowing and following Christ to the next where we will see him face to face and dwell in the house of the lord forever. Many endings because of that one conclusion Jesus is alive

Mark's gospel has a longer ending as well. Again it’s pretty well considered by all as a latter addition to the gospel. Possibly even a second century tag on, trying to provide a good rounded end to Mark’s gospel. In the pew bible you will see that it is introduced as ‘An Old Ending To The Gospel’. Again scholars tell us that its form and structure are different than the rest of Marks gospel. What it does is it ties together all the other gospel traditions, Jesus other appearances, to Mary Magdalene recorded in John’s gospel. The two on the road to Emmaus that Luke writes of. He appears to the eleven scalding them for their unbelief, possibly talking of Jesus appearance to Thomas as well. Like Luke and Matthew’s gospel Jesus gives the disciples the commission to go throughout all the world and proclaim the good news. There is an affirmation that Jesus would send his spirit and that the disciples would preform signs and wonders that would be God’s backing up their words. The list reads like a summary of what is recorded in Luke’s sequel to the gospel the book of Acts. The apostles speak in tongues at Pentecost and other times, the sick are healed, Paul is bitten by a snake but lives, demons were driven out, miracles preformed, The stepping on scorpions and drinking poison and not being harmed may be a bit strange to our ears.

Then this longer ending has the ascension and affirms that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the father and the disciples went and did what Jesus had commanded them and the lord worked with them preforming miracles that proved their preaching was true.

Many endings and one conclusion, Jesus is alive.

In this ending the effect of Jesus resurrection is worked out in Jesus being seated at the right hand of the father, but also Jesus being present by his spirit in the lives of his followers. He is at work through them, through us, to spread the good news that Jesus the Son of God is alive and we can know him and be saved from our darkness to live and serve him in his kingdom.

Jesus is alive, our journeys all will have different ending. We will go different ways and face different things in life and by his spirit he is with on that journey. On that journey we too are called to tell the wonderful news we know of Jesus the Son of God and we can have confidence that Jesus will back up the words we have to say.
Like this gospel all who believe in him will have different endings to our journey, and we will be called to proclaim the good news along that journey and Christ will be with us There will be many endings there is one conclusion the tomb is empty, Jesus is alive.


  1. Greetings Howard,

    Before you draw any conclusions about what is the right way to conclude the Gospel of Mark, please be careful about which commentators you trust. There is a lot of misinformation about this passage floating about. I have investigated it carefully and would be glad to share my research (in which I offer a case that Mark 16:9-20 was added in the production-stage of the Gospel of Mark, not later on) on request. Email links are at the website; look for the resources for NT textual criticis:

    Keep serving the Lord!

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  2. thank you James for your comments and your help. While I agree there is a lot of differnet scholarship as to the different endings of Mark's gospel I have only drawn one conclusion'He is risen"