Formations 04.21.2019: Go and Tell

The Three Maries at the Empty Tomb, Psalter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, c. 1185

Mark 16:1-8

I believe in evangelism; I’m just not very good at it.

I might attribute my aversion to sharing the gospel to my introverted nature or to my general Midwestern hesitance to open up about the things that matter most to me. It might be closer to the truth to say that I don’t want anybody to get the impression that I’m one of “those” kinds of Christians.

“Evangelism,” you see, isn’t just a scary word for Christians. It’s a scary word for those who fear becoming the target of somebody’s evangelistic fervor. When I was a pastor, I once visited someone in the hospital at the same time as another pastor. We tended to the person we had come to see and then exchanged the usual pleasantries with the person in the next bed. Before I knew it, my colleague had launched into a full-blown evangelistic presentation to this person that neither of us had ever met before! When the pastor asked if we could pray with him, the poor guy in the bed nodded toward me and said, “He can pray for me.”

We’ve done evangelism so badly for so long, I’m afraid, that very few people seem able to get comfortable with the idea.

The angel tells the women, “I want you to go and tell people that Jesus has been raised from the dead.” Instead, they keep their mouths shut because they are afraid. We’re kindred spirits, those women and me.

And that’s where Mark’s Gospel ends—at least according to the oldest and best manuscripts. Was that the ending Mark intended? Did the last page get lost somewhere early on? We’ll never know on this side of eternity.

I’ve learned, though, the be thankful for the non-ending we have. The story on the page ends with fear and amazement, but the fact that we even have this book in our Bibles tells us that the message got through somehow. Somebody finally got up the courage to tell somebody else that Jesus Christ was no longer dead. God had raised him from the dead, and everything he said about the kingdom of God and giving his life as a ransom for many is true.

And that person told somebody else, who told somebody else…until centuries later, somebody told me the old, old story of Jesus and his love.

Today, it is still the most powerful message the world has ever heard. Doesn’t everyone have the right to hear it? It’s the kind of message that can change hearts, mend relationships, and heal the world. And it’s the message you and I have been entrusted to share.

Or are we afraid?

Discussion

• What might the Gospel writer have intended us to make of his ending?
• How might this abrupt ending have engaged the Gospel’s first readers, perhaps living in fear of Roman persecution?
• How does Mark’s account of the resurrection inspire faith?
• How can believers share their faith authentically, compassionately, and confidently?

Reference Shelf

Resurrection Hope

The resurrection of Jesus differs in one crucial respect from the prevalent first-century Jewish expectation for a general resurrection of the dead. Jewish expectation was for a corporate resurrection—all the righteous would be vindicated—which would occur at the end of time. The resurrection of Jesus does not diminish the eschatological flavor of resurrection hope but it does relocate the hope radically. The resurrection of Jesus—that which happens to one person—is confessed as an event in history which has eschatological significance. Thus, not only is the resurrection of Jesus a transformation of Jesus, it is also the immediate cause for the transformation of a resurrection hope from a corporate, eschatological event to a personal, historical event with corporate, eschatological implications.

Richard F. Wilson, “Resurrection in the New Testament,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 755–56.

God’s Promises Fulfilled

The earliest manuscripts of the Gospel end with v. 8. The question naturally arises as to whether the evangelist could have actually ended the Gospel at this point, whether he intended to write more but did not, or whether the original ending (and perhaps the beginning, see the commentary on 1:1) of the Gospel is lost.

The report of the angel’s words ends with v. 7, and the narrator reports the failure of the women to carry out their commission. The verb “to flee” (pheugo) is used elsewhere in Mark in relation to Jesus’ miracles (5:14), eschatological urgency (13:14), and the failure of the disciples (14:50, 52), and all three contexts are relevant here. The women flee from the tomb in fear because of what they had witnessed there, but their flight and subsequent silence convey that they no less than Jesus’ disciples have moved from fear to failure. The verse is a couplet, each part of which contains a statement and an explanation:

1. a. “So they went out and fled from the tomb,

            b. “for terror and amazement had seized them;”

2. a. “and they said nothing to anyone,

            b. “for they were afraid.”

Both explanatory statements attribute the women’s actions to fear. Their fear is described first with two words that have not been used earlier in this scene: “terror” (tromos) and “amazement” (ekstasis, see 5:42; Ps 55:4-5), and in the final statement with the verb “they were afraid” (phobeomai). The latter is used throughout Mark to describe the failure of the disciples and others to grasp the significance of Jesus’ mighty acts (4:41; 5:15, 33, 36; 6:50; 9:32; 10:32; 11:18). Like the disciples, therefore, the women fail in their commission. The theme of human failure is therefore complete. The religious authorities, Jesus’ hometown, the disciples, the crowds, the Roman authorities, and even the women who accompanied Jesus to Jerusalem failed him. On the other hand, God’s promises have been fulfilled. The fulfillment of the Scriptures and the words of Jesus, the voice from heaven, the phenomena that accompanied Jesus’ death, and finally God’s resurrection of Jesus are all signs of God’s unfailing trustworthiness. There is no doubt that the promised meeting in Galilee will take place, although it is uncertain whether the tradition Mark knew contained a mountaintop appearance as in Matthew 28:16-20 or a lakeside appearance as in John 21.

R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 588–89.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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