An Empty Tomb and a Powerful Commission: Mark 16:1-8

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As we enter the final chapter in Mark’s gospel, we come to the biggest event in the entire Bible. However, the last chapter in Mark is significant for more reasons than simply because it describes the morning of Jesus’ resurrection and the women finding an empty tomb. Above all these things, the last chapter in Mark has controversy surrounding it because the oldest manuscripts we have don’t really conclude this gospel. Mark’s gospel is a gospel without an end.

However, this detail didn’t stop later writers from crafting an ending to Mark’s gospel, and most Bible’s today will include a long or a short ending. However, neither one of these endings are included in the oldest surviving manuscripts.

With this framing in mind, as we read and conclude our passage for this episode, the way our passage ends could be considered the end of Mark’s gospel. While our next two podcast episodes will explore details included in the longer conclusion to Mark’s gospel, there is significant evidence that this ending was added later and not by Mark himself.

But what isn’t contested is what Mark describes in our passage for this episode. So without any further delay, let’s read what Mark tells us happened on the morning Jesus was resurrected. Our passage is found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 16, and we will read from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 1, Mark tells us that:

The day after the Sabbath day, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought some sweet-smelling spices to put on Jesus’ body. Very early on that day, the first day of the week, soon after sunrise, the women were on their way to the tomb. They said to each other, “Who will roll away for us the stone that covers the entrance of the tomb?”

Then the women looked and saw that the stone had already been rolled away, even though it was very large. The women entered the tomb and saw a young man wearing a white robe and sitting on the right side, and they were afraid.

But the man said, “Don’t be afraid. You are looking for Jesus from Nazareth, who has been crucified. He has risen from the dead; he is not here. Look, here is the place they laid him. Now go and tell his followers and Peter, ‘Jesus is going into Galilee ahead of you, and you will see him there as he told you before.’”

The women were confused and shaking with fear, so they left the tomb and ran away. They did not tell anyone about what happened, because they were afraid.

And that’s it. Everything after this last verse in our passage has more evidence against it being written by Mark than it has for it.

However, while Mark’s gospel may have ended here, or its original ending may have been lost, in this passage, we discover at least one woman, Mary Magdalene, show up at the tomb after she watched Jesus’ body be laid there. She wasn’t alone on her trip to the tomb, and from Mark’s description of this event, these women did not expect Jesus’ body to be gone, nor did they expect soldiers to be guarding the tomb.

From the details Mark shares, it would appear that these women knew that the men on Friday were rushed when getting Jesus’ body ready for the tomb, and they may have not thought Jesus’ body was prepared for burial as well as it could have been. Another idea is that they simply wanted to pay their last respects to Jesus because they didn’t have the opportunity on Friday before sunset.

Regardless of the reasoning, the last thing anyone expected was that the tomb would be empty. If the women had suspected an empty tomb, they wouldn’t have brought spices and they wouldn’t have wondered about how they were going to open the tomb to get to Jesus.

However, they arrive at the tomb, the soldiers they were not aware had been posted were gone, and the stone had been rolled away from the opening.

When reading events where angels appeared to people in the Bible, I’m always humored that the people involved are described as being afraid and the angels always seem to begin by saying “Don’t be afraid”.

However, the angel’s message to these women has a couple of interesting details.

First, in verse 6, the angel tells them, “You are looking for Jesus from Nazareth, who has been crucified. He has risen from the dead; he is not here. Look, here is the place they laid him.” This messenger knows exactly why they were there, but he basically says, you’ve come to the right place, but you’re too late. It is as though this messenger knew people would be coming, and he has been commissioned to tell them what happened and to remind them that this is what Jesus had predicted.

Also, in the angel’s message to these women, he gives them a commission. In verse 7, the angel continues by telling them, “Now go and tell his followers and Peter, ‘Jesus is going into Galilee ahead of you, and you will see him there as he told you before.’

In my mind, it is powerful that the angel singles out Peter by name. Of all the disciples who abandoned Jesus, Peter may have felt the worst because not only did he abandon Jesus, but he also had denied Jesus the three times Jesus had predicted. Singling Peter out by name gives us hope that even when we mess up and fail God, He is willing to accept us back to Him when we are willing to return. This angel-messenger doesn’t speak poorly of Peter, or Peter’s decisions. Instead, this angel’s message is given to encourage not only all the disciples, but especially Peter as well.

Mark’s last words in this passage speak to how we are prone to failing as a race. While much of the gospel record gives us numerous examples of Jesus’ disciples failing Him, here we have one example of the women who were commissioned failing the task they were challenged to do. However, the failure doesn’t last forever, since other gospels describe how the women ultimately do tell the disciples the message, and how word gets out about Jesus’ miraculous resurrection.

As we have seen in our year of podcasting through Mark’s gospel, one of Mark’s big themes is God’s love for us. Even when we fail God, He never gives up on us! If you have felt as though you have failed God, don’t give up on God because He hasn’t given up on you. Instead, return to Him, ask for forgiveness, and restart your walk with God from a place where you are a little older and a little wiser than you were before. With God, we never restart our spiritual journeys at the same place, but every restart is further ahead than the last one as we continue walking through life towards eternity.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and choose to bring your lives, your challenges, and your heart to God and let Him use you for His glory. When life gets scary or confusing, don’t give up on God or on the mission He has placed before you. Instead, lean into God and trust that He will equip you with everything you need to fulfill the challenges He brings your way.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to learn, grow, and become more of the person God has created you to be. Grow your personal relationship with God and don’t let anyone or anything get between you and God. Pastors, authors, speakers, podcasters, or even close friends can have great things to say, but always take what you hear and see and test it against the truth of God’s Word!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or give up on where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Mark – Episode 48: When reading how Mark describes the women’s visit to Jesus’ tomb, we see them meet an angel, and we see these women receive a commission to tell the good news about what happened to Jesus.

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