Fear and Trembling in the New Year

Most New Testament scholars will tell you: the last 12 verses of Mark were not written by the gospel writer. They were almost assuredly later additions. The earliest copies of Mark that we have don’t have verses 9 through 20, and, those verses don’t seem to fit Mark’s style either. In fact, if you check your Bibles – especially recent versions – most of them have brackets around these last 12 verses with some statement about how these were probably later embellishments to the book. So, the last passage in Mark that we’re pretty sure Mark actually wrote is verse 8: “So they went out and fled from the tomb for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.”

This is a strange place to end a book.

Books have been concluded in odd ways before. (Alice in Wonderland famously ends with a disappointing “it was all just a dream” and don’t even get me started on how The Grapes of Wrath concludes) But, one that begins with “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the son of God” would seem to necessitate a more … “good-news-ish” conclusion than fear and terror and telling no one. Scholars have long debated whether this is where the original Gospel of Mark actually ended or if our earliest manuscripts represent a gospel with its last couple pages torn out, so to speak. Is this the way Mark intended his gospel to conclude? Was Mark physically unable to finish the work? Did he get called away to an emergency board meeting? Did Mark’s dog get a hold of his final papyrus? (Mark’s dog – undoubtedly named Marcion)

This is an issue over which the Christian church has wrestled for decades. Barrels of ink have been spilled explaining the abruptness of the ending or why, in fact, Mark never intended to end his gospel there. And, this forces us to ask other hard questions: Does this affect the way we preach from Mark? Should we even use the last 12 verses at all? Or, even perhaps more importantly, how do we understand inspiration of scripture in light of this?

While we don’t have time to answer these questions here,** we do have time to consider what the Holy Spirit might be saying to us in the midst of a potentially abrupt Markan ending. As we finish 2016 and begin 20017, some of you may find yourself in a similar place. Possibly, your 2016 ended in a way you didn’t expect. Maybe your circumstances caught you blindsided, and now you find yourself having a hard time coping. Perhaps, like the women of Mark 16, you find yourself fleeing situations, afraid of how your own story - or the story of your family, your friends, your relationships, your church, your job, or your country - might end.

Take heart. The story begun in Mark 1, ultimately, doesn’t end with the fear, terror, and amazement of chapter 16. We know the ending – not just because we have Matthew, Luke, John, and Acts to fill in the gaps, but because, like the early church, we continue to experience the transforming power of the same faithful God today! The God over the chaos of Mark 16 is the same God over the victory of Revelation 21.

Just like the women of Mark 16, you may find yourself in a place of emotional, mental, or spiritual chaos. But, remember: the women’s fear and amazement was a natural, human response to an exciting, new reality. Christ had risen! God was on the move! And, their fear would soon be turned to faith. This 2017, allow God to mold your fears into faith that the confusion and turmoil of 2016 might be turned into the joy of God’s continued, exciting, transforming revelation.

Have a blessed and fruitful New Year as you continue your work in the Lord.

Your SoCal district administration

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