When looking at a sinful man the Christian should always react with the words, except for the grace of God there I go. The true Christian is a sinner saved by grace, and apart from a continued transforming grace, sin is still alive and kicking. This idea is sublimely alive in the conclusion of Mark’s Gospel. Some early manuscripts end Mark’s Gospel with verse 8 of chapter 16.
“They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Can you imagine if Christianity had ended in such manner? There are scholars that believe the concluding verses of 9 through 20 were originally comments as you might find in a study Bible. The translators wanting a fuller explanation than the one originally given. In time they were included in the text but that was not so from the first writing. I can understand such a thinking because ending the Gospel with trembling and a failure to communicate hardly seems fitting for Christianity.
However, God is completely honest about the condition of man apart from the grace of God, and the working of the Holy Spirit in transformation. Such an ending to Mark is comparable to the book of Jonah that ends with the prophet complaining about God’s mercy toward sinful Nineveh. God responded to Jonah by saying to him,
“Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?" (Jonah 4:11)
The comment about not knowing the right hand from the left meant they were children. Such a conclusion does not seem fitting for Jonah either. The book of Jonah ends honestly, however, by revealing the condition of every prophet apart from the transforming grace of God. God is merciful even if the prophet is not. Eventually, however, Jonah saw the light of God’s mercy. How do I know? He wrote the book, in which he was perfectly transparent about his own prejudice and selfishness in light of God’s mercy. If there is one thing that Christian’s always need a little more of it is humility.
Matthew and John end their Gospel by looking to the coming Holy Spirit. Luke ends with the ascension, which is how he begins the book of Acts. Only Mark’s Gospel supposedly ads Jesus’ rebuke for unbelief, which the other Gospels view Jesus in a much softer way. Mark 16: 9-20 really does read more like a commentary than a Gospel. How gently Jesus restored Thomas in John 20, and compassionately He encouraged Peter in John 21.
In verses 17 and 18 there is a comment about the signs that would accompany those who believe. Unfortunately, for the majority of 2,000 years men have not spoken in tongues, and only fringe groups have played with snakes, and I don’t know if any group drinks poison, maybe cool aid. The proof of faith is not sign gifts but a holy life. A sign gift is much too easy to counterfeit, but a truly holy life is another matter. Sin is the primary issue in becoming a Christian, in both being forgiven and living out forgiveness through gratitude and obedience. Humility is very hard to model, it takes a life lived at the foot of the cross, where mourning over sin becomes a daily practice, which in turn puts all rivalry to death. You cannot find any statement in the book of Acts where the followers of Jesus argued about who would be greatest in the coming kingdom. Such behavior is reserved for those who are living in the flesh and not in the Spirit.