The Resurrection of Our Lord

Readings: Isaiah 25:6-9 | 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 | Mark 16:1-8

Text: Mark 16:1-9

In our day, despite ignorance of the Bible and a general apathy toward religion, Christianity is so ingrained into the society, that hardly anyone objects to the celebration of Easter.  So long as by Easter you mean spring, sprinkled with subtle hints of ancient fertility rites that involve rabbits, birds, and flowers.

But even still, it passes in polite society to have bare crosses draped in white.  Yes, people say, that’s why Christians revere this as a holiday, because they believe Jesus rose from the dead.  But without serious thought, that belief can be relegated to folk myth.  Really, the important thing is the Easter breakfast and ham dinners.  And my children would remind me of the candy! 

When I was a child, growing up in a home where the Bible was not read, this is what Easter meant to me.  It was right up there with Christmas as far as special days that commemorate something, but the upshot of them was giving of gifts, the special occasion of seeing family, and overeating.

The sad thing about only having a cultural Easter is that you can do all these things, while it doesn’t matter if the man Jesus is still in the grave or not, or even if history remembers him correctly.  It was not this way when Mark wrote his Gospel.  For Christians in the second half of the first century, it was very important whether the things they believed were actually true and trustworthy.  Their livelihoods and sometimes their lives were on the line, depending on where they lived and the bent of the current administration toward this Jewish sect.

For those who were risking their reputation and property based on the proclamation of Jesus, they longed for assurance.  In a time of social and institutional pressure, the young Church, increasingly comprised of second-generation believers, could have wished that they had been born just a little bit earlier, so they could have heard these teaching first-hand and they could have seen the signs and the resurrection for themselves.  Then, perhaps they would have an easier time when skeptics raised objection, and when their beliefs were considered alien by their family and neighbors.

The account of the Resurrection in Mark speaks to those concerns, and if you will allow, I believe it also speaks to our doubts, disappointments, and fears as worshipers of Jesus some 1930 years later.

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.

Recall what we heard last Sunday when the Passion was read from Mark 15: 46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.”  These women had been eye-witnesses of not only the death, but also the burial of Jesus.  Between these verses, 24 hours have passed, and during that time his disciples sat on proverbial pins and needles—despair over the merciless and gruesome death of Jesus, fear over whether Jesus’ associates would also be made into an example, anger at the corruption of justice and truth, and honest confusion about why God had allowed all this to take place.  Nonetheless, they kept the Sabbath rest, and as soon as it was over at sunset on Saturday, they bought spices to complete the burial of Jesus.  But things were far from clear to them at this point.

And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large.

One of the marks of good literature is that the characters are polished and the action progresses smoothly.  The answers come in due time, and everything unfolds to a satisfactory conclusion.  But the Gospel is not this kind of good literature; it’s the truthful account of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth and His followers.  With a particular attention to detail, it mentions that these three women had wondered, “How are we going to move the stone?”  And for those of us who weren’t there, Mark adds, “it was very large” because it was a tomb for Joseph of Arimathea’s family.[1] 

We are along the road with them, wondering how things are going to work.  The future is unknown to us, wish as we might so that we could plan and prepare!  We are, like these women going to what they suppose to be a closed tomb, going step by step, with only God knowing what will come to pass.

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed.

Those who have read Matthew and Luke will know that this is an angel of God, so it’s no wonder that they are in fearful awe.  And as students of the Scriptures, we’ll also recognize that when an angel comes on the scene, there is something very important happening, because this kind of appearance does not happen every day.  Every time God sends a glorious heavenly messenger, it has to do with His saving work—whether calling Sodom to repentance, the Exodus, the return of God’s people after the Exile, or the births of John and Jesus.  It’s these places that God uses fiery highlighter on so that we are in awe and pay attention to His Word.

And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed.”

At this point, however, the Gospel shifts from being a simply a recounting of past events that we are watching play out.  Dr. James Voelz points out that the verbs change at this point from past tense to present tense.  Perhaps a closer translation will help: “He is saying to them, ‘Stop being alarmed!’” Like when Alfred Hitchcock turns to the camera and addresses the audience, or an aside in a play, the “fourth wall” is broken, and the message of the angel is also addressed to us who are listening. 

The first hearers were beset with uncertainty and fear.  They’re alarmed by the power the enemies of Christ seem to wield, by the uphill battle there seems to be against the powers of darkness at work in the world.  It’s akin to Jesus’ disciples who were convinced that evil had won over their beloved Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth.

The angel speaks to us, God-fearing Christians who see the world arrayed against God, His Word and His ways.  We see trouble on the horizon as the powers at work in the world will demand that we choose between what they see as antiquated beliefs about gender and sexuality. That decision will impact our participation in school sports, employment practices, and the ability of Christian doctors to object to hormone therapies.  When we see this rising tide militantly aimed against us and what we believe, it’s scary. 

Stop being alarmed, says the angel.  Why?

You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified One.[2] He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.

The world, Satan, and death did their worst against the Nazarene, Jesus.  They thought they had won.  But He is not there, because they did not succeed.  “Why do the nations rage  and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed…He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” (Ps. 2:1-2, 4) In fact, what they succeeded at was their own downfall.  God reckoned the sins of all on Jesus.  By His death, He destroyed the power of sin and death, and took away Satan’s accusations. 

And do we think that God who defeated evil at its apex, is not able to save His people today?  When we are afraid of what we see happening in the world, we need to go back and study the Scriptures more closely!  Mark how God is able to work all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Rom. 8:28)  When our relatives and friends wander away and drift into the darkness of life apart from their Savior, remember how strong God’s love is to save, and marvelous ways He calls the unlikely and unsuspecting to Himself—Rahab, Ruth, the Ninevites, Saul who became Paul, and even your pastor.

Then the angel directs them to this: “See the place where they laid Him.” See what?  He’s not there.  Exactly.  The empty tomb is the evidence that all this is true.  So, future disciples who cannot see for themselves may know they have the proof they need.  We do not see anything, but we have the faithful Word of God.  Just as He told you.

Lastly, the angel says to the women:

But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

There were a lot of failings of the disciples—unbelief, hardness of heart, infighting.[3]  However, the latest and most public of their sins was Peter’s fall from “If I must die with you, I will not deny you” to “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” (Mark 14:31, 71)  Peter, that rock of the Church, leader of the Twelve, betrayed His Lord, lied, and was immediately called to account by a crowing rooster.  But the angel especially mentioned Peter because even his great failing did not destroy the Lord’s saving work.  He bore that cross, bled and died, and was buried, all for Peter’s great sin, too. 

Personal shame is something that can keep us bound, hidden away even from the Lord.  We may not say it quite like, “How could God ever forgive me for that?” but the effect is the same when we can’t bear to look the people we betrayed in the eye.  Perhaps we even make righteous excuses why we can’t be around them, and weakly make something they’ve done be the reason we stay away.  Yet, beloved, for whom did Christ go to the cross, die, and rise for?  It was for every sinner—man, woman, and child—whose sins are great and small.  It was for murderers, slanderers, idolaters, homosexual and transgender, those who move in together before getting married, those who insult and neglect their parents, for drunks, for the gluttonous, and for all your sins which you know and feel or do not.  God’s angel is telling you that Jesus nevertheless has gone before you, to the cross, down into the grave, risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven as the High Priest who prays for you and by whose sacrifice you have peace with God and man.

The angel points the women and us, not to what our eyes can see—for that moment in time has passed—but to the Words of Jesus, “Just has He said to you.”  Blessed, indeed, are those who hear the Word of God and keep it and treasure it in their hearts, because through His Word comes His Kingdom, His victory over sin and hell, and His unshakable and faithful promise to receive weak and fallible disciples in the riches of His glory. Amen.

[1] Matt. 27:60

[2] Translation reflects the perfect participle, used as part of the title: “Jesus, the Nazarene, the Crucified One”

[3] Mark 6:6, 6:52, 9:33-37

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