The Resurrection of Our Lord (Easter Day)

Readings: Job 19:23-27 | 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 | Mark 16:1-8

Text: Mark 16:1-8

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Easter mornings are always the best for Church. We sing louder than any other day. We sing, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today, Alleluia!” We shout for joy. We tell each other He is risen! We celebrate with more friends and family than usual beside us. We feast at the Lord’s table with the whole Church throughout time and eternity. And we always hear the story. The Gospel story, that Jesus is risen from the dead. And we get to see Him appear to those very first eye-witnesses.

Oh, wait, did we somehow miss that last part? That can’t be right. Today’s Gospel lesson doesn’t quite get to seeing Jesus risen from the dead. You have to come to the early service to see Jesus appear to Mary in John 20! Here in Mark 16, we’ve got the women at the tomb. We’ve got the stone rolled away. We’ve even got the angel proclaiming the good news that Jesus is no longer in the grave. And then the women run off. “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

In fact, that’s where the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end. Actually, it might even end in the middle of a sentence. It ends with a word that in Greek can never begin or end a sentence. The last words in Mark are “εφοβουντο γαρ.” They were afraid, therefore…. And it stops. The ESV cleans it up by assuming γαρ was before and means “because.” Nonetheless, no one sees Jesus.

Now, later manuscripts add an ending to Mark. And we don’t exactly know what to do with them. The longer ending seems to draw on the other Gospels, and Acts. It gives us the resurrection of Jesus we’re looking for. But they really don’t seem to be originally from the Evangelist Mark. So still biblical. Just not exactly part of Mark’s story. But you can see how they got put there.

However, this shorter ending actually can be the exact ending Mark has been building to throughout his entire Gospel. For Mark, seeing is not believing. Remember also that Mark’s first audience were Gentile believers living in Rome—those who had never seen Jesus or the places He walked. Consider how in Mark’s Gospel, the disciples see many miracles throughout Jesus’ ministry, and yet not a one will stand by him from the moment He is arrested. Jesus’ enemies see what he does, too. In chapter 3, Jesus heals a man with a withered hand in the sight of all (3:1-6). And yet the Pharisees use that moment to plan Jesus’ destruction. Hanging on the cross, those Pharisees would taunt Jesus with the words, “Let the Christ, the King of Israel come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.

In chapter 8, the Pharisees came to Jesus demanding a sign right after Jesus had just fed four thousand people. Even with the sign in front of their eyes, they demanded to see more before they would believe. And Jesus replied with these words, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say no sign will be given to this generation.” Seeing is not believing.

Hearing, however, is. In Mark’s Gospel, the disciples followed Jesus before they ever saw Him do anything. Blind Bartimaeus in chapter 10 calls out “Lord, have mercy!” without having seen at all. It was the loud shout on the cross when Jesus died that convinced the centurion that, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” Three times we hear Jesus tell us exactly how the cross and resurrection are going to go down. And the cross happened exactly as He said. Now, here at the tomb, there sits an angel with the words, “He has risen. He is not here… Just as He told you.” We hear the Good News, well before we could ever see.

But maybe we should ask whether or not the women at the tomb believed when they heard the good news from the angel. We know they heard. But with that news, “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone.” If there was anyone that should have expected an empty tomb, it was them. We heard of the women just earlier at the end of chapter 15, after Jesus died on the cross, that, “When He was in Galilee, they followed Him and ministered to Him.” They heard Jesus tell the disciples on three different occasions how He was going to die and how He would rise from the dead. But that’s why Mark ends his Gospel the way he does. With that half sentence that just begs to be completed. They were afraid, for indeed…. Where their story ends, yours begins. We start afraid. We start trembling. We start astounded.

I don’t know your fears. But there are fears that are common to all people. Perhaps you’re afraid that you don’t measure up. That you’re not doing a good enough job. Maybe you’re afraid that if you had done better in the past, today’s pains wouldn’t be as sharp as they are. It could be that you’re afraid that you can’t do enough to make right what you did wrong. Or it could be that you’re afraid to ever be wrong, lest everything come crumbling down. Today, you might be afraid of losing one you love. You could be afraid for yourself, of failing health and not being able to take care of what you used to. Then again, maybe waiting for tomorrow will be too much to bear. It could be that there’s so much, that you can’t do it all, and are afraid of disappointing those you love. Or maybe there’s nothing to be done, and you’re desperately lonely. Perhaps death is knocking at your door. And your sin is more than you can bear. Whatever it is, Satan does not let you go unscathed. Whatever it is, it’s not something you can fix.

I don’t know your fears, what makes you tremble. I don’t know what astounds so much that you can’t say anything to anyone. But Jesus has put someone here for you. A young man. Well, youngish man in a white robe who is telling you that Jesus is risen. He is not in the grave. Look here at the place where He was. He has gone ahead of you.

No matter what your fears are, Jesus is risen. Everything you fear is overcome by the Lord Jesus whom even death couldn’t conquer. That is the news we have been waiting to hear. Even if we didn’t know that’s what we needed. For indeed Jesus has taken every fear and carried it Himself. Jesus has taken the things that make us tremble, and nailed them to His cross. Jesus has taken even the most astounding sins, and buried them in His tomb. Look at the place where He was. All our sins lie dead. But Jesus has gone ahead of us into life. We were afraid, for indeed our sin was great. Our fears are overcome, for indeed our Savior is greater. Greater than even death itself. And this is the best thing we could ever hear.

Therefore, Easter is for hearing. Our fears are overcome. Our sins are forgiven. Our griefs, He has shouldered. Our doubts, He has carried. Our worst failures are made right. During, our loneliest hour, Jesus is with us. Death has been defeated. And life is given out to all. This is where the Gospel of Jesus Christ continues. This is where the good news reaches our ears and we hear who we are in Christ. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the Word of God. And so we shout the Easter message so that all may hear.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

The Resurrection of Our Lord (Easter Day)

Readings: Job 19:23–27 | 1 Corinthians 5:6–8 | Mark 16:1–8

Text: Mark 16:1-8 (1 Cor. 5:6-8)

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

On Good Friday, I made the point that when Jesus was crucified, it was a change to the entire Cosmos.  Everything about how God relates to this world has changed.  On this holy day, we rejoice in what happened next.

“When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.”

The Jewish Sabbath is now passed—not just in terms of the passage of time, but in that it has now been fulfilled.  Under Moses, the Sabbath connected back to the first creation

“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.” (Ex. 20:11) 

On that particular day, God commanded—even with threats—that His people stop their labor to keep the Sabbath.  But it was fulfilled when the Son of God, Jesus, took His rest from all the labors He had done in salvation…by resting in the tomb.  “And he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” (Gen. 2:3)  He truly made that Sabbath holy by entering it Himself, and fulfilling its true significance.

What’s left to the people of God is an even greater Sabbath—a true rest from Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath [Matt. 12:8].  “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)  Your works, no matter how long and arduous, no matter how obedient or disciplined you are in God’s Word, can save you.  Our labors cannot save; Jesus’ can and do.

Quoting from Psalm 95, the Apostle to the Hebrews writes:

11             As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’ ”
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end… 4:9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Hebrews 3:11-14, 4:9-10)

All who believe in Christ have that promised rest, and the salvation that He has worked for them.

“2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.”

With the close of the Sabbath is also the close of the command for a specific day—the seventh day—as the designated day for worship.  Many in the early Church, including the Apostles, took this as a cue to worship on the first day of the week, Sunday.  After all, while the Lord completed the first creation and rested on the seventh, He rose from the dead on the first day. 

As one hymnwriter so aptly put it:

This day at earth’s creation

The light first had its birth;

This day for our salvation

Christ rose from depths of earth;

This day our Lord victorious

The Spirit sent from heav’n,

And thus this day most glorious

A threefold light was giv’n.[1]

The first day of the week signifies the beginning of the new creation.  As we heard from St. Paul on Good Friday, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17)  This is reminiscent of the words of Isaiah and of Revelation:

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” And, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (Isaiah 65:17; Rev. 21:1) 

For us who are in Christ, we have the first taste of this new creation.

For the Christian, the first day of the new week signifies the beginning of eternity.  The Christian’s life is not only marked by weeks and years, but in a the rendering of time in the new creation—of endless days.  Why, then, insist upon certain days of this passing world?  In the words of St. Paul,

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Col. 2:16-17)

How we are to live as the people of God in Christ does not sever our roots with the sons of Israel.  Some accuse Christians of preaching a “replacement theology” that would discard all that God has done before for Israel and consider it utterly obsolete.  But this is far from true!  Consider the words of the Epistle, where Paul teaches us the fulfillment of the Passover:

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:7-8)

The Passover has been fulfilled in Christ. The Lord, by His true Passover, though, goes deeper and wider to save.  He goes wider in that this is not simply for Jews and no alien; it is prepared for all people.  He goes deeper in that it is not an outward change that the Lord does, but one in the heart.  He doesn’t just want to see you in church or at Bible study.  He wants all of you to redeem you.  Cleanse out all that is contrary to His will in you.

No longer see God through Moses; but through His only-begotten Son.  Cleanse out the old leaven as God has cleansed out the old.  Ridding your house of leaven and painting your doors with lamb’s blood were certainly fine outward training—at the time.

[1] “O Day of Rest and Gladness” by Christopher Wordsworth (1807-85). Cited from LSB 906, st. 2