2 Sam 7:12-16; Ps 16; 1 Cor 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8
(The church has been working through Mark’s Gospel Sunday by Sunday)
Mark has the most surprising testimony to the resurrection of Christ of the four Gospels.
It has no resurrection appearances and the Easter note of rejoicing we anticipate in the face of Jesus’ triumph over death is strikingly absent (Matt 28:8; Luke 24:41; 52).
The last words in Mark, “they were afraid”, are not something any of us would choose to celebrate the greatest day in the Christian calendar. By now however we should recognise Mark’s Jesus doesn’t fit our template for a Messiah.
This is the Gospel where Jesus explains that he teaches in parables so that “those outside” God’s kingdom “‘When they see what I do, they will learn nothing.
When they hear what I say, they will not understand.
Otherwise, they will turn to me and be forgiven.’” (4:11-12).
This is also the Gospel where Jesus repeatedly tells people he has healed and freed from demonic forces not to tell others about his miraculous ministry (1:43-45; 7:36; 8:29-30; 9:9).
By the time we come to the end of a Gospel where people are regularly amazed at what Jesus does we should expect the unexpected (2:12; 5:42; 6:51).
[vv.1-2] [vs.1 “When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. vs.2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.”]
In the context of the ancient world everything in this story is a surprise. Crucified men were considered worthless and never anointed for burial, but the love of the women in our story for Jesus overcomes every social expectation.
They still considered Jesus, dead as they believed he was, to be a King. Jewish women didn’t count for much in first century culture and were of too low a status to testify in court, but in the new reality created by resurrection the Lord deliberately decided that the first witnesses to his triumph would be the lowly (1 Cor 1:26-29). Mark’s story is already indicating that to enter the space where we are impacted by the power of the resurrection requires a turn of mind radically different from our normal way of thinking. Let me illustrate.
One of my children told me the following true story about the brilliant atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell (who I used to read a lot of as a young man). Russell was once asked what he would say if he found himself standing before God on the judgement day and God asked him, “Why didn’t you believe in Me?”
Typically Russell replied, “I would say, ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’” Russell was what folk today call a “smart-arse”. There is no way that the humble and ordinary women would never describe their first Easter morning experience as “evidence”, they were about to encounter with a reality that surpasses all the parameters of proof in this world’s proofs (Matt 5:3ff.).
[vv.3-4] [vs.3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” vs.4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. vs.5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in ca white robe, and they were alarmed.]
These women deeply loved Jesus but they had no strategy for shifting a stone that weighed as much as an average car. But when they arrived at the tomb they found the stone already rolled away and “entering the tomb” they saw what appeared to be “a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe…”
In different places in scripture heavenly beings take on the form of humans to communicate commands to God’s people (cf. Dan 8:15; 9:21; 10:5, 18).
They have been met by an angel sitting in a posture of authority with his robe shining in the dull tomb with the radiance of the glory of God (cf. Mark 9:3).
Unsurprisingly the women were “alarmed”; imagine visiting the gravesite of a loved one and finding it emptied of the coffin but with and a glowing stranger inside who starts to speak to you. You would shudder in shock just as the women did (cf. 14:33). Something powerful and holy is at work here.
[vv.6] [vs.6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised ; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.”]
There’s no need to be alarmed says the angel, the Jesus you know and love, “Jesus of Nazareth” “who was crucified” “has been raised” (cf. Mark 12:10-11; 14:28).
This testimony the women hear from the angel, “God (has) raised Jesus from the dead”, has become the centrepiece of all gospel preaching, (Acts 2:24; 32; 3:15; 4:10; 10:40; 13:30, 33, 34, 37 etc. cf. 1 Tim 3:16).
We don’t have to use the word “resurrection” every time we talk about Jesus, but every time we talk about Jesus we need the presence of his resurrection power.
The angel continues to reassure the frightened women, “See the place where they laid him.” The point here is that there’s no body.
This is the place that silliness enters onto the scene in discussions of the reality of the resurrection. Sceptics speculate that some unknown person moved Jesus body, or the women had gone to the wrong tomb, or a young man misdirected them and so on.
If all of this was just a matter of human error why didn’t the Jewish authorities who had Jesus crucified simply go to the right tomb drag out the decomposing body and turn the entire Jesus movement into a laughing stock?
Every intellectual objection to the resurrection starts with the assumption that we can apply our normal models of how the universe works to the fate of Jesus. This is to deny the resurrection from the beginning.
[vv.7] [vs.7 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.”]
The angel commissions the women to “go and tell” the disciples that Jesus wants to meet with them in Galilee.
By God’s always surprising grace the women who have been wordless throughout Mark’s Gospel become the first bearers of the greatest news ever told; and to the apostles, who throughout Mark had considered themselves to be the spiritual experts on the identity of Jesus (Mark 8:31-33). The emphatic, “tell his disciples and Peter” means even someone who has repeatedly denied Jesus can be restored by the power of the resurrection (Mark 14:72).
Have you ever denied Jesus?
Have you stood by silently when someone who speaks like they’re an expert on spirituality has said something about Jesus, or even Christianity/Church, which you know is not true?
If like Peter you feel you feel like you have failed God’s purposes in your life to testify to Jesus he can heal you like he healed Peter. How did he restore Peter?…By meeting him in his resurrection power. As I have said to ailing folk again and again, “It’s not over until it’s over.” And the resurrection testifies that with Jesus it’s never over! Now our story becomes even more exciting.
“he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” Earlier in Mark 14(28) Jesus said he’d catch up with the disciples after he was raised from the dead. But they hadn’t put this meeting in their diaries and Mark tells us why, Jesus “was…saying to them, 31 “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.” (Mark 9:31-32).
Until they met Jesus raised from the dead the disciples would remain perplexed and fearful of the notion of the resurrection of a dead person in their own lifetime. But by now the women were completely filled with the revelation that everything Jesus had ever told them about himself must come to pass. Now we come to the most difficult part in Mark’s resurrection story for us to receive.
[vv.8] vs.8 “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Fear, trembling and astonishment in the presence of the miraculous works and words of Jesus are quite common in Mark but they never draw Christ’s disapproval because they were authentic and appropriate responses to the manifest presence of God (Mark 2:12; 4:41; 5:15, 33, 42; 6:20, 50-51; 9:6, 32; 10:32; 11:18 cf. Dan 10:7).
That the women “said nothing to anyone” doesn’t mean that they remained silent about their tomb experience, if so we wouldn’t have this story, but they were rendered dumb by the extraordinary character of what they had seen and heard. Mentally and emotionally they were overwhelmed by something too and marvellous to comprehend (cf. Mark 5:42; Luke 24:41).
In order to get closer to the bottom of the final response of the women at the tomb we need to take a step back and remember the framework of their understanding.
They were Jews familiar with the Old Testament witness that at the End of history there would be the Final Resurrection when God would raise everyone either to a resurrection of everlasting life or of everlasting shame (Job 19:25-26; Psalm 16:10 ; Isa 26:19; Dan 12:2-3).
They also had travelled with Jesus and seen him raise the dead who would in turn grow old and die again. Knowing Jesus as Lord and King they knew his resurrection couldn’t be like that of others, they understood Jesus could never die again and they were grasped by the realisation that they were the first humans to experience the signs of the Final Resurrection and the commencement of a whole new creation come in Christ (cf. Acts 1:3).
At the empty tomb their worldview was stretched beyond all their personal goals and desires. They certainly were overawed and afraid; but afraid of what? Knowing Christ had risen they could no longer be afraid of evil powers, sickness, suffering, death or anything mortals could do to them.
Sometimes we are encouraged to “think outside the box”, but the women knew that with Jesus raised from the dead there is no box. They knew that with Jesus raised from the dead the End of the world had begun (cf. Pannenberg). If the first stage of the End of the world began 2000 years ago even our instinctive feelings about fear need to go through a death and resurrection transformation.
Is fear necessarily a bad thing….? As a child our oldest daughter Leah was fearless, “Leah don’t run”….stitches in the front of the head….stitches in the back of the head…a broken arm and so on.
If humanity had a God-honouring fear then the world would never have got into the mess it’s in today because, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 9:10). But how does this fear of the LORD relate to the resurrection? Let me use a very contemporary illustration to explain.
I was on my way to pray in Whiteman Park recently when there was a report on the radio about the Royal Commission findings concerning child abuse in the Newcastle diocese of the Anglican Church.
For 30 years a paedophile ring was operating in that diocese. The report targeted the weak response from bishops to what was known about these abusers in prominent positions of leadership.
Listening to all this caused me a lot of distress, so I called out to the Lord asking, “How did Satan ever manage to penetrate the Church so deeply with his evil?” His answer was clear; ““There is no fear of God before their eyes.”” (Rom 3:18).
If the evildoers in Newcastle, or anywhere else, had in the least bit believed what the woman at the empty tomb believed, that everything that Jesus had ever told them about himself would come to pass, including his Return as the Holy Judge of the world at the Last Judgement, they could never for a moment have perpetrated their foul deeds (Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 cf. Dan 12:2; John 5:29).
The resurrection brought a quality of fear into the world proportional to the transformation that had taken place in Jesus’ from the wretchedness of the cross to his elevation into God’s glory and immortality (1 Cor 15:53-54; 2 Tim 1:10).
The resurrection created a pure holy fear of the Lord of a sort that had never existed before.
This is why after speaking of how Christ who emptied himself to die on the cross was then exalted by the Father to reign as King over all Paul exhorts the Church in Philippi, 12 “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:12-13).
Holy fear is the gateway to the everlasting joy of the Lord. If you are a disciple of Jesus God is preparing you for a post mortem resurrection just like Christ’s. This is awesome, astonishing and a source of great and holy fear. Such a fear is not paralysing but deeply motivating.
The women in our story don’t disappear from the New Testament; they are singled out for mention as the Church waited for the power of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14 cf. Luke 8:2-3).
They had made it to Galilee to be in the presence of Jesus and became part of a community in the Early Church unshackled from the fears that dominate life ancient and modern. The fears of economic deprivation, physical illness, shame, rejection, guilt and ultimately death had been put to death and transformed into the holy fear of the Lord alone. The fear-filled women who fled from the tomb fled to Jesus, the sole conqueror of the powers that traumatise and make miserable human existence.
A famous book about conversion was titled, “Surprised by Joy”, if we understand Mark’s message we too can have a conversion experience today, one we might call, “Surprised by Fear”.
A supernatural holy fear whose one motivation is to be secure in the presence of the resurrected Jesus, the one who will come in glory to Judge the living and the dead.
Come to Jesus today and let him put to death all your earthly fears and let him empower you by his presence to be a witness to his triumphant resurrection from the dead.
MESSAGE DELIVERED: 16th April, 2017 | St Marks
Author: Dr. John Yates
MESSAGE PODCAST: 16th April. 2017 |