************ Sermon on Mark 16:1-8 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 31, 2002
"He has Risen"
Easter is Good News. It is great news. It is wonderful news. It is the best news ever. Christ has risen. He has risen from the grave. He has risen indeed.
Of course He has risen. Death could not hold Him. The grave could not keep Him. Yesterday, Ruth and I went on a hot-air balloon ride. Once the balloon was filled with hot air it could no more be kept on the ground than Jesus could be kept in the grave. Both had to rise regardless of the laws of gravity or the seal of Pilate. Isn't this great news – Good Friday was not the end, death and darkness did not have the last word.
I Easter is Good News
A Resurrections are great news because they happen so rarely. If resurrections happened regularly, there would be nothing great or different about Jesus being raised from the dead. He would be just one among many, simply another statistic. But because it is something rare, something that we don't really expect, the resurrection of Jesus is the greatest and most momentous event in the history of mankind.
Along these lines, let me ask you: how many resurrections are there in the Bible? How many dead people were raised from the grave as Christ was? The Bible records 10 separate resurrection miracles. Over 2000 years of covenant history, over 2000 years of the marvelous story of God's dealings with His people, and yet there were only 10 resurrection stories. So, it is something rare, something unusual, something marvelous, something exciting, something wonderful.
B Resurrections are great news because they also are so unexpected. The widow of Zarephath, for instance, accused Elijah of killing her son to remind her of her sin (1 Ki 17:18); it never even dawned on her that her could son could be raised from the dead. The Shunammite woman accused Elisha of raising her hopes by promising her a son, giving her a son, and then taking away her son (2 Ki 4:15,28); she, too, could not even consider the possibility of a resurrection. The family and friends of Jairus laughed at Jesus when He told them the daughter of Jairus was not dead but asleep (Mk 5:39-40). The sisters of Lazarus protested when Jesus ordered that the stone at the front of the tomb be taken away (Jn 11:39).
Resurrections are always unexpected events. Who expects to see alive someone who died? Imagine the shock and confusion if part way through our next funeral service the deceased starts to knock on the lid of the casket and yells to get out.
Likewise, the resurrection of Jesus was entirely unexpected. We are told that the women who came to the tomb "bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body" (Mk 16:1). In other words, they expected to find Jesus the same way He was when they watched His burial – they expected to find a dead Jesus. Their only concern was the stone at the entrance of the tomb – they wondered who would roll it away for them.
C Resurrections are great news because death and loss are no longer. I want you to notice the women's response to Jesus' death. They watched Him die "from a distance" (Mk 15:40).
If we admit it, that is our favorite perspective on death – we do all we can to keep our distance from it. We were all horrified when we saw the attack upon and the collapse of the World Trade Center towers; we tried to put ourselves in the shoes of the men and women who were trapped inside the burning towers; we tried to imagine being one of the New York City firemen who rushed into the buildings. We watched it all on TV and we were glad we were not in New York, or at the Pentagon, or on a hijacked airplane. We were more than happy to keep death at bay.
Since September 11 we have gone along with government programs to make the skies safe and friendly, to stop terrorism at home and abroad, to have a shadow government ready to take over, to shoot down any airplane that threatens public safety, to deport suspicious visitors, to make vaccine available to the public. In other words, we have been trying to keep death at bay.
Not only that, but we try to keep as much distance as possible from our own deaths. We try to stay healthy, we work out, we eat healthy, we stop smoking and drinking, we take certain pills, we go for annual checkups, we have suspicious spots and pains checked out. We try to keep death at a distance.
What happened at Easter's resurrection? The sting of death was removed. Death was reversed. That's why the women were commanded to pass on the good news:
(Mk 16:7) But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'"Jesus was crucified. But now, now "He has risen!" Disciples who were scattered and confused and without hope because of the crucifixion became enthused and excited about Messiah Jesus again.
II Easter is Terrifying News
A Not only is Easter good news but it is also terrifying news. At least that's the way Mark tells the Easter story. Take a second look at the women. After seeing the angel and hearing his message the women were trembling, they were bewildered, they fled from the tomb, they said nothing to anyone, they were afraid.
When our culture thinks of Easter it thinks of Easter candy, bunnies, little chicks, and colorful eggs. Easter is a time for new dresses and flowers and blossoms. Easter is a time for celebration.
Forget this picture, says Mark. Think, instead, of grown women, their dresses hiked up to their knees, running with terror out of a cemetery. For the women, and for Mark, Easter was not first of all a happy ending pasted on to the frightening story of Jesus on the cross. Rather, it was something scary and frightening.
B So what is so terrifying about Easter? I spent some time looking through the Gospel of Mark this past week. It is surprising the number of times the themes of astonishment and fear show up in the Gospel. Let me list some of them for you:
-Jesus and His disciples were in a boat when a sudden squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was sleeping. The disciples woke Him up. Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" The wind died down and the sea became calm. Do you remember the reaction of the disciples? They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!" (Mk 4:41).
-A woman who was bleeding for twelve years touched Jesus and immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. When Jesus confronted her, she came and fell at His feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth (Mk 5:24-34)
-When Jesus raised a little girl from the dead, everyone who witnessed this were completely astonished (Mk 5:40-43).
-Jesus walked on water towards the disciples who were rowing against the wind. They thought He was a ghost. He climbed into the boar with them, and the wind died down. The disciples were completely amazed (Mk 6:45-52).
-At the time of Jesus' transfiguration it was Peter who proposed that they build three shelters – one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Scripture tells us Peter said that for he did not know what to say, they were so frightened (Mk 9:2-6).
-When the women entered the tomb they were alarmed when they saw the angel (Mk 16:5).
-And, upon hearing the message of the angel, the women were trembling, bewildered, they fled from the tomb, and they were scared into silence (Mk 16:8).
What does all this tell us? It tells us that those who are confronted with God's direct intervention in history do not know how to react. So, their first and primary human response is overwhelming terror and fear.
This should be our first and primary response to Easter too. I say that because our world has largely trivialized Easter: instead of awe there are Easter bunnies, instead of fear there are multi-colored eggs, instead of terror there are chocolates, instead of astonishment and amazement there are Spring flowers and little chicks.
When we think of Easter's resurrection we should all be filled with a sense of awe, fear, terror, astonishment, amazement, and reverence. We know we are in the presence of something rare and unexpected, something that removes death's sting and takes away death's loss.
C So what is so terrifying about Easter? I don't know if you have ever noticed this or not, but every resurrection in the Bible – other than that of Christ's – required the intervention of one of God's servants. Let me list them for you as well as the intervention that took place:
-Elijah, if you remember, stretched himself out on the son of the Widow of Zarephath and prayed before the boy was raised (1 Ki 17:19-23).
-Elisha, like Elijah, stretched himself on the son of the Shunammite before he sneezed seven times and opened his eyes (2 Ki 4:32-35).
-Another time, some Israelites were burying a man. Suddenly they saw a band of Moabite raiders; so they threw the man's body into Elisha's tomb. When the body touched Elisha's bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet (2 Ki 13:20-21).
-The daughter of Jairus stood up and walked around after Jesus took her by the hand and said, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!" (Mk 5:40-43).
-The widow of Nain's son sat up and began to talk when Jesus touched his coffin and said, "Young man I say to you, get up!" (Lk 7:11-17).
-Lazarus came out from the grave when Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" (Jn 11:38-44).
-Dorcas came to life after Peter prayed and said, "Tabitha, get up" (Acts 9:40-43).
-Eutychus came to life after Paul threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him (Acts 20:7-12).
-And, at the moment Jesus died there was an earthquake, tombs were broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life (Mt 27:51-53).
But on Easter Sunday there was no third party involved. No prophet praying or laying himself on Jesus, no holy bones, no command, no one touching His coffin or even His grave. So right away we know there was unusual and mighty power at work in this resurrection.
Did you catch what the angel said? He said, "He has risen!" (Mk 16:6). Notice, he didn't say, "Elijah raised Him." Or, "Elisha raised Him." Or, "Peter raised Him." Rather, "He has risen!" In other words, Jesus raised Himself by the mighty power of God. It was His action and His decision. God intervened directly in the course of human history without an intermediary. That is terrifying.
D So what is so terrifying about Easter? Someone once said that the only two certain things in life are death and taxes. But now death does not look so certain anymore. On Good Friday we saw Jesus wrapped and buried in the tomb. But three days later everything was unwrapped, the stone was rolled away, and Jesus was missing. Suddenly, everything has changed.
No wonder the women fled the tomb in fear. They may have watched Jesus' death from a distance, and been horrified. But at least they understood it. They knew that death eventually comes to every person in this life and on this earth. But if death is not really the end, then what is? If the purpose of life is not to fight off death and aging and disease and terrorists, then what is the purpose of life? The women suddenly discovered that it is a waste of time trying to hold on to a loved one for as long as possible, that it is a waste of time trying to postpone death, that it is a waste of time trying to collect as many toys as you can, that it is even a waste of time trying to hang on to a flesh and blood Jesus of this world.
To be true to the Gospel means that at Easter the church must speak out with a frightening message and a terrifying call. People everywhere must be called to think about the eternal purposes of their lives; they must be called to walk away from their toys, they must even be called to walk away from their fear of death.
There is a note in your pew Bibles that Mark's Gospel ends on this note of fear, trembling, and bewilderment. The earliest Greek manuscripts do not have anything beyond verse 8. More than one Bible commentary has mentioned that this seems like a strange way to end the Gospel. There is no appearance of the risen Christ. There is nothing said about the Emmaus road. There is no hint given about Thomas and his struggle to believe. There is no fireside conversation between Jesus and Peter. The Easter story seems so unfinished. That is probably why the church added a couple of different endings to the Gospel of Mark.
So how does Mark's Easter story get finished? Mark's Easter story gets finished with Peter and James and Jude and the other apostles. It gets finished with the women back in Galilee. It gets finished with you and me.
The Easter story gets finished in the lives of those who died with Christ at the cross and at the grave were raised to a new life with Him and in Him. The Easter story gets finished when we put to death whatever belongs to our earthly nature and instead put on the new self of love, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. The Easter story gets finished when we set our minds on things above rather than on earthly things – just as a balloon strives to go upward, so our hearts and minds should strive to go upward. The Easter story gets finished when we receive baptism – the sign of dying and rising with Christ (cf Col 3:1-14).
The Easter story, when it comes right down to it, gets finished in the lives of those whose response is a sense of awe, fear, terror, astonishment, amazement, and reverence. It gets finished in the lives of those who know Easter's resurrection is something rare and unexpected, something that removes death's sting and takes away death's loss.
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