2020-3-08 The Resurrection of Christ

The Resurrection of Christ
Mark 16:1-8
March 8, 2020

Prayer for Illumination:

God of life, your Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. Your Spirit inspired the prophets and writers of Scripture. Your Spirit draws us to Christ and helps us to acknowledge him as Lord. We ask that you will send your Spirit now to give us deeper insight, encouragement, faith, and hope through the proclamation of the Easter gospel. Amen.

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. 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. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 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.” 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.[1]

This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

Good Friday and Easter Sunday are the two highpoints of the Christian calendar. These are the two days that really matter within the Church. As much as we love Christmas, it doesn’t really compare with Good Friday and Easter. We are Good Friday-Easter people. As one poet puts it, “If Jesus wasn’t executed there’s no celebration[2] to which the Apostle Paul replies, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain”. Good Friday and Easter are the seminal moments in our faith.

And this morning, we get to celebrate the fact that Jesus has been raised from the dead. We are a skeptical people that live in a skeptical culture. I wouldn’t be surprised if more than a few are wondering, “Did this really happen? Did he really rise from the dead?” It’s an important question to ask. The entire Christian faith hangs on this question. As C.S. Lewis says, “Christianity, if false is of no importance and if true, of infinite important”. Because as we’ve just said, if Jesus didn’t really rise what we do here on Sunday mornings and how we live our lives is all in vain. As we examine the ending of Mark’s gospel we’ll see the truth of the resurrection, the meaning of the resurrection, and the grace in the resurrection.

The Truth of the Resurrection

Many people might say, “Jesus was a good, moral teach. I can accept that he taught people how to live a good life and lived an exemplary life. But I can’t accept that he rose from the dead. That came about years and years after his death”. The two main objections people usually are we have a better understanding of science and life – including death and that the church didn’t believe Jesus rose from the dead until the fourth century. Those are the two main objections.

First, people in the first century knew about life and death. They understood that when someone died, they were dead. Earlier in this gospel, a synagogue ruler came to Jesus and asked if he could heal his daughter. On the way to his house, the little girl died. When Jesus entered the house, he told the mourners that the girl was only sleeping. They laughed at him. They understood that when someone died, they were dead.

Second, Jesus was the one who kept insisting that he would die and rise again. He said it three times. And his disciples didn’t fully understand what he meant. They tried to persuade him that wouldn’t happen. There was no prevailing belief that the Christ would die and rise. There was no incentive to say that Jesus died and rose from the dead unless it actually happened.

Mark tells us that the first people to visit the tomb and see the resurrected Jesus are women. We don’t see just how scandalous that is because we live 2,000 years removed from the event. In the first century in the Greco-Roman world, women weren’t held in high regard. Women were not allowed to give testimony in court. It meant nothing, it wasn’t acceptable. And yet Mark and the other gospel writers makes it clear that women were the first people to see the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus. Why would he make up this detail?

If Mark and the other writers were inventing this story, why would they include that the first people to see the resurrected Jesus were women? They wouldn’t. They would have written in some incredibly important, well-respected man. If Mark and the other gospel writers were making this up, don’t you think they would say that a prominent male – like Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus – be the one to find the empty tomb? That would give the story credence. The only reason that Mark would include that the first eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus were women is because it must be true.

It’s not just that he includes women as the first eyewitnesses, he includes their names. He tells us that “When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him”. Why would he include their names? Parchment was expensive, so writers would regularly leave out insignificant details. That’s why so much of Scripture isn’t filled with great detail like a novel is. It was more like journalistic reporting, only the important facts would make it into Scriptures. But Mark includes their names. Why? He’s including their names because it’s an important detail and people just like you and I would read this want to know are these women making it up.

Someone could come up to Mark and say, “I don’t believe what you wrote about Jesus’ resurrection”. Mark could simply reply, “Go talk with Mary Magdalene. She was an eyewitness”. Mark wrote his gospel between 60 and 65 AD. The women he lists as being at the cross and at the empty tomb would probably be still living. He could direct people to go and ask them if what they said was true or not.

Now, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother James, and Salome weren’t the only ones who saw the resurrected Jesus when the New Testament was being written. The Apostle Paul writes in 1st Corinthians 15:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

Do you see? There were others had seen the resurrected Jesus and Paul names them. If anyone had any doubt as to whether or not this was a historical event, Mark and Paul make it incredibly clear that their sources are available to give eyewitness account.

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. That’s a very odd thing to include. The angel is sitting on the right side of the bench in the tomb. Why would Mark include that detail unless it’s an eyewitness account? In the ancient world, they wouldn’t add details like that to stories they were making up. Parchment was expensive and unless a detail was important in a story, they wouldn’t include it. But Mark including this detail that the angel is sitting on the right side of the bench is something that would be reported if it were someone’s eyewitness account.

All of these things should persuade us of the truth of the resurrection. If Mark and the other gospel writers were making this up, they wouldn’t have the first eyewitnesses as women, they wouldn’t give them names, and they wouldn’t include odd little details such as the angel sitting on the right side of the bench in the tomb. All of these things help to show us the truth of the resurrection.

Before we move on, I want to take a moment to quickly see that it’s not just the fact that women were the first to see the resurrected Jesus that supports the historicity of the event. We should also pay attention to the disciples. Throughout the gospels, the disciples regularly misunderstand what Jesus says and generally bumble their way through what it is they’re doing. If you were going to create a new religion and the disciples are supposed to be the leaders of this new religion, you would think they wouldn’t report how often they fight amongst themselves or misunderstand what Jesus says. You would think that if this was made up, the gospel writers would make the disciples into these men who always understand what Jesus says and never fight amongst themselves. But they do. That lends to it being true, much like the women being the first to see the resurrected Jesus.

The Meaning of the Resurrection

We have seen the truth of the resurrection. Now we’ll see the meaning of the resurrection. I want us to see that the resurrection means two things. First, it means that death has been defeated; second, it means the first fruits of what is to come.

In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death has been defeated. Death is not natural. It is an invader. Yes, I know that old saying there are only two certainties in this life death and taxes. When God first created everything that is seen and everything that is unseen, death was not part of creation.  Go back and read the first two chapters of the Bible. When God first created everything that is seen and unseen, death was not part of the created order.

But that changed when Adam and Even ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When they ate that fruit, sin and death entered the world and marred everything. From that day onward, death has been part of our experience. It is through Adam and his sin that death entered the world. It is because of him that we all experience death. While death is normal it is far from natural.

But Jesus through his death and resurrection has defeated death. Isaiah 25 says:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

Death has been defeated in Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Death no longer has power over those who believe. The sting has been taken out of death for believers. We will all die, unless Christ returns in our lifetime. But death is not the last word. We can face death knowing that it is not the end. It is simply a defeated enemy that will one day be nothing but a distant memory.

For believers, it’s appropriate to consider death the final sleep. That is a metaphor the Bible uses for the death of believers. That’s what Jesus says in Mark 5 and what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4. For those in Christ, death has been defeated. The resurrection of Christ means that death has been defeated.

Second, the meaning of the resurrection is that Christ is the first fruits of what is to come. Jesus Christ bodily rose from the dead. He wasn’t a phantasm or an illusion or a shared hallucination. He bodily rose from the dead. In Christ, God is renewing all of creation. There will be a day when Christ returns and creation is remade. There will be a new physical creation, much like this creation except without the stain of sin and death. And Jesus is the first fruit of that new creation.

What that means for us is that in the new creation we will be like Christ. Comics and cartoons often show people as ethereal spirits, floating among the clouds. That’s not biblical. Before Christ’s return, our souls will go to be with him in heaven separated from our bodies. But when Christ returns and makes all things new, we will have our bodies again but this time they will be glorified.

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul says:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. [3]

Yes, there is a bit of a mystery. But those in Christ will have glorified, physical bodies in the new creation. The resurrection means that death is defeated in Christ and that he is the first fruits of the new creation.

Now let us see the grace in the resurrection.

The Grace in the Resurrection

And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 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 tells the women to find the disciples and Peter as well to go to Galilee and meet Jesus. These are the same disciples that Thursday night abandoned Jesus even after they swore they wouldn’t. But when Judas arrived with the soldiers, they fled. And then Peter denied Jesus three times outside the high priest’s house where Jesus was being tried.

They had all failed Jesus. They would expect for Jesus to punish them or find new disciples. But instead, they are given a message that restores them. The first act of Jesus’ ministry was the calling of four fishermen into community with himself; and the first word of the resurrected Jesus is the reconvening of the same community of disciples.”[4] That is grace.

If you were to read the book that comes after John’s gospel account, The Acts of the Apostles, you will see very clearly that these men have been restored. Their calling to proclaim the good news that Christ has died, Christ has rise, Christ will come again is still in effect. And as you read, you see that those men do that with vigor and strength, even in the face of opposition and death.

They didn’t deserve to be restored to that calling. They proved that they weren’t worthy of it. But God in his grace restores them to their calling. Their calling does not rest on their abilities but on God who calls. It is the grace of God that called Peter and the other disciples to be ministers. It is the grace of God that restored them after their failed.

If the resurrected Christ speaks grace to traitors like Peter, he speaks grace to us. In Christ, all of your sins and failings have been covered. Maybe you have denied Christ and pretended not to know him, like Peter did. There is grace for you. Maybe you have abandoned him and forsaken his teaching. There is grace for you.

Jesus died in the place of each and every believer. On the cross, he bore the sins of his Church. We’ve seen that. That is substitutionary atonement. In rising on the third day, Jesus confirms that there is new life in him and that there is grace for believers. Live in that grace. That is the standing of each and every believer. The more you understand this, the more you will live lives that reflect Christ. You naturally will become more like Peter and Paul. You will be holy because you will want to live in a way that reflects the grace you have received from Christ. You will know that even though you have failed and fallen short, God in his grace has restored you. So you will want to live a life that reflects that.

The more you understand the grace of Christ and how it has restored you when you didn’t deserve it, the more gracious you will be to others. In this life people will betray you; they will insult you; they will break their promises to you; and worse. You’re natural response will be to punish them. You will want to exact a pound of flesh for how they have failed you.

But the more you understand the grace of Christ and how you have been restored after failing and falling short, the more you will extend that grace to others. That doesn’t mean you will be a doormat. But it means you will recognize your sin and failings are far greater than how you have been sinned against and that Christ has shown you grace in restoring you. That will enable you to show grace to others. The grace in the resurrection restores us but it also enables us to be gracious to others.

The resurrection is central to the Christian faith. It is true. It really did happen. What that means is that in Christ death has been defeated and that in Christ we have a glimpse of the new creation. And the more we understand the resurrection and the grace found in it, the more we will be transformed into the image and likeness of Christ.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 16:1–8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Lecrae, Boasting” from Rehab (Reach Records, 2010).

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 15:35–49). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 495). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.