The Way of the Resurrection

The Way of the Resurrection

Mark 16:1 – 16:8

In 1967, Israel’s premier poet, Yehuda Amichai, collected images of the war-torn city of Jerusalem through the centuries. He wrote the following:

Jerusalem is built on the vaulted foundations
of a held-back scream. If there were no reason
for the scream, the foundations would crumble, the city would collapse,
if the scream were screamed, Jerusalem would explode into the heavens. [1]

Four decades later the scream continues, making it quite evident that we live in a world with vastly divergent views of death and what lies beyond the grave. The tragic events of September 11, and the unspeakable violence now erupting in the Middle East, have shattered the old lie that all religions are driven by the same hope and governed by the same ideals. As N.T. Wright suggests:

There is a world of difference between the Muslim who believes that a Palestinian boy killed by Israeli soldiers goes straight to heaven, and the Hindu for whom the rigorous outworking of karma means that one must return in a different body to pursue the next stage of one’s destiny. There is a world of difference between the Orthodox Jew who believes that all the righteous will be raised to new individual bodily life in the resurrection, and the Buddhist who hopes after death to disappear like a drop in the ocean, losing one’s own identity in the great nameless and formless Beyond.[2]

Easter presents a wonderful opportunity to re-examine the Christian doctrine of the resurrection, a doctrine that is unique among the religions of the world. The force and power of the resurrection have never been more needed than today. I would like to probe your hearts with three questions? Do you know what really happened on the day Jesus rose from the dead? Does the resurrection shape the way of your life? And, are you fully experiencing the gifts that it affords?

For our text we will examine the first documented account of the resurrection, from the gospel of Mark. Walter Wessel writes,

The Climax to Mark’s Gospel is the Resurrection. Without it the life and death of Jesus, though noble and admirable, are nonetheless overwhelmingly tragic events. With it Jesus is declared to be the Son of God with Power (Rom 1:4), and the disciples are transformed from lethargic and defeated followers into the flaming witnesses of the Book of Acts. The Good News about Jesus Christ is that God, by the resurrection of Jesus, defeated sin, death, and hell. It was this message that lay at the heart of the apostolic preaching.[3]

I. The Story of the Resurrection
A. The Journey to the Grave (16:1-4)
And when the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. And very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. 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 away, although it was extremely large. (NASB)

In Palestine, the hot climate causes a corpse to decay rapidly. Promptly at 6 p.m., when the Sabbath was over, the women who had faithfully stayed to watch the crucifixion and grieve in silent sorrow, go to market to purchase more aromatic spices to anoint Jesus’ body. As Wessel states, “The anointing was not for the purpose of preserving the body (embalming was not practiced by the Jews) but was a single act of love and devotion probably meant to reduce the stench of the decomposing body.”[4]

On the surface this appears to be an extravagant expense on what seems a lost cause. But love’s devotion, which is often outrageous, turns a blind eye to the practical–ask any mother. So strong is the inner compulsion of these women they give no thought to cost or effort. They are driven to expend every last drop of their grief in a tomb where lies the only love in their universe.

But by the time they made their purchase it was too dark to make the trek outside the city walls to the tomb of Jesus. Evening had fallen. It was Passover, and a solemn stillness had settled over the Holy City. In every home, Jewish pilgrims gathered around the table whose centerpiece was a lamb, and a choir of Hebrew voices narrated the ancient story of Israel’s miraculous deliverance from Egypt. As the voice of Exodus was recreated in every Jew’s memory, these three women go to bed clutching their spices. Anticipating the morning’s first light, they probably slept very little. They were counting the hours in the dark.

As the glimmering light from the east begins to break through the colored clouds in sharp shafts of light, just before sunrise, they set out for the holy tomb. Driven by the necessity of the hour, with a rapid pace they make good time. Arriving at the grave they recognize they had not fully prepared for the obstacles they would encounter. The enormous stone that Joseph and Nicodemus had rolled into place down the inclined trough would be much too heavy for them to roll back up the incline. Furthermore, no one would be there to help them at such an early hour. But no sooner had they finished voicing their dilemma than they looked up, and behold, the stone was rolled away– rolled away!

Seizing the opportunity, they ask no questions but swiftly move inside to give that final touch to the one they loved so dearly: to hold the hands that healed, to caress his gashed side, to wipe his thorn-studded brow, and perhaps to seal it all with a kiss on those lips that spoke as no man had ever spoken. This was to be one last act to say goodbye, to give thanks, and to weep freely with no restraint. This is what we know we must do at death, but sadly, our culture seldom permits us. Let us be like these women. They would not be deterred from such holy acts, even though Roman law prohibited grieving over executed criminals.

B. Entering the tomb (16:5-7)
And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He said to you.’ “

Stooping into the antechamber, the women make their way through the low passageway leading to the burial chamber. They expect to find the body of Jesus resting on a stone slab hewn out of the rock, so they are ill prepared for what they are about to behold. Looking to their right they see a vibrant young man, clothed in white.

Mark carefully prepares his readers for this event. Seeing this young man in our mind’s eye, we are reminded of the other young man clothed in a white linen cloth who witnessed the arrest of Jesus (Mark 14:51-52). Though seized by the Roman soldiers he escaped naked into the night, leaving his linen cloth behind. That youth was anonymous, as is this young man. Many scholars surmise that the first man was Mark.

There is no doubt as to this one’s identity. Matthew says he was an angel (Matt 28:5). The first young man foreshadowed Jesus’ deliverance from death by resurrection; this young man seated in the tomb foreshadows Jesus’ ascension, where he will be exalted to the right hand of God. His youth is a burning symbol that everything has been made new.

The sight of all this seizes with amazement the hearts of the women. Seeing that they are stunned to the point of emotional overload, the young man tries to calm them with his words. But there are no words capable of preparing the mind and heart for the event that has just happened, let alone the effect it will have on their souls.

“Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.”

The authenticity of Mark’s report of the resurrection is strengthened by the fact that it is so succinct, calmly factual, and understated. This sounds almost as prosaic as if the man were giving directions to a lost passerby: “Oh, I know the house you are looking for. They moved it across town just last week. Go three miles to the north, then take a left and you’ll find it three houses on your right.” This is not the kind of report the church would invent for the astonishing news of the resurrection. And if they wanted to impress their world with it, they would never have made the women the first recipients of this earth-shattering news. Both the substance and style of the resurrection announcement would not have been an effective marketing strategy in that “power”-oriented culture. But that is so typical of God’s ways.

The angel knows why they have come and whom they are seeking. It is Jesus the Nazarene, “the crucified one” (the perfect tense suggests the permanence of his new name). “You want to see Jesus? He is not here.” Then he emphatically tells them, “Behold (“look, pay attention!”), here is the place where they laid him.” The tomb is empty. It was needed only for three days and two nights.

But before the women can catch their breath the man commissions them to a holy task. They have a job to do; they must not delay. They will be the divine link between the resurrected Lord and the twelve apostles. They are to go back into the city and find the disciples (especially Peter, who had betrayed him), and tell them that the Lord is risen and on the move. Thus they will not find him in the Temple, nor anywhere in the precincts of Jerusalem; they need to go north to Galilee.

It was the prophet Isaiah who foretold,

Galilee of the Gentiles.
The people walk in darkness
Will see a great light.
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them…
They will be glad in Your presence
As with the gladness of harvest…
For you shall break the yoke of their burden…
The rod of their oppressor. (Isa 9:2-4)

Thus Galilee became the home base for Jesus’ ministry, Galilee, the center of everything personal and dear to our Lord. Galilee would be the place where the New Jerusalem would be launched. Galilee is where you will find him, not Jerusalem. On my last visit to Israel I strongly sensed the contrast between these two places. In Jerusalem my soul felt strangely suffocated, while in Galilee it soared with the wind. The very air of Galilee breathes freedom.

C. The journey back to the disciples (16:8)
And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The appearance of the angel, coupled with the sight of the empty tomb, and the announcement of the resurrection, was too much for the women. Gripped by fear, they are muted in an awful silence. This isn’t the first time the appearance of the holy and the announcement of God’s rule suffocated hearers into silence. Holiness breeds awesome silence.

But though it chokes out their words, it does not impede their obedient feet. At full speed, like messengers running home from battle, they promptly deliver their kingdom orders from their commander. As the dust flies in the wake of these swift-footed gazelles we can’t help but recognize Isaiah’s words finding their true resting place:

How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace,
And brings good news of happiness,
Who announces salvation;
And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isa 52:7)

This is where the gospel of Mark ends: the women seized in silent fear, but faithfully bringing the report of the good news to the apostles.[5]

Reflecting on Mark’s account of the resurrection we find a paradigm of how the resurrection is intended to shape our lives. It is profoundly simple.

II. The Way of the Resurrection
Where does it begin? As we observe with these women, it begins by being drawn into the center of a lonely sorrow and boldly embracing a cold and dark grief. It is being drawn to the place where we don’t want to go, but where we must. Why? Because love and devotion draw us there. Following that compulsion, the feet of these women take them to the tomb of Jesus. They went in obedience to a love that must mourn. Don’t run from sorrow. Don’t avoid those centers of grief. Plunge yourself into the midst of the world’s sorrow, for that is where you will find resurrection.

Second, observe that these women took no notice of obstacles. On the way to the tomb they speak about that immovable stone, set permanently in place, impossible to move. Their speech notes it, but that does not impede their feet. They keep pressing on, not knowing how it will work out. They have no plan and no human resources available to them. Resurrection doesn’t need that. God doesn’t need our help, our frail human props, our five-year strategies. In fact, he usually works before we even arrive. The obstacles that once seemed insurmountable are simply “rolled away.”

Third, once the women arrive at the tomb their senses are stunned by what they see. God has already acted ahead of them. The stone is rolled way. The tomb is empty. At the center is an angelic vision of the risen Christ, seated at the right hand of God. And he is so young! When we taste of the resurrection the whole world becomes new. That is why we can never predict what is going to happen when we follow Christ. It is too full of surprises.

Fourth, once they glimpse this angelic vision they are in turn commissioned to be the privileged link between the resurrected Christ and the next generation of leaders. They are to tell the disciples that the Lord is on the move and they are to catch up to him in Galilee. That is where they will find him. The resurrection is not a remodel; it is a new creation. The New Temple will not be constructed of stone on top of the old, but in human hearts that will transcend the old. And it will not be a stationary building seated in Jerusalem, but a mobile new temple that will one day fill the whole creation (Rev 21:1-2). Thus the first foundation stone will be laid in Galilee, not Jerusalem. It is a brand new beginning.

Finally, in response to what the women see and hear they flee in obedient fear. They can’t speak yet, but they can run. Something new is at hand, something wondrous, something that unites creation, enlarges the horizon, and links angels and Christ and women and men into something so large that it is all encompassing. What a privilege to be part of it! This is how the resurrection shapes your life.

Finally, I will ask, are you fully enjoying the gifts of the resurrection?

III. The Gifts of the Resurrection
A. Heaven is now accessible to earth
To the age-old questions, “Who will go up to heaven for us?” (Deut 30:12), and “O Lord, who may abide in Thy tent? Who may dwell on Thy holy hill?”(Ps 15:1), the answer comes loud and clear: in Christ we now have an advocate in heaven. As Paul writes, “He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification” (Rom 4:25). The resurrection is God’s seal on the work of Christ that our sins are forgiven once and for all and that heaven is finally accessible to earth. You have no need for penance or a human priest. You only need to confess your sin and repent, and come running home to a waiting Father. And when you get there you discover that God has not only put out the welcome mat, he has ripped the door off of its hinges–and not just the front door, but every door within his holy temple (Mark 15:38). If you feel shy, standing there by the entrance is the Son, eager to greet you and serve as your personal escort and advocate, helping you to feel at home in the New Jerusalem. With the Son at your side, no space is off limits to you.

Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb 10:19-22)

B. Earth to be saturated by Heaven
Secondly, not only is heaven now accessible to earth, earth is to be invaded and saturated by heaven. As followers of Jesus we are not merely forgiven of our sins, and waiting to go to heaven when we die, we are to spend the rest of our lives bringing heaven to earth. The term “eternal life” does not mean merely “living forever” after we die. Rather, it speaks of the quality of life of the age to come that the Holy Spirit imparts to our souls even now, while we yet live (2 Cor 4:16). Therefore everything written by the prophets about Israel’s restoration and the dawn of a messianic age and new creation is available now through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Thus the church is infused with the life of the age to come while it lives in the present age of darkness. With this in view, Don Carson has aptly labeled the church as an “eschatological outpost in time.”

How does the church manifest this life to demonstrate that we are colony of heaven on earth? The answer is that after Christ had defeated sin, the devil, and death, he ascended into heaven and gave forth the spoils of victory to his people, by his Spirit. This is what Paul says in Ephesians:

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,
“When he ascended on high,
He led captive a host of captives,
And he gave gifts to men.”
(Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) (Eph 4:7-10)

As the church functions with these divine gifts (Rom 12:3-8; Eph 4:10-16; 1 Cor 12:1-31), the world is infused with heaven. And no worldly barriers can resist this invasion. As Jesus said, not even the gates of hell will be able to stand against it (Matt 18:18). Therefore he commissioned the apostles to go into the entire world and make disciples of all nations. The early Christians took this word to heart. They regarded no pagan stronghold to be off limits as a potential stage for holy ground. Like these women, they expected angels to roll away the stone. As they experienced eternal life in prisons, law courts and pagan temples it fed their ultimate hope that one day the whole creation would be renewed in a new heavens and a new earth.

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God…that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Rom 8:19-21).

Are you enjoying these gifts to the fullest? If you are in Christ you have been born again to a living hope (1 Pet 1:3). What are you waiting for? Christ is risen!

1. Yehuda Amichai, Poems of Jerusalem and Love Poems (New York: The Sheep Meadow Press, 1988), 59.

2. N. T. Wright, “Exploring the Easter Hope,” Westminster Abbey Lectures, 2001.

3. Walter W. Wessel, Mark, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 786.

4. Wessel, Mark, 786.

5. The final section of Mark (16:9-20) does not appear in the earliest and best manuscripts of Mark. It is a later addition by the church.

© 2002 Peninsula Bible Church Cupertino