A Guest Easter Sermon: The Lord is risen… now what? (Mark 16:1-8)

Posted: April 1, 2018 by Ty in Spirituality
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By Benny Leung

The resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith and I trust many of us are familiar with the Easter narratives.  The resurrection, as many of us know it, is a happy ending to the grander gospel story – the crucified Lord is risen, He appears to his followers, commissions the disciples to a world-wide mission and ascends to heaven.  Indeed, this is exactly Luke’s narrative on the resurrection story.  The reality, however, is that the resurrection stories are quite diverse across the four gospels.  For example, Matthew reports the resurrection, reappearance as well as the great commission but makes no mention of the ascension of Jesus.  John’s narrative is shorter still as he only narrates the resurrection and reappearance.  In today’s message, I will focus on Mark’s account of the resurrection story.  As usual, I will begin with an analysis of the passage and then proceed on to the hermeneutics.

It is consensus among modern biblical scholarship that the Gospel of Mark ends at 16:8.  After all, the most reliable early manuscripts all conclude with 16:8 and do not contain verses 9 through 20.  Unlike John, Matthew and Luke, the ending of Mark is perplexing and suspenseful.  For example, the women were told to deliver the news of resurrection to the disciples but fled the tomb instead, because they were afraid.  There is no joy, no reappearance, no great commission, no ascension.  Perhaps this is why the later scribes, out of good intention, added verses 9-20 to ‘complete’ the story as the early church tradition knows it.  Today I will not argue whether these additional verses should be part of New Testament scripture.  Rather, I want to focus on the perplexing and suspenseful ending that is dictated in 16:1-8.

The three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, have witnessed the crucifixion.  In particular, according to 15:47, the two Marys also witnessed the burial of Jesus.  According to verse 1, the women prepared spices to anoint Jesus’ body likely because the burial took place in a hurry and there was not enough time to prepare the body properly.  From the perspective of the readers of Mark, another woman had anointed Jesus in Bethany not too long ago (14:3-9).  The actions of the three women in chapter 16 resonate with the narrative in chapter 14; together, the two accounts frame a story of victory.  Particularly the former account foreshadows the death of Jesus, while the latter account is a denunciation of the power of death over Jesus.  That is, the anointing of the body did not take place because Jesus has risen.

The three women expected to see the body of Jesus as they had the intention of anointing the body.  The question “who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” is a legitimate question.  After all, Mark wrote that the stone “was very large” and it would have been beyond the ability of the women to move the stone.  What follows is a surprise to the women.  Not only was the stone rolled away, but they saw a young man dressed in a white robe.  Present day readers, given the knowledge of the other Gospels, would be inclined to conclude the young man as a heavenly being.  However, the fact that the women were “alarmed” would also allude to a similar notion.  The Greek word for “alarmed” is also means “terrified/fearful/astonished”, which is a typical human reaction in supernatural encounters.  The idea that the young man is a heavenly being has significant implications – a message has been delivered from heaven and now humans must proclaim this message.

What follows is the resurrection announcement (16:6 NIV):

 

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.  He has risen!  He is not here.  See the place where they laid him.

 

Jesus the Nazarene and the crucified one are inseparable.  Jesus the Nazarene is the dear Rabbi who the women had travelled from Galilee to Jerusalem.  Jesus the crucified one is the one whom the women witnessed suffering on the cross.  It is this Jesus who is not found in the tomb because He has risen.

 

The Greek word for “risen” in this verse is a third person passive verb.  In fact, a better translation of verse 6 is found in the NRSV where it is translated as “He has been raised”.  The implication of the third person passive verb would suggest that the resurrection itself is not caused by Jesus himself but God.  The fact that God raised Jesus resonates with the cry of “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” (15:34) – God had never forsaken Jesus!  Rather, the resurrection is a judgement on those who mocked Jesus before the cross.  More importantly, God made Jesus a victor over the enemy – the power of sin.

 

After delivering the resurrection message, the young man instructs the women to “tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”  The empty tomb and the testimony of the women do not serve as sufficient evidence for the resurrection, particularly in a culture where women are deemed lower in class and less credible.  Instead, the key to proving the resurrection is the encounter between the disciples and the resurrected Lord.

 

Furthermore, this set of instructions also alludes to the rehabilitation of the disciples.  The singling out of Peter is likely designed to resonate with the Peter’s denial of the Lord instead of a suggestion that Peter would be a leader in the church.  This mention of Peter, in reference of his denial, ties closely with 14:26-31 where Jesus predicts the scattering of his flock, his resurrection, and the mention that he will go before them to Galilee.  Mark does not describe the disciples seeing Jesus, instead he recounts a promise that this will happen.

 

Finally, Mark concludes his gospel narrative with verse 8 – “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb.  They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid”.  This ending is perplexing because it is not an ending that we would expect.  The women had intended to anoint a dead body but was greeted by a message of resurrection instead.  Shouldn’t they be filled with joy because Jesus has been risen?  Rather they fled in fear and kept silent of the good news.  At the same time, the ending is suspenseful because, unlike the other Gospel writers, Mark does not venture into Jesus’ reappearance, the great commission, or the ascension, leaving the narrative without closure.

 

While some would challenge Mark as a poor narrator, I would argue that Mark purposely concluded the gospel narrative with an open end.  Bible scholars dated Mark to be written sometime between A.D. 55 and 70.  By this time, the early church has established somewhat of a foothold and the community of faith would have heard the testimonies of the disciples concerning the resurrection.  In other words, the resurrection would have been deemed as fact and not folklore that required objective evidence.  If that is the case, the message of Mark has no incentive to prove that the resurrection is true.  Instead, Mark wishes to challenge the community with this: you have now heard the gospel, what are you going to do with it?

 

I have stated many times that Mark portraits the disciples not as examples but failures and counter-examples.  Yet, the Lord, through the young man in the white robe, assures the invitation to them.  “Go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” serves as a vivid reminder that the Lord is faithful to such a point where He keeps the covenant even to those who have failed in the most epic way.  Peter said, to the Lord “Even if all fall away, I will not.”  Yet, according to Luke 22:60-62:

 

Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about!”  Just as he was speaking the rooster crowed.  The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”  And he went outside and wept bitterly.

 

It is not tough to imagine what Peter had felt after seeing the soul piercing eyes of Jesus.  The man who vowed loyalty to the Lord ended up betraying the Lord.  Peter is now broken but the Lord, through the invitation to Galilee, seeks to reconcile with Peter.

 

As distant as the resurrection story is to the present-day Christian, the application of the story’s principles is timeless.  “Go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” is as applicable to us as it did to the disciples.  A common blind spot amongst Christian men and women is the notion that we think we are invincible to temptation.  I, for example, have fallen victim to this blind spot.

 

I graduated from university in 2005 and so I am an old dog now.  Shortly after graduating I was involved with a woman whom I had a physical relationship with.  As a person who had been attending church since a teenager, I have promised the Lord to not do such things, but I have failed to keep my promise.  The relationship lasted a few years and we eventually parted ways.  The bible is right that man and woman become one as they join in an intimate way.  I knew I had hurt her, I knew I had hurt myself and I knew I had failed the Lord.

 

Like Peter, I was in so much shame that I felt unworthy to attend church.  However, the holy spirit convicted me to confess to a few brothers and sisters whom I had trusted.  One of the brothers made extra effort to walk along side with me in through the journey.  He made me promise to read one chapter of the Gospel a day.   Beginning with the Gospel of Mathew, it did not take long for me to get to Mark 16:17.  “Go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”  The Lord had gone ahead not only to meet Peter but to meet me also.

 

If the physical Galilee is the place where the disciples were called to witness a renewal in discipleship, then Mark 16:7 is the Galilee where I heard Jesus’ call again – a call for repentance, a call for renewal, a call for obedience, a call to follow him once more.  The Lord has come to reconcile with me.  It was like seeing Jesus in a different way; I was able to see him more clearly than before.  But make no mistake, life was not rosy after this.  In fact, some had used this information as a weapon against me, but such is the consequence of my misdeeds and I have no one else to blame but my foolishness.  Yet, the Lord has used my testimony as an encouragement to others who are in a similar predicament, and at the very least, I am no longer living in the bondage of my misdeeds.  Perhaps Mark is right after all, life is not necessarily easy when God decides to turn it upside down.

 

Let me wrap up today’s message with a quote Tim Geddert’s commentary: “Mark ends his Gospel, not by telling the reader what happens in Galilee, but by telling them what must happen in Galilee.  It is not about literal journeys back and forth between Galilee and Jerusalem, but a life of following Jesus.”  The resurrection story is not only about how God defeats the power of sin but also about how holy God has come to reconcile with man.  The invitation to Galilee is open to me as it is to you.  Most of us here have heard and accepted the Gospel but now what?  Now we must go to Galilee, where we will meet Jesus and respond to His call once more!

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