A New Beginning
Life goes on pretty much as usual most of the time, but every once in a while a change takes place which brings about a massive shift in the way we live. For example, for thousands of years people sewed their clothing by hand, but when the industrial revolution came along suddenly clothing was mass produced in factories. Wikipedia begins the article on the Industrial Revolution in the following way, “The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, and transport had a profound effect on the socioeconomic and cultural conditions starting in the United Kingdom, then subsequently spreading throughout Europe, North America, and eventually the world. The onset of the Industrial Revolution marked a major turning point in human history; almost every aspect of daily life was eventually influenced in some way.”
The phrase, “almost every aspect of daily life was eventually influenced in some way” intrigues me as I think about what we are celebrating this morning. It is Easter Sunday morning and today we celebrate the resurrection which has probably changed human history more than any other event. But I wonder if it is true that because of the resurrection almost every aspect of daily life has been influenced in some way? Do we really get it? I know that there are many people in the world who do not get it. They have rejected the truth of the resurrection, or have not yet heard the message and do not live in the reality of the resurrection. I am not actually thinking about them. The message needs to be shared with them and they need to be invited to believe the resurrection and all that Christ has done. I am actually thinking of people who have declared that they believe in the resurrection. I am thinking about you and me. We say we believe that Jesus rose from the dead. We come to church on Easter Sunday and gladly sing the songs of Easter. But do we live in the resurrection? When we fail to trust that Jesus has our best interest in mind and will guide us to life, do we live in the resurrection? When we fail to love our enemies, do we live in the resurrection? When we seek every solution to a problem except turning to Jesus, do we live in the resurrection? When we are content to live out our days focused mainly on enjoying the pleasures of this life, do we live in the resurrection? If we face death with terror, do we live in the resurrection?
Jesus has risen. But do we get it? The story of the resurrection in Mark 16 invites us to ask those questions and gives some direction on how to live in the resurrection.
I. A Profound Promise
Make no mistake; Mark 16 is very clear that Jesus rose from the dead!
Jesus was arrested and tried on Thursday night or very early Friday morning. During the day on Friday he was sentenced to die, was nailed to a cross and by Friday afternoon he had died. Before sunset he was already buried. The Jewish Sabbath began at Sunset on Friday and went until sunset on Saturday. During this time no shops were open and no one did any work. After sunset on Saturday, the shops opened again and the women who had watched Jesus die and had seen where he was buried went to one of those shops and purchased some spices. But it was now already dark and so they did not go to the tomb in order to anoint the body of Jesus as was their intention.
Early the next morning, they got up, gathered their spices and went to the place where Jesus had been buried. On the way, they were worried, wondering how they would get into the tomb. They had watched as a large stone had been put in front of the tomb and they knew that they would be unable to move it. They wanted to get into the tomb in order to pour their spices on the body of Jesus. The purpose of the spices was not for embalming purposes because the Jews did not embalm. The purpose was to cover up the stink of decomposition and they were plenty late already to do that because decomposition would likely already have begun. Anointing was intended as a final act of love for Jesus.
As they approached the tomb, discussing these things, the first thing they noticed was that the stone had been rolled away. This surprised them, but they hardly had time to think about what it meant, for they went into the tomb and immediately saw a young man sitting there wearing a white robe. The text says that they were alarmed. It is most likely that their alarm arose from the recognition that this was an angel. We don’t have much of a record in Scripture of people being frightened by other people, but we do often have people being afraid of angel appearances.
The angel told them that this was not a time to be afraid. That was an important command to them and we need to emphasize it because of something we will see in a few moments. The angel both pointed to the reality of the empty tomb and also interpreted it for them. He told them several things. First of all he told them that Jesus, who had been crucified, had been raised. He made the identity clear. They were looking for Jesus of Nazareth and he was talking about Jesus of Nazareth. He indicated further that this Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. All of these details are included so that we know that there was no mistake. They were not at the wrong tomb and there was no confusion that Jesus had not died. But the angel was equally clear about the reason for Jesus’ absence - He has risen! Then referring to the empty tomb and pointing to the place where he had been laid, he made it very clear that Jesus was not there. The physical absence of Jesus, which they could perceive was explained by the angelic announcement that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
What a wonderful announcement! What a profound promise! Never did the disciples, the women, the Jewish leaders, the Roman leaders, or any other human being expect what had happened. It was totally out of the realm of human experience. Jesus died and rose again. What wonderful news!
II. A Great Challenge
What do you do with such amazing information? Would it not make sense that such amazing information would change everything? Every aspect of daily human life should be influenced in some way. But the ending of Mark doesn’t immediately imply that. The ending of Mark is rather unusual. It ends with Mark 16:7, 8, “‘But go, tell his disciples and Peter, that He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid."
A. What Do We Make of the Ending?
What do we do with that? After such wonderful news the ending seems both abrupt and negative. The last verse particularly is filled with failure and fear. The commission the women have been given to go and tell the disciples and Peter is not fulfilled. They don’t say anything to anyone. Instead they run away in terror. Is failure and fear really the final response to the resurrection?
A number of different things have happened historically to address this supposed problem. One is that there must be more to the ending of Mark. Some suggest that Mark wanted to write more, but was martyred before he finished writing. Others suggest that there was actually more but it was lost and so we are left with this rather abrupt ending. There are other endings to Mark. In NRSV there are two different endings suggested. One is a shorter ending, which simply adds words to the end of verse 8. The other is to include, as many translations do, verses 9-20. But notice that in most translations they admit that this longer ending likely wasn’t original. People who perceived the problem of the ending of Mark added these words.
How do we solve this?
One way is to accept one of these alternative endings, but the problem is which one and can we really be sure that they are authentic when all evidence suggests that they are not.
Another solution is to accept this ending, but alter its meaning. One such suggestion comes from Cole who notes that the word “afraid” “may contain a note of joy as well.” Philips translation comes closest to this interpretation when it says, “trembling with excitement.” But the silence is still there and would suggest that fear was still their overwhelming response.
There are two ways of looking at the resurrection narratives. Each of the gospel writers described the resurrection events in a different way. One response is to use all of them to try to figure out what happened and that is a legitimate pursuit, but also has problems associated with it. Another is to try to understand what each writer was saying. We can ask the question, “Why did this writer include the information he did and what was he trying to say by doing so. That is the approach I would like to take today. If, as the best evidence suggests, this is the ending Mark intended to write, then what was he trying to say?
Perhaps we should not be surprised that failure and fear appear at the end of Mark, for it has been a theme throughout the book.
We have already examined the failure of the disciples who, in spite of all protests to the contrary, ran away in terror when Jesus was arrested. Peter’s failure was particularly highlighted with his vehement affirmation that he was prepared to die for Jesus and equally vehement denial that he knew Jesus. At the end, we concluded that all failed, all fell away.
However, as we have continued to read the story we have learned that actually not all fell away. In Mark 15:40, 41 we read, "Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there."
There were a group of women who had not fallen away and they were the ones who became the witnesses to the death of Jesus. We also read that they were witness to the burial of Jesus in Mark 15:47 where it says that the two Mary’s “saw where he was laid.” Now two women are also the first witnesses of the resurrection. It is interesting and worthy of note that in a culture that did not accept the witness of women, Jesus rested the message of resurrection on the witness of two women.
They did not fail when Jesus was arrested. They did not fail when Jesus was hung on the cross. They did not fail when Jesus died. They did not fail when Jesus was buried. But now when they heard that Jesus was alive, it was all a little too much for them and they also failed. They were given a command not to fear by the angel, but fear overwhelmed them. They were given a command to go and tell, but they were silent.
So in the end, everyone has failed. Some people fail at bad news thinking there is no hope other people fail at good news believing it can’t be true.
C. An Invitation
But does the book really end with failure? Before the message of the failure of the women, we have two invitations in vs. 7.
1. Invitation to Return
When Jesus warned the disciples that they would all fall away, he also told them in Mark 14:28, "But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” They already had heard that there was a way back to Jesus. They had already been invited to go back to Galilee. Now that invitation was repeated as a reminder. However, according to Mark’s record, they never got that reminder because the women did not say anything. But it was also a message for the women who had now failed. But what was the invitation all about?
In Mark 14:28 Jesus had indicated that this meeting would happen, “…after I have risen.” Now He had risen and the invitation became relevant. It would make no sense to schedule a meeting if you were not going to be able to make it because of your demise. But Jesus knew and now the reader knows that Jesus did not stay dead. He rose again and it is because of the resurrection that the possibility of meeting Jesus again became real. What would happen at that meeting? It was an invitation to restoration. It was an opportunity to experience forgiveness for their failure.
What a wonderful invitation! What an amazing reality which changed daily life in a profound way because of the resurrection. There would be no possibility of restoration if it were not for the resurrection but because Jesus was alive, restoration was possible.
This message of restoration was not only for the disciples. It was not even only for the women who had failed so recently. The invitation to return, to be restored is an invitation which extends to us as well. Every one of us fails. At one time or another in our life with Christ we also have failed. How many of us have not doubted Jesus, perhaps denied Jesus, certainly failed to follow Jesus when the going got tough. But that is the point that Mark is trying to communicate to us. All the disciples failed and they were all invited back again to experience restoration. Even Peter was specially mentioned so that we know that even if we swear and curse and say that we do not know Jesus, the risen Christ invites us to come back to Him and experience renewal.
So this morning, let the good news of the resurrection be an invitation for you to come back to Jesus. No matter how badly you have failed, no matter how deeply you have sinned, the resurrected Christ invites you to come to him and experience the renewal that only one who has been raised from the dead can give. To come back to Him is to live in the resurrection!
2. Invitation to Follow
The second invitation included in Mark is the invitation to follow Him.
This message comes through in several ways. First of all we notice that the invitation which the women are to pass on includes the words, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee.” So in that sense, we can understand that Jesus goes ahead of his disciples and they are to follow where He goes.
But Galilee is mentioned for another reason. Galilee was the place where it all began. That was the place where the disciples had first met Jesus. That was the place where they had first started to follow Jesus. The invitation to Galilee is the invitation to go back to the place where they first started to follow Jesus. If we go back to the beginning of Mark, we will notice the repeated invitation which Jesus made as he invited first Peter and Andrew and later Levi and of course all of them to, “Come follow me.” The invitation which was given to return to Galilee was an invitation to follow Jesus. So Galilee becomes a symbol of the invitation to follow Jesus.
Once again this is only relevant because Jesus is alive. It is possible to follow the teachings of a person who has died. There are people who still follow Elvis or Plato or others. They read their writings interpret them and try to understand them. They quote them and try to do what they said. But they are not following the person as much as the ideas of the person or the spirit of the person. But Jesus is alive and so we do not follow merely the teachings of Jesus or the ideas of Jesus. We follow the living Jesus. If we have truly understood the message of the resurrection, we live in the resurrection by continuing daily to follow Jesus.
3. Invitation to Go and Tell
When we are restored and when we follow Jesus, then the command which the women received also becomes relevant. What we have seen and heard with eyes of faith is also something that we are called to go and tell. The message of the resurrection is not a message we can keep silent about. Yet, like the women, we so often do keep silent about it. How do we overcome that reticence? We must walk on the same path which the women were invited to walk. We too must return to Jesus and seek restoration from Him and follow Him and then we will also proclaim that Jesus is alive for we will know Him.
Geddert says, “Mark has chosen to finish with a challenge instead of a happy ending.” And yet the challenge is set in the context of the happy ending. Restoration and following are challenges which only make sense if Jesus is alive but since He is alive, we are called to live in the resurrection by returning to Him and following Him.
This is our life as disciples. Malbon says, “Followership is never easy, never perfect, and never ending.” We all fail in our faith walk. Like the women, fear overwhelms us. Sometimes we can’t grasp the wonder and power of the resurrection, but the risen Jesus always welcomes us back and the risen Jesus welcomes us to follow Him daily.