The Crucified Christ is Risen
It is good to see everyone here so early in the morning to remember and to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Friday night we celebrated “Good Friday,” which was a day of remembrance of the agony experienced by Jesus on the cross. Yet, it was also a day to rejoice in Jesus atonement for our sins. It was through His blood shed on the cross that Jesus has made God turn to us in mercy and reconciled us with the Father. Yesterday was Holy Saturday, the name given to the seventh day of the Holy week. Some churches celebrate Holy Saturday, for they reflect and contemplate on the darkness that would have befallen us if there was no hope of the resurrection. Finally, today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. As the gospel writer Mark notes in 16:1-8, almost 2000 years ago, about this time, at sunrise, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb where Jesus laid and were told by a young man that Jesus had risen. In consequence, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, for if Christ had not been raised, we would have been in dire straits. As Apostle Paul reminds us in , “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins.” ().
Let us make a pit stop, change gears, and talk about films and books for a minute. Since this subject will interweave with ensuing exposition of Mark’s resurrection narrative. Let me begin with some questions. (1) How do you evaluate a movie or book? (2) What benchmarks do you use to appraise it? (3) What are some books from your past that left you a lasting memory? (4) Is the storyline, the character, and the ending important to you? (5) What is the most essential facet of a book or a film? Here are my guidelines for appraising a film or a book. I check whether the it is believable. I also ask myself if the work was entertaining and thought-provoking. The setting, the storyline, and specially the characters play a significant role in my evaluation. The characters are essential, and they also need to be complicated. In real life, people are complicated, so simple characters do not work for me. I love stories with good dialogues. Let me give you examples of what I believe to be good film. Blood Sport with Jean Claude Van Damn is one of them. If you grew up in the 80s and early 90s, you know what I am talking about. We have U.S soldier Frank Dux who has been accepted to a kumite. If you do not know what a kumite is, it is a secret competition where the best fighters of the world come to compete and prove that their styles are the best. The movie has a great storyline, where Dux needs to show that an American can overcome a stereotype, being that white folks can also fight. There is even romance, where Dux falls in love with the beautiful reporter Janice Kent. To top it all, it is based on a true story. In short, the movie has a great storyline, complex characters, an impressive setting, credibility, and mostly importantly, a great ending. Great movies also have memorable lines. Do you recall Forrest Gump? Do you remember Gump’s famous line? “Mama said, Life was like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get.” Again, great films have great endings. That was the case with E.T. unless you have no heart, who would not cry when E. T’s spaceship comes back to get him. As E.T is near the spacecraft, his hearts glow. E.T points to Elliott’s forehead and tells him that he will be there with him always. Then E.T takes offs. The movie has a heart-wrenching ending.
You may be asking, what does Mark have anything to do with movies? Just like a wonderfully made movie, Mark is a beautiful account of Jesus’ story. Furthermore, Mark’s Gospel parallels to a fast-paced action/drama movie, where Jesus and the disciples quickly move from event to event. Moreover, Mark appears to have a clear goal, for he wants us to know that Jesus is the Son of God, the true Messiah. Mark affirms it from the beginning of the gospel and ends it with an account of the Roman soldier asserting Jesus’ divinity.
At this point, I need to bring something to your attention. Earlier and most reliable manuscripts of Mark’s gospel ends it in verse 8, although your Bibles may have verses extending up to verse 20. The truth is that some scribes or scholars were not satisfied Mark’s ending, claiming that ending on verse 8 would be intolerably clumsy. Scholars like David Garland believe that later scribes less than satisfied with the ending, tinkered with the Gospel and attempted to fill the perceived gaps. But I like to tell you that there is a greater consensus among academics that the gospel indeed ends on verse 8.
Now I can ask, just like a great movie with all the aspects of a great story, why does Mark end his Gospel with such an ambiguous, incomplete ending? Why does Mark’s ending peters out, giving a feeling of being cheated? Furthermore, you may be wondering as to why I would choose Mark as opposed to John or Matthew who recount more far-reaching and satisfying endings. Well, I am here to tell you that there is a higher purpose as to why Mark ends his Gospel in the way he does. You will also think twice before supposing that is not a suitable text for an Easter message. I like to give you three points that will hopefully convince you that Mark’s ending is perfectly suitable for an Easter message. For it will reveal why we should believe and trust in Jesus in light of His resurrection.
1. It would do us well to trust the promises of Jesus (1-3)
1. It would do us well to trust the promises of Jesus (1-3)
First, it would do us well to trust the promises of Jesus. The reality is that we can quickly fail to hear, let alone, believe in Jesus’ promise. Verses 1-3 begin with the account of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. We know that they were present at the crucifixion, and we also know that both Marys were present when Joseph of Arimathea placed Jesus in the tomb. It shouldn’t be a surprise that we see these women reappear at the empty tomb. At a glance, we trust that these three women are special. In other words, distinct members of Jesus’ circle, insiders of God’s reign. We also note an unusual feature of Mark for listing the names of the three women. It appears that Mark wanted to certify by witnesses the integrity of the events that took place. Women as eyewitnesses to incident attested to the integrity of the resurrection narrative. For it is noted that the opinion of a woman in those days, particularly in religious matters were not always considered. Consequently, unless the women were present at the tomb, the early church would not have accepted their testimony. The majority of scholars expound that the testament of the women was in character with the divine plan since those who are discounted in human society are the first to be included. Nonetheless, I like to offer you a different perspective concerning the three women.
Beginning with verse 1, we are told that the three women bought spices to anoint Jesus. However, the procuring of spices and anointing of Jesus’ body speaks of a mistaken outlook in part of the women. For they should have known from the onset that Jesus would not have been found dead in the tomb. The women did not go to meet the risen King, but to finalize the burial which was interrupted by the Sabbath. They should have recognized with a greater assurance that Jesus would not have been present at the tomb. For He often predicted His resurrection beginning in the earlier accounts of Gospel. For instance, says, “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (). There is also where Jesus asserts that He will rise after three days; which states that Jesus would rise after three days; and where Jesus tells the disciples not to let anyone what they had seen until He was raised from the dead. Finally, in , Jesus predicts that all the disciples will desert Him and after He is raised, He would go before them to Galilee. It is clear that the women, have they listened, should have known that Jesus may not be present at the tomb. In the end, the women, just like the disciples, did not attend nor had a clear view concerning the death and resurrection of Christ.
In Mark, there is the theme of the disciples as individuals who continuously fail to understand Jesus. This idea is espoused by the various passages, starting with 4:13, which speaks of the disciple's incapacity to recognize Jesus’ parables (4:13). Other examples also testify to the disciples’ failures. This is evident in their confusion of the ritual purity (7:17); Jesus’ feeding of the crowd (8:4); His hard admonitions of the disciple's failure to understand Him (4:40, 6:52, and 8:17). And finally, the disciple’s ignorance concerning Jesus’ prediction of His suffering and death (8:32), which certainly attest to their failure to understand Him. In the same manner as the twelve disciples, the three women fall short to listen and realize Jesus’s message. The conclusion is that just because these people closely followed and served Jesus, it did not signify that they had full trust and faith in His word.
When I look at the three women or the disciples who did not trust in Jesus’ earlier message, I am reminded of my relationship with my wife. Sometimes it is challenging to understand her, and what she wants of me. You must observe, listen, and discern her thoughts and feelings. She expects you to know how she feels, what she likes and dislikes. Discernment must happen without the need for her to say it out loud. In turn, it testifies to my lack of awareness, my deficiency in construing her thoughts, in which ensues to my exasperation. Moreover, there are times when she says one thing, but means another. Sometimes she may have said something several times, and I do not appear to listen until it is too late. My lack of care and awareness leads to arguments, and I am sure many of you have experienced the same with your significant other. At times, your wife says she is doing okay when she is not really fine. Your wife asks you what are you doing today, and that is code for her wanting you to do some things in the house. Perhaps she asks you to go out this weekend, but what she really wants is for you to take the initiative plan it. There are times when she says that she does not want anything for my birthday, but it is code for, “go pick something beautiful!”
Unlike our wives, Jesus lays it out there for us to know what He wants us to comprehend and do. Jesus does not ask us to learn Morse code. Yet, we fail to hear, to take His word with more severity, and trust His message. Perhaps similar to the disciples and the women we are clueless. We may think we are close to Jesus by walking in His footsteps, but yet fail to hear Him truly. Just like the women without any inkling or notion of the declared hope, we ask “who will roll away the stone?” Let us be conscious that some of us may think we are member’s of Christ circle, but without listening and trusting Him, we run the danger of being outsiders. Hence, it would do us well to trust the promises of Jesus
2. We can move from fear to hope in Jesus (4-8)
2. We can move from fear to hope in Jesus (4-8)
As the women arrive at the tomb (16:4), they noted that the large stone blocking the entrance to the tomb was removed. If the stone was not rolled away, it would have been beyond their strength to remove it. It is amusing that they prepared the spices to anoint Jesus, but omitted to consider the main obstacle, the stone. It is uncertain if they were trusting that someone in the vicinity would help them, or that by sheer luck the stone would be removed. Nonetheless, after seeing the obstacle removed, the readers (us) hope that the women realize the significance of what is taking place. We hope that they recalled the promise Jesus had made. We hope that they recognized a supernatural account had occurred. We hope that the removal of stone awakened their memories and realized the Jesus had risen! Naturally, as readers of Mark, we immediately link the rolled stone with divine intervention, but unfortunately, that was not the case with the women. They still did not connect the rolling of the large stone with Jesus’ promise of rising after death and going before them. The uncanny signal was not strong enough.
Next, the women enter the tomb and suddenly find a young man in a white robe. Mark does not literally state that this young man is an angel, like , where the same event is linked to an angel. Furthermore, and account for two angels rather than one. So why does Mark not identify this young man as an angel? Although most scholars readily identify him as an angel, there are others who believe that this young man is the same as the one in , “And they all left him and fled. And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.” (). Although many readers do not give enough attention to the significance of the young man, scholars like O. Wesley Allen Jr. and Abraham Kuruvilla believe that this person represents the pre and post resurrection player of the narrative. Notwithstanding, whether you accept as valid that the young man is an angel or the individual in , the women were alarmed to find him inside the tomb. The Greek word for alarmed is ἐκθαμβέομαι (16:5), which represents intense distress. Accordingly, by seeing the young man, the three women became highly distressed: they could not have been delirious. It was a real!
And they all abandoned him and fled. And a certain young man was following him, clothed only in a linen cloth on his naked body. And they attempted to seize him, but he left behind the linen cloth and fled naked.
In verse six, the young man tells the women not to be distressed, for Jesus who was crucified had been raised and was no longer at the tomb. The place where Jesus laid was bare. In fact, Jesus had already departed going ahead of them towards Galilee. Then in verse 7, the young man commands the women to tell Peter and the disciples of Jesus’ whereabout. What we see here is hardly new information. Again, the women should have known what was transpiring. The young man is reminding them what Jesus had already noted in , “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” () There is nothing new here friends! Concerning the call to observe where Jesus rested, the young man was not inviting them to some mystical or magical experience. He was saying, come see for yourselves the physical reality that Jesus who died is now alive. The certainty of the risen Jesus is the purpose as to why we celebrate Easter. The historical Jesus becomes the resurrected Jesus. Friends, the announcement of the young man is the gospel, which was first preached in the empty tomb, and the new order was inaugurated. The women witnessed the kingdom of God with power. Notwithstanding, all these things should not have been new information, for Jesus as noted before, repeatedly told them that these events were going to take place.
As a reader, the assumption is that after seeing with their own eyes, experiencing the empty tomb, and witnessing the young man, the women now get the gist of what just became apparent. But then again as we see in verse eight that still not the case, seeing that Mark ends the narrative with the women quivering, startled, scared, and without words. Peculiarly, in their frightened condition, they flee the tomb and tell no one of what they experienced. So, it is troubling that the women were overcome with fear, as they followed the same pattern as the other twelve disciples. Whenever the disciples were overcome with fear, they seemed to forego the most important facet of being a follower of Jesus, which is trust, and faith. The experienced events failed to produce faith on their part, even after they are told of Jesus’ risen state. Incredibly, they fled in fear. Such occurrence is evocative of the incident of the boat and the storm in which Jesus equated the disciples fear with the lack of faith, for he says, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” ()
We are left scratching our heads, saying, what kind of ending is this? Why did Mark end the Gospel with three ladies who are afraid and deficient in faith? It is no wonder why some scribes decided to add extra material to Mark’s ending. However, I believe Mark has a deeper meaning that requires a different perspective to understand his conclusion, which leads to the Easter hope. The message is that even if you forsake and abandon Jesus out of fear or whatever other reason, one can still come back to Him. You can move from fear to faith. Such is found through the young man in the tomb. If you believe him to be the same young man who deserted Jesus earlier in 14:50-52 then he is the example of the hope. He typifies the idea of fear to faith. For he abandoned Jesus, but now returns to Jesus’ tomb to tell others of the Easter hope. He demonstrated the concept of failure to hope. The young man reveals that even if we failed in our discipleship, there is hope for us all. We can move from fear to hope in Jesus.
3. Trust that whatever your circumstances, you will find Jesus
3. Trust that whatever your circumstances, you will find Jesus
In verse 7, the young man informs the women that risen Jesus is on His way to Galilee, for they will see Him there. The idea of Jesus going ahead is indicative that even in our lives today, Jesus is ahead of us everywhere we go. Jesus went ahead of the disciples to minister to those who needed Him. He went to proclaim the hope of redemption for those outside of God’s reign. Trust that Jesus is alive today declaring the hope for a dying world. Let us praise the risen Jesus!
In this time of Easter, we find hope that we can meet Jesus here. We can meet him everywhere we find ourselves. We can be confident that wherever we go, for He has already ahead of you. We can also be assured that even the deserters and those who fear, or lack faith have a chance to come back to Him. It is why we find hope in Christ’s atoning sacrifice and resurrection
I don’t know about you, but if you still think Mark’s ending has much to be desired, I will tell you otherwise. In this day and age, the news is replete with extraordinary incidents. Beginning with the school shootings in Florida, Connecticut, Kentucky; the war and the suffering in places like Syria or Yemen; the refugee crisis of Europe; the racial divide in America; the abortion crisis; we can become very cynical of the world and the people around us. If we bring it up a notch and take it personally, we will find evidence of anguish and grief even within the wall of our church. We see disputes in marriage, battles with depression, financial troubles, failing health, parenting hardship, familial issues, and we can go forever. Consequently, it is difficult to hark back to the risen son of God. Nevertheless, I am here to tell you that in the midst of cynicism, despair, and sadness, we must never forget to look up to the risen Christ. The young man informs us that only Jesus can tell you the end of the story. For he is gone before us, he is here with us, and regardless of what you believe He is aware of your issues. Jesus is working on it before you even realized it. Trust that whatever your circumstances, you will find Jesus.
In conclusion, why should we believe and rejoice in Jesus? Because it would do us well to trust in his promises. We can move from fear to hope in Jesus, and trust that whatever your circumstances, you will find Him.
In this Easter Sunday morning, let us remember and rejoice that the crucified Christ is risen, who is here, and ahead of us. Christ is risen, and He is risen indeed! Alleluia!