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Resurrection Faith and Mission

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The Lord is risen! This is not only a historical fact; it is the foundation of hope for everyone who puts his trust in him. The apostle Paul wrote, But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (I Cor. 15:20–22).

The resurrection of Christ imparts enumerable benefits to believers, including regeneration, justification, sanctification and eventually glorification. It gives us confidence to labor for the Lord, always abounding in his work, knowing that our labor is never in vain in him (I Cor. 15:58).

This morning’s text focuses on two of those benefits, viz., faith and mission. These two benefits are intertwined all throughout our text. Mary Magdalene believed and went out and told the disciples. The two country travelers also saw the Lord with the eyes of faith. They believed and ran to Jerusalem to tell the disciples. And even the disciples, though they did not believe either Mary or the two travelers, believed when Jesus appeared to them. Jesus then sent them out into the world to preach the gospel to every creature.

Mary Magdalene

The very first person to see the Lord Jesus Christ alive after his resurrection was Mary Magdalene. Others had gone to the tomb and had seen the stone rolled away and the empty graveclothes, but Mary was the first to lay her eyes on the risen Lord.

This high honor was given to a woman, which shows how much the Bible exalts women. Likewise, the virgin Mary was blessed to be Jesus’ only human parent, although Joseph assumed the role of a surrogate father in caring for him. In the same way, Proverbs 31 extols the godly woman as the crowning gem of the believing family. It says, Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates (vv. 28–31). All of this shows that God highly prizes everyone who loves him and trusts him regardless of gender.

But one thing stands out about Mary Magdalene: she was not only a woman who was unusually devoted to Christ, but was one from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons. The account of her exorcism is not recorded in any of the gospels, though it is mentioned both in verse 9 of our text and in Luke 8:2. Her devotion to Christ was unquestionably due to the fact that the Lord had done so much for her in the time of her greatest misery.

On the other hand, we might wonder why Mark chose to give us this bit of historical information at this point. He had mentioned Mary Magdalene three times in the verses immediately preceding our text (15:40, 47; 16:1), but he waited to tell us about her exorcism until he could do so in connection with Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to her. So, what’s the point in this?

The obvious answer to this is that the resurrection of Christ is the basis upon which Mary Magdalene’s exorcism took place. The casting out of her demons was a foretaste of great things yet to come. When Jesus was accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, he said that no man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house (Mark 3:27). He cast out demons during the course of his earthly ministry in anticipation of his ultimate and complete victory, which took place when he rose from the dead. By his resurrection, he bound the strong man, i.e., the devil, once and for all, and now the power of his resurrection works in everyone who believes. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, praying that they might know what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:19–20).

It should be an encouragement to everyone of you that the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead energizes you to do the work of God. You should, therefore, not grow weary in well doing.

We have a wonderful example of this in Mary Magdalene, who, having been cleansed of seven demons and after seeing the risen Lord, went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept (v. 10). She immediately became evangelistic. Mark is the only gospel writer who provided this detail, but it underscores the two main themes of our text: faith and mission.

The Disciples’ Unbelief

Mary Magdalene believed that Jesus rose from the dead. However, verses 11 through 14 describe others who did not. Mark tells us no less than three times in these verses that the disciples did not believe.

The first mention of unbelief is in verse 11: And they [i.e., the disciples], when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not. The fact that she gave eyewitness testimony did not impress them at all. Eyewitness testimony can be problematic for many reasons: some people lie, others have faulty memory, and the person who hears the testimony will always evaluate it on the basis of his own presuppositions.

In the first century, Josephus and the rabbis taught that a woman’s witness was inherently unreliable. But the reason that the disciples did not believe was not due to the fact that the testimony came from a woman, but because their hearts, like the hearts of all men, were predisposed not to believe the things of God. Paul described the universal condition of man when he wrote, But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (I Cor. 2:14).

Here, again, we see how God laughs at the world. First-century Jews maligned the value and usefulness of a woman’s word, and yet God chose to communicate the most wonderful message in the entire history of the world through a woman. She, in fact, even took this good news to Jesus’ disciples, who had been with him for so long but did not believe. They would later become powerful witnesses of the resurrection themselves, but here they had to receive word of Christ’s triumph over death from someone else.

Sometime after this, Jesus appeared to two disciples as they were going out into the country. There is very little doubt that these were the same two men that Luke wrote about, who were on their way to a village called Emmaus. If so, Luke provided a lot more detail that Mark. Luke’s account is twenty-two verses compared to Mark’s two. In any case, by showing himself alive to these men, Jesus established more eyewitnesses to the fact of his resurrection.

According to verse 12, when Jesus first appeared to them, he appeared in another form (ἐν ἑτέρᾳ μορφῇ). This makes it sound like he changed his physical appearance, perhaps so that they could not recognize him. By itself, this is not necessarily a problem. If Jesus could change one material substance into another (e.g., water into wine), then he can certainly change what he looks like. However, this may not be what happened. The parallel account in Luke says that the eyes of the Emmaus travelers were restrained (ἐκρατοῦντο), making them unable to recognize (ἐπιγνῶναι) him (Luke 24:16). There are few instances in the Old Testament where God used a more pervasive temporary blindness to accomplish his purposes. On one occasion, Elisha led the blind Syrians to Samaria, where they were surrounded and conquered by the Israelite army (II Kgs. 6:8–23). Further, Luke’s account also says that Jesus, once he made himself known to the Emmaus travelers, vanished out of their sight (Luke 24:31). He may have disappeared, but the Greek does not require this. It could mean either that they were prohibited from seeing him because the power of their eyesight was restrained or that Jesus had simply left, thereby removing himself from their sight.

When the eyes of the Emmaus travelers finally saw Jesus, they too were ignited with evangelistic fervor. Like Mary Magdalene, they went back to the residue, i.e., the apostles, and told them that they had seen the risen Savior. Luke makes it clear that they went back not only with great haste but also with great excitement. He wrote, And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, saying, The Lord is risen indeed (Luke 24:33–34).

The disciples had rejected the testimony of Mary Magdalene, and they also refused to believe the word of the two Emmaus travelers. Perhaps Mary’s testimony by itself did not meet the biblical standard of two or three witnesses, but the addition of the testimony of the two travelers certainly did. It made no difference, though. Verse 13 ends on a rather sour note: neither believed they them.

After all of this, verse 14 says that Jesus appeared unto the eleven while they were eating their evening meal, and he reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart. They had not believed the witnesses who had seen Jesus after he had risen from the dead.

What made their offense so horrible is that the witnesses who told them that Jesus was alive were merely confirming what Scripture had prophesied and what Jesus said would happen. At the beginning of his ministry Jesus declared, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up (John 2:13). And no less than three times Jesus announced to his disciples that they were going to Jerusalem where Jesus would be arrested, mistreated, spat upon and executed, but on the third day he would rise again (cf. Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34). The disciples had not only rejected the testimony of Mary Magdalene and the Emmaus travelers, but also dismissed the Word of God as if God had been silent on the resurrection of Christ. No wonder, then, that Mark used an especially strong word for Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples (ὠνείδισεν): he upbraided them.

This highlights something about eyewitness testimony that is so basic that it is often overlooked, viz., that the testimony of eyewitnesses must testify to what the Bible says. Even in disciplinary matters, as we saw a couple weeks ago, it isn’t enough for a witness to say that he saw so-and-so doing such-and-such. Rather, he must testify that he saw so-and-so doing such-and-such contrary to the Word of God. And when the eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection testified to what they had seen, they were also affirming that they had seen exactly what the Word of God said. The strength of their testimony is never their own empirical observations, but the truth of Scripture. When Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus said to him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven (Matt. 16:17).[1]

Instead of following the disciples’ example of unbelief, we ought to thank God everyday for the fact that he has given us an inerrant and infallible Word, and that he has authenticated it in so many ways — by the signs and wonders that are recorded in Scripture, by eyewitnesses who heard and saw the great acts of God themselves, and most especially by the revelation of God given through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The importance of eyewitness testimony is that it takes us back to Scripture, which interprets the law, as well as biblical prophecy and its fulfillment to our endless comfort. We learn from Scripture that we benefit from the resurrection of Jesus Christ when we believe in him.

The Great Commission

When Mary Magdalene saw the risen Lord, she could not wait to tell the others. The Emmaus travelers seem to have been even more eager, perhaps even traveling back to Jerusalem in the dark of the night. In both cases, evangelism was the spontaneous response of a heart overflowing with joy for the gospel’s glad tidings.

The apostles, however, were not quite there yet. Jesus had to tell them exactly what they were to do. Verse 15 of our text says, And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature, i.e., proclaim the resurrection to every human being.

The emphasis here is on the authoritative preaching of the gospel as it is carried out by the church, but it does not preclude in any way the obligation every believer has to confess Christ before men. After all, every human being comes into this world alienated from God, filled with corruption and dead in sin. Race, ethnicity, skin color, gender, age make no difference. Everyone needs to hear that without the holiness that comes through Jesus Christ no one will see the Lord. And for us, dear brothers, there is no justification for excluding anyone from the gospel call when it is in our power to tell them about our Savior’s victory over death.

Why is this? It’s because belief in the Lord Jesus Christ is the necessary and sufficient condition for salvation. Therefore, Jesus also said, He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned (v. 16).

In the New Testament, there is a general expectation that under normal circumstances every believer will be baptized. Baptism is necessary for salvation only in the sense that God commands us to receive it as a sign and seal of his gracious covenant. But it is not necessary in the sense that a person cannot be saved without it if he has no access to it, as was the case, for example, with the thief on the cross. The thief not only could not remove himself from his cross to seek baptism, but also died before New Testament baptism was instituted.

On the other hand, baptism does absolutely nothing without faith, except increase a person’s judgment for not embracing the reality along with the sign. The person who believes and is baptized will be saved, but the only thing necessary for damnation is a lack of faith. A person who does not believe will be condemned, regardless of whether he has been baptized or not.

Biblical faith is, therefore, never optional. The Lord’s Supper will not save anyone. Neither will anyone become an heir of everlasting life merely by coming forward at an altar call and making a decision. And no one will enter heaven because of his grandpappy’s faith. In order to be saved, a person must turn to the Lord Jesus Christ for himself and cast himself on his mercy. He must see the ugliness of his own sin and be convicted that Jesus Christ died and rose again for him and in his place. He must believe with all his heart that there is no hope of seeing God apart from God’s gift.

The last two verses of our text take us back to the fact that God himself accredits his Word.

The preaching of the gospel in its earliest years was accompanied by various signs and wonders, like those listed in verses 17 and 18. The purpose of these things is clearly identified in Scripture. Romans 15:19 says, Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. The miracles that Paul did confirmed his apostolic ministry. Likewise, II Corinthians 12:12 says, Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. And the writer to the Hebrews wrote this in the second chapter: How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? (v. 3–4).

Because the signs authenticated the apostolic messenger and his message, they were meant only for the period in which the apostles lived, viz., the first century. After that, the Word of God was complete and no further revelation was necessary. In this regard, it should be noted that every one of the signs mentioned in our text, with the exception of drinking poison, was fulfilled and reported in the book of Acts. The signs were not given as practices to be implemented in the ordinary and continuing life of the church.

But why, then, is the drinking of deadly poison not mentioned anymore in the New Testament? With tongue in cheek and more than a little bit of truth, we can say that this prediction was left unfulfilled to discredit Mohammed, who died after eating poisoned lamb. He considered himself a prophet, but the fact that God did not spare him from death shows that he was not a prophet at all. A more serious answer simply recognizes that God said that the apostles would not die by poison, and that was fulfilled. As far as we know, none of them died accidentally or by covert design. Most of them gave their lives for the sake of the gospel. The apostle John was the only one who died a natural death.

The day of the Lord’s resurrection began with despair. The women who had stood by Jesus at the cross and the apostles who had witnessed his ministry for at least three years awoke to a third day without him. They grieved what they believed to have been their loss.

But that same day ended with great joy and gladness. They soon found that the Lord was no longer dead, just as he had predicted, and that their unbelief was not only shameful but sinful, as all unbelief is.

Sometimes it’s good not to believe people. There are many liars and deceivers in the world who make themselves out to be prophets, messiahs and saviors, but the only power they have is the power to demonstrate that they cannot tell the truth. Why should we reject their witness? There is only one reason: it is not in agreement with Scripture. Jesus said, For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect (Matt. 24:24). The test of their calling, according to Moses, is agreement with prior revelation. Those who deny what God has clearly revealed should be turned away.

However, the events that took place on the day of Christ’s resurrection did not run counter to previous revelation, but rather was perfectly in accord with it. When Mary Magdalene understood this, her sorrow turned into joy. When the Emmaus travelers were enlightened with heavenly truth, their gloom and despair became overwhelming gladness. And when the eleven apostles saw Jesus Christ with the eyes of faith, the Lord lit a fire under them that will never be put out. They traversed the globe to tell others the good news: Satan’s head has been crushed, but Jesus Christ lives now and forever!

Because Jesus rose from the dead, you have been regenerated and called to serve him. You have a mission, just like the apostles did. It includes evangelism, which you should take every opportunity to do, but it includes more. Your whole life must be devoted to him. You must learn to love the good and hate the evil, and walked humbly and faithfully with your resurrected Lord every day of your life. Amen.


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[1] In John 5:19ff. Jesus identified the five witnesses that establish his ministry. Toward the end of the chapter, he cites Moses as a witness against those who refuse God’s witnesses. Thus, even the one who delivered the principle of two or three witnesses to the Jews condemned them. See vv. 45–47.

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