Clark Pinnock said, “The biggest objection to Christianity is that it seems too good to be true.” But it is true. Christ has been raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). That fact alone compels us to follow the Risen One.
The story of the resurrection has everything in it a great story needs. It has grief—over a loved one who has died. It has devotion—of women who wanted to pay their respects. It has the supernatural—an angel in a tomb. It has shock and wonderment—people amazed but hoping against hope that Jesus might just be alive. It has angst—how come in Mark’s account of this event Jesus does not even show up? Where is the Risen One?
Honor the Dead
When the Sabbath was over—which could be as early as 6:00 p.m. Friday evening—three women made preparations to go to the tomb of Jesus. Other women evidently joined these three (Matthew 28:1; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55; 24:1-3; John 20:1, 2) to anoint Jesus’ body. Israelites did not embalm as the Egyptians did. But the onslaught of Sabbath following the death of Jesus at 3:00 p.m. on Friday did not allow enough time to properly anoint, and thereby honor, Jesus’ body.
“Very early on the first day of the week (a phrase that occurs six times in Mark’s Gospel) just after sunrise, these women made their way to the tomb. (Matthew says it was “toward the dawn” (28:1); Luke says it was “at early dawn” (24:1); John says that “it was still dark” (20:1). The point would be “not quite sunrise.”) En route to the tomb they discovered that they had not accounted for the stone that was in front of the tomb entrance. Their grief had affected their logic, but their devotion to honor Jesus was noble.
Hear the Angel
The women arrived at the tomb only to find it unoccupied by Jesus and inhabited by an angel. Luke and John mention two angels. Matthew and Mark focus on just one. The women were the first to believe the resurrection story, but the young man dressed in a white robe was the first to announce it.
The angel gave a six-fold message. First, there was the pastoral statement: don’t be afraid. The angel said this because they were. Easter is actually scary. Second, there was the indicative statement: you are looking for Jesus . . . True—they were. Third, there was the gospel statement: He has risen! He is not here. This is the heart of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4). Fourth, there is the apologetic statement: See the place where they laid him. Investigate it. Check out the claim. Easter does not ask us to kiss our brains goodbye. Ours is to be an informed faith. Fifth, there was the commissioning statement: but go, tell his disciples and Peter . . . The fact that Peter is singled out is most engaging. We are not told why he is singled out, but if Jesus were alive, it would be extremely good news to this denier. Finally, there was a promising statement: he is going to Galilee and there you will see him. If they would see him then obviously he would be alive.
Believe the Fact
The resurrection is a fact claimed to have happened in history. We put no faith in the resurrection. Our faith is located in the Risen One and we appropriate his grace by virtue of his “livingness.” The women and the disciples had the same challenges in believing this fact as we do today—and they were there.
No wonder Mark clusters several terms that psychologically challenge this fact. They were trembling (traumatized), bewildered (stand outside of themselves), and afraid (full of phobia, scared). In fact, Mark used about six different terms from the “phobia family” in his Gospel to speak of this unsettling Messiah.
The text goes onto speak of one of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, to Mary Magdalene (John 20:1, 2, 11-18). She was one of the most devoted followers of Jesus—no doubt due to the demonic deliverance that he had given her. Her testimony of the Risen One was not embraced by the disciples—at least at first. Maybe, for them, it was too good to be true.
Note that most English translations footnote the verses that follow verse eight. The oldest and best manuscripts do not contain Mark 16:9-20. There are several challenges to this ending in Mark (see Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament).
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.