The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most important event in world history. It is even more important than the cross - in this way: that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, the cross would be meaningless for mankind. Jesus was perfect and would go back to be with the Father - the question was, would His death purchase eternal life with the Father for us?
The resurrection proves that Jesus was who He said He was, and that all the things He said were true. We know that now - but on that first Resurrection Sunday 2,000 years ago, no one stood by the grave expecting the stone to roll away and Jesus to come walking out. In fact, most of Jesus’ disciples were hiding away, afraid of being arrested.
Some very brave women, however, some of the same women who stood by Him at the cross, ventured out before sunup in order to go to the tomb where Joseph of Arimathea had laid Him. They went there to show their love for Jesus - like bringing flowers to a grave stone. They didn’t find what they were looking for.
1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?"
The women, perhaps through their grief, knew they had to get to Jesus - but it wasn’t until they were on the way that they realized there was an obstacle in their path - a giant stone. They had seen Joseph roll the stone in place - what they didn’t know was there was also a guard over the tomb, making it impossible for them to do what they planned.
Sometimes the things we do for the Lord we do out of love and devotion and we don’t take the time to see how truly impossible it is. We just set out. I think that’s the most important thing - Mary, Mary, and Salome didn’t get the answer they were looking for - someone big and strong to move the stone so they could anoint Jesus’ body - and when we face the impossible we might not get the answer we are looking for either - but out of fear if we hold back from serving God, we will never see the incredible things He does for those who out of simple love follow Him.
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.
We don’t know exactly where Jesus was buried - because He only used the place for a few days - but there is a place in Jerusalem that looks very much like what the garden tomb might have been like.
The tombs were cut out of the rock hillsides - this one we know had never been used and so the women might have had to look up to see it.
The stone was rolled downhill in a trough and weighed a lot and would have taken many men to move. In fact, Matthew tells us that there had been an earthquake and that an angel had rolled the stone away. Further - Matthew tells us that the angel was so frightening to the guards that they fell down like dead men. So that’s the scene as the women approach the tomb.
5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
Notice the different reaction to the angel. Angels usually look like people when they appear to humans - but there was alarm, not abject fear. Matthew and Mark mention only one angel - Luke mentions two. Is this an inconsistency? No - it just means that they gospel writers chose to emphasize different aspects of the story - focusing on the angel who spoke. It also shows that these were not coordinated accounts - each gospel writer wrote independently - there were no story conferences to make sure the accounts were 100% the same.
No two people see an event or explain an event the same way - that’s not a problem, but a hallmark of authenticity.
6 "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. 7 But 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 angel seems to have a simple mission - tell them that Jesus, the same Jesus that was crucified, has now risen. And he wants them to do two things - see the place, verify that it was the same place that they had seen Jesus laid on Friday - then go tell the disciples. Notice how the angel singles out Peter - I think this is the beginning of God restoring Peter.
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
From the other gospels we know that some other things happened - the women wouldn’t have wanted to tell anyone about this, until they found Peter. Luke tells us that the disciples didn’t believe them - except Peter and John who ran to the tomb - John of course tells us that he won the race.
But on the way, Mary Magdalene becomes the first person to see the risen Jesus Christ.
We’ll get to that in a moment - but first - most ancient copies of the gospel of Mark stop right here. Kind of a sudden ending, huh?
Apparently several scribes attempted to give Mark a proper ending - we don’t know if the original ended this way, or if the original ending was lost - but the versus 9-20 that you find in most Bibles was the most popular and of the other endings I’ve read it fits with the other gospel accounts.
But not everyone agrees that it is fake - Commentators like Jameson, Faucet and Brown disagree. They say that that manuscripts barely younger than the ones not containing the ending verses do indeed contain 9-20, some prominent early church fathers verified their accuracy and that stylistic differences alone do not make a good case for not including them.
9[The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.]
When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.
Grief will do that to you - and I think its cool that Jesus showed Himself 1st to Mary, who was not the most righteous person in the world. He’ll show Himself to you too - no matter how unrighteous you are too - provided you want a relationship with Him.
12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.
This is the Road to Emmaus story. Jesus came alongside these two guys who were incredulous that this stranger didn’t know what had been going on about Jesus of Nazareth. So Jesus explains the whole thing to them from a Scriptural standpoint - then they invite Him in to break bread and as soon as they recognize Him, Jesus disappears. They did return to the disciples but were not believed.
14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.
The idea of "witnessing" is very important to passing on the Christian faith. I think Peter through Mark here is making that point so that they too will know the importance of passing on what they witnessed. Thomas, remember, had to stick his finger in Jesus side in order to believe - but it shouldn’t be that hard. That’s where the stubbornness comes in. So following up on that Jesus gives what we now call "the great commission"
15 He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."
The disciples would maybe have played it safe and stuck around Jerusalem - but now the word can go out far and wide. Don’t you worry either if the Lord transplants you to another place - just be a witness wherever you are.
As for verses 17 and 18 - rather than focus on the particulars I want to point out some generalities about the results of preaching the gospel.
1. The kingdom of darkness will not stand against the gospel
2. Cultural and language boundaries will not contain the good news
3. Physical barriers and personal problems will not stop the gospel
4. The results will be healing
The Apostles did all of these signs, by the way. It doesn’t mean that we all must do them - in fact I think there is some grave error these days with people who literally pick up deadly snakes from these verses. That, I believe, is simply testing God.
Suffice it to say that Jesus told us to preach - and nothing will stop it - just go out and if anything stands in the way, Jesus will remove it - but that doesn’t mean we go looking for trouble just to show off.
19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
Jesus goes before, and He goes after
The Lord knew that the women would come to the tomb - even though He had told them He would rise and meet them in Galilee - they hung out in Jerusalem. But notice that the Lord planted an angel or two at the tomb to tell them the good news, and then put them right back on the path that they were supposed to be on.
I like that. It shows that our God takes our failures and foibles into account - and even makes room for them in His plan. Mary and the others went to the tomb to mourn and perform burial rituals for their dead Master - but Jesus worked it out so that they saw conclusive proof that He had risen - an empty grave.
And then look at what the angel said: "Go tell His disciples, and Peter." Even Peter had totally blown it - Jesus wanted him to know specifically that he was expected as part of the team. Peter’s failure didn’t derail God’s plan. The Lord goes before us, preparing the way, and He goes after us when we fail - to pick us up and set us on the road again. That is so freeing and so comforting.
Jesus looks for faith, but doesn’t fault sincere effort
In all that happened after the crucifixion - Jesus was upset that no one believed what He said - "stubborn refusal" He called it. But he didn’t fault them for staying together - and He didn’t fault the women for going to the tomb.
I think this tells us two things: 1) Don’t slip into unbelief, and 2) don’t worry if you get it wrong.
Jesus told His disciples over and over just what was going to happen - even about their own betrayal. They didn’t get it, and because they didn’t understand they didn’t bother to even consider that Jesus really would rise from the dead.
How do we get in that same situation? I want to read two scriptures about milk:
1 Corinthians 3:1-4 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly-mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4 For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?
Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says:
Hebrews 5:12-14 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
So we have two things going on here: both involve a lack of maturity and the ability to respond to more mature truths - a holding on to the carnal nature and a lack of applying the truths of God’s Word to your life.
The disciples held on to their old selves - Peter the braggart, James and John the over-achievers and the like. Jesus had to tell them over and over that being in His kingdom was not like the world’s kingdoms. And we already know that they simply didn’t listen to what Jesus was trying to tell them about His real mission.
When we hold on to the fleshly part of us, backbiting, jealousy, carnality - you name it, then we get stuck in a loop - like an old fashioned LP that keeps playing the same part of the song over and over. We need to let go and be cleansed so we can believe and grow.
Secondly we need to hold on to the things that the Lord tells us in His word - constantly using those things to help us distinguish between good and evil, right or wrong, good choice or bad choice.
But by the same token - Jesus never discourages sincere efforts. I think of Apollos in the book of Acts - Priscilla and Aquilla heard him preach powerfully, yet inaccurately about Jesus. They corrected him on the side and he became one of the most important apologists the church has ever known.
So don’t be afraid to step out for the Lord - He might set you on some course corrections, but at least you aren’t coasting.
Listen carefully to what Jesus says, not what you want to hear
I kind of covered this already in the last point - but too often we gauge what God tells us on what we think we know - instead of what God really says. Don’t listen with just one ear - and be prepared for some surprises.
Above all - know that Jesus really did rise from the dead. Eyewitnesses told people about it, wrote down what they saw - and we have their writing with us to this day. 1st person accounts. Jesus is alive!
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