The Hope and Power of the Resurrection | Mark 16:1-8
Brian Hedges | April 12, 2020
Well, good morning, and happy Easter to the Redeemer Church family and to all who are listening this morning! I’m so glad that you’ve tuned in on this Easter Sunday. There’s never been an Easter Sunday like this in my memory, where we’ve not been gathered together in worship, but we do believe that we are united in the Spirit, and that as we look into God’s word together and as we sing and pray and praise the Lord together, that God is honored, that Christ is glorified, and that our own hearts will be helped.
I want to invite you to turn in your Bibles this morning to Mark 16. The great theologian and pastor-preacher John Stott said, “Christianity is, in its essence, a resurrection religion. The concept of resurrection lies at its heart. If you remove it, Christianity is destroyed.” If there is no resurrection, then our faith is in vain, Paul tells us. If there’s no resurrection, there is no Christianity.
Stott, in the book where he talks about that, goes on to talk about three aspects of resurrection: the resurrection of Christ from the dead that first Easter morning; but also the resurrection of the body of believers in the future, when Jesus returns again; and then in the present, the resurrection of sinners out of spiritual death into spiritual life.
Well, we’ve been singing about all of those things this morning, and as we dig into God’s word, Mark 16, one of the earliest stories of the resurrection, we’re going to look at how the resurrection is true and also how it is powerful and relevant for us today.
I want to begin by just reading the passage, which you’ve already heard read from a number of our members, but let me read it again, Mark 16:1-8. Hear God’s word.
“When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’ And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
This is God’s word.
I. What Happened?
II. How Do We Know?
III. What Difference Does It Make?
Those are the three questions I want us to ask this morning.
I. What Happened?
First of all, what happened? Well, there are two things that you see in this passage. You see, first of all, that Jesus’ body was not in the tomb. They went looking for the body of Jesus of Nazareth; that’s why these women went to the tomb. They were planning to anoint the body, they were continuing the burial process. They went looking for the body, and the body was not in the tomb. Instead, they discovered that his body was raised from the dead.
Right off the bat, we see the heart of the resurrection. The resurrection does not teach us merely that the spirit of Jesus somehow endured after he was crucified. The doctrine of resurrection does not merely teach us that God, Jesus being the God-Man, that the God part of Jesus lived on. It doesn’t merely teach us that Jesus somehow went to heaven after he died and showed us the way to eternal life, life after death. It means more than any of those things. The resurrection means that Jesus of Nazareth, the very one who was crucified in the flesh, the same body that was crucified and was laid in the tomb, that that body got up and walked out, and that Jesus defeated death.
You see it in verse 6, when the angel says to the women, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.”
The empty tomb that they visited that first Sunday morning was the first evidence that something had happened to the body of Jesus of Nazareth, the same Jesus who had been crucified. There’s an identification between the body of Jesus of Nazareth that was crucified and the body that has been raised from the dead.
C.S. Lewis put it perfectly and succinctly when he said, “The man in Christ rose again, not only the God. That is the whole point.”
The doctrine of the resurrection, therefore, teaches us that Jesus, God incarnate, Jesus the God-Man, defeated death. We have to emphasize the physicality of this. This is one of the unique things about Christianity, its appreciation for the material, physical world that God has made, for the bodies that God has given us, and in fact, that God’s whole plan of salvation and redemption is not to rescue us from a physical body, but is rather to redeem it.
There is a real emphasis in the Gospel narratives on the physicality of Jesus’ body. We get just the bare details in the Gospel according to Mark; it was the first Gospel that was written. But as the other Gospels were written, more details came into the picture. You see this in both the Gospel according to Luke and of John.
For example, in Luke 24 there’s an appearance of Jesus to his disciples, and I want you to hear what Jesus says. This is Luke 24:39-43. Jesus says, “‘See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see that I have.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they were still disbelieving for joy and were marveling, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it before them.”
All of the details there, Jesus calling attention to his hands and feet, him inviting them to actually touch him, to handle him, and then eating with them, a physical act that he does with them, all of it was to confirm the physicality of his resurrection. He was bodily raised from the dead.
Then you remember in the Gospel of John that Jesus appeared to a group of the disciples, but one of them was not there. It was Thomas. You remember Thomas was full of doubts, he didn’t believe, and he said, in fact, “Unless I can press my finger into the nail prints in his hands and my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Then, in John 20, eight days later, Jesus appears to Thomas and invites him to do just what Thomas had said. He says, “Look at my hands. Put your fingers in the nail prints. Look at my side; it is I. It’s me, Thomas. I’m alive.” And Thomas bows down and says, “My Lord and my God.”
In other words, when we ask this question, “What happened?” it is not enough to say that Jesus in his spirit lived on, or that he went to heaven after he died. We have to say that the resurrection meant that the body, the corpse that had been laid in the tomb, that same body that had been crucified and buried, that body came back to life.
I love the way John Updike, the [Pulitzer] prizewinner novelist, put it. He said, “If the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle, the church will fall.” Everything depends on the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus. That’s what happened.
II. How Do We Know?
How do we know that that’s what happened? That’s the second question to ask. So, having looked at the basic claim of the resurrection, now we stop to look at the evidence. I just want to give you three lines of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, that this really did take place.
(1) The first one’s right here in the text: it’s the expectations of the disciples. When you read the narrative here in Mark 16, what’s obvious right from the start is that the disciples were not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. They weren’t expecting it, and the women weren’t expecting it. The disciples aren’t even there! They don’t even go to the tomb initially. The women go, but they go not expecting to find an empty tomb, but to find the body of Jesus, in order to continue the burial process.
In other words, there was nothing in the disciples’ understanding, despite things that Jesus had taught them, there was nothing in their understanding, their view of the world, their understanding of reality, their understanding of God’s plan, that led them to expect that Jesus had actually come back to life. No one was expecting or looking for resurrection.
Right here, we just have to course-correct what many people in their objection to Christianity will say. Some people will say if they’re skeptical about Christianity, “Well, of course the early Christians believed in resurrection. They were pre-modern, they were pre-scientific, they didn’t have the advanced scientific knowledge that we have today. They believed in miracles, they believed in the supernatural. Of course they believed in the resurrection. They would have expected this. They were more credulous than us.”
The problem with that is that most of it’s just not true. It’s just not true that they would have expected it or that they would readily have believed it.
One of the lines of evidence for this comes from I think a very, very helpful historical work written by the theologian/historian N.T. Wright. I’ve mentioned this many times in our church. N.T. Wright wrote a book 800 pages long, The Resurrection of the Son of God. One of the things that Wright does in his book is he surveys the beliefs of all these different groups of people about resurrection, life after death—what did they believe, what were they expecting, what were they looking for?—to see if there was anything like resurrection in either Greek and Roman, Gentile thought or in Jewish thought.
There are literally dozens and dozens of pages, heavily researched, quotations from all of these ancient both pagan writers and Jewish writers. What Wright very clearly concludes is that neither the Greeks nor the Jews would have expected resurrection, or even have thought it desirable.
The Greeks had a basically dualistic view of the world. They believed that the soul was good, the spirit was good, but the body—matter, material—were things basically evil. In the language of someone like Plato, what they were looking for was release from the prison house of the body. There’s no way that an ancient Greek person would even have thought the resurrection was a good idea! They weren’t looking for resurrection.
Jewish people, on the other hand, were very divided. Some Jewish people didn’t believe in resurrection at all. The whole group of the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection. There was a group who believed in resurrection, but they believed in resurrection that would take place at the very end of time, on the last day, in the final judgment, resurrection of all human beings. Certainly the Old Testament taught that. But nobody was expecting that to happen to Jesus, to happen to one person, in the middle of history.
So neither Jews nor Greeks were expecting resurrection. The very expectations of the disciples went against resurrection. That’s why they weren’t there, that’s why the story is told the way it is. For there to have emerged this movement demands some kind of explanation.
(2) The second line of evidence is the eyewitnesses themselves. What you see here in this passage—and it’s verified in Matthew, Luke, and in John—is that the very first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb and to the resurrected Christ himself were women. You have three women who are named here: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. Another woman is named in Luke, a woman named Joanna, as well as other women, Luke says. So it seems that there are four or five female eyewitnesses to the empty tomb.
Here’s the problem with that. In both Jewish and Roman jurisprudence, women were not allowed to give legal testimony. So if this was to be proven in a court of law, either by Jewish people or by Roman people, the women’s eyewitness testimony would not even have counted. It would have counted against, not for.
In fact, the first known written critique of Christianity is a tract called “The True Word,” by a man named Celsus, written in A.D. 175. He tried to discredit the resurrection as being witnessed by “hysterical females.” That was part of his argument against Christianity.
But do you see that, in kind of a roundabout way, it actually becomes an argument for the validity of the resurrection account? Because if it didn’t happen, the church never would have invented it! Nobody would have invented a story that women were eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Christ if they were trying to prove it. The only reason they would have reported this is that this is actually what happened. If they were inventing everything, they would have made Peter and James and John the heroes of the stories.
In fact, as the story is told, they’re some of the last ones to come to understand and come to believe. The reason the story is told the way it is is because that’s actually what happened. That becomes a line of very strong evidence for the validity of the resurrection accounts.
(3) Then you have, finally, the third line of evidence, the beginning of the church itself, the Christian movement, the beginning of the church, the birth of the church.
Here’s a fact (and again, N.T. Wright points this out in his book): there were lots of messianic movements during this time period in Jewish history. There were lots of Jewish people, Jewish men, who had come on the scene, who would begin to lead a movement of revolt or a movement of renewal or a political movement or a religious movement of some kind. There were lots of these guys, and eventually they would be killed, they would die, and the movement itself would die. We don’t know any of them today. The reason is because none of them were raised from the dead or were even claimed to have been raised from the dead.
But this movement, the Christian movement, is different. We do know this movement. This movement took off within just a few years; not only Jewish people, but Gentile people, people—get this—Jewish people who worshipped only one God, monotheists, and yet they are bowing before Jesus of Nazareth, they are worshipping him, they are praising his name! Why would they do that? Only if they believe that this Jesus, raised from the dead, was the very Son of God.
On the other hand, Gentile people, Greeks and Romans, who are polytheists, they worship all kinds of gods, and that so radically alters their worldview that all the religious people of the day called the Christians atheists because they weren’t worshipping the pantheon of Gods, they were only worshipping and following this one man, Jesus Christ.
What could possibly explain how Jewish monotheists could join with former Gentile polytheists, all of them worshipping this singular figure, Jesus Christ, in a united community? Nothing like this had ever happened in history before. The only thing that explains it is that Jesus Christ really had risen from the dead, and people had seen him. They had seen him and were therefore convinced that Jesus was alive. The evidence is compelling.
III. What Difference Does It Make?
What difference, then, does it make? That’s really where I want us to get to this morning, is to think about how the resurrection of Jesus changes everything in our lives and for our world. Let me show you three ways in which it makes an incredible difference, it makes all the difference in our world.
(1) It means, first of all, that our sins can be forgiven. Paul said it. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” The converse, therefore, is true: “If Christ has been raised, your faith is not in vain and you are no longer in your sins.” You know, you get a hint of that right here in the passage, in Mark 16. Did you notice the message of the angel to the women in verse 7? He said, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.”
Why did he say, “Tell the disciples and Peter…”? Why single out Peter? You know the reason. It’s because Peter has so messed up. I mean, Peter was the spokesman of the apostolic band, right? He was the loudmouth. He was the one who was always front and center among the disciples. He considered himself to be the most loyal of all of Jesus’ disciples. He said, “Though everyone else will forsake you and deny you, I won’t. I’ll go with you to the bitter end. I’m ready to die with you.”
You remember that Jesus told him, “Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you and sift you like wheat… I tell you that before the rooster crows in the morning you will have denied me three times.” Sure enough, Peter did. He denied him, swearing and cursing, “I’ve never known the man.”
Then you remember Jesus looks at him across the courtyard, and Peter remembers and he goes out and he weeps bitterly. Can you just imagine what’s going on in Peter’s heart from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning? It had be the longest day-and-a-half of any person’s life. The darkness he must have felt, the guilt he must have felt, the load on his conscience. He had denied his master! He was complicit in his death! He denied that he even knew him! He betrayed the very one that he loved! He had forsaken his Lord; he had failed his best friend. He must have thought that God would never forgive him for that.
The very first message that the angel gives to these women, the first evidence of the fact that Jesus is risen from the dead, is, “Go, tell the disciples and Peter that he is not here, but he is risen.” It was a word of forgiveness, it was a word of hope. “Peter, your sins are paid for, the debt is paid, and I’m alive.”
Of course, we know that in John 21 the Lord did personally restore Peter. There was a personal appearance to Peter, and Paul lists Cephas, also a name for Peter, in 1 Corinthians 15 as one of the eyewitnesses to the resurrection.
It reminds me of the story of Christian in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. You remember that he has this load on his back, this burden, and he’s trying to get it off, he’s looking for how to get it off. Mr. Worldly Wiseman tells him to go to the city of Morality, right, and a man name Legality, and he’s headed that way. He thinks that by living a good life, being a moral person, he will be rid of his burden. But remember as he goes there, there’s a huge mountain, a dark, black mountain, and it’s towering over the road; it’s Mt. Sinai. It’s the law.
When Christian comes to it, he can’t even get past the mountain, it’s so threatening. He knows that he is condemned. He’s afraid the mountain’s going to fall on him.
He can’t get the burden off his back until—do you remember this?—Evangelist tells him to go through the straight gate to this place called Calvary, and there, at the foot of the cross, the burden rolls away. Do you remember where it goes? It rolls right down the hill into an empty tomb.
“Living he loved me, dying he saved me,
Buried he carried my sins far away.
Rising he justified, freely, forever;
One day he’s coming, oh glorious day!”
Jesus was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Romans 4:25). Do you know what that means? It means there is a solution to the biggest personal problem that any of us have, and it’s the problem of guilt. Do you ever feel guilty for your sins, guilty for the sins of this week, for the sins of your life? When you tally up your wrongs, you tally up the ways in which you have broken God’s law or the ways in which you have disappointed the people who count on you, the ways that you have hurt friendships or violated commitments; you look at the guilt in your life?
Listen, the world will tell you, “You don’t need to feel guilt. Morality is relative, right and wrong is relative, everybody’s basically a good person,” but your conscience knows that’s not true. Religion will tell you that you have to work harder, do better, turn over a new leaf, make up for it, be a better person. The gospel of Jesus Christ alone tells you that yes, you’re a sinner and you’re condemned in yourself; but there’s someone who, through living the life you should have lived and dying the death that you should have died and then rising again from the dead, guarantees that your sins, every last one of them, can be put away, forgiven.
What difference does it make? It means that our sins are forgiven.
(2) Number two, it means that death is defeated. If our guilt is the most pressing immediate problem that most of us have, death is the most pressing existential problem, the most pressing problem—I mean, it’s the one fact that all of us will have to face. The mortality rate for human beings is 100 per cent, and in the day in which we live, with this pandemic, we are more acutely aware of the reality of death than perhaps we have been in some time.
Again, the resurrection declares that Jesus has defeated death. The same Jesus who was crucified is now raised, verse 6.
Listen to these words of Peter. Peter’s been transformed on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, and you remember what he says? He’s preaching, and he says, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”
You know what it means? It means that Jesus slipped right through death’s fingers. Death couldn’t hold him! The grave had no hold on him! That means that it has no hold on you or me, either. The resurrection of Christ, in other words, guarantees the resurrection of all who are in Christ, and it means that death is not final.
Again, let me quote C.S. Lewis. “The New Testament writers speak,” Lewis says, “as if Christ’s achievement in rising from the dead was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe. He is the firstfruits, the pioneer of life. He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought, and beaten the king of death. Everything is different because he has done so. This is the beginning of the new creation. A new chapter in cosmic history has begun.”
Read, this afternoon, 1 Corinthians 15. It’s the most lengthy exposition in Scripture of the doctrine of resurrection. What you will see is that just as through Adam, the first man, came death; so through Christ, the second Adam, the second man, comes the defeat of death and resurrection. If Christ has been raised, then we have confidence that we will be raised as well.
We sang it, didn’t we?
“Come, behold the wondrous mystery,
Slain by death the God of life,
But no grave could e’er restrain him;
Praise the Lord, he is alive!
What a foretaste of deliverance,
How unwavering our hope;
Christ in power resurrected,
As we will be when he comes.”
Death is defeated! That means that no matter what happens in this world, whether COVID-19 takes you out or a car accident takes you out or cancer takes you out or you die in a ripe old age of 95 years old, in your sleep, quietly and peacefully, death isn’t the end! In fact, I remember Steven Love saying recently—I was listening to him preach at Gospel City a few weeks ago, and he said, “Death is just an Uber driver who drops you off with Jesus.” Death isn’t the end.
(3) Death is defeated, our sins are forgiven; here’s the last thing. We have power, the power of the resurrection, to renew us right now.
Do you remember how Paul prays in Ephesians 1 for the Ephesians? He prays that they would know the “immeasurable greatness of God’s power towards us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead.”
Paul is praying that the Ephesians will experience God’s power, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. Then he goes on to describe how we are raised from death, spiritual death, dead in our trespasses and sin, raised from death into spiritual life.
Again, we sang about that this morning, when we talk about the day when we came out of the grave into the glorious day, the light of Christ. What’s that about? It’s about spiritual resurrection, the power of the resurrection operating in our lives in the here and now. Now, power is power to renew us. It is power to renew us; its power that makes us new, it’s power that regenerates the heart and then sanctifies the heart and continues to renew the heart.
I love the way Rebecca Manley Pippert put it in a wonderful little book, Hope Has Its Reasons. She said, “The very same power that raised Jesus from the dead, that made the amino acids rekindle and the corpse sit up, that revitalized dead cells and restored breath to empty lungs, is the power that is given to us when we receive Christ. Everything about the resurrection speaks of empowered newness.” The power of the resurrection renews us.
Get this: the power of the resurrection is the power that conquers our fear. Did you notice in our main passage this morning, Mark 16, that the dominant emotion in the passage is fear? In verse 5, when the women come to the tomb and they see the angel, they are alarmed. Even when they flee from the tomb, they leave with trembling and astonishment that has seized them, and they say nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. That was the dominant emotion that they felt in those first moments.
Of course, the fear subsided when they went on to actually see Jesus and meet him, but look at what the angel said in verse 6. He says to them, “Do not be alarmed.” Do not be afraid! Why should they not be afraid? “Do not be afraid, because the Jesus who has been crucified is not here; he is risen.” The resurrection, in other words, is the greatest answer to the problem of fear in our lives. The power of the resurrection is the power that conquers our fear, that rescues us from fear.
As we live in these unusual times, we should not be afraid. We shouldn’t be afraid of sickness, we shouldn’t be afraid of COVID-19, we shouldn’t be afraid of what’s going to happen, we shouldn’t be afraid of economic fallout, all of the things that are threatening us. Of course we should be cautious, of course we should observe reasonable precautions, of course we should do what we can to love our neighbors and to not spread this; but we shouldn’t live in fear. We shouldn’t be paralyzed by fear. We shouldn’t be living in anxiety. Why not? Because the power of the resurrection of Jesus dwells in our hearts. That power can conquer all of our fears, including the ultimate fear, which is the fear of death.
Let me conclude with this story about Donald Grey Barnhouse. He was a great pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia during the 20th century. Barnhouse, sadly, lost his wife; he was widowed when he still had a little girl, a daughter, at home. He was trying to help his little girl process the fact that her mom had died.
One day the little girl asked the question, “Daddy, if Jesus died for us, why did Mama have to die?” It was a good question.
He didn’t quite know how to answer the question. He said, “Let me think about that.”
One day they were driving in their car, and they came to a traffic light. They were stopped at the light and there’s traffic going by. The way they were positioned, they were just in the position that the sun was kind of shining in such a way that as a truck went by them, the shadow of the truck passed over the car.
It gave Barnhouse an idea. He said to his little girl, “Honey, what would you rather have happen: would you rather be run over by the truck or by the shadow of the truck?”
She said, “Well Daddy, by the shadow of the truck! To be run over by the truck, that would hurt! That would be dangerous!”
He said, “Honey, this is what happened. When Jesus died on the cross, he took the truck of death; but Mommy just went through the shadow of death.” When we die, we just go through the shadow of death.
That is the reality. In fact, when you look in Scripture, Jesus renames death. He calls it a sleep! Paul calls death sleep, he talks about those who are asleep, and when Jesus comes they’re going to wake up, they’re going to be raised again. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life,” right, and if we believe in him we will never see death. Why? Because he took death itself, he took the sting out of death, he conquered death, he beat the enemy! When we face it, what we’re facing is not death as it really is, as it was for Jesus; we are facing the shadow of death.
Therefore we can sing, can’t we,
“No guilt in life, no fear in death;
This is the power of Christ in me.
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from his hand;
Till he returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”
Let me ask you this morning, do you believe this good news? Do you believe in the good news of the resurrected Christ? There’s compelling evidence to believe it, to believe that this Jesus, the same Jesus that was crucified, came out of the grave; and in believing it, it answers the deepest needs of the human heart. Your sins can be forgiven, death is defeated, and there is power that can make you new today and that can deliver you from fear. Let’s pray together.
Father, we thank you for the good news that Jesus is alive. Lord, we believe it, we confess it this morning, and we pray that we would know in deeper experience the power of the resurrection working in us and through us. Lord, we pray that it would deliver us from our fears, that it would ease our conscience of the guilt of sin, and that it would renew our hearts, so that we would become more and more like Jesus in his love, in his goodness, in his kindness.
Lord, may we celebrate this gospel, may we spread this gospel, may the good news fuel us for the mission that you have given us, and may your Spirit empower us in every way that we need. We praise you, we worship you, and thank you for what you have done. We pray it all in Jesus’ name, Amen.