Mark 16:1-8 (click to display NIV text)
April 8, 2012: Easter Sunday
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
The angel speaks to the women in the tomb: “Don’t be afraid, you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here.”
For some unknown reason, our church receives a vacation planner from Branson, Missouri, every year. In it are described all manner of concerts and shows one can attend. At the Dick Clark American Bandstand Theatre, for example, you can see a variety of famous singers, both living and departed, impersonated by actors who look and sound just like the original. It gets a bit confusing to me, because you can see Elvis or Marilyn Monroe or Michael Jackson; but there are also others who I think may still be living: Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Shania Twain. So you can see the living and the departed, but in a way that makes them come alive just as you remembered them, or even a little better. There is in this a mixture of nostalgia for their hit music and for some a kind of ongoing relationship that I do not fully understand.
Some people find the resurrection of Jesus to be confusing in a similar way. Who is this risen Jesus? Is this the same Jesus who was crucified, or is it Jesus with a new body or is it just some spiritual experience reported in bodily language by his followers? Matthew records that when the risen Jesus met the disciples for the first time, some worshipped and others doubted. What does the resurrection of Jesus mean?
The Gospel of Mark tells us that at sunrise on Sunday after Jesus was crucified, some women went to the tomb with spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. But why did they go to the tomb? They knew that a stone sealed its opening, and they knew that Joseph of Arimathea had cared for the body of Jesus and prepared it for the tomb. There was nothing more to be done. And yet they went. It seems to me that was an action of grief. Maybe it was not completely logical, as even they admit on the way, but grief compelled them to do something. For their own peace of mind, they had to know that all had been done properly.
They did not use the spices they brought. The tomb was empty, which was puzzling in itself. But an angel told them what it meant and what they must do next. “He is risen.” They are to tell the disciples to go to Galilee to meet Jesus. That is where Mark ends, though there have been attempts to write an ending to a Gospel that seems to have lost its last page.
The key is that the disciples must go to Galilee. David Garland writes, “In Galilee they will ‘see’ Jesus. They will gain true insight into his identity. Jesus will regather them as a new people who take up their cross, following after him and proclaiming God’s triumph over Satan, sin and death.” So the journey back to Galilee, about 70 miles, is about the “regathering” of the disciples.
Matthew tells us they do in fact go there, and meet the risen Lord. They receive the Great Commission there, to go and make disciples in Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. John tells us about the restoration of Peter, which happens on the beach along the lake, with a breakfast of bread and fish prepared by Jesus.
So the resurrection of Jesus has first to do with healing and restoration and commission. There is a significant amount of grief and failure in the disciples that must be cared for. The first meaning of the resurrection is that Jesus is patient and meets his disciples with healing love. They slept during his prayer at Gethsemane and they scattered when he was on trial and on the cross. Peter denied knowing him. The others were filled with fear. They needed care and rehabilitation before the resurrection could make any difference in their lives.
Have you ever experienced a rehabilitation of your discipleship? Have you ever come to an end of your strength in service or witness, maybe even a failure in your life that made you feel unworthy to claim the name of Christ? Have you experienced the gentle, patient restoring and renewing love of the Savior, the risen Lord who takes time to find the lost sheep, who brings scattered and worn out disciples back home, to that which is familiar, and there forgives and empowers and commissions them. The first meaning of the resurrection is that Jesus is willing and able to heal your soul, calm your fears, bring assurance to your doubts and give you something to do in his kingdom.
I thought about a time some years ago when I noticed many of my peers leaving ministry and I wondered if I would be going too. The stress of a growing church was becoming too much for me and the work load was expanding beyond my ability to keep up. I mentioned at a pastors’ retreat that I thought I might become a statistic. Ted Nordlund, a kind of older brother pastor for me, offered to spend a day with me. So we went to Cascades Camp in Washington and walked the trails and prayed and talked and he led me in a time of true restoration. It was a day filled with the presence of the Risen Lord. A few months ago, at the Covenant Midwinter Conference, the final session closed with the instruction to turn and face one another, one section towards the other. Then a blessing was spoken as we extended our hands. So I was looking over the next section and I spotted Ted, and he caught my eye and gave just a little wave of acknowledgment. Afterwards I caught up with him and he said he was thinking about the day we had spent together so many years ago. And now we were still here. How faithful is the risen Lord, who is patient and kind to rehabilitate his followers. That restoring ministry of Christ includes giving you a commission, a calling, something to do for the Kingdom.
The resurrection of Jesus also brings understanding to hope and faith. The resurrection of Jesus moves us to confess that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Belief in the resurrection of Jesus must take you somewhere in your understanding of God and in your understanding of faith.
In the Jewish world of Jesus’ day, to say that Jesus was the son of God meant that he was the Messiah. When Jesus was crucified he was mocked as “The King of the Jews.” Those who put him on the cross assumed that meant he was a false Messiah, that his claims were discredited in his death. But God vindicated his Son by raising him from the dead. David Garland writes, “The resurrection erases the dishonor connected to being crucified.” N.T. Wright says that by raising Jesus from the dead, “God showed himself to be God, the unique Creator and sovereign of the world.” The resurrection establishes Jesus as the Son of God, the rightful Messiah, the Lord and king of our lives.
In the Gentile world of Jesus’ day, the primary power was Rome. So the title “Son of God” as understood by the Romans would mean “Caesar,” the son of the divine Augustus. To say that Jesus is the Son of God in that context was to say that Caesar is not. If Jesus is the Son of God, then he is Israel’s true King, but he is also the world’s true king. As Christians came to understand that Roman power was more and more one form of the institutionalization of sin and death, they saw that the Resurrection of Jesus was the victory over sin and death, and that he is the Lord over all creation. Through the resurrection of his one man would come the resurrection of all who believe in him, into the new creation of God. Craig Blomberg writes, “Because Christ, as fully human, represented the entire human race in bearing its sins, he is able to apply the benefits of his death and resurrection to all who will accept him.”
The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed.