The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.
*Originally preached June 6th, 2021*
Sermon Audio: The Light of Resurrection (Mark 15:42-16:8)
In the final installment of the Lord of the Rings, we read of the humble hobbits, Sam and Frodo, on their journey through the land of shadow, the land of Mordor. Frodo has been entrusted to destroy the one ring of power to save all of Middle-Earth, but Frodo is no mighty king or warrior; he is but a lowly hobbit. His path isn’t a path of military victory, but a path of suffering. Through a long, costly, and torturous journey, Frodo and his companion, Sam, finally arrive to Mordor. The landscape is a barren wasteland of scorched earth, poisonous gases, and is littered with orcs, and, of course, there is the lidless Eye of Sauron, “wreathed in flame.” The movies paint this picture well, but it is only in the book that we see just how hopeless and pitiful Frodo becomes. The closer Frodo gets to the mountain, the more overwhelmed he is by the weight of the ring, by the depths of despair, till at the very end he is wholly consumed—he only makes it up the mountain because the loyal Samwise carries him. After the ring is destroyed both Frodo and Sam only have enough energy to crawl out to the side of Mount Doom and wait to die before they blackout.
Sam, Frodo’s companion, awakens to find himself no longer in Mordor, but lying in a soft bed in the midst of the beautiful paradise of Rivendale. Suddenly, Gandalf, their companion whom they thought had died, walks into the room and Sam cries out, “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?” “A great Shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land.”
Last week, we examined the darkness of the cross (Mark 15:33). Appropriately, our text opens today with night falling. Like the darkness of Mordor, the darkness that descended on Golgotha was itself a picture of a deeper internal darkness, a darkness Jesus Himself bore. Now, Jesus has died and the black of night fits the bleakness of the death of Jesus. But, also appropriately, the night does not last. The early light of dawn spills over the dark horizon and brings a hope like Sam’s hope: death does not have the last say, a great shadow has departed, and everything sad has and will come untrue.
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 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. 7 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.” 8 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. – Mark 15:42-16:8
The Ending of Mark?
Before we go on, I just want to share a brief word about the ending of Mark. If you are reading along in most modern translations there will be a little note after verse 8 that says something like: “Some of the earliest manuscripts conclude with 16:8.” What follows in verses 9-20 appear to be something that was written in the 2nd century by Christians who found the abrupt ending of Mark so troubling that they wrote a conclusion to provide a more satisfactory ending. So, while verses 9-20 provide an interesting window into what later Christians believed and most of it can be corroborated by what is found in the other three gospels, most scholars agree that this ending was not Mark’s ending and thus is not a part of inspired Scripture. If you have questions about this and would like to discuss it more, I’d be more than happy to talk it over with you after the service.
Jesus Was Dead
The text opens with what should be done with Jesus’ body and a man named Joseph asking for the body from Pilate. It was Friday when Jesus died, so that meant that Sabbath would be beginning as soon as the sun set, and nothing could be done to bury Jesus during the Sabbath, since that would constitute Sabbath-breaking work. So Joseph moves quickly to provide an honorable burial for Jesus. Notice that Mark includes that it required “courage” to Joseph to ask for the body of Jesus. This courage might have implied a courage to reveal himself to actually be a disciple of Jesus, despite being a member of the council (Luke explicitly states that he had opposed the council’s decision to crucify Jesus, Luke 23:50-51). Or it may have revealed a courage to approach Pilate to ask for the body; Rome at times would leave victims of crucifixion on the cross till the body began to decompose.
Pilate is surprised to learn that Jesus is already dead, and so asks for confirmation from the centurion. It could take anywhere from 1-3 days for someone to die from crucifixion, but Jesus dies in a mere six hours—which could be a testament to how severe his scourging (or the beatings from Sanhedrin before that) had been, or could have been to the spiritual and psychological trauma of experiencing the wrath of God for the sins of the world. After hearing that Jesus is dead Pilate permits the body to be given to Joseph and Jesus is buried.
There are several details that Mark includes in this final section to really hammer home the point that Jesus is, in fact, dead. For instance:
· The fact that Jesus’ death requires a confirmation from the centurion present—an individual who would have seen many men die via crucifixion. Further, John’s gospel tells us the centurion pierces Jesus’ chest with a spear to ensure He is really dead (John 19:34).
· Jesus’ body is described as a “corpse” (Greek: ptōma) in 15:45.
· Jesus’ body is wrapped in a linen cloth, a traditional burial ceremony (15:46; cf. John 19:40).
· Jesus’ body is place in a tomb with a heavy wheel-like stone placed in front of it (15:47).
· The women, the two Marys, observe the tomb where Jesus is buried, so when they arrive the following morning we know that they haven’t arrived at the wrong tomb. They arrive with spices, hoping to anoint Jesus’ dead body.
· Joseph of Arimathea is described positively in the text as a disciple of Jesus. We are told that he is “seeking the kingdom of God” and the other gospels describe him as a fearful, but genuine disciple of Jesus (John 19:38; Matt 27:57; Luke 23:50-51). Joseph is described by Mark as a faithful disciple of Jesus (unlike the other disciples who are nowhere to be found), and yet even Joseph believes that Jesus is dead.
One would think the brutal torture of scourging (so savage that Jesus was unable to carry His own cross, Mk. 15:21) and crucifixion that was just described earlier in Mark 15 would demonstrate this fact already. Why would Mark need to go out of his way to demonstrate that Jesus was dead?
As Christianity began to spread the idea of a crucified Messiah was controversial, to say the least. Paul describes the crucifixion of Jesus as, “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,” (1 Cor 1:23). Heroes don’t die, a Messiah isn’t supposed to die—certainly not a death as humiliating as death on a cross! So, as the early church began to spread and the teachings of Jesus began to infiltrate Jewish and Gentile communities they attempted to airbrush away what they found problematic in the story of the gospel.
So they began to propose a series of other theories that would try to avoid the shame and indecency of such a powerful and respected teacher, the King of Heaven, dying a shameful death. They began to teach that Jesus never really had a physical body, but was just a spirit, and so only appeared to be crucified (cf. 1 John 4:1-6). Others taught that Jesus swapped places with Judas at the cross and Judas was actually crucified, or that the deity of Jesus departed from the human Jesus right before the crucifixion.
This theory that Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross carried on through history. The Qur’an, written six hundred years after Jesus’ death, holds Jesus to be a powerful prophet of Allah, but denies that he died on the cross (Qur’an 4.157-158)—why? Because why would Allah allow one of his favorite prophets to suffer such a terrible death? A theory that became popular with Muslim apologists later was that Jesus didn’t die on the cross but simply “swooned”—that is, passed out. The unconscious Jesus—after being scourged, crucified, and pierced with a spear—is bound in linen burial cloths, placed in a tomb with a large boulder placed in front of it. The coolness of the tomb, so the theory goes, refreshes Jesus and He awakens, pushes the boulder out of the way, overpowers or sneaks past the Roman guards stationed outside the tomb (Matt 27:66), and travels on foot the 70 mile journey to Galilee to appear to the disciples. Of course, such an account seems nearly as miraculous as the resurrection itself.
But, the gospel writers and the other authors of the New Testament make it unequivocally clear: Jesus died. Consider Paul’s summary of the bare essentials of the gospel: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” (1 Cor 15:3-4). It is a critical pillar of the gospel that Jesus died (cf. Heb 2:14-15).
Why was this such a stumbling block to so many? It was a stumbling block to so many in the ancient world because they lived in an honor/shame society and the idea of God experiencing shame did not fit into any of their preconceived mental categories. While we live in a different world, it breaks many of our own mental categories as well.
For a while the idea of a God who never punished anything and only accepted all individuals with zero judgment was popular. But it was a view that only a privileged few could hold; those who had never experienced or seen true injustice.
We get the idea of a God punishing us, that makes sense to us. Don’t believe me? Just look at how we treat one another. Criticizing, condemning, and shaming others is second nature to us. You may think that the internet or “political correctness” is to blame for “cancel culture,” but it isn’t. Those things may have amplified it, but that has been with us since Eden, from the time Adam throws his wife under the bus the second God confronts him: It was that woman! It was her fault, punish her God!
Forgiveness is unusual. Grace is foreign to us. And the idea of someone willing to throw themselves on the grenade so that the guilty can be forgiven is unthinkable to us. And so while we may not have the same issues precisely as the ancient readers would have had with Jesus dying, we do have an issue with why Jesus would die for us: for our sins to be forgiven.
Jesus Is Alive
Early in the morning, just as the sun is peeking over the horizon, two women who had followed Jesus approach the tomb where Jesus is buried (Mark 16:1-2). “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,” (Mark 16:3-4). At the entrance of tombs there would be a slot in the ground in front of the tomb entrance that a disk-shaped stone would be rolled into, serving as a guard to keep animals and grave-robbers out. The women realize as they approach the tomb that there will be no way they can move the stone themselves, only to find—to their shock—that the stone is already moved.
“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.” – Mark 16:5-8
Just as the passion account began in Mark 14 with a woman anointing Jesus for burial (Mark 14:3-9), so it now ends with women coming to anoint Jesus after His burial (16:1). Only, the women are too late. When Vladimir Lenin died, the Soviet government decided to embalm his body and keep it out on display in the Red Square so that his followers could come and pay homage to him. It is still there today and devotees to Leninism still travel there to show their respect. When the women arrive at Jesus’ tomb instead of the body of a martyr or great thought leader or revolutionary who was sadly extinguished, what do they find? Nothing.
Death doesn’t care what kind of life you lead. It doesn’t matter whether you possessed a stunning intellect and changed the world, or were as stupid as a rock and the only thing you changed was the channel, it doesn’t matter if you were pioneer of industry or a pauper, the grave will take both with unflinching indifference. All men die, even great men die. And, given the seemingly infinite expanse of time that will extend after them, after a few dozen millennia, no one will remember who they are or what they did for good or for ill.
But not with Jesus. Jesus is not snuffed out by the darkness of death. The women find an empty tomb and an angel telling them that He is not there, He is risen. This reality is so awesome, is freighted with such magnitude, that the women are paralyzed with fear…what could this mean?
Mark’s gospel ends with this seeming cliffhanger for us to ask ourselves that question: what does the resurrection of Jesus mean?
1. Jesus was who He said He was. God in the flesh, the Son of God, the Messiah.
The angel tells the women, “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,” (Mark 16:7). Jesus knew that He was going to die, knew that He would be raised—He even had already made plans of what was going to happen after His resurrection: “After I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee,” (Mark 14:28).
2. Jesus did what He said He would do. He would pay the debt of our sins
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery,” Hebrews 2:14-15.
What does this mean for you?
God cares about our bodies.
Why did Jesus need a resurrected body? Couldn’t He have just taken the form of a spirit and sluffed His body off?
– The Son of God took on flesh at the incarnation
– He lived a perfect, law-fulfilling life, demonstrating that a human body was necessary to do that.
– He died in a human body.
– He resurrected with a human body.
– He ascended into heaven in a human body.
– He will return again with a human body.
God created the human body, it was His idea. While sin mars it and wears it down, leaves us broken and confused, God does not intend on throwing your body away. He plans to renew it.
“And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain… So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power,” – 1 Cor 15:37, 42-43.
What will the glory of a renewed body be like after our resurrection? Take an acorn in your hand and go stand next to an oak tree.
Friends, this means that what we do with our bodies matters. God cares about our bodies and has great purposes and designs for our bodies.
The Hope of New Creation is Now
While we await the resurrection of our bodies in their glorified state, Paul seems to understand that we get to enjoy some measure of that benefit here and now.
“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Cor 5:16-17
That final phrase, “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come,” is an allusion to Isaiah 65:17, a description of the creation of the New Heavens and New Earth, which is picked up again at the end of the book of Revelation, when the New Heavens and New Earth is revealed (Rev 21:5). The future glory of the New Creation is pulled back into the present, and can be, in some measure, enjoyed now. We have, so to speak, one foot in the New Creation. Our future and inheritance is so secure and so certain that we can begin to enjoy it here, and now. This is what baptism itself is a picture of: new life.
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Rom 6:4
This future joy, this hope therefore provides us great confidence and peace in a troubled world. One of my favorite lines from all of Tolkien’s work comes from when Frodo and Sam are still in the land of shadow, Mordor. It details perfectly what peace can be brought by this kind of heavenly hope:
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.” – The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, “The Land of Shadow” pg. 901