Mark 16

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 16

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. Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. 12 After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. 14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole 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 cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” 19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.

A few years ago CNN did a story on the controversial New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan. Crossan is controversial because he does not believe in the supernatural. He is in the forefront of what is called “the search for the historical Jesus,” which is, proponents say, an effort to get at the “real” Jesus behind all of the myths and superstitions with which the Church has allegedly surrounded Him. What this means is that, among other things, Crossan does not believe in a literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus. He believes that the story of the resurrection as presented in scripture is a parable intended to make another point. Here is how the CNN story puts it:

Crossan says, however, that he’s “trying to understand the stories of Jesus, not refute them.”

Still, his findings often end up challenging some of Christianity’s most cherished beliefs.

Consider his understanding of the resurrection. Jesus didn’t bodily rise from the dead, he says. The first Christians told Jesus’ resurrection story as a parable, not as a fact.

“Crucifixion meant that imperial power had won,” Crossan says. “Resurrection meant that divine justice had won. God is on the side of the crucified one. Rome’s values are a dead issue to me.”[1]

That final comment intrigues me: “Crucifixion meant that imperial power had won. Resurrection meant that divine justice had won. God is on the side of the crucified one. Rome’s values are a dead issue to me.”

Do you see what this does to the New Testament account of the resurrection of Jesus? It makes it not a historical account of an actual miracle but rather a feel-good story that essentially means God prefers one set of values over another. To use a modern term, Crossan’s reading of the resurrection account reduces it to some kind of divine virtue signaling whereby God, through a parable, lets the world know that he thinks Rome did a bad, bad thing and He does not like it, not one bit. Rome’s values may be dead to Crossan, but the problem is that, according to his theory, so is Jesus!

Then there is this, from a First Things review of the book Belonging to the Universe. Listen to these comments of a Benedictine monk named Thomas Matus:

Is Christ’s resurrection a stumbling block for the hip? No problem, answer the Benedictines. “That’s not theology,” says Matus of Jesus’ Easter victory over death. “No responsible theologian is going to dredge that up today.” The Resurrection, he says, was just a mental “experience” the disciples underwent because they couldn’t bear the thought of “a wonderful, lovable person . . . being subjected to capital punishment on the basis of ambiguous allegations.”[2]

So in Matus’ view the resurrection is a case of what is called psychological projection whereby the untrue story of the resurrection was conjured up because the thought of Jesus being killed by Romans was simply too difficult for the early Christians to handle.

What is most unsettling about both of these faulty views is that they come from two who would, if asked, call themselves Christians. But, to be blunt about it, this simply will not do.  The resurrection is not a parable about how God does not like bad people who do bad things and it is not the projection of a psychologically soothing story that the foolish Christians could hide behind in their effort to avoid the disturbing reality of the cross.

No, it was the actual resurrection of the actual Jesus from the actual dead! It was a staggering and shocking display of divine power. It was, in short, a miracle, and one that changes everything!

As we journey through this final chapter of Mark’s gospel. Let us consider what the resurrection of Jesus means for humanity. As we do so, we will see why it matters as much as it does and why it must not be jettisoned.

Jesus invades the typical with the impossible.

After the crucifixion of Jesus, the women who came to the tomb came to do what people did after a burial.

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?”

The women came to anoint the body of the Lord Jesus. In other words, they turned to the typical, to what one normally does in the event of a death, even a violent death. In fact, the passage is filled with concerns that would be typical to such a situation. Consider:

  • They waited to go to the tomb until after “the Sabbath was past.” Why? Because, typically, one did not work on the Sabbath, and anointing a dead body was considered work. Thus, they honored the typical rhythms of Jewish life.
  • They “brought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.” Why? Because this was what one typically did for the entombed body of a loved one. Thus, they honored the typical burial rights of the day.
  • They discussed the vexing question of who would roll the “very large” stone away from the mouth of the tomb so they could enter. Why? Because a grieving mother and grieving female friends would have typically been expected, or, in the case of such a very large stone, able to toil against a massive burial stone. Thus, they honored the typical routines of tomb opening.

While many of the particulars of the crucifixion of Jesus were anything but typical, the sad fact was that crucifixions in first century Palestine were common enough to have typical actions surrounding them. Regardless, death itself was, of course, typical as were the rites and customs surrounding it.

Thus, these grief-stricken women defaulted to the typical.

The typical was all they had.

They did what one did in such situations.

However, when they came to the tomb, suddenly they encountered with a shock that the impossible had invaded the typical!

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.

The impossible—the stone was rolled back, an angel was sitting in the tomb, and the body of Jesus was not there—had burst into the typical.

In fact, we might say that at the resurrection of Jesus the typical itself was shattered. Nothing is typical anymore! Why? Because two thousand years ago death itself, the most typical thing in the world, was defeated and its grasp broken! What this means is we simply cannot live as if the typical, the normal is all there is!  No, the empty tomb screams into the drudgery of the common, the typical, the normal, the default, and the mundane and says, “EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING IS NOW DIFFERENT! EVERYTHING IS NOW CHANGED!”

In his essay, “Trajectories toward an Adjusted Gospel,” Albert Mohler points to New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann as a “paradigmatic figure” representing the modern mind.

In Kerygma and Myth, Rudolf Bultmann wrote, “It is impossible to use electric lights and the wireless, and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of demons and spirits.”…Bultmann famously suggested that for the church to survive, Christianity must undertake the project he called the “demythologization” of Scripture.[3]

Listen to that pitiful enslavement to the typical! Bultmann seems to be saying, “We just know how things are! And, the way things are, dead men do not rise!”

What an absolute tragedy this mindset is, this enslavement to common assumptions, to the typical! Now that Christ has risen from the dead, the Christian has something that those who are suffocating in the doldrums of life do not have: the awareness that the normal has been invaded, the typical has been toppled, and the “way things are” includes the Son of God bursting in resurrection glory out of the chains of death!

We cannot live as if this has not happened! We cannot live as if this does not matter! We cannot live as if the way things tend to look are just the way things are! Easter offers us the subversive and revolutionary and beautiful news that, no, the way things tend to look are not just the way things are. There was a time when one who was dead opened His eyes! And, in so doing, He changed everything forever!

Jesus invades the declension narrative with the twist ending of resurrection.

Jesus’s resurrection shatters the typical with the impossible. It also shatters humanity’s declension narrative with a stunning twist ending! What do we mean by “declension narrative?” A declension narrative is the idea that everything just gets worse and worse and worse. Everything declines (i.e., declension). We are, on this view, stuck in a story of decline, a declension narrative. And, of course, the inevitability of death is the great exclamation point at the end of all declension narratives. We can see the women’s understandable assumption of declension in the angel’s command that they not be alarmed and in his explanation of what has happened.

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.

That “Do not be alarmed” shows just how wedded we are to declension narratives. Everybody dies! We all end up anointing bodies in the tomb until we are the bodies being anointed. It is just how things are. The story, as humanity understands it, always ends at a tomb, and tombs, as we know, mean the end. I think one of the greatest statements concerning the finality of death is found in the opening lines of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it.

And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.[4]

That is the mentality of humanity concerning death, which is why humanity fears death. It is so very final, and it comes for every one of us. But once in human history, the tomb was empty! That it was empty was understandably alarming, for the dead are, as they say, dead. But the empty tomb is God’s surprise twist ending on the narrative of declension that so enslaves and haunts humanity.

Once the story did not end the way we thought it would. Once, death was not the end of the story. I like to think of Jesus rising from the dead on the third day, taking His sharpie, and making the period at the end of the sentence, “and then He died,” a comma:  And then He died, only to rise again!

Do not live your lives under the suffocating strictures of the narrative of declension! There is good news! The story does not have to end the way you think it will. You could live after you die! How? Because Jesus defeated death and invites you into His life. If He rose, we will rise with Him!

Jesus invades our safe silence with commissioned proclamation.

There is yet one more invasion in Easter. Simply put, Jesus invades our safe silence with commissioned proclamation. The course of our lives are forever altered by the resurrected Christ. So is the content of our speech and the trajectory of our lives. Consider how Mark ends with such a strong emphasis of both lives and words of power.

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. Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. 12 After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. 14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole 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 cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” 19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.

This startling depiction of life lived with the resurrected Christ is anything but safe, anything but typical, anything but a declension narrative! It is, instead, a picture of a shocking ascent into a life freed from the tyranny of the material, the pessimistic, and the defeated. It is a life of victory and joy and demonstrations of divine power!

The greatest emphasis in Mark 16 is on proclamation. Those who have encountered the risen Christ must tell of the story-altering life-transforming event they have encountered and been changed by! We simply must tell! Why? Because those bound to the typical, to an assumption of decline, to a lack of hope, and to creeping despair needing to know that the story does not end the way they think it does, the way they think it must! No, in Christ, it ends in life and light and peace and salvation! It ends in a kingdom with a King and a life that the subjects of this King are called now to live. It ends, in other words, with a beginning, a beginning for which there is no end!

Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the beginning who cannot be ended!

Christ is the death-slayer, the tomb-emptyer, the grave robber! He comes to call us out of our despair, out of death itself!

He comes to call us home.

Come home.

The door is open.

Christ has opened it.

 

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2011/LIVING/02/27/Jesus.scholar/index.html

[2] http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=5243&var_recherche=Easter

[3] R. Albert Mohler, “Trajectories toward an Adjusted Gospel.” The (Unadjusted) Gospel. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2014), p.55.

[4] Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. (London: Bradbury & Evans, 1858), p.1.

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