Easter 2016

easter

 

A Rumor of Hope

From Despair to Ecstasy

(From Mark 16:1-8)

Here we are, at the entrance to an empty tomb, we can hear the first whispering of “He has risen!” Soon that rumor will begin to echo through the narrow streets of Jerusalem: “He has risen!” Then it will be magnified and amplified across the province of Judea: “He has risen!” Finally it will be shouted, like a blast of thunder rolling across an awestruck world: “He has risen!” However, this rumor begins amid hopelessness and despair in Mark when he writes:

“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. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?'”

“But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.”

“‘Don’t be afraid,’ 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. 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.'”

“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:1-8)

Mark 16 starts with the darkest day in human history but ends with the incredible discovery of the empty tomb of Christ. We see the women who found the empty tomb, and they are leaving that place full of much joy and explosive hope that they dare not breathe a word of it to anyone along the way. Look closely at the last two sentences of this passage: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” 

Greek words Ekstasis and phobeo are used for bewildered and afraid because their meanings help make what Mark is telling his readers more clear because they are not bewildered or afraid in the conventional English sense that they were terrified of what happened. Instead these words are meant to describe being struck with awe and amazement. and even filled with reverence, worship and pious obedience. So these women were not really terrified or scared nor were they confused or truly bewildered, they were caught up in an ecstasy of wonder over the discovery they had made, Jesus is alive!

The Tomb and the Grave Clothes

The first thing to be looked at in Mark’s account of the resurrection is the stone that had sealed the body of Jesus inside the tomb.

The women came full of worry and concern over the stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb, but when they got there, the stone was rolled away. You can still visit the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, this is where many scholars and historians believe was the tomb of Jesus. We really can’t know for sure if this is the actual tomb, but we do know that it fits the description of the gospel accounts.

If you were to visit the Garden Tomb, you would discover that the stone is no longer there. It was removed or destroyed sometime during the decades or centuries after Christ. But you can see a narrow groove carved in the stone in front of the empty tomb. The huge, disk shaped stone was rolled in the groove to either seal or unseal the tomb. The entrance to the tomb is almost as tall as a man, so the stone used to cover that entrance must have weighed at least a thousand pounds. That’s why the women were concerned about the stone. Unless someone moved the stone, they would not be able to anoint Jesus’ body with spices and burial perfumes. When they arrived, they were shocked to find that the stone already had been rolled back. The tomb was open.

Matthew tells his readers that very early, long before daybreak, an angel had come and rolled back the stone. His face was like lightning, brilliantly shining, so that he dazzled and dismayed the guards who were standing watch over the tomb. They fell to the ground as dead men. When they recovered their senses, they stumbled off in fear.

Later, when the women arrived, there was no sign of anyone outside the tomb, but the door of the tomb was open. This told them that something amazing had happened. So they crept closer, looked inside and the body of Jesus had vanished. That which they had come to anoint was no longer there.

The most amazing fact of all, a fact that immediately confronted the women as they entered the tomb, was the presence of the grave clothes. The body was gone, but the grave clothes that Jesus had been laid to rest in had been left behind. In Luke 24:12 and in John 20:6-8, we find a description of the grave clothes. The cloth that had been around the Lord’s head was neatly folded and separated from the other grave clothes. The grave clothes, the strips of linen that had been wound around His body, had not been unwrapped or unwound. They were lying in the form of a person, as though the body had vanished from inside of them.

The way the cloth that had been around the head of Jesus was folded neatly and separate from the rest. Some believe this was quite significant and represented something similar to a napkin. In Jewish tradition when the head of the table threw their napkin onto their dinner plate meant they were done, however, if it was folded up and put aside it mean that they were not finished and would return.

When Peter and John went to the tomb and saw the grave clothes and the way they were arranged they were at that moment convinced that Jesus had risen as promised.

The power of the evidence, including the evidence of the empty tomb, was one of the reasons Christianity spread so quickly in the early days of the church. Hundreds of eyewitnesses could also confirm every detail of the gospel stories. There was even physical evidence of the resurrection. No one had to question whether the tomb was truly empty or not, because the tomb was there for anyone to go and inspect, just beyond the walls of the city. Anyone in Jerusalem could take a fifteen minute walk to the tomb and see that the disciples were telling the truth.

Although skeptics and rationalists would like to dismiss the resurrection with a wave of the hand, the evidence does not allow it. The resurrection is not a legend. It is the central fact of human history.

The Message of the Angel

So Jesus is no longer in the tomb, but the tomb is not unoccupied. Mark records the following:

“As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.”

‘Don’t be afraid,'” 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. 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.'” (Mark 16:5-7)

The angel’s message to the women contains the answer to twenty centuries of skepticism. The angel first says, “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.”

Then, the angel tells them, “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 identifies a specific geographical spot on the face of the earth as the place where Jesus will be found; Galilee. This statement underscores the claim of Scripture that Jesus is alive, that he rose bodily, and that he appeared to people at a specific juncture of time and space.

Notice also the gentle, compassionate touch in those words by the angel. The angel tells the women to give a special message of hope especially to Peter. The last time we saw poor Peter, he was standing in the courtyard of the high priest during the trial of Jesus. A servant girl was following him around, accusing him of being one of Jesus’s disciples, and he was avoiding her, running from her, denying the truth, trembling in fear. But the angel says, “Tell his disciples and Peter.” The angel knew that Peter was wracked with guilt for his denial of Christ, just as Christ had predicted it would happen.

The angel also said to the women “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

Just as he told you. The resurrection should not have taken his followers by surprise, because he had already said he would be crucified, rise on the third day, and meet them. The angel’s message is not a new message but a repetition of what they had already heard from the Lord’s own lips. Everything he said will be fulfilled.

The Rumor Spreads

The empty tomb, the empty grave clothes, and the message of the angel had a profound effect on these women. It filled them with hope, with joy, with excitement. In an instant, they were transported from the depths of deep despair to an immediate ecstasy that is well beyond our own imagination. So they went out with gladness to begin spreading this rumor of hope, just as the angel had told them, the only durable rumor of hope the world has ever known.

This glorious rumor was hastened along by the appearances to Mary Magdalene. John’s gospel tells us that after the other women left the tomb, Mary Magdalene stayed behind. There, in the early morning light, Jesus appeared to Mary. She went running back to the others with the incredible news, and Peter and John then went to the tomb after hearing her news and saw the grave clothes and the empty tomb and were totally convinced of his resurrection.

Believing is Seeing

One of the most powerful impressions left by Mark’s account of the resurrection is this, the women believed, although they did not see. They saw an empty tomb. They saw empty grave clothes. But they did not see the Lord with their own eyes at the time. Nevertheless, they still believed.

How wonderful it must have been to have seen the risen Lord! All those who did so were regarded with unusual respect and awe in the early Christian community. Of course, not all were privileged to do that. When Jesus appeared to Thomas and invited him to touch his wounds, Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29).

It would be Peter who would later write, “Though you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” (1 Peter 1:8). That has been the experience of millions of believers, beginning with that first Easter morning and continuing to this very day. We have not seen the risen Lord like the disciples did, for he departed this realm of visible things many, many centuries ago. But we have the testimony of many before us. We have the evidence. As Luke wrote in Acts 1:3, “He presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.” These convincing proofs are persuasive to the intellect and encouraging to the soul of each one of us who believe. They awaken hope within us, just as those women found their hope awakened by the empty tomb and the word of the angel.

Out of that hope, a rumor was born. It is the only durable rumor of hope this world has ever known and will ever know. For those who have not yet heard this wonderful rumor, the world is still a very dark place for them, and as empty of hope as that terrible Saturday between the cross of Christ and his resurrection. But we have this rumor to share with the world. It is like a brilliant light at midnight. It is like food in a land of famine. It is the good news, the greatest rumor ever told!

May God bless you always and may the resurrection of Christ light you life and give you the hope of a God that never will abandon us.

HAPPY EASTER!

RISEN

 

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