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Next week we are beginning a new sermon series in the book of Daniel and I am excited about that because it should help equip us to live as Christians in a society where being a Christian is not normal. Why am I beginning today’s sermon by talking about next weeks? It is because the subject matter of Mark 16 today is the reason why we can never hope to fit into 21st Century Britain. We are a strange people in a culture where those in power at least, if not most of the regular people all around us as well, simply do not and will not believe that Jesus Christ really died and then physically rose again from the dead (fairytale!). A Christian by definition must believe this and so if that is what you are then you do not fit in, you cannot fit in and you shouldn’t try to fit in with the world around.
That fact will affect different people amongst us to different degrees. The truth is we all like to be liked, and most people don’t really want to stand out from other people; it is a very uncomfortable situation to be in. Perhaps if you are a very shy person or a young person at school the thought of not fitting in is particularly painful. But the reality is that it is wonderful not to fit in with the core beliefs and convictions of most of the people of Hull, Yorkshire, England and the UK. Why? Because they have absolutely no basis for any hope, any confidence, even any lasting comfort in the lives that these millions and millions of souls are living.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a matter people should be apathetic about. Alarmed, yes, afraid, maybe, but apathetic, no! Because the resurrection is true, Christians are the most blessed people in the world, while everyone and anyone else is in a catastrophic situation (whether they realise it or not). The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that only Christians have a satisfactory answer to the darkness and suffering that we see all around us, only Christians have a satisfactory answer in the face of our own death and the death of our loved ones, only Christians have a satisfactory answer when it comes to justice, God’s judgement and Hell, and only Christians have a satisfactory answer to the desire we find within ourselves to give our praise and worship to something outside of ourselves.
Christians are a strange people with strange news about an empty tomb that all around us need to hear. Mark 16 should act like a bucket of cold water thrown in our faces to wake us up to 2 eternity changing questions; 1)‘have you become a Christian yet’ (because if not you should be very alarmed and very afraid)? and 2)‘Do you realise how wonderful it is to have a risen saviour as your king and how terrible it is not to’ (because if so then you will get on with passionately proclaiming the gospel to those who are dying around us)?
Verse 1-5 then, where the reality of the resurrection should alarm. Mary Magdalene, Mary and Salome get up on Sunday morning, the first working day of the rest of their lives, and the first day in a long time which they need to fill with something. Had they woken in the night thinking – what do I do with this week, this month, the rest of this year? What is normal life going to look like, what really is the point of it all? For the past number of months and years, the answer to that question and all the others it entails was “Jesus”.
Jesus had an answer to the darkness and suffering that the world was so full of (Peter’s mother-law and all those healed in Capernaum, the lepers, the lame, the blind, the lady bleeding, the man whose son used to be so damaged by that evil Spirit, even nature obeyed him). Jesus even had an answer to death itself (Jairus’ daughter and “little girl get up”). Jesus had an answer to sin and judgement that religion didn’t offer (think of that man on the mat “Son, your sins are forgiven”, and Jesus’ promise that his followers would have eternal life). What this all added up to meant that for these women, Jesus himself had become the focal point of their lives, he had their full allegiance – he was worth their time and money and love and praise and worship (he was worth their most valuable offerings, think of that perfume, a year’s wages poured out on his head). So what now? What is there left now that Jesus is dead?
Before they have to deal with any more of that type of thinking, there is one more job to do. And so off they head to the tomb with the spices needed for a proper anointing of Jesus’ corpse. There is absolutely no hope or expectation of finding anything other than a dead body, except of course for the stone that posed them a problem, v3 “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb?” They didn’t expect resurrection because nobody expected resurrection.
One of the reasons the people around us find the resurrection of Jesus so easy to treat as a fairytale is because of a kind of chronological snobbery. We look back on the people who lived before us and they seem so primitive and simple compared to how wonderfully advanced and progressive we are (which is actually a very arrogant position to hold, especially since our whole world is reduced at the moment to washing our hands, covering our noses and mouths, and staying at a distance from other humans in the face of this tiny little virus).
But we do it so easily, forgetting that in terms of intelligence and thinking and philosophy and argument, us modern British folk, who spend vast swathes of our time watching box-sets on Netflix, or watching people watch box-sets on gogglebox, and then discussing how we watched people watching the box-sets on twitter, we couldn’t hold a candle to many of the thinkers that went before us. And so very ignorantly many “nice people” dismiss the claims of God’s word because ‘people believed that sort of stuff easily back then.’
They didn’t. Nobody expected Jesus to rise from the dead. The Jewish hope was for a one-off resurrection at the end of time when Israel would be established forever. The Greek thinkers thought the physical body was by nature corrupt and so their hope was for the spirit to be released from it at death, never to return. And as for Joseph Bloggs next door, death was everywhere and there was no wishful thinking when it happened. Dead was dead. V4 “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.”
Good. That is a legitimate reaction to a stone that has been rolled away, a missing body, and the presence instead of this stranger dressed in white. The women are correct to be alarmed, amazed, distressed (Mk 9 transfig/Mk14garden). The sad thing is that some of us here and most of the society we live in would wander into this tomb looking at our phones, glance around, shrug, and then wander back out to get on with lives that don’t have any real focal point at all, lives that are being expended on nothing of any real lasting value. STOP IT. Instead be alarmed by this true, eye-witness account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, be alarmed so that if you haven’t become a follower of Jesus yet, you do so today. And if you are already a Christian then be alarmed by the ingrained apathy of the people around you to the gospel of Jesus Christ that they have free and easy access to in this nation. Be alarmed so that you, and we as a church family, are stung to action, in prayer and in proclamation. Be alarmed by reality.
And along with alarm, the reality of the resurrection should cause us to fear (v6-8). One of the subjects I studied at GCSE was Geology. And our Geology teacher was one of the people who set the GCSE exam. So when he brought you in for a revision session the week before the first paper, you listened very well, you took lots of notes, and you acted upon the words he said. His words carried huge weight.
As this man dressed in white (an angel) talks to the frightened and amazed women he finishes by saying this about Jesus “Don’t be alarmed, 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.””
This ‘just as he told you’ takes us back specifically to Mark 14 v 28 where Jesus, warning Peter and the disciples about their upcoming failure, says “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” But that ‘just as he told you’ also means that all of His words should be treated with the pinnacle of seriousness. The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives Jesus’ words the greatest weight in the whole existence of humanity. The empty tomb means that we should be frantically flicking back in the gospel accounts to see what else Jesus has said so that we can act upon it (One simple response to this sermon would be to go away and read all the way through Mark again this week taking particular note of what Jesus told his followers, with an emphasis on obeying as a result).
Here are a few key highlights to be going on with;
Mark 1 v 15 “The time has come, he said, The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.”
Mark 4 v 15 + 20 “Some people are like seed sown along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them … others, like seed sown on god soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop.”
Mark 7 v 20+23 “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
Mark 8 v 34 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Mark 10 v 15 “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Mark 10 v 45 “For even the Son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Mark 13 v 26+ 32 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory… But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard. Be alert.”
Jesus should be listened to. He calls us to repent, to be good soil that hears God’s word, accepts it and obeys it. He explains that our hearts are the problem and therefore no good deeds or religion can deal with our sin. He tells us that instead we are to die to our old way of living and follow him, but that doing that is like a child coming simply to receive his good gifts. He declares to us that his death on the cross is how we can be forgiven and promised new eternal life. He encourages us that he will return one day and warns us to be ready.
We need to listen to him, we need to give Jesus our full allegiance, we need our lives to orbit round him, we need to bring him our sin and failure and allow him to change us. We must do this because it will all be JUST AS HE TOLD YOU, the empty tomb guarantees it.
Mark 16 ends in a way that seems very unsatisfactory to many people. “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” There are even a couple of other endings that appear to have been attached to Mark’s gospel at a later date – you will have them as notes in your bible. But Mark has ended his account at verse 8 in a way that fits perfectly with his intention in writing it. He hasn’t written the story of a famous sportsperson to inspire us, a famous comedian to entertain us, a famous business person to motivate us, he has been writing “the good news about Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.”
And the appropriate response at the mouth of the empty tomb in realising that Jesus is indeed God in human flesh is fear. All the way through our series we have defined unbelief as the obstinate refusal to believe. People who refuse to believe that Jesus is who he says he is, and refuse to come to him for salvation, they may be calm and even content with their unbelief now, but they have no good answers when confronted by the brokenness of this world, the death of their loved ones, and their own sin and failure. Shrugged shoulders may do for the present, but one day they will stand in front of the God who gave them life and who gave His life for them and they will have nothing except fear in front of the judge who will punish sin eternally.
If you are already a Christian, fear for your loved ones who will be in this position one day and let that fear stir you to action – try again to tell them the gospel, try with the church family around you this term to speak the news they so need to hear. And if you aren’t a believer in Jesus, be afraid and let that fear bring you to the King where you will find grace, forgiveness and mercy.
He is a wonderful King to serve. A King with such love to pour out on his people. He is the King whose message to the women in the tomb read “Tell his disciples, and Peter.” Isn’t that a delightful detail? Spoken from a place of death, but words that are full of grace and hope and life for even the most crushed of sinners. He is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
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