Introduction to the Reading
There is a story about I read about a priest who found a branch of a thorn tree twisted around so that it resembled a crown of thorns. Thinking it a symbol of the crucifixion, he placed it on the altar in his chapel on Good Friday. Early on Easter morning he remembered what he had done. Feeling it was not appropriate for Easter Sunday, he hurried into the church to clear it away before the congregation came. But when he went into the church, he found the thorn branches blossoming with beautiful roses.Today, even this unusual cold snap cannot stop the blossoming of Easter—or as we more properly call it the Feast of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ!On September 8, 2002 I began an exposition of the Gospel According to Mark. Today, on Easter Sunday, 2007, I will complete my work.Today, we look at the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let us give attention to Mark 15.37 through Mark 16. Now some of your Bibles will have a notation at chapter 16, verse 8, for older texts stop there. Some believe that the verses after that were added later, and are not by Mark. Since the Church has used the material since the days of the early church fathers, and since, as far as I can tell, nothing is out of accord with the rest of the Scriptures, I make note of this, but preach the truths that have come to us.If you could only imagine that you were hearing this news about the Lord Jesus dying on a cross, being dead in the grave, and then coming back to life, for the first time then it would be nothing less than shocking! And that is why I am calling this “The Shocking Truth about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” May God give us ears to hear and hearts to believe the shocking truth about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and what is means for us today. May the Word blossom in our hearts as we hear:Mark 15.37-39; 16.1-8
And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. Mark 15.37 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 38 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” 39When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. Mark 16.1 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 2 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 3 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 4 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 5 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. 6 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.” 7 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. 8
“The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever” (from 1Peter 1.24-25 ESV).Let us pray.
Prayer for Illumination
Lord, in Your light let us see light. Amen.
Introduction to the Sermon
We are blessed with the greatest choir I have ever been associated with. I used to be in a choir. It was back in Kansas before I went into the minsitry. Now I used to be a folk/rock singer and performer. I was literally a starving artist and that is why I went into the Navy! But there is a difference between a folk singer and the kind of skillful, harmonious singers that make up a choir. Well, we had this director, who is now a very good friend of ours, who one night at practice just got fed with what she called “slurps.” Instead of moving from one note to another cleanly, I would sort of take a curve to get up there. It was kind of like this (I demonstrate: La-la). So she stopped the practice and said, “Mike Milton, if you slurp that note again I am going to rip your tongue out of your mouth!” Well, I never slurped again…in choir at least! She took that opportunity to encourage us to sing with skill as unto the Lord! But we wanted to! She was literally “preaching to the choir!”Sometimes it is said that in the church, on Easter, we are “preaching to the choir”—that is we are giving out truth which everyone agrees on anyway, as if it is a sort of wasted effort, since the preacher is, apparently, trying to convince the convinced! That is one way of thinking about it. But I don’t think it is altogether right.It may be that everyone I am talking to this morning is a believer in Jesus. And if that were so, this message from Mark 15 and 16 would still be important and timely. The reason? Erosion. Our lives are like the steep side of a hill I saw in Monterey, California when I lived there as a young man, where the rains and the wind beat incessantly against it, taking away soil, attacking life giving nutrients where fruit can grow. But the farmers there in central California build up the hillside, keep constant attention to it, to combat the eroding effects of the environment. Now this is why we on this day need to study what we have all heard many times before. We need to be strengthened in the amazing truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to combat spiritual erosion. So it is good and spiritually healthy for us to hear of the resurrection of Jesus Christ again.But if, by God’s design, you are here this morning and are not a disciple of Jesus Christ, then the message of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection is the necessary first steps to begin a life you never dreamed of. You cannot be saved without giving not only an intellectual ascent to these things, but giving your life to this One, Jesus of Nazareth.Mark presents him and gives the shocking truth about his crucifixion, his death and burial, His resurrection, and the effect that it had.If we were there when this was first read, and we wanted to know how to live our lives and follow Jesus all the way as His disciple, we would have to make three simply affirmations from this text. They are likely affirmations that you know. From this text, we affirm, first:
Christ has died
Mark 15.37 simply says,”With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last” (15.37).
John tells us that cry was “It is finished.”The death of Jesus was not an unfortunate accident of history. It was ordained by God for His purposes.When Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Great Brittan and faced a World War, he said, “It seems as if I’ve prepared for this moment all of my life.”Friends, Jesus Christ was born to die on a cross for our sins. He never veered away from that focus. In fact, we read in Matthew:
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Matthew 16.21
There were powerful effects for our lives involved with the death of Jesus. The death of Jesus Christ was the only acceptable offering of a perfect man for imperfect men. The death of Jesus was the only way to have a mediator between God and Man, and that is why the curtain was split into in the temple, when Jesus died. The only mediator between God and Man is the High Priest, our friend, Jesus Christ. The cross was an instrument of shame for cursed are those who are put to death on a tree. Jesus Christ died on a cross to carry your shame and mine for our sins before a holy God. The death of Jesus brought not only redemption from sin, but healing for our souls. We are made new through the death of Jesus. For Jesus Christ said:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, John 3.14 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” 15
Thus, Jesus was lifted up on that Cross and whoever looks upon Him receives new life. That was true then. It is true today for you.Yet I show you another reason for His death on the cross. Through the death of Jesus Christ, we are free from the condemnation of our sins and we are assured of no separation from Jesus.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn” (Romans 8.31-33)?
What does the death of Jesus mean? It means that if you trust in Him there are no charges against you. Your sins were placed on Him. You were set free.Mac Brunson tells the story of a wealthy Englishman who wanted to come to Florida for an extended holiday. This man was so used to his beloved Rolls Royce that he had it shipped over from England to Florida so he could ride around in his car. While here, that Rolls Royce broke down in the parking lot of an exclusive resort. The owner telephoned Rolls Royce and told them about his car. Rolls Royce said, “Thank you for your call.” Within 48 hours, a Rolls Royce employee was flown over and was in that parking lot, fixed the problem, and was gone! The Englishman went on his way. About a year later he was back home in England, going over some papers, and he discovered that Rolls Royce had never sent him a bill for the repair. So he wrote the company and told them the story, gave the dates and the place, and told them that he would be happy to pay the bill for fixing his car. He received a letter back from Rolls Royce that said this: “In the files at the headquarters of Rolls-Royce, there is no accounting that anything has ever been wrong with a Rolls-Royce anywhere.”That is what Paul meant! “”Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” The death of Jesus is the death of death and the justification of the believer before Almighty God! When you get to heaven, if the devil accuses you about your sin, your past, your life, and if you are in Christ, having trusted in His death for you, Jesus Christ will say “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! Who shall bring a charge against this man! He is free! I died for him! There is no record! Now that is “Good News!”Christ had died. The second affirmation of this passage is:
Christ has risen
We read in verses 1-8 that the Marys, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, and a woman named Salome went to the tomb early on the first day of the week, when the Sabbath was over. Matthew mentions two, Mark three, and yet Luke mentions a Joanna and “other women with them.” There is no discrepancy, simply the writers mentioning a few, and others mentioning more. Clearly, a group of women went to anoint the body of Jesus for burial, for it was hastily buried before Sabbath. The body of Jesus lay dead in the grave on the old Sabbath. He rose again from the dead on the new Creation Day, the Day of Happiness, the Day of Joy, the Day for a New Adam!Mark, at least in the older texts, ends in verse 8 with fear:
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. Mark 16.8
But is this surprising? They were in shock! What would you do if you knew your Lord and Savior were raised from the dead? That is the question? Would it make you amazed? Would it cause you to tremble?Jesus Christ did not rise spiritually. He did not swoon and was resuscitated. His body was not stolen by Romans or his disciples. All of these theories fail in the presence of overwhelming, historically proven, verifiable evidence. Jesus of Nazareth was dead and buried in a donated tomb by one of the members of the Council that condemned him! Jesus Christ was raised physically, really, and demonstrably and He is alive today! That was the message that first century Christians needed to know who were going through persecution and that is what we need to know, to believe, and to live!N.T. Wright, the noted Anglican theologian, wrote:
“The gospel message is precisely that Jesus is Lord and God raised him from the dead.”
And never does that beautiful diamond truth sparkle as when it is placed in front of the black pall of death.When I was in seminary, I wanted to gain experience in preaching funerals. So I volunteered at a funeral home to preach funerals for anyone coming who did not have a minister or a rabbi to conduct their services in the funeral home chapel. It was amazing to me the times I was called upon to conduct the service. I actually loved that time, because I got to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I sought to do it compassionately, but clearly, with people who did not know the Lord. I preached to unbelieving Gentiles in South Florida and unbelieving Jews. Non-practicing Protestants, Catholics and Jews. And the Gospel is “Christ is risen!” And I can tell you, that message is powerful at a funeral, not for the benefit of the dead, but for the living that will soon be dead! “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in Me, though he die yet shall he live.” I can tell that just as when Jesus spoke that at the funeral of Lazarus, it still carries a punch at funerals today! And I never conduct a funeral unless I began it with those words. On one occasion in our church when a member asked me to conduct a service, I preached the funeral inside of a mausoleum, with the dead all around me. When I announced “Believe that God has raised Jesus from the dead and you will be saved…” even I felt it! I understand how amazed and shocked the disciples were in Mark 16 because I was at that moment! But even more: this woman’s loved one came to Jesus Christ right there in that crypt. Lesson: it is better to learn that Jesus rose from the dead in a mausoleum while you are still alive than when you are dead!Christ has died. Christ is risen. And the third affirmation of Mark’s Gospel is:
Christ will come again
In the last part of Chapter 16, the risen Christ appears to the disciples (14), preaches to them (14), gives them a Great Commission to preach the Good News to all creation,” (15, 16), gives them a survey of basically what we read in the Book of Acts, of the miraculous ministry of the Apostles, healing the sick in body and soul, and being protected by God as they do it (18), but then it says:
“After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Mark 16.19
Now the Book of Acts tells us that as Jesus ascended, the disciples stood looking up. And the angels said:
“Men of Galilee…why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Acts 1.11
Then, back in Mark, we see how they responded to that angelic command:
Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. Mark 16.20″
And this is the record of the Church. And this is the answer to the “so what?” of this text. My purpose is not just to say, “Well, I am saved, now I will just wait for Him to come and keep looking.” No. It is to say, “Since He will return, I must be about my father’s business!”What are we talking about? We are talking about what we heard so much about a few years ago: a purpose-driven life.Years ago James Dobson had a heart attack and was in the hospital. It was felt that he might not make it. While there, he gathered his family before him. He told his wife, and his two children only two words: “Be there!” In those words, he revealed his purpose for living.My beloved, I have a purpose: I am here to tell you, “Be there!” And to “be there” in death or when He comes again, is to repent of your sins, and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior today. And if I am “preaching to choir” I know you will say Amen. I know that you will also desire with me to recommit our lives to the purpose for which we were saved: To reach all creation with the Gospel, to bring all things under the Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth. That is a lofty goal that involves the arts, the sciences, families, institutions, governments, and nations and people groups everywhere.That was the message for Christians when Mark wrote this. That is the message today.
And so this whole thing is quite shocking, because everything has changed.
Christ has died. And I am justified before Almighty God through faith in His death.
Christ is risen. And I have new life and can live free today and live assured that when I die, I will be with Jesus Christ and be saved from death and Hell.
Christ will come again. And I have a new purpose for living. And I look at this world as a world under construction, being brought under the Lordship of Christ.
I read this week about, reportedly, the only white person in the state of Georgia buried in a cemetery reserved exclusively for African-Americans.
“This man had lost his mother when he was just a baby. His father, who never married again, hired a black woman named Mandy to help raise his son. She was a Christian woman who took her task seriously. Seldom has a motherless boy received such warmhearted attention. One of his earliest memories was of Mandy bending tenderly over him in his upstairs bedroom at the beginning of each day and softly saying, “Wake up–God’s mornin’ is come.” As the years passed this devoted woman continued to serve as his surrogate mother. The young man went away to college, but when he would come home on holidays and in the summer, she would still climb the stairs and call him in the same loving way. One day, after he had become a successful statesman, the sad message came: “Mandy is dead. Can you attend her funeral?” As he stood by her grave in the cemetery, he turned to his friends and said, “If I die before Jesus comes, I want to be buried right here beside Mandy. I like to think that on Resurrection Day she’ll speak to me again and say, ‘Wake up, my boy, God’s mornin’ is come!’” (1)
Are you “awake” to the shocking truth of the resurrection of Jesus? You see, God’s mornin’ has come in that resurrection: a morning of new hope, new beginnings, and new life.It can be morning for you, today, as we pray.
Prayer of Commitment
Lord Jesus, I believe you died and rose again to redeem a world of human beings lost in sin. I am one of them. Rescue me from myself. Deliver me from apathy. Save my from punishment. Redeem my life from shame and misery. I believe that you died for sinners like me, rose again to give me life abundant and life eternal, and that you are coming again. That changes everything. But let it first change me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(1) (Illustration from a sermon by The Rev. King Duncan, “Resurrection,” in Second Quarter Sermons (Dynamic Preaching, 2007).