Zebras at a Waterhole in Okaukejo, Etosha Pan, Namibia . PHOTO : J . Rieck

Sunday, April 20, 2014

THANK GOD , IT'S RESURRECTION SUNDAY !

MARK 16 
The sequence  of this Easter weekend  has been: (i)  Thursday: the night  He was betrayed  (ii) Friday  : the cross  (iii) Saturday : the silent  day – the grave  when Jesus rested  on the Sabbath  day from  His  work  on the cross  (iv) and now  the first day of the week (16: 2)  the day of the resurrection. Everything happened , just as  Jesus  had said  in   Mark 8:31; Mark 9:31 and Mark 10:33-34.  He had said  that He would  be killed and  after three days He would be raised again.

As we survey the text in Mark 16, I do need to briefly draw you attention to the fact that the oldest and most reliable New Testament manuscripts do not contain Mark 16:9-20 - the ending to Mark’s gospel. Most scholars think that it is a later addition, for if the gospel had ended at verse 8, it would have been an unusually rather abrupt ending . The thought is that someone, who had later made a copy of this gospel had thought that a proper ending was needed. Whether this is so, we cannot ultimately say, but what can we say about the truths taught in the ending of Mark? Apart from verses 17 and 18 there is nothing unusual or controversial here. It is in harmony with the other gospels. So, we will not major on those minor issues. We will focus on the big theme of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ , and as we now consider the entire chapter, we see two repeated phrases that dominate this text :

         (i)           The first phrase is this: “They did not believe !” The first fact before us is that no-one of Christ’s close associates really believed Him when He said that He would be raised from the dead! We will consider this in a moment as we take note of the recurring “unbelief “ of all concerned. We must not read ‘unbelief’ here as something of a final fact. These people all loved Jesus deeply! They missed him sorely. They mourned and wept (16:10). Mary Magdalene owed him her life for Jesus had cast out 7 demons from her (16:9). The two walking in the country (16:12) were according to Luke (24: 13-35) talking about these things , one to one another on the road to Emmaus, and it is clear that they were disappointed and depressed at this thought that Jesus had been crucified and buried in a grave. The language of the text reveals this! This has nothing to do with cynical unbelief . In their hearts and minds they were simply not able to bring themselves to believe that people came back from the dead , after all the facts speak for themselves : no one comes back from the dead! So, we need to tread softly here as we exercise restraint in our judgement of them. At all times we need to remember that God is at work here! As God, He has the sovereign prerogative to suspend the laws of nature. Jesus demonstrated this on many occasions[1] , thereby proving that the kingdom of God had arrived on earth .

           (ii)       The second phrase is this : “He appeared . Three times this phrase is repeated in verses 9-20:  In 16: 9, “he appeared first to Mary Magdalene”; 16: 12, “he appeared in another form to two of them,” ; 16:14, “Afterward He appeared to the Eleven themselves ….”.

These two phrases then govern Mark Chapter 16 , and these we want to consider now as work with our text :

          1. They did not believe ! 

We see this typical human behaviour reflected in our text , and we examine ourselves in this mirror . 

(i) The women : Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, after the Sabbath was past at about 6 pm on Saturday. They did this for the purpose of anointing the dead body of Jesus. That in itself is a sign of unbelief . If Jesus said that He would rise on the third day, then there was actually no need to buy these funeral spices. All they needed to do was to wait for the resurrection ! But they clearly did not expect the resurrection. So, when they came to the tomb the next day (the first day of the week), they saw that the tomb stone had been rolled away . John records that Mary Magdalene had run back to tell Peter about this. She reported (note the language!) … “ They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” (Jn. 20: 2,13). No thought of the resurrection ! Even when Jesus appeared to her a little later, she thought that He was the gardener (Jn. 20:15) supposing that he might have carried the body of Jesus away. Only when Jesus addressed her by name, “ Mary” (Jn. 20:16 ; Mk 16:9) , did she recognise Him. This is the power of unbelief ! There are none as blind as those who will not see! The fact is that we choose to see what we want to see. However , as I reminded you, this is not cynical unbelief- and yet we shall see that it is sinful unbelief.

(ii) The disciples : the angel at the tomb confirms the fact of the resurrection to the women : “Do not be alarmed, you seek Jesus of Nazareth , who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here … but go and tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he has told you” (vv. 6,7) . This induced terror into these poor women and when they told the grief stricken disciples ,they would not believe her ! Observe the power of unbelief, but do not judge them too harshly, lest you find yourself guilty of the same sin . The thought of resurrection of the dead does not yet feature as a possibility in their range of thinking . Even though they have heard the Lord Jesus saying this to them, they did not hear Him! We all engage in selective hearing. We all choose to hear what we want to hear! [2] Jesus repeatedly challenges us in the Bible to consider carefully how we hear [3] !

(iii) Thirdly , Mark’s account in vv. 12 - 13 relates an incident found in Luke’s gospel (Lk. 24:13-32) where two disciples are walking on the road to Emmaus . Lost in grief, and being depressed about the things that had happened to Jesus in Jerusalem ,‘their eyes were kept from recognising him’ (Lk. 24:16) as He joined them. Later when He opened their eyes to recognize Him (Lk 24:31) they told the rest , but again we read ,  ”… but they did not believe them.”

(iv) In verse 14 we find the 11 disciples at table in Galilee, when Jesus joins them, and we read, “...and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen .” This is an important insight. Jesus categorizes this unbelief as sinful hardness of heart !

Now, you may say : “I believe in the resurrection of Jesus with all my heart“. We modern New Testament believers, having been exposed to the Easter story for so many years may find it easier[4] to believe in the resurrection , than the women and the disciples who were Jesus’ friends because we have become used to the idea ! The thought that really challenges me is this : If I believe in the resurrection of Christ , and do not question this because the resurrection is now an established, historical fact , then do I also believe in the second coming of the Lord Jesus ? The thought challenges me, because in reality we seem to live with such little anticipation of the second coming . Do you get the point ?

2. He Appeared !
The appearances of Jesus were the grounds for believing in His resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15: 3-8 the apostle Paul speaks of many more resurrection appearances , “…he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” Paul wrote these words about 20 years after the resurrection. Many of those who met the risen Jesus Christ were still alive at that time. From Paul’s perspective the evidence for the resurrection is utterly overwhelming!

The resurrection appearances were not that of a ghost. This was a physical Christ! He spoke to Mary; He spoke to the men on the Emmaus road; they also had a meal together on that occasion . The apostles ate fish that Christ had caught and prepared at the seaside . Ghosts don’t do breakfast for their friends!

"He appeared", says Mark three times. "He appeared" , says Paul 4 times in the letter to the Corinthians just quoted.

Peter says the same thing in Acts 10:39-41 in the home of a Roman soldier: “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem . They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name”

This is what we also affirm today on this Resurrection Sunday. He appeared ! We have to get over the fact that supernatural is not irrational ! Yes, we do not understand how a man can die and live again, but are we saying and assuming that we can know everything? Surely our experience tells us that we don’t know everything! There is the planet Mars , and we have a rover there , but the truth is that we know very little about Mars. There’s a little girl born in our midst, and the doctors say that she has no brain tissues developing while she is in her mother’s womb . Abortion is the counsel by many ‘ experts ‘ . This little girl is 5 or 6 years old today and she is a normal little girl . How do you explain that? The doctors can’t! Yes, we can’t explain the resurrection , but the evidence is overwhelming !

Where does the knowledge of the Resurrection leave us?

The ending of Mark (16:15-20) like Matthew 28 :18-20 leaves us with the Great Commission. The resurrection leaves us with an evangelistic duty to perform.

For almost six weeks before the Ascension, the Lord Jesus Christ was with the disciples and then He gave them a great commission; He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” .
Verse 20 tells us “ and they went out and preached everywhere.” They went out and out and it was not long before their world knew that there was a resurrected Saviour whom God had sent to save ,from their sins, those who would believe in Him. Soon there were believers everywhere – in Rome , in Corinth, Ephesus …in every major city in Asia minor – in the Roman and Greek world, spreading into North Africa and Europe and into the Far East. Many of them experienced persecution and sufferings; numbers lost their lives doing this work. They endured it all. Would they have done this if they weren’t convinced that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead and had commanded them to go?

What else can explain the fact of the growth of the church in the world today ? Thank God for Resurrection Sunday! Without Christ's resurrection there would have been no hope for the world . Amen!




[1] i.e. when He  healed the sick instantly ; when He turned water into wine ; when He cast out demons; when  He walked on water and calmed the wind ; when  He raised  people  like Lazarus from the dead.
[2]  The doctrine  of election  is a  classic case . How many  of us  are not initially  refuse to hear  this biblical truth and are angry  with  those that preach it ?
[3]  E.g. Mk  4:9,23,24 ; 8:18
[4] although many  modern sceptics , unbelievers ,  atheists   and religious people like the Muslims  question the resurrection

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