“Now what?” We find ourselves asking that question, right? “I’m done with this project. Now what?” “I’ve just found out that I have a serious illness. Now what?” “My whole world just imploded from a crisis. Now what?” As I contemplate retired life after September there were and are times of “Now what?” Things are different and so we ask, “Now what do I do?”
Three years ago, we started looking at the life of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. In that time we have traced Jesus’ ministry, his words and his suffering and death. Today we reach the end and read of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, Mark describes this in such a way that leaves his readers with some “now what” thoughts. There is no doubt that Jesus is risen and alive, but Mark leaves it open as to what happens from here. I believe that he does this to challenge his readers and us to look beyond the resurrection to what it means for us and our lives. Are we ready to believe this? Moreover, are we ready to shape our lives in a way that reflects the fact that our Lord is alive and ruling over us and all things today? Let’s read Mark 16:1-8.
I. Let’s look first at the sorrowful mission of the women.
Mark begins by describing the mission of the women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome; women who, as we saw last week, were the witnesses to it all. After sunset on the Sabbath, they had bought spices in order to anoint Jesus’ body. The day before must have been a very long day of forced inactivity but now they could at least do something to express their grief by burying Jesus’ body properly. Remember that Joseph of Arimathea had to hastily prepare the body for burial and likely did not have time to anoint it properly.
These women were intent on showing their love for Jesus by anointing his body. Their grief must have been overwhelming. In his book A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken described his grief after his wife died of 17 years died: “How could things go on when the world has come to an end? How could things -- how could I -- go on in this void? How could one person, not very big, leave an emptiness that was galaxy-wide?” These women were likely feeling a loss that was “galaxy wide.” They were expecting to find the dead body of the one whom they loved so much.
Then as the women entered the tomb, they saw an angel, whom Mark describes as a young man dressed in a white robe, sitting inside the chamber. Other than the angel the tomb was empty and this is not at all what they expected!
And so it’s understandable that the women’s first response is alarm! They must have assumed that something must have happened to the body of Jesus. Grave robbers were a real threat in those days. They would break into tombs and steal the spices and clothes. Sometimes they would replace the body in the tomb with the body of their loved-one and so the women perhaps wondered if someone had not stolen Jesus’ body. Moreover, the presence of the angel there was alarming. An angel meant one thing: God had a message for them and that is scary stuff!
II. Then they heard the angel’s astonishing announcement.
First, the tone of the announcement reflects a mild rebuke: “Don’t be alarmed!” That would mean that the message from God is one of good news, not judgment. The angel also rebukes them for looking for the wrong thing: Jesus the Nazarene.” They were looking for the man they saw nailed to the cross; Jesus from the past.
The angel brings home the new situation that exists now with short powerful statements. “He is risen!” Jesus is not dead anymore, but alive! “He is not here!” In Luke, the angel asks, “Why are you seeking the living among the dead?” “You will not find Jesus here in this cemetery!” “See the place where they laid him.” Jesus’ body certainly was not there. This was not certain proof that Jesus was alive, but it gave evidence that what the angel was saying was true. But that is not the end of it.
Then the angel gives the women a new mission. They came on a mission of sorrow and grief to mourn the past. Now their new mission will focus on the future. And the future mission is one that is filled with hope and joy. They are to go and report to the disciples and Peter, what they had seen. Peter is mentioned separately since he had denied and disowned Jesus. But now Peter is invited to join with the disciples in meeting Jesus once again. All of them are to go to Galilee where they will meet Jesus.
This is something that Jesus had already told the disciples before. Jesus told them they would all leave him, but they didn’t believe him. He told them that he would rise again, but they didn’t grasp what he meant. In Mark 14:28, Jesus had told them that after he had risen, he would meet them in Galilee but they couldn’t understand how or why. But now, in spite of their disbelief, Jesus will still see them and restore them again.
Many years ago, a man walked into a photography studio with a framed picture of his girlfriend. He wanted the picture duplicated. As the studio owner removed it from the frame, he noticed the inscription on the back of the photograph: “My dearest Tom, I love you with all my heart. I love you more and more each day. I will love you forever and ever. I am yours for all eternity.” It was signed “Diane.” But it contained a PS: “If we ever break up, I want this picture back.” There was no P.S. for the disciples. In spite of their desertion and leaving him, he invites them to come to be with him again in Galilee to be restored once again. There will once again be that beautiful fellowship with Jesus. But now it will be far better for they will have fellowship with the risen Lord! This message was vitally important for the disciples.
III. But the women hesitate to carry it out and instead they have a terrified response.
Why don’t the women run with joy and tell the others the good news? For one thing, resurrection from the dead usually meant only one thing: judgment! God is now going to come and judge the world and the people in it. That would be frightening even though the angel had told them it was good news.
Second, they were likely hesitant to report this since a woman’s testimony was invalid. A woman’s testimony in court was inadmissible as evidence. So if they ran back to tell the disciples this, they might be mocked or thought to be crazy; they certainly would not be believed.
And there Mark ends his account very abruptly. Most scholars agree that verses 9-20 were not written by Mark. They were likely added some time later by other Christians to summarize the other resurrection stories and to make the gospel ending “better” in their minds. However, I believe that Mark purposely left the ending hanging with verse 8. You see, to leave the story here would be very effective for Mark’s purpose. He may have wanted to leave his readers just thinking about the risen Christ. Rather than nicely summing up all the details, he leaves the resurrection details there for his readers to think about: Jesus is risen – and now is alive! Now it is up to his readers to decide what to do with this information. The question is for us as well: What do we do with the resurrected Christ?
IV. We can have both resurrection comfort and a resurrection challenge.
The fact of Jesus’ resurrection is true for us as well and that is comforting! Jesus is alive today! He has risen from the dead. Praise God for this! The all important result is that those who believe in Christ now may be assured of having victory over sin and death in their own lives. Our sins are forgiven because Jesus won the victory over death. The comfort is that we can look forward to spending eternity with the Lord.
And so the first challenge is whether or not that is true for you. Do you believe that Jesus is risen from the dead? If you believe it is true, then you have to make some sort of response to that fact. You cannot think of it as true but irrelevant to you. Jesus is alive and wants you to believe in him and follow him!
But there is also a word of warning here for those who already believe as well. That warning is not to cling to the old at the expense of the new. There are many old things that we like to cling to in our lives. We like to cling to sinful habits and actions, selfishness and self-centeredness. It is hard to get rid of these things, but if we are raised with Christ, we are to put these things off. We must not always cling to what is familiar within the church either. There are times we are so comfortable that we don’t want to venture out and change even though it would be better to do so.
Even more, because of his resurrection, Jesus has given us the power to serve him and to live for him in bold new ways. We have a tendency to cling to the familiar and comfortable ways; the things we understand. We sometimes lack the boldness of Joseph of Arimathea to go out and boldly proclaim and demonstrate what we believe. We need to take a stand for what is right in areas of truth, morality, justice, fairness and love for others. We should not cower in fear when evil in this world threatens us because that evil has been defeated!
Jesus’ resurrection is a call for us to live in the power and joy of the resurrection.
Our lives continue on in the work and power of our risen Lord. God gives resurrection strength to those who need it so badly. God gives resurrection hope to those who need hope so earnestly. And God gives resurrection life to all of us who need eternal life so completely.
Jesus is risen and is alive today! What will you do with that fact? Will you run in fear from the risen Lord? Or will you run to him, giving thanks to God for the victory he gives over sin and death and then live boldly as his disciples telling others of our risen Lord?