Sermon: Trembling and Bewildered

Brothers and Sisters, Friends, all you who hear this message: Jesus Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed. I hope that you have joined us already for Good Friday, as well as use our liturgies for Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday. If you haven’t you can contact us through our website bethel-reformed.ca and we will get them to you. On Thursday, we sat around the table with the disciples as Jesus washed our feet and then followed his command to do as he did. On Friday, we heard the whole story of the cross, saw how he died, and were invited to join our voices with the centurion who proclaimed, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God.’ On Saturday, we sat quietly as we awaited the resurrection on Easter morning and heard the promises and laments of Scripture. This morning we proclaim the good news that three days after he was crucified and buried, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was bodily raised from the dead. Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.

We will hear this story from the gospel of Mark. We have spent the last weeks working our way through the last three chapters of Mark and the true story culminates in Mark 16. I invite you to turn there with me in your Bibles. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Mark 16, beginning in verse 1. For some of you this story might be incredibly familiar and something you believe wholeheartedly. For others of you this might be new, or something you struggle to believe. Wherever you find yourself this morning, hear the good news of the gospel. But before we do, please pray with me.

Prayer

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:

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 dawn, they were on the 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 alarmed,” 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.

This is the Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

What a response to the good news of Easter morning! Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Trembling, Bewildered, Afraid. This is the first response to the shocking news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The women, like the disciples, would have known their Bibles and known the promises of resurrection contained there. They would have heard Jesus tell that he would die and three days later be raised from the dead. They would have known all this, but still they see the stone rolled away, gaze upon the angel, and hear his pronouncement and their response is trembling, bewilderment, and fear.

Who would not have trembled at the empty tomb that morning? The nearest equivalent today would be heading out early in the morning to put flowers on a loved ones headstone only to find the ground dug up and the coffin empty. Would would not have been bewildered at the empty tomb that morning? Not only that, as you look closer, you see a young man dressed in white robes – an angel of the LORD – and he tells you that this loved one has risen from the dead. Who would have not been filled with more than a little fear on Easter morning?

Though at first they disobey the angel’s instructions to tell the disciples, these women at the tomb understood the gravity of what happened Easter morning. Trembling, Bewildered, Afraid. They understood that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was so powerful, so earth-shattering that they began to tremble and shake. They understood that God raising from the dead one who had died cursed on a tree changed everything and their minds could barely begin to comprehend it. They understood that everything that had happened before and everything that would happen from then on was fundamentally altered by the news, the fact, that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead and holy fear mixed with human terror in their hearts. Perhaps, if we truly take the resurrection seriously, we will find ourselves filled with a bit more trembling, bewilderment, and fear.

And everything hangs on whether Jesus rose from the dead or not. Everything in life, in history, in the future depends on whether Jesus actually, physically rose from the dead. The whole of the Christian faith hangs on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

If the resurrection of Jesus is a fairy tale, if it is just a metaphor, or just something ‘spiritual’ that happened in the hearts of the disciples, then Paul says our faith is futile, we are still in our sins, and, worse, we are false witnesses about God. If resurrection and Easter are just about the new life of spring, then we are wasting our time here in church, then we, of all people, are most to be pitied.

But if Jesus rose from the dead, then everything changes. Everything changes. Paul goes on, But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Everything hangs on whether Jesus rose from the dead. Life now, freedom from sin, communion with God, eternal life. It all hangs on whether Jesus truly rose from the grave. And he did. Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Some of you listening, like me, may believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ because you are already convinced that the Scriptures are trustworthy and true, that they are the word of God. Some of you may believe Jesus rose because you know the risen Christ, you have a personal relationship with Him. Some of you may believe Jesus rose because you studied the prophecies of the Old Testament and saw how they promised this, saw how Jesus promised this, and see in his resurrection a fulfillment and vindication of all God’s promises. If so, praise God! Jesus Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

But some of you might be skeptical. Arguments from the Bible itself aren’t going to convince you, because you are not sure you believe what it says. Some of you might be thinking that this just can’t be true, that this whole thing is just made up. This Easter morning, I want to give each of you, three reasons to believe the resurrection of Jesus actually happened, three things the resurrection of Jesus says to us, and three ways we are to respond to this good news.

Three reasons to believe it, three things it says, and three ways to respond.

First, three reasons to believe that the resurrection actually happened.

One of the more common objections I encounter for the resurrection of Jesus is that we find similar stories in other ancient religions, that the story of Easter is just like those ancient myths – a fanciful tale with some sort of moral lesson, but not really rooted in real events. I’ve read quite a few of those other ancient sources and there is a marked difference in style and genre between them and the accounts of the gospels. This is the first reason to believe the resurrection accounts is that they are written as history not legend. The other ancient stories, like Dionysus, Orpheus, or Osiris, are all written as taking place in the way distant past, in the age of heroes. They are written in the way that we would recognize as legend or myth. They lack details that would anchor it in history. But Mark 16, and all the gospels, are written as a record of historical events. They are filled with details – names, places, events – that root it in the historical world we know. We know the day of the week Jesus rose, the time of day the women came to the tomb, that the stone was large, even what side of the tomb the angel was sitting on. The gospels were written as history, not legend. So there really is no true parallel between what we hear in the gospels and anything else in the ancient world. Because the gospels are history, not legend or myth. If you already believe the resurrection, this may seem clear to you, but if you are doubting, then know that in the accounts of Easter, we are dealing with history, not legend.

The second reason to believe the resurrection accounts is that this is not how someone would make up this story. I know that sounds like kind of an odd type of proof, but hear me out. For example, the greek historian Herodotus wrote about the wars between the Greeks and the Persians. In his mind, the Greeks are the good guys and the Persians are the bad guys. This comes through in his writing. That doesn’t mean he isn’t right a lot of the time, but when he tells a story where the Persians come off badly and his people look great, we cannot be sure without other evidence that he isn’t just making something up to further his own agenda. However, in those rare cases where Herodotus records something where the Persians look good and the Greeks look like fools, we can be more confident that he is reporting what happened. Because if he was going to make up a story, he wouldn’t make one up where his own people looked foolish. While not the only standard, this is common in dealing with all kinds of ancient documents. If it makes your own people look bad, you probably didn’t make it up because that is not the kind of story you would invent.

So let’s look at the gospel accounts of the resurrection. If Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were somehow inventing the story of the empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection, this is not how they would have made it up. First, the disciples are not there at the empty tomb. Jesus’ followers, including some of the very authors of the gospels, are conspicuously absent at dawn on Easter morning. They were mourning and hiding. Instead, in every account, it is the women who reach the tomb first, while the disciples are hiding. In short, the disciples – who would presumably be the good guys – look really bad at the start of this. Additionally, if they were making up the resurrection accounts, no one in the ancient world would have women be the witnesses to the resurrection. I know we deal with forms of sexism today, but the ancient world was much worse. In most places, women were not allowed to be legal witnesses in court. Women were no considered trustworthy or reliable. So if you were going to make up a story about someone coming upon Jesus’ empty tomb and talking to an angel and being told to report it to others, the last person you would put as reaching the tomb first was a woman. The only reason that all four of the gospel writers would record that women were at the tomb first, and call them by name, is that this is actually what happened. In essence, this is so far from what anyone making up a story would have done that the best explanation is that this is exactly what happened.

The third reason to believe the resurrection accounts is connected to this. The women are named. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. They were eye witnesses. The gospels take great care to name names in the accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, because these people would have been known in the early church. Don’t believe me, ask Mary Magdalene if this is what happened, she was there. Don’t believe that someone carried Jesus’ cross for him, asking Simon the Cyrene, you know him, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Don’t believe that the angel sat on the right side of the tomb, ask Salome.

The women were named because, as eye witnesses, they could testify to the truth of the gospel message. All of the gospel were written down within the lifetime of the disciples and the women. When people in the church heard theses stories, they could have checked with the Marys, checked with Salome, checked with the disciples. Is this really what happened? On the flip side, if they were making up what happened, it would not have made it out of the first century. There were witnesses to say, ‘that’s not how it happened.’ The lie would not survive while there were witnesses alive. Instead, these named women were able to confirm what the gospels said.

If you are already convinced that Jesus rose from the dead because you trust the scriptures and know the risen Christ, let your faith be strengthened by the three reasons I have just shared. But if you doubting or skeptical, I want you this morning to consider these three reasons that the resurrection account of Easter might be true. First, it is written as history, not legend. Second, it is not the way someone would have made up the story – absent disciples and women witnesses – so it is more likely that this is how it happened. Third, the women were named and would have served as eyewitnesses to support or reject this account, since they were alive even when it was written down.

Friends, Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.

Having listened to three reasons to believe in the resurrection, I want to share three things Christ’s resurrection says to us before looking briefly at three ways to respond. These are not the only three things the resurrection says, for there are not enough books in the universe to contain all that the resurrection of Christ means. But these are three things it says.

First, the resurrection of Jesus vindicates his death on the cross. Jesus died a cursed death. He died convicted by the Jewish council and Pilate, albeit on false charges. Scripture proclaims everywhere that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, that his death was acceptable in the sight of God so that our sins are covered, wiped away, and we do not receive the wrath of God because Jesus took it upon himself. But we know that the cross does all this because God raised Jesus from the dead. In the resurrection we know that the cross was a victory and not defeat. In the raising of Jesus from the dead, we know that on the cross Jesus conquered death. Good Friday and Easter Sunday go together. On the cross, Jesus dies for our sins. On Easter he is raised for our justification. On the cross, he dies our death. On Easer, he is raised for our life. If he died, but was not raised, then we would know that his cross was not acceptable in God’s sight, but because he has been raised, we know that the cross is good news, that Friday is indeed Good Friday, that our sins are indeed forgiven. The resurrection tells us that Jesus did not die for his own sins, but for ours. Because if he had died for his sins, it would have been justice and he would have stayed dead, for the wages of sin is death. But God raising Jesus to life is the proclamation of the power of the cross of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. As Paul says, And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. But because Christ has been raised, our faith is not in vain and we are no longer in our sins.

So the first thing that the resurrection tells us is that on the cross, Christ truly conquered sin, death, and the devil, and by his resurrection God has declared Jesus Lord and Messiah.

Second, the resurrection of Jesus validates his words and ministry. Jesus said many difficult and amazing things. He said he was God. He said he would come again in glory. He said he could forgive sins and make us right with God. He also said he would die and rise again. God raising Jesus from the dead proved true the words of Jesus that he would die and rise on the third day. The resurrection proved true the words of Jesus about something so difficult and amazing, which means we should take everything he said with utmost seriousness. You can imagine the disciples eventually coming to the empty tomb and encountering the risen Christ and remembering that Jesus had told them that this would happen. If he was telling the truth about dying and rising, then he must have been telling the truth about who he is, his power to forgive sin, and that he will come again. The resurrection validates the words and message of Jesus. Because he rose, we can trust that every word he spoke is true. He has the Lord’s stamp on his message and ministry through the resurrection.

Third, the resurrection of Jesus promises resurrection to those who are united to him. As Paul says in Romans 6, For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. (v.5-10)

Jesus’ resurrection includes the promise of resurrection for all who belong to him. If we belong to Christ through faith, then just as he was raised from the dead on the third day, we will be raised to life on the last day. If we belong to Christ through faith, then even now, we are dead to sin and alive to Christ, walking in newness of life.

The fact of Jesus’ resurrection includes the promise of the resurrection to eternal life for all who believe in him, all who trust in him for life and salvation. This is the hope and power of Easter. Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. If you know him, if you believe in him, believe that he died on the cross for your sins and was raised to life on the third day, if you trust him as Saviour and Lord, then the promise is that you too will one day be raised. That though death will claim us all at some point, death will not have the last word. The risen Christ will. That though our bodies will go to the grave, there will come a day when the trumpet will sound and the dead will rise and the saints will rejoice eternally in the presence of the Lord Almighty.

So what do you do? How are we to respond to this Easter message, to the words of the angel to the women at the empty tomb. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid him.

How are we to respond to this astounding fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ? That Christ who died was indeed raised to life on the third day?

Briefly, I want to show you three ways of responding I believe we see in Mark 16. First, we are called to believe the message of the angel. This is more implied that anything else, but the first and most important response to the message of Easter is to believe it is true, to believe in the one it proclaims, Jesus Christ. It is as simple as receiving what has already been done. Jesus has died and risen for you. Receive and believe. I think the women tremble and are bewildered and afraid precisely because they believe it is true and they have begun to grasp its significance. So the first response is to believe the message: He has risen. He is not here.

Second, we are called to go. But go, tell the disciples and Peter. The message of the resurrection moves us. The resurrection requires reach out to others. We cannot hear and believe and stay put. We cannot hear and believe and sit back as if nothing has changed. Go, the angel says. The women who have stood at the empty tomb and beheld where he lay were sent out and sent by the angel of God to very specific people.

And third, we are called to tell. But go, tell the disciples and Peter. Sending means speaking. They were send out with a message to proclaim, good news to share. Jesus Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! What Jesus has accomplished through his death and resurrection is a message to be shared. It is the good news in a bad news world. It is the one true hope in a world being devoured by despair and fear. Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

So brothers and sisters, friends, all you who hear this message: Hear the good news! Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Believe this good news and receive forgiveness and and eternal life. Go into all the world and tell the mighty acts of God – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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