This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Mark 16:1-8
Sermon by Rev. Richard T. VanderVaart, Wallaceburg, Ontario
Easter is not a once-a-year event. As we read scripture we realize ‘in Christ’ we receive newness of life that unfolds and fills all our living. It is important to consider the significance of Easter throughout the year. In fact, far from the commercials for chocolate Easter Bunnies and ads for Easter clothing sales—in this time of the year it might be easier to hear the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection in a new and fresh way.
There’s a men’s trio called: Phillips, Craig and Dean. They sing: “He’ll Do Whatever It Takes.” Here’s the beginning of the song:
You don’t know just how far away from home I’ve been/
She said as she looked into my eyes/
Could it be I’ve strayed beyond mercy’s outstretched hand/
And now His grace no longer stoops to hear my cry/
You see, I just want to know/Tell me how far will He go/
Will He still reach to me in spite of where I’ve been/
And I told her…/He’ll do whatever, whatever it takes/
His grace reaches lower than your worst mistake/
And His love will run farther than you can run away, my friend/
He’ll do whatever, whatever it takes/ He’ll do whatever it takes
[ Dan Dean©1994 Dawn Treader Music (admin. By EMI Christian Music Pub.)]
All of us carry our own impression of what we expect God to be like. We imagine there are things He will accept, and other things He will not accept. Growing up we’ve witnessed what is taboo and what would drive people from the church. We think there must be sins we can confess and sins that are far beyond the pale. Like the woman in the song, we can sometimes wonder deep in our hearts—have I strayed beyond mercy’s outstretched hand? Jesus’ resurrection shatters our expectations. Jesus’ resurrection enlarges our vision of the work and triumph of Christ. Jesus’ resurrection challenges our narrow view of God and requires us to see and live something larger.
The ladies heading towards Jesus’ tomb were absorbed in their own grief and weighted down with sadness. They’d seen Jesus crucified. They followed the procession that carried Jesus’ body from the cross to the place where Jesus was buried. All their expectations were shattered. As a final act of love they are prepared to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. All their pictures of what the Messiah ‘must be’ have been torn away. Now they are left with their grief. Trudging to the tomb they ask: “How will we get into the tomb to anoint Jesus? Who will roll away the stone?” The cave had been carved out of the hillside and there was a huge stone set in a groove so that could it be rolled back and forth to allow for the burial of others. You get the impression from Mark the women are pretty close and suddenly they realize the stone is already rolled away. Bravely they go right into the cave and look around.
There’s an angel [it’s the white robe that gives him away]. Grief and sadness turn to fear. Not so surprising. Angels are impressive beings. They are sent out to do God’s bidding. In the Gospel of Luke, around the time of Jesus’ birth, angels appeared to Zechariah and Mary and the Shepherds. Every time the angel appeared he began by saying: “Do not be afraid.” So, now the two Mary’s and Salome see this angel and they’re afraid. Well, you might wonder will the angel’s words soothe their fears and drive away their alarm? No. In fact, the angel’s words are going to continue to challenge old expectations, shatter old understandings and require the women—and all who follow afterwards—to put the pieces of Jesus’ resurrection together.
In his commentary, The NIV Application Commentary: Mark, David Garland wryly noted the angel assured these three that they were at the right tomb. The angel said: “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, Who was crucified.” Yes, they have the right tomb; it’s just that Jesus isn’t here. Garland’s more astute observation is that Mark’s Gospel begins and ends with narration. At Mark 1:1 there is a description of Jesus which is followed by a quotation from Malachi 3: The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Each part of that sentence gives important information. Mark will present the beginning, the start of Good News represented by Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Son of God, the Gospel will confirm this. Now at the end of the Gospel it is the angel who narrates. Every part of the angel’s speech is important. These words put shattered lives together. The pieces are knit together in a new way so that Jesus’ followers will understand Who He Is.
- Jesus, Whose Name means: “He saves” has accomplished His work of salvation and now His victory will be applied to all who believe in Him.
- Jesus the Nazarene. Mark 1:9 informs us that Jesus is from the town of Nazareth—a forgotten town that hasn’t been identified in the Old Testament. Peter is accused of being a follower of Jesus. The phrase is: “You also were with that Nazarene Jesus.” [Mark 14:67] It is spoken like an insult. We remember Isaiah 53—Jesus was numbered among the despised. Now we savour this piece of the puzzle. Jesus was despised, forsaken so that we would not ever have to know the wrath of God. His forsakenness means that we have become beloved children of the Living God. We have become His not by natural descent or human decision, but born by the will of God.
- Who was crucified. When you read through the Gospel of Mark you will remember Jesus’ own teaching at chapter 8 verse 31 and following. Jesus spoke of His suffering and his death. He announced that He would have to suffer and die. He bore our curse at Calvary. What He prophesied is fulfilled. The angel, by this simple phrase, called to mind what Jesus Himself had taught. It is important to remember that in the same teaching He promised He’d rise again. The Messiah’s suffering and death did not conform to the disciples’ expectations. The women who had gathered at the tomb did not expect a Jesus with nail-scarred hands and pierced side. As we reflect on the suffering and death of Jesus, we must puzzle over the fact that our sins drove Christ to the cross. Our sins condemned Him to death. The cross is so deeply offensive because it requires us to acknowledge our wickedness, our need and our shame. Jesus did not go to the cross for basically decent people. He went to the cross for those who hated Him, rejected Him and would reject Him still were it not for His Spirit’s work of creating faith in us.
- He is risen! What glorious words. Jesus had repeated the promise of His resurrection at Mark 10:34. You have to wonder how much the women could comprehend. They are still alarmed by the presence of the angel. But the angel’s words continue to deepen the mystery, continue to heighten the alarm. What are we to make of a Messiah Who suffered? What can we understand of a Messiah who will stop at nothing to redeem His own? This Jesus Who calmed the storm, cast out demons and healed the sick is Lord even over death. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is risen. Think of the words of the Philips, Craig and Dean song: “He’ll do whatever it takes/His grace reaches lower than your worst mistake.” Every Sunday we gather for worship is a public declaration of faith and joy: He is risen. Everything has changed because Jesus our Savior has risen.
- Go, tell His disciples. Remember the odd feature of the Gospel of Mark? Jesus healed the man with leprosy and said: “don’t tell anyone” [Mark 1:44]. He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead and gave strict instructions not tell anyone [Mark 5:43]. Joel Marcus noted: “Whereas before those events [the resurrection] Jesus commanded secrecy and open proclamation was disobedience, now Jesus commands open proclamation and secrecy is disobedience”. Now the women have witnessed a miracle—the tomb is empty, Jesus is risen. They are commanded to go and tell the disciples. Before the people would have been tempted to focus on the miracles, not on the One Who saves us. Now that Jesus is risen, the focus is on Him. Go and tell the disciples, tell the world, Jesus Christ is risen. Jesus Christ is the Firstfruit from the dead.
- Go, tell His disciples and Peter. What love and tender compassion has God for His servants. Peter had just denied Jesus. Yet the Messenger of the Lord proclaims the kind, compassionate word of God: “Tell Peter also. This message is for him.” How far will the mercy of God extend? Jesus’ grace extends lower than Peter’s worst mistake. Jesus’ love runs farther than Peter could run away.
- He, Jesus, is going ahead of you into Galilee. Jesus spoke those exact words in Mark 14:28, where He promised: “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” To go ahead means to lead. The expression can be used of a commander leading his army. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leads His disciples. He will go ahead and gather the sheep that had been scattered by His crucifixion. Garland in his commentary on Mark also noted that Jesus has chosen not to return to Jerusalem. The city has missed the day of the Savior’s appearing. The Messenger of the Covenant had come and pronounced judgment. Now the disciples will gather in Galilee. Here’s Garland’s observation: “ Galilee has been the place of calling, faith, compassion, healing, power and authority.” Jesus is going ahead of them; He leads as a commander to the place where they’d been taught so that the discipled will themselves become disciplers.
Mark’s Gospel ends in a strange way. The women fled and didn’t say anything to anyone because they were afraid. The earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark do not have the verses 9 – 20. It is likely they were added by a later hand. Somehow verse 8 seems most truthful, doesn’t it? These women watched where Jesus had been entombed. They’d seen His wrapped body enter and the stone rolled against the mouth of the tomb. After the angel spoke they fled and said nothing. Everything has changed. Their old expectations have burst like old wineskins unable to hold the new wine. Mark’s Gospel ends with the descriptions of Jesus, clues, pieces of the puzzle that help us unpack the glory of Jesus’ resurrection. Obviously the women did speak. At some point, perhaps after mulling over the words of the angel, unpacking the various pieces, the women realized they could not keep silent. The disciples received word.
Bringing It Home…
Mark’s Gospel doesn’t wrap it up all nice and neat for us. Women are alarmed and rendered inarticulate by the events of that first Easter. Jesus has once again gone far beyond comfortable expectations of His followers. Jesus’ resurrection still does that today. It is jarring and requires our full attention and thought.
A note to all the “Peters” among us: the resurrection of Jesus Christ is for you. Jesus’ mercy has officially reached lower than your worst mistake; His love outruns your running away. No sin is beyond Jesus’ reach. Turn and repent. Believe that Jesus has done “whatever it takes” to win us back for God.
For those among us who are ready to despise all “Peters” for their sin and betrayals, consider this: Christ has reached out in love—can we do any less? We know of people who have betrayed our trust. We know the trail of pain and sadness left in their wake—yet the message of Jesus’ resurrection is bewildering and rattles our smug pronouncements of the guilt upon others. Jesus’ resurrection requires us to extend forgiveness as freely and as widely as He does. As fully and extravagantly as we are forgiven in Christ, so extravagantly and fully must we forgiven others.
- Go, tell…we are required to speak. We must speak. When stated this way the fear of the ladies is perfectly understandable. They are too afraid to speak. They realize the disciples will mock, disbelieve or call them hysterical women. Jesus Christ is risen. It is the commission we bear and our joy to bring the Good News of His resurrection to any and all who will listen. We can think of the various reactions of our family members when we proclaim the resurrection with all our might. Your brother might ignore you. Your sister in law might try changing the subject. Coworkers will roll their eyes. But Christ’s resurrection is greater still. Do not be discouraged or give up. The disciples, we learned from the other Gospel accounts, did hear what the women had to say and rushed out to the tomb. We are compelled to speak this Good News to all. It may be that others have spoken before us and now our family member, school-friend or neighbor is ready to hear what you have to say. In a sense, the Gospel of Mark is still being written as faithful followers of Jesus Christ share this news of Jesus’ resurrection far and wide. We are those “faithful followers”. We are called to go and tell of Jesus’ resurrection.
- He goes ahead of us to Galilee. Jesus’ resurrection means that we are disciplers: people who make disciples. We know the Good News. Jesus Christ is risen Lord of Life. He is Salvation’s Spring that wells up to eternal life. As those who rejoice in such news we saturate our children in this glorious news. All of us spend time teaching our little ones to handle money. We instruct them how to fish. We teach them our favorite games and activities. We teach them and train them in basic skills for living. The promise of Jesus’ resurrection is this: He goes ahead of us and prepares times, places and opportunities for instruction. As surely as we spend time teaching and training our little ones in a variety of worthwhile activities, so surely must we disciple our children, training them in the way of the Lord. We must be sensitive to every opportunity to teach and train in the way of our Lord. The fact that Jesus goes ahead of us gives us encouragement and confidence that He will use our efforts so that our children will grow in faith and knowledge.
- Jesus’ resurrection is perfectly alarming still. The words of Christ are vindicated. Everything He said is true. Now, we must deny ourselves. Put to death our old sinful impulses. Then we are daily to take up the cross. Think of what the cross represents: it is the place where our sin is exchanged for Christ’s righteousness and we are clothed in the mercy, kindness and love of Christ. We take up this cross and we are to follow Him. Go wherever He leads. Too often we are perfectly happy with a Sunday only Jesus. One day cannot contain Him even as one tomb could not contain Him. He is greater. As we examine the pieces of Jesus’ resurrection we realize our whole lives are changed and changing. Jesus does not receive a bit or a corner of our lives. He has broken down the old order of things, destroyed the pattern of sin. He is taking the pieces of our lives and has given us a new birth. We have a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and we have received an eternal inheritance that can never spoil or fade. Hallelujah. Glory be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Suggestions for the liturgy:
Call to Worship: Psalm 16
Silent Prayer conclude Hymn # 630 Now Blessed Be the Lord our God
Leader: Let us lift up our hearts.
PEOPLE: We lift them up to the Triune God.
Leader: Lord our God, may Your grace, mercy and peace be ours in overflowing
measure throughout this time of worship. Amen.
Hymn # 146 Praise the Lord! Sing Hallelujah
Call to Confession: Matthew 22:37-40
Unison Prayer of Confession [from the Service of Word and Sacrament, Psalter p. 972]:
Most holy and merciful Father, we confess to you and to one another that we have sinned against you by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart and mind and strength. We have not fully loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not always had in us the mind of Christ. You alone know how often we have grieved you by wasting your gifts, by wandering from your ways, by forgetting your love. Forgive us we pray you, most merciful Father and free us from our sin. Renew in us the grace and strength of your Holy Spirit, for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son, our Savior. Amen.
Assurance of God’s Forgiveness: I John 1:8-10
God’s Rule for Thankful Living: Exodus 20:1-17
Rededicating ourselves to God: Hymn # 405 I Serve a Risen Savior
Prayer for Understanding
Scripture: Mark 16:1-8
Sermon: “Putting the Pieces Together”
Prayer of Application
Hymn # 478 Tell Out My Soul
Hymn # 627 Bless His Holy Name
Leader: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
PEOPLE: We are sent in the powerful Name of Jesus Christ.
Leader: God of power and love, you promise in the Psalms that you hem us in—behind
and before. Through the course of this coming week, make us aware of your
wonderful presence and may we give you all glory, honor and praise.
Hymn # 400:4 Praise the Savior