The first Easter started early. It began before daybreak. A small group of women rose before dawn to anoint the body of a man who had been killed three days before. A man executed for sedition and killed by crucifixion. A man denied a proper burial and briskly laid in a tomb because the Sabbath was fast approaching. These women had left their beds before sunrise to now give Jesus a proper burial – to anoint his body with spices and finish the job that Joseph of Arimathea had started three days earlier. These brave and bold women had unfinished business to attend to. They wanted to give Jesus more dignity in death.
In many ways, the whole of Mark’s Gospel is also unfinished business at the end of chapter 15. If you can remember right back to Mark chapter 1, verse 1, you will remember that Mark made the bold claim there that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. Surely his story can’t end with chapter 15 and the shameful death of his hero. Surely the Cross of Calvary can’t be the conclusion for the life of God’s Son? How could a man who calmed a storm, healed the sick and exorcised evil spirits succumb to a Roman execution? What an anti-climax to Mark’s great Gospel that would be!
More generally, this whole world, every human life, is unfinished business too, isn’t it? Every human life contains sin and sadness as well as joy and delight. Every human existence on Earth ends in death, rather than unending life. Death and sin put a black mark against every human being hat has ever lived, they make every human life look like unfinished business, they mean we all have blemished record in God’s sight at least.
Wonderfully, what happened on the first Easter morning completed and satisfied each one of these three unfinished stories:
- For a start, the resurrection of Jesus made the women’s early-morning expedition far more worthwhile, far more significant, they they ever expected it to be. The events of Easter morning put the names of Mary Magdelene and her companions famous forever.
- The resurrection of Jesus also draws Mark’s Gospel to a fitting conclusion. It substantiates Mark’s claim that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God who could overcome every obstacle in his path, even death itself.
- And thirdly, the resurrection of Jesus means that every human life need not be unfinished business. It means that death doesn’t have to have the last word over any of us. It means our guilt before God go away for good. Our record in the eyes of our Creator can be wiped clean forever.
So as we look at Mark 16 this morning, I want to reassure you that the Resurrection really happened, I want to persuade you that the resurrection really matters, and I want to encourage us to tell others that the resurrection has occurred.
- The Resurrection really happened!
Firstly, the great news is that Easter really happened. Its not make-believe or a made-up myth. Mark, the author of our Gospel was a contemporary of Jesus and knew some of his closest friends. In fact, in all probability, Mark’s Gospel provides the apostle Peter’s perspective on the life of Christ. It provides eye-witnesses evidence that we can take on trust. Indeed, Peter was prepared to die for his faith in Christ’s resurrection. I have seen Carravagio’s powerful painting of Peter’s own execution in Rome. An execution (of being crucified upside down) that Peter would never have endured if he knew Christ’s resurrection was a lie.
But perhaps Peter and Mark made a mistake? A well-intentioned error about Jesus’ return from the dead?! Can we really be sure that Jesus really did rise from the grave? Let’s consider the alternatives for a moment:
Firstly, perhaps the body of Jesus had been stolen from the tomb? Perhaps robbers had taken his body away. That would explain why the tomb was empty. But that doesn’t explain why Peter and the disciples subsequently said they had seen him alive. And why would anyone try to steal a dead body? It would have been heavy and smelly, with no value to anyone.
So Christ’s body can’t have been stolen. But perhaps Jesus’ first friends were just day-dreaming and imagined that they saw him? But that can’t be right either, can it? Because the Bible tells us there were lots of people who saw Jesus alive – including over 500 on one occasion. So many people can’t all have imagined the same thing – five hundred is far too many to have been simultaneously day-dreaming!
Or maybe, just maybe, the disciples did all really see someone, but it was just a ghost? But that’s not right either, because the Bible says Jesus let his friends touch him, and you can’t touch a ghost! The risen Jesus ate a fish in front of them for breakfast to prove that he was real. He also showed them his hands and his feet, with the hole marks where he had been nailed to the cross.
There are lots of other ways people have tried to explain away Easter. But none of them works. None of them fully fits the facts. We can be confident that Easter really happened. Easter is a fact, not an April fool. Jesus really did rise from the dead!
- The Resurrection really matters!
But so what? Why does the resurrection of Jesus really matter? The resurrection matters because it means “Jesus is the Christ”, because it means “Forgiveness is possible” and because it means “Death is defeated.” Let’s briefly look at those three things in turn:
- Jesus IS the Christ!
Firstly, the resurrection is God’s stamp of approval on Jesus. Its God way of saying he agreed with everything that Jesus said and did. By raising him from the dead, God shows us that Mark was not exaggerating at the start of his Gospel, when he said that Jesus was the Christ, God’s one and only Son. And if Jesus is the Christ, it means we must listen to his words and should do what he says. It means his words have abiding authority, they are words we can trust and obey.
- Forgiveness IS possible!
Secondly, Christ’s resurrection means forgiveness is possible. It shows that Jesus fully paid off our debt to God on the cross. When he raised Jesus back to life God was showing that his Son’s sacrifice had really wiped our slate clean, that Christ’s crucifixion really had paid the penalty for our sin, that guilty men and women really could become God’s forgiven friends forever.
- Death IS defeated!
Thirdly, and perhaps most wonderfully, the resurrection means that death is defeated. The grave could not hold Jesus for long, and one day all Christians will be given renewed bodies just like Jesus’. Bodies that will never again grow old, with hair that will never recede or even go grey! On the first Easter day God breathed new life into Jesus’ dead body. The Bible says that, one day, God will breath new life into us, and into the whole world in which we live. Jesus resurrection was a wonderful foretaste of the resurrection every Christian can look forward to. A glorious prototype of the glory we ourselves will one day enjoy forever.
- The Resurrection really needs to be told!
At the end of our reading this morning we are told that the women were frightened, and told no one what they had seen and heard. Many Christians today have a similar feeling. We believe that Christ has risen, but we are fearful of telling others and so stay silent. We too are fearful of being mocked or even abused because of our faith.
But thankfully those women did not stay silent. They did tell the disciples what they had seen and heard, and so became the first witnesses to the resurrection. Their words led to the birth of the church and the worldwide growth of the Gospel. If they had stayed silent we would never have heard the news of the empty tomb. Our lives would have seemed like so much unfinished business.
So let’s follow the women’s great example and tell our family, friends and neighbours the Good News that Christ is Risen. Let those we know feel the joy and hope that comes from realising that Jesus is alive. As those famous women came to realise, the resurrection is far too important to keep to yourself!
Let’s pray: Lord Jesus, thank that you are our risen King, our saviour and our friend. Help us to trust you for the future, and tell our friends and families about you. Amen.