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April 9, 30 AD

Tom Pennington • Mark 16:1-8

  • 2013-09-29 PM
  • The Memoirs of Peter
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You know that it was on Friday almost 2,000 years ago that at nine a.m. Jesus was crucified. Six hours later at three o'clock in the afternoon, at the time of the afternoon sacrifice, as the Passover lambs were being slain, Jesus yielded up His spirit and died, even as the veil in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom—God opening up access and letting us in.

During the three hours from His death until sunset, about six p.m. on that Friday, there was a flurry of activity. As we studied recently, Joseph of Arimathea, one of the council members, went and requested Jesus' body, and Pilate granted him custody. Joseph and his fellow council member, Nicodemus, then took Jesus' body and hastily prepared it for burial. They placed His body in the newly dug tomb near the site of crucifixion just outside the wall of the city of Jerusalem, probably today located in what we call the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

There were two ladies who witnessed the burial. They went home on that Friday afternoon before sunset and hastily began to prepare spiced anointing oil, because that was the one part of Jesus' burial that was left undone. It was an external anointing to prepare the body and to simply express their love and care, to mask the odor of decay.

Then sunset came, and with sunset on Friday the Sabbath began. And of course, with the Sabbath came specific rules. During that day from sunset till sunset, Friday night to Saturday night, Jesus' disciples rested as the Sabbath law demanded. But something else happened on Saturday. On Saturday the leaders of the Jews remembered Jesus' claims that He would rise again on the third day, and so the leaders approached Pilate and asked that a guard would be posted at His tomb (You can read about that in Matthew 27). They wanted a guard to ensure that the disciples didn't come and steal the body and say that He had been raised. With such a high-profile corpse as that of Jesus, it is very likely that the larger guard that was sometimes stationed was there, likely 12 soldiers assigned to this detail. That meant there were three soldiers always on duty during each watch of the night while the other nine slept. And so, they watched.

Now that brings us to early Sunday morning. Turn with me to Mark's Gospel, chapter 16, as we have worked our way through this magnificent gospel. We've seen Christ's glory on display. But perhaps nowhere is His glory more on display than in a passage where we never even see Him, and that is the resurrection. Let's read it together. Mark 16, beginning in verse 1:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, brought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. They were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?" Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large. Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going head of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.'" [Then] they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The passage we have just read could not stand more large in our faith, because the Christian faith rests on one historical event: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was raised from the dead on the third day after He was crucified, dying in the place of sinners, enduring the wrath of God for everyone who would ever believe. If Jesus Christ stayed dead, then it means that He was nothing but a fraud and Christianity is nothing but a joke. Absolutely everything we believe hinges on the reality of the resurrection. That's why all four gospel writers record the historical account of the resurrection. And they each approach it differently, but they each approach it with a similar goal in mind. And that is to show us that the resurrection is not a part of legend, but rather, it is a historical event that actually occurred in space and time. If the timeline we have traced is correct, then it means that Jesus actually died on Friday, AD April 7th, 30, and He was alive again on Sunday, AD April 9th, 30. And today, as you and I sit here, He is just as alive today, as a human being and as God, as you are. Just as alive. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a fiction, it's not a fantasy, it's not a modern myth, it's not a legend, it happened in human history in an actual place and at an actual time. That's what we need to understand as we approach this text tonight.

I want us to study Mark's account together, and He begins his record with the first witnesses of the resurrection. He explains to us who these witnesses are in verses 1 and 2. As we examine these first witnesses, I want us to, first of all, consider who it was that came to the tomb. Verse 1 says, "When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome." Stop there for a moment. You know what's remarkable to me, is that for reasons known only to God, there were no human witnesses of the actual resurrection event, that is of Jesus' human soul reuniting with a glorified human body. But there were many witnesses, more than 500, of the reality of the resurrection. But the very first witnesses were these women.

Who are they? Well first of all, there's Mary Magdalene. We met her last time. She's the woman out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons and who had become His devoted disciple. She loved our Lord and remained faithful to Him. In fact, John tells us that later, on resurrection morning, Jesus appeared to her specifically there at the place of the tomb. Secondly, there was Mary the mother of James, Marks says. Now, if you look back in verse 40 of chapter 15, this same woman is called the "mother of James the Less and Joses." And in verse 47 of that same chapter, she's called the "Mary the mother of Joses." So, this is Mary. That's really all we know about her is who her boys were. The third woman—by the way, in Matthew she's called the "other Mary," that particular Mary. The third woman who came to the tomb is Salome. In Matthew's gospel, she's called the "mother of the Sons of Zebedee." In other words, she was the mother of James and John. As we discovered last time, she's probably Mary's sister; that is, Jesus' mother's sister, and therefore she is Jesus' aunt. Luke adds two other designations. He says Joanna was there, Luke 24:10. That's all we know about this woman. And Luke adds this: "also the other women." When you put all of the accounts together, we know that there were at least five women in this early morning trek to the tomb, and possibly more, but at least five.

It's really ironic, isn't it, that the first witnesses of the resurrection were women in light of the low view of women that was accepted at that time? Their testimony, according to the Jewish rabbis, was not even allowed in court. For more than 200 years after the resurrection event, Christians were still being criticized for putting their confidence in the witness of women. (Of course, there were many others, but that's how the Christian faith was ridiculed.) But in God's providence they were the first witnesses.

Now, we've seen who it was that came to the tomb that morning, but let's consider why they came. As we think about these first witnesses, what were they coming to do? Notice again verse 1: "When the Sabbath was over, [these three women] bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him." Their purpose was to come to the tomb and anoint Jesus.

You see, the Jews did not embalm, never did, but they washed the body of the dead person—which they certainly did with Jesus, although it's not mentioned in the text. It was such a crucial part of the burial that the rabbi said it could even be done on the Sabbath. Then they would wrap the body with cloth and intermingled between those layers of cloth (in Jesus' case, linen cloth) would be spices. Nicodemus, the wealthy member of the Sanhedrin, we learned last time, brought 72 pounds of spices, and they were wrapped in the folds of that cloth as they bound it around Jesus' body.

They also, typically, anointed the body with aromatic oil. You will remember, if you're familiar with the Scripture, and if you remember now some time ago when we studied Mark 14, Mary had done that very thing. She had anointed Jesus' body for burial a week early, on that Saturday night of the feast at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany. Jesus said, "Leave her alone, she's doing it for My burial." But it was not done on that Friday afternoon, and they want to prepare—notice the word in verse 1— "spices." From the Greek word for "spices," we get our English word "aroma." It refers to any substance that's fragrant. In this case, because it's linked with anointing, it's specifically aromatic oil, probably an olive oil base with fragrant spices added into it.

Now what was the point of this aromatic oil? Well, it was both an expression of love on behalf of the family, often it was some expense involved, and practically, it was used to mask the stench of decay as the body began the process of decaying. These women had watched Joseph and Nicodemus hurriedly prepare the body of Jesus on Friday afternoon. And because they noticed that the anointing had not been done in the haste to get Jesus buried before sunset, before the Sabbath began it was not done, they committed themselves, because of their love and devotion to Jesus, to do it. And so that's what they came to do. They needed to get there very early. They were fully aware that because of the mid-eastern heat and because of the day that had elapsed that the process of decay, if it had not already begun, soon would. The very fact that they are coming to anoint Jesus' dead body makes it clear that these women at this point have no hope, no anticipation, of a resurrection. They believe that the death of Jesus Christ was both real and final. They came to prepare His body for the inevitable decay that they knew would come.

When did they come to the tomb? Well according to Luke, on Friday evening before sunset. So, after Jesus' death at three, before sunset around six and the Sabbath began, these women had begun to prepare their spices and their perfumes to finish the anointing of Jesus' body. Luke 23 says this:

Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and [they] saw the tomb and [they saw] how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes. And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

so, sometime after seeing Jesus buried, and in that short window of time before sunset, they began the process of preparing their spices.

Now, that brings us to verse 1 of Mark 16: "When the Sabbath was over, [these woman] bought spices." Sabbath began at sunset on Friday night, continued through sunset Saturday, so this is now Saturday night after sunset. In that day, just as it happens today, if you ever visit Israel you'll see this, when Sabbath ends at sunset on Saturday evening the city comes to life. The markets open and everything happens. And that's exactly what happens with these women. When sunset hits on Friday evening, they realize that while they had begun the process of collecting their spices and anointing oils, they don't have enough, and so they need to go and buy some more. And Mark says they went and bought additional spices in order to prepare.

Verse 2 says, "Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen." Now, putting the accounts together, it works like this. John says that the women left their homes in the city while it was still dark. Mark tells us that they arrived at the tomb just after sunrise. Sometime before they arrived at the tomb, however, God had already provided a testimony to the resurrection. Turn back to Matthew's gospel, Matthew 28. Matthew 28 and verse 2. Verse 1 gives us the same context:

After the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, [they] came to look at the grave. And behold, [verse 2 says] a severe earthquake had [already] occurred.

A severe earthquake. You remember, there had been an earthquake on Friday afternoon at the moment of Jesus' death. Matthew tells us that there's another quake early Sunday morning, and he says it was a "severe" quake. It had happened before the women arrived. It had occurred when they had, before they had arrived there. In fact, Matthew connects this earthquake to the action of an angel. Look at verse 2, how it continues: "For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it." The earthquake accompanied the arrival of a supernatural being sent from the presence of God Himself. Undoubtedly, the guards that had been placed on duty guarding the tomb were all awakened by the earthquake. Notice what happens to these Roman guards when the angel appears. Look at verse 4: "The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men."

This is the scene upon which these women arrived. It was these faithful, loyal women who would become the first human witnesses to the resurrection. Not only does this passage—I want you to think about this with me—not only does this passage elevate, as the rest of the New Testament does, the place of women, but ironically, the fact that the testimony of women was not generally accepted in the first century also gives the gospel record of the resurrection a ring of genuineness and authenticity. In the first century—think about this—in the first century, if you wanted people to accept a fictional resurrection, the last people in the world you would have as the witnesses of it would have been a group of women. Perhaps God chose them because of their faithfulness and their loyalty to Christ, even when most of the disciples had fled. You remember, after Jesus' arrest all 11 disciples ran. Peter and John came back. Peter followed for a while and then denied his Lord. John stayed at the site of the crucifixion through the process until he took Mary, Jesus' mother, home. But this faithful group of women, they were always there. John tells us, in the very early hours of the crucifixion, they were standing right next to the cross. And they remained there through the three hours of darkness until the moment of His death, because Mark tells us back in Mark chapter 15, verse 40, that they were still there: "There were also some women looking on from a distance" who witnessed His death. And down in verse 47 of Mark 15, there were two of them who watched that afternoon to see where and how His body was buried. So that means that these women could provide testimony to Jesus' crucifixion, to His genuine death, to His burial, and where the tomb exactly was.

But it wasn't exactly an easy grave to miss. The record tells us that Joseph's tomb was near the site of the crucifixion. It was a new grave carved into limestone rock. In other words, it was a high-priced burial spot. Only a handful of those kinds of tombs have been discovered by archaeologists in Israel. This was a very prominent, influential man in whose tomb Jesus was buried. It wasn't easily missed. It was surrounded by a garden; it was marked by a distinctive stone that rolled to close it. Again, that's not common, only the tombs of the very wealthy had that. And even as Isaiah had prophesied, He would be buried with "a rich man" in His death, associated with the rich in His death. So, there was no chance of them going to the wrong tomb, because there weren't but a handful of tombs like that in Jerusalem in the first century. This one was right next to the site of crucifixion. They watched Jesus' body placed in it, and God gave these five-plus women a front row seat to history's greatest event.

Now that brings us to the first evidences of the resurrection. In verses 3 through 7 of this chapter, Mark provides us with a series of evidences that Jesus really was raised from the dead. The first piece of evidence is "the stone rolled away." Notice verse 3: "They were saying to one another, 'Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?'" As the women made their way to the grave that morning, as they left their homes in the city just before daylight and they're walking on the way, Mark tells us that they were discussing how they were going to remove the stone from the entrance of the tomb. They hadn't considered this prior to that (probably their grief), and they weren't used to such wealthy tombs. And so, they're struck with the problem.

There's a great rendering—this is, first of all, a picture of a garden tomb in Jerusalem. This is not the place where Jesus was buried, but this is a picture of a place that would be very similar to where He was buried. But here's a rendering, an artist's rendering, of Jesus' tomb based on archaeological evidence of that kind of tomb that was built in the first century. You can see that there was a small door, and in front of that small door there was a large stone that rolled and covered the doorway letting you into a hole that had been cut in the rock. And down into the floor there would have been a recessed area for walking. And around the side there would've typically been three places on which to place bodies, shelves, if you will, on which the corpses were placed. They would be placed there as they had been prepared, and their bodies would be left there for about a year. After a year's time, the family would come back, collect the bones now that the flesh was gone, and they would put the bones in a bone box, an ossuary. And the site could be used for other burials. This tomb had never been used. It was completely new, and Jesus' body was placed on one of those shelves around the wall of this cutout place in the limestone.

Now, in order to cover the entrance to the tomb, to have an opening large enough for a person to enter, the stone would have had to been at least 3½ feet in diameter, and probably 4½ feet in diameter. It would have weighed many of hundreds of pounds. In addition (as I mentioned last week) the stone usually rolled in a groove that slanted down to the tomb's opening. In other words, rolling it into place was downhill, but if you wanted to roll it away from the entrance, it required rolling that giant stone, consisting of several hundred pounds, uphill.

There were at least five women on their way to the tomb that morning, but they concluded among themselves that it would be impossible for them to move it. And so, they're worried about what they're going to do. They didn't know about the guard that had been stationed, probably. There's no record that Jesus' disciples knew of that, and word had spread to them. And so they're perplexed: what will we do? Verse 4: "Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away." As they entered the garden—and it's possible that in that limestone outcropping the grave was slightly elevated; we can't be sure, but the language seems to imply that. But as they entered the garden, as they see the tomb, they saw that the stone had been rolled away although it was extremely large. The implication of the wording in the Greek text, both in Matthew and in John's Gospel, is that the angels didn't simply roll the stone in its track away from the opening; instead, they removed it from its track, and they left it lying on its side. And at least one of the angels sat on top of it.

Now, it's important to understand why the angels moved the stone. It was not to let Jesus out. There's no indication that Jesus was anywhere to be seen. In His glorified body Jesus could pass through walls, as we see in John's Gospel when He surprises the disciples. In fact, after the angels open the grave, there was no sign of Jesus. He was already gone. He had left the tomb while the stone was still in place. The angels opened the grave to let witnesses in, so that we could see, so that the world could see, that Jesus was no longer there.

The second piece of evidence that we see in this account is the angelic messengers in verse 5: "Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed." Again, just to remind you of what that would have been like. The entrance of the tomb would have been quite low. John tells us that he himself had to stoop down in order to look inside the entrance, in John 20, verse 5. At most, the entrance to the tomb would have been about 4 feet high. And so, one by one, these five-plus ladies stoop down and enter into Jesus' tomb. And when they get inside, what they see frightens them, because entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting at the right wearing a white robe. This is an angel. Both Luke and John tell us that there were actually two angels that morning. But Matthew and Mark only mention the one who was the spokesman. The truth is, as Peter tells us, the angels love to look into the truth of the gospel. There were probably thousands of angels witnessing that event that morning.

Notice what these angels look like. The one who's described here by Mark is described as a "young man . . . wearing a white robe." The Greek word for "robe" describes a long, flowing, formal robe worn by priests and dignitaries. It speaks of nobility. Matthew tells us in his account that the angel's "appearance was like lightening"; the appearance of each of the angels was like a blazing light, and his clothing was "white as snow." Get the picture. Imagine the shock. No wonder verse 5 says "and they were amazed." Only Mark uses this Greek word in the New Testament. It refers to strong fear and emotional agitation in response to something extraordinary. It means they were overwhelmed in a sense of awe and fear combined with wonder.

There's a third piece of evidence from that morning. Not only was the stone rolled away, not only were there angelic messengers, but there was also Jesus' own prophecy. Look at verse 6: "[The angel] said to them, 'Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen.'" He has risen. Compare that with Matthew's record. Matthew 28, verses 5 and 6: "The angel said to the woman, 'Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified.'" He obviously knew why they were there. "He is not here, for He has risen, [watch this] just as He said." Just as He said. Luke puts it this way in his gospel record. Luke 24, verses 5 through 8:

As the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again." And they remembered His words.

Before this, their grief had hidden that reality from them. Perhaps God Himself had hidden it from them, but in that moment, they remembered: Jesus prophesied His own death, His own burial, His own resurrection, in precise terms. And we've studied that together in the Gospel of Mark.

The angel said, "He's risen." Literally, "He has been raised." It's a divine passive: the Father raised Him. Ultimately, Scripture is clear, and if I had time, I would take you and show you that all three members of the Trinity were involved in the resurrection. But just to make sure there's no confusion, notice how the angel states it: he says this is "Jesus the Nazarene," this is the Jesus who was "crucified." And in Matthew's Gospel he says, "This is the Jesus who has been raised from the dead." The Greek text says, "out of the dead ones." He was truly dead, just as He said. The disciples were surprised by the resurrection, but they shouldn't have been. From the beginning of His ministry Jesus had predicted His resurrection, and the angel now reminds them: don't forget, this is exactly what Jesus said would happen. These two supernatural beings, whom God sent to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea that morning, add their testimony to the testimony of the others.

There's a fourth piece of evidence that was presented that morning. Not only was the stone rolled away, the angelic messengers, Jesus' own prophecy, but the empty tomb. Verse 6 says, "He is not here; [and watch this] behold, here is the place where they laid Him." Matthew says, "Come, see the place where He was lying." What did they see? When they looked inside that tomb, what did they see? Well, we know what they saw, because later Peter and John go to the tomb, and John tells us exactly what they saw. Here's John 20, verse 6: "Simon Peter also came, following [John], and entered the tomb." And here's what they saw, and here's what the ladies saw a little earlier that same morning:

He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.

The point is that, clearly, what had happened inside of Jesus' grave was not the work of grave robbers. But at the same time, the body was gone. The combination of the empty tomb, and the orderly appearance of the grave clothes, cause John, when he saw it, to believe that Jesus had been raised. Don't you wish we could have a photograph of what they saw? But what they saw revolutionized their lives: they died martyr's deaths for their resurrected Lord. Don't ever underestimate the importance of the empty tomb.

Thirty-six hours before this, two members of Israel's Sanhedrin had quickly prepared the body of Jesus, and they had placed it in the grave that belonged to one of them. Two credible witnesses belonging to Israel's highest judicial body confirmed that Jesus was dead, that they prepared His body for burial, that they put it in one of the tombs that belonged to them, and then that they sealed it, that they closed it with a stone. The women had watched them put Jesus' body in the tomb, had watched them seal it with a stone. So, there were four witnesses of that reality. Less than 24 hours before the resurrection, 12 Roman soldiers had come to the site of the burial. They had moved that stone, validated that the body was still in there, because if it wasn't and they said it was, the body showed up gone, they would be responsible for its removal. And so they move the stone, they confirmed that the body is still in the grave, they close the stone, they seal it, and they stamp that piece of wax with the governor's signet ring. And then they stand guard around the clock.

But now the tomb is empty. In fact, for 400 years after Jesus, no one—Listen to that again—for 400 years after Jesus Christ, no one, not even His enemies, denied that the tomb was empty. So where was Jesus' body? That question answers every single critic of the resurrection. Where was Jesus' body? There are only three options. Either His enemies took it—but if they took it, then why didn't they furnish it when Jesus' disciples began to claim that He'd been raised? The other option is, well, His disciples took it. Really? Have you read the gospel records? They were too frightened to do so. They were hiding in fear. Besides, 10 of the 11 remaining disciples ended up dying as martyrs claiming the resurrection was true. That's not how frauds respond to the threat of death. So, the disciples didn't take it. The only other option is that Jesus was truly raised from the dead. He had been raised by the power of God. He is alive. In Revelation chapter 1, verse 18, Jesus appeared to the Apostle John on the Island of Patmos 60 years later, and this is what Jesus said to John: "I am . . . the living One; . . . I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of [the grave]."

In verse seven of Mark's Gospel in chapter 16, there is one more strand of evidence. It's the evidence of the post-resurrection appearances. In light of the reality of the resurrection, the angel tells the women in verse 7, "Go, tell His disciples and Peter." You know, there is amazing grace in that, isn't there? In spite of their desertion of Jesus Christ, the angel still says they are "His" disciples. And he adds—Don't you love this? —go tell the disciples, and make sure you also tell Peter. That comes directly from our Lord. It is His grace to Peter. He's essentially saying, Peter, I know what you did, I know that you denied Me, but you're still Mine, you're still one of My disciples, I want you to come. The angel says, "He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you." In Galilee Jesus would appear to the apostles and to a crowd, according to 1 Corinthians 15, of more than 500 people at one time. Not exactly hallucination material. And so, the women left the angel and went to find the apostles.

We know from John's Gospel that a few minutes later Jesus appeared for the first time after His resurrection. He appeared to Mary Magdalene at the tomb. After His appearance to Mary, Jesus then appeared to these same women, as Matthew records it in chapter 28: "Behold, Jesus met them and greeted them." In other words, He said, "Good morning."

And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me."

This was just the beginning of the post resurrection appearances. Those are crucial to the gospel message. Jesus was not a phantom; He was truly raised from the dead. And there were witnesses, more than 500 people at one time. There were countless appearances. There were appearances in Galilee. There were appearances in Judea. There were appearances to men and to women. And those validate the reality of the resurrection.

So how did people first respond to the resurrection? What was the first response to the resurrection? Notice verse 8: "They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." These women left the tomb and fled. And it says they trembled: "for trembling . . . had gripped them." This was their physical response. They were literally, physically trembling. And they were in shock: "For . . . astonishment had gripped them." The Greek word is ekstasis, from which we get the word "ecstasy." They were literally, the text says, beside themselves, they were outside of themselves. They were out of their minds, if you will, with shock. And they were speechless. For a time, they simply couldn't speak. "They said nothing." The Greek is fine with double negatives, so it actually says, "they said nothing to nobody." (Works for me.) And "they were afraid." Probably a combination of real fear (they have just encountered angelic beings, powerful beings), reverential awe, because of the message that had been delivered to them. You know, whenever God intervenes in history either directly or through angels, the first human response is always what? Fear. Overwhelming fear. In addition, in the Gospel of Mark, fear is always the reaction when people get a glimpse of the real Jesus in His glory. One commentator writes of this verse:

With his closing comment, Mark wishes to say that the gospel of Jesus the Messiah is an event beyond human comprehension, and therefore awesome and frightening. "For they were afraid" is most appropriate as a conclusion to this account.

But Matthew adds another element. He says, "They left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy." With fear and great joy, and they ran to report it to His disciples. That's the historical record of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The question we need to ask as we conclude our time together tonight is, what does the resurrection mean? What does it mean? Why is it so important? What does it affirm? Well first of all, it affirms that Jesus the Messiah's claims are true. When you come to the record of the Book of Acts, when you come to the early church and the sermons of the Apostles, what you discover is they come back to the resurrection to make one basic point: and that is that Jesus and His claims have been validated. How? By the resurrection. Listen to Peter on the Day of Pentecost. Acts chapter 2, verse 24: "God raised Him up again, putting an end to agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power." Verse 36: "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord [Kurious] and Christ [Messiah]—this Jesus whom you crucified." Over and over again you see that record in the Book of Acts. The resurrection proves to you that Jesus is everything He claimed to be. You see, everything that we believe ultimately goes back to the integrity and credibility of Jesus Christ.

But how do we know His claims are true? Because Jesus staked His own credibility on one great reality. Everything He did, and everything He taught, all His claims, are ultimately based on one event: the reality of the resurrection. You remember in John chapter 2, early in His ministry when Jesus cleansed the temple, just as He was beginning His ministry? They asked Him, by whose authority are You doing this? What's Your right? And Jesus said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." And John tells us, "He was speaking of the temple of His body." So, early in His ministry Jesus said, you want My credentials? Here are my credentials: you're going to kill Me, and in three days I will come to life. That's My evidence. That's My credential. That's My authority. If there is a grave in the Middle East with the body of Jesus of Nazareth in it, then our faith is absolutely worthless. But if Jesus was raised from the dead as the evidence, first century and otherwise, clearly demonstrates, then everything He said about Himself, and everything He taught about God and man and heaven and hell and salvation and how to be right with God is to be embraced as the truth of God Himself.

What are you going to do with Jesus Christ? How else does God have to prove to you who His Son really was? If you live your life here without embracing Jesus Christ as Lord and you stand at the judgment, you will have nothing to say, because God has done everything He ought to do, everything He could do, to show you this is My Son, the Son I love, listen to Him. That's why the resurrection is so central to the Christian faith, it proves His claims are all true.

Secondly, the resurrection is essential because it means the Father accepted Jesus' death for sins. I love the way Paul puts it in Romans 4: "He was delivered over because of our transgressions." In other words, He died for our transgressions, and He "was raised [to seal] our justification." That's why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:17, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; [And listen to this] you are still in your sins." Jesus, in the resurrection, when God raised Him from the dead, God said, I accepted what He did for sinners. Because He is raised, you don't have to fear that God won't accept His sacrifice in your place. If you're a follower of Jesus Christ, when you stand at the judgment, the only evidence you will need is the risen Christ.

The third great meaning behind the resurrection is that someday Jesus will be the judge of every human being. Paul makes this point, in terms of the resurrection, on Mars Hill in Athens, the city of Athens. You remember that famous sermon. He concludes it with these words Acts 17:31: God, the creator God, the one who made you and made everything, "Has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness [and He's going to do that judgment] through a Man . . . He has appointed, [and He's] furnished proof . . . by raising Him from the dead." Listen, someday you will stand before Jesus Christ. It's a guaranteed certainty. The only question is, will you stand before Him as one who has already acknowledged Him as Lord and Master and Savior and be received by Him, or will you stand before Him as one who has rejected Him your entire life in spite of everything God has done to demonstrate the reality of who He is? But stand before Him you will, and God proved it to you by raising Him from the dead. The question for all of us is, what do you do with Jesus? I trust for most of us we've already received Him, we already accept Him as Lord and Savior, we follow Him. For you, how do you respond to the resurrection?

I want you to look at one last verse with me. Look at 1 Corinthians chapter 15. Here's how you respond. Chapter 15 is all about the resurrection, Jesus' resurrection, and in light of that, our resurrection in the future. How do you respond? Verse 58: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your [labor here it's] not in vain." He beat death, and He's your Lord. Because He lives, you will live also. Let's pray together.

Our Father, we are beyond our ability here. We are out of our league in looking at and studying the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But Father, I pray that Your Spirit would take Your Word and make it real in all of our hearts. Lord, help us to see the historical record, to deal with the historical record, to respond to the truth of who Jesus was. Father, thank You that You validated all of His claims by raising Him from the dead, and You proved to us that You had accepted His sacrifice for our sins. He paid the debt in full, and You raised Him from the dead for our justification. Father, we also acknowledge the sobering reality that because You raised Him from the dead, You have given proof to all men everywhere that someday they will stand before Jesus Christ as judge. Lord, I pray for those here tonight who don't know Jesus Christ, may this be the night that before their head hits the pillow, they bow their knees to You and to Your Son and acknowledge His right to rule them. We pray it in Jesus' name, Amen.

The Memoirs of Peter