Shock and Awe at the Empty Tomb
Topic: Easter Passage: Mark 16:1–8
Over 20 years ago, in the summer of 1992, I went on a missions trip to the Ukraine and we had a layover in Moscow that was long enough to see a few sights including visit the mausoleum where the body of Vladimir Lenin is on display.
Lenin died in January, 1924 during a turbulent time in early Soviet history. The remaining Communist leaders were terrified that their regime would come toppling down after his death, so they decided to put his body on display for a week in order to make the statement that Lenin and his teachings would live on. At first they were afraid that no one would come to view Lenin’s embalmed body, but over 100,000 people stood in long lines in the bitter January cold to catch a glimpse of Lenin’s corpse and so the leaders decided to extend the viewing to 40 days, and that was so successful that they decided to put his corpse on perpetual display in the Red Square where his body can be seen to this day. All of this was done to prop up the Soviet leader and the things he taught with the sense of having an eternal quality. Over the last 90 years tens of millions of people have visited Lenin’s tomb, many, like me, out of nothing more than curiosity but many millions come to view his body out of their devotion to their dead leader.
It was that sense of deep devotion to their dead leader that brought the two Mary’s to Jesus’ tomb early that Sunday morning. They weren’t expecting to find a resurrected Savior, they were expecting simply to anoint their friend and teacher’s dead body with oils and perfumes out of their devotion to him. They loved Jesus and this was the one way they could express that love one last time.
How different history would be had his body been there. Had they anointed his body with oil and laid him tenderly in the tomb and sealed off the tomb. No doubt thousands, if not millions of followers would remember his words and consider him a great teacher and would line up to see the sealed tomb where this great teacher lay. But our hope would be emptied of all its meaning and power had Jesus been lying there in the tomb. Paul writes, if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 1 Cor 15:14
But Jesus was not in the tomb. An angel met them in the tomb and said, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here.” The women couldn’t anoint his dead body and lay it back in the tomb, because Jesus wasn’t in the tomb and he wasn’t dead. We can’t travel to Israel today and stand in front of a sealed tomb where Jesus’ badly decomposed body lies quietly in repose because Jesus isn’t reposed, he is risen! How amazing is that?Jesus is alive! He is risen! He is ascended to the right hand of God the Father and one day, he will return to this planet in power and glory.
This Easter morning, we have the privilege of, once again, standing before the empty tomb in joyful amazement and consider what the resurrection means to us.
Where does Mark end?
Before we do, let’s briefly talk about one of the challenges we find in Mark’s account of the resurrection. If you are visiting us this morning, we are finishing up a year of studying the gospel of Mark and it worked out that we arrived at the resurrection on Easter morning. There is a challenge to Mark’s resurrection account that isn’t found in the other three gospels and that is, where exactly does the gospel of Mark end?
Most of you probably have a note in your Bible at verse 9 forward that says something to the effect that verses 9-20 are not contained in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts. Going back as far as some of the early church fathers, scholars have been in almost universal agreement that verses 9-20 weren’t contained in the original gospel and weren’t written by Mark. This is in part because those verses aren’t found in the most reliable manuscripts, but also because the way it’s written is very different from Mark’s writing style. Significant Greek words are used in this section that are used no where else in Mark’s gospel. Verse 9 is disjointed from the flow of thought in verse 8 and introduces Mary Magdalene as if she was a new player when she has already been mentioned 4 times in his gospel. Verses 9-20 actually read like a summary of the other three gospel accounts combined. So for these and many other reasons, most scholars do not accept vv. 9-20 as part of Mark’s original gospel, though everything in these verses agrees with other passages of scripture.
On the other hand, verse 8 seems like an unlikely way to end the gospel: And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Although such an ending would fit Mark’s frequent references to the amazement and fear that people felt at the power of Jesus, nevertheless it feels very abrupt and incomplete as an ending. It just feels like there should be more: an appearance by Jesus to the disciples, a commission by Jesus, and a sense of joy, not fear and trembling.
So questions abound: did Mark write a closing summation that is significantly different than his ordinary writing style? Did he end on a note of fear and trembling? Or was there another ending that was somehow lost? We can’t really know for certain – so each of us has to decide where our personal convictions fall on the matter.
But oddly enough I think that verse 8 does give us a good launching point to consider the amazing truth of the resurrection on this Easter morning. After seeing the angel and hearing his message, after seeing the empty tomb, the two women flee from the tomb. They’re not rejoicing. They’re not high-fiving and excited to tell the others what they’ve seen. They’re shocked. They’re astonished. And they’re afraid – very afraid. Trembling and fleeing and not saying anything to anyone because they were afraid. At first we might think that their reaction is out of step with what they’ve seen – isn’t the resurrection of Jesus the very best news they could have heard? Isn’t that what their broken hearts longed to hear? Absolutely, but in real life joy wouldn’t be the first emotion in a moment like that. The sheer magnitude and unexpectedness of what they saw would leave them in a state of shock and awe.
So I've entitled this message: Shock and Awe at the Empty Tomb
On this Easter morning as we consider the empty tomb, don’t have to be afraid, but we should be in awe of the massive implications of the resurrection. The resurrection should never fail to stir in our souls a deep sense of amazement and wonder and., for the Christian an indestructible sense of hope. So let me mention two things about the resurrection that should fill our hearts with awe and a third thing that should fill our hearts with faith.
1. Be in awe that Jesus is alive
Jesus really died on the cross. It wasn’t an act or an illusion. The angel affirms this when he says, “You seek Jesus who was crucified.” To us death is pretty irreversible. We can prop up a dead person the way the Communist regime has propped up Lenin but we have no power to resurrect them. In a weird way the Communist regime has manufactured a pseudo-resurrection of Lenin by keeping him on display where people could “visit” him. Over the last ten years there has been a growing call to bury Lenin but in 2001 Vladimir Putin made this incredible admission about what burying Lenin would mean:
"The country [Putin said] has lived under a 70-year long communist monopoly on politics. It's a lifetime of an entire generation, and people associate Lenin's name with their own lives. To them, Lenin's interment would mean that they've been worshipping false ideals, set false goals and that their lives have been lived in vain."
What are they basing all their hopes, their worship, their goals and their lives on? If you were to travel to Moscow to see what a generation has built their lives and hopes on, here is what you would see: (show picture).
You’d see a dead man. Not the smallest flicker of life. His heart isn’t beating, his lungs don’t take in air, his brain isn’t functioning, there’s no blood running through his veins. Lenin’s not there - his body is an empty shell. And in a very real way, his teachings, his so called “wisdom”, the system he played such a large part in constructing – it’s all just as dead as he is. It’s also an empty shell that’s been propped up to look as if it had life but it has none. When men die, there’s nothing we can do to bring them back.
Which is why it’s so amazing that Jesus isn’t dead, he’s alive. What kind of power does it take to bring a dead person back to life? We have all kinds of power from electricity to fossil fuels to nuclear fission but none of these powers can come close to raising the dead. Their power has no power to raise the dead back to life. They can take a living person and kill him, but they can’t take a dead person and make him alive! The power that raised Jesus from the dead is a nuclear explosion of life! Paul talks about this kind of power when he says in Phil. 3 that he wants to know Christ and the power of his resurrection (Phil 3:10).
And that nuclear explosion of life wasn’t done to Jesus – it was done by Jesus – it was his power. Jesus said in John 10:18 that he had the authority (the power) to lay his life down, and he had the authority to take it back up again. Jesus didn’t get cornered into a bad situation where he got himself killed but God bailed him out. Jesus had the power to lay down his life voluntarily and, more amazing, he had the power to pick it back up again the moment he wanted to.
Resurrection power is a power greater than the power of death. It is a power that death can’t defeat, it can only succumb to. Death didn’t voluntarily give up Jesus, it was destroyed by Jesus. And if Jesus is risen, then his words are alive too. All that Jesus taught and said is true – we don’t need to prop it up, it stands on its own as irrefutable and irresistible truth. We can reject it, we can refuse what Jesus says and believe dead men like Lenin or other teachers who reject Jesus’ claims. We can believe future dead men like our own thoughts – because that is what we are, one day we will be lying there like Lenin, or we can bow our knees to Jesus – who is alive – and believe his claims on our lives. On this Easter morning it is appropriate to be in awe that Jesus is alive!
2. Be in awe that Jesus gives eternal life to all who believe in him
If Jesus is alive than his claims are alive too. And one of the claims that Jesus made is that he has the power to give eternal life to all who believe in him. In his prayer just before being arrested, Jesus prayed this to his Father:
Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. John 17:1-2
Death is all we’ve ever known but it wasn’t a part of the original creation. Death entered the world when sin entered the world. When Jesus was crucified, he paid for the sins of the world, and the resurrection declares that God has accepted Jesus’ atoning death as full payment for our sins. That means that death has no power over us anymore if we’re trusting in Christ – Jesus has broken its power over us.
Every winter we see the plants and trees lose their leaves and it looks like they die. But they’re not really dead– they go into a dormant state just waiting to be awakened. When spring comes we see buds of new life and what seemed so dead suddenly seems so alive!
Death is a kind of winter for the believer –the body is laid in the cold ground and it seems like it’s dead and gone. And it seems so final. But the day is coming when those who trusted in Christ while alive will, like Lazarus, hear his voice call them and they’ll shake death off like a layer of dust and we’ll rise from the grave never, ever to die again. Eternal life. That’s what the risen Jesus claims to give to all who believe in him.
Jesus said to her [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. John 11:25-26
We don’t die when we die, we go dormant, and we have the sure promise of Jesus that one day he will wake us up to an everlasting springtime of eternal life. If you can’t say you’re trusting in Jesus, I want to invite you this morning to ask him to be your Lord and Savior and believe in him with all your heart. Jesus promises to give eternal life to anyone who believes in him.
3. Have faith that Jesus has given us resurrection life right now, right here
The women fled from the empty tomb in fear but this morning may the Lord help us to leave the empty tomb not in fear but in faith. The Bible tells us that those who believe in Jesus have resurrection life flowing in us right now. Paul writes: If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:11
When Paul says he wants to know Christ and the power of the resurrection, he’s talking about living in resurrection power right here, right now. The resurrection of Christ means that his resurrection life is at work in us. Paul prays in Eph. 1:
...that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and (listen to this) what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…Eph 1: 17-20
Paul isn’t asking that we get that power – we have it by virtue of our faith in Christ. He’s praying that our eyes and hearts are opened so that we see it and believe it. We have the power to walk in resurrection life, to have greater victories over sin and greater boldness to witness and greater faith to accomplish the Lord’s purposes in our lifetime, but to access that resurrection life we need to walk in faith. So if we have that power in us now, why doesn’t it feel like we do?
Upgraded to turbo
Time Warner offered me a phone and Internet package recently whereby I could upgrade to turbo Internet and actually pay less each month. So I had them upgrade to turbo last week – and I was really excited about what that extra power would look like. But nothing changed. My internet wasn’t any faster. So I called and we tried things and finally yesterday a tech guy came out to the house and after trying a bunch of things, he finally turned to me and said, “I think you’re right. It seems like they just didn’t flip the switch and turn it on.”
We can feel like that in our Christian walk – like nothing’s different – it’s the same as it was before we became Christians. Struggle with the same sins, the same bad attitudes, the same fears, the same bitterness. And we can feel like, really? Is this all there is?
Here’s what the Bible says: God has flipped the switch. We’ve been upgraded to turbo – life. But we access that by faith. Humble but confident faith. We are weak – we will always be weak, but God is strong in us. We are sinners, and we will always struggle with sin, but God has given us grace to say no to ungodliness. We are fearful but God has given boldness to leave the upper room and witness boldly for the Lord Jesus Christ.
The switch has been flipped – as we stand at the empty tomb and consider the risen Christ let’s ask God to help us to have a greater faith stir in our hearts to live in the power of Christ’s resurrection life. And then take steps to put that faith in action. Take steps to break that sin and see what God does. Overcome your fear of witnessing and open your mouth to share your faith with someone and see what God does. Invest your time and energy in a purpose bigger than you and see what God does. The power of Christ’s resurrection life in us is given so that we might live in the power of His might, but we need to step out in faith if we’re going to see that power at work in us.
Let’s pause right now and ask God for fresh faith to follow and do all that He is calling us to do for the glory of Jesus our risen Savior. Pray!!
More in Gospel of Mark
March 31, 2013Shock and Awe at the Empty Tomb
March 24, 2013A Glorious View from the Mt Everest of Our Redemption
March 17, 2013The Trial Behind the Trial