In our last lesson we witnessed the mockery and shame that came from being crucified. After taking his last breath, the centurion confesses that Jesus truly was the Son of God (15:39). We learn that some of the disciples of Jesus were watching these events unfold from a distance. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome were there along with other women. They became followers of Jesus in Galilee and came with him to Jerusalem when Jesus and his apostles came. The women are witnesses to the death of Jesus.
According to Deuteronomy 21:22-23 the body of an executed criminal must be buried the same day. Considering that Jesus gives up his life at 3pm and that sundown on the Jewish clock was the beginning of the next day (6pm), there is not much time to take care of Jesus’ body. Joseph of Arimathea, who was a respected member of the Sanhedrin council courageously asks Pilate to take his body. Notice that the text points out for us that Joseph was also looking for the kingdom of God. Joseph is a disciple of Jesus, as noted in the other gospel accounts. Being a disciple of Jesus, he wants the body to prepare it for burial.
When Joseph goes to Pilate to ask for the body, Pilate is surprised that Jesus was already dead. We noted a few times through this narrative over the past few weeks that crucified victims would last days on the cross, not hours. But Jesus is already dead. We have noted many reasons why he would be dead so quickly. First, we noted that the severity of the scourging was so significant that Jesus was unable to carry his cross. Second, Jesus is the Passover lamb who is dying for the sins of the people. This is the Passover and Jesus is setting the world free from their sins through this sacrificial act. Third, Jesus said that he gives his life and no one takes it from him. Jesus is not trying to stay alive as long as possible like most humans. Jesus, at the right time, declares that his work is finished and gives his life. Pilate summons a Roman centurion who confirms for Pilate that Jesus was indeed dead and the body was given to Joseph.
Joseph takes a linen cloth, takes the body down from the cross, wraps his body in the linen cloth, and places Jesus’ body in a tomb cut from a rock. Once the body was placed and properly cared for, a stone was rolled against the entrance of the tomb. Two of the women, the two Marys, saw exactly where Jesus’ body was laid to rest.
The Resurrection (16:1-8)
Once the Sabbath was complete (6pm), the women are able to go to the marketplace and purchase spice to anoint the body of Jesus. The purpose of the spices was to help cover the stench of decay that would occur. In the first century, a body would be allowed to decay in the tomb for one year. The spices would be put in the tomb to help with the smell. After a year, the family members would return to the tomb, remove the bones and place them in an ossuary (bone box). So it is late Saturday night when the women purchase the spices but it is too dark for anointing Jesus’ body. So, according to verse 2, early in the morning of the next day, the first day of the week, the women go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. Verse 3 reveals that these women have no expectation of anything except the body being in the tomb. They do not think the body will be gone. They are trying to figure who they are going to get to roll away the heavy stone from the mouth of the tomb.
But when the women get to the tomb, they saw that the very large stone had been rolled away. They enter the tomb to look and see if the body of Jesus was still there. Rather than seeing the body of Jesus, they see a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe. This, of course, led to the women being alarmed. But the young man in white says something very important in verse 6.
“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:6–7 ESV)
The young man says that the women are in the right place. This is where the body of Jesus was placed after being crucified. But he is not here. He has risen. Now verse 7 is very important. Remember that on the Mount of Olives Jesus told his disciples that they were all going to fall away and be scattered. “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee” (Mark 14:28). Peter then argued that they might all fall away, but he would not. This is what the women are being told. Go tell the disciples that Jesus is doing what he said he would do. He would raise from the dead and go ahead of them to Galilee. You will see him there.
The Hope of the Resurrection
Jesus’ resurrection reveals to believers the true way to life. Those who think life comes from avoiding suffering and hardship are shown to be wrong. Jesus’ life teaches that the way to a full life is through service, hardship, pain, and suffering. Jesus’ resurrection shows that death is not the end. Jesus was not left in the grave and neither will we be left in the grave. By submitting to death, Jesus found life (cf. Mark 8.35). Surrendering to his will and way is how we actually find fullness of life as God intended. We give to gain. Jesus shows victory by being the selfless servant. This is the hope found in the resurrection of Jesus. Death is not the final say on our lives.
But there is even more hope that is presented for us in the resurrection of Jesus. The message to the women is not only to go tell the disciples that Jesus is going before them to Galilee. Carefully read verse 7 again. “But go, tell his disciples and Peter….” Those two words: “and Peter.” Peter has dramatically failed by denying Jesus three times in a span of a few hours. Peter who has been the leader of the apostles publicly proclaimed that he would rather die than deny Jesus. Even with his catastrophic failure of faith, the directions are clear: do not exclude Peter when you go tell the disciples to go to Galilee. Peter is not out. He may think he cannot return but Jesus is inviting him to return. It is never too late for you to choose to repent and come to Jesus. Jesus died and rose from the dead so that your sins could be covered by the blood of Jesus. Jesus did not come because you did not need him. Jesus came because we did. We cry out that we have failed. Jesus says that is why he came.
The Moment of Decision
Now look at verse 8. The women run from the tomb, trembling and astonished. They said nothing to anyone for they were afraid. This seems like a weird ending, doesn’t it. It seems to not make sense unless we have been following the message of this gospel from the beginning. The book of Mark ends like the book of Acts: suddenly and open-ended. Ending with the message of fear has been a decisive point in this gospel. Fear has been the pivot point in the lives of many people in the gospel.
In Mark 4:40-41 we saw Jesus asleep on the boat and disciples panicking that they are going to perish with Jesus on the boat. “He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’” When we looked at that lesson we noted that fear can be a great challenge to faith. Fear is a pivotal moment when we will decide whether we will have faith or if we will not. Fear is supposed to lead to faith.
Look at Mark 5:15. Jesus has cast out powerful unclean spirits from a man. When the people of the city and country saw what happened, they were afraid and begged for Jesus to leave (5:17). Fear did not lead to faith but unbelief. They saw the sign but they did not believe.
Look at Mark 5:33 where the woman with the flow of blood touches the garment of Jesus and is healed. Jesus stops the crowd and asks who touched him. She falls down in fear and tells him all that happened. Jesus told her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (5:34). At that same time, a messenger comes to Jairus, telling him that his daughter is dead. It is too late to bring Jesus to heal your daughter of her illness because she is now dead. Do not trouble the teacher any longer. But Jesus says to Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe” (5:36).
Look at Mark 6:50. Jesus is walking on the water and the disciples think they are seeing a ghost and are terrified. Jesus tells the disciples, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” But listen to what Mark says next. “And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened” (6:52). Yet again the great miracle happens which creates fear which is to lead to faith.
In Mark 9:32 Jesus teaches his disciples that the Son of Man is going to be killed and raised from the dead three days later. “But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.” Fear left to itself prohibits faith. Fear is supposed to lead to faith. Their fear should have caused them to ask for further understanding. Instead, their fear keeps them from understanding. This same thing happens again in Mark 10:32 where fear keeps the disciples from understanding.
In Mark 11:18, 11:32, and 12:12 the Jewish leaders’ fear of the people keep them from understanding Jesus to be the one sent from the Father.
Fear has been a critical theme in this gospel. But the point of the fear is to ask the audience if fear will lead to faith. The gospel ends with a challenge to every reader. What will you do with this amazing event? Jesus rose from the dead. This is an undeniable fact. The tomb is empty. The enemies of Jesus who did not want to believe and wanted to discredit Jesus would not open the tomb and show the body of Jesus, thus disproving the claims of the disciples. The tomb is empty and Jesus was seen by over 500 people after he rose from the dead. Will you have faith in what has been revealed to you?
The point of the resurrection is not to just feel good that Jesus rose from and return to our lives as we have always lived them. The resurrection makes an impact. The resurrection is supposed to be life changing. The resurrection of Jesus challenges our faith with the Lord. Will we respond with faith, looking to Jesus as our Savior and following his path of shame, carrying our cross with him? To follow Jesus means that we are going to face the same challenges as Jesus. We are called to keep our eyes on Jesus and on the finish line. Faithful discipleship requires acting in the face of fear.
Following Jesus requires major changes to how we live our lives and how we think about this world. Perhaps the most fearful thing to consider is that we are forfeiting our lives to gain Jesus. We are accepting rejection and shame so that we can be with our Savior who has redeemed us from sin and the wrath of God. It is a fearful thing to put our lives completely in the hands of our Lord. Quite simply, we do not want to do it. We want to trust in ourselves. We want to trust in our righteousness. We want to trust in being good people. We want to rely on our wealth. We want to put our hopes in this world. It is a fearful thing to give it all and follow Jesus. But the message of the gospel and the message of the resurrection is this: do not fear; only believe. Trust that Jesus has overcome death so that we have nothing to fear if we will give our lives to him. There is every reason to fear if we try to control our lives. But perfected love in our Lord casts out fear for we know that we are with him. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything for you. But you must come to him in faith.
So the Gospel of Mark has an open ending. What will you do? When I was in middle school there were these books that you could read that had multiple endings based on the decisions you made. Twist-A-Plot books and Choose Your Own Adventure books were some of the published titles. You decided the outcome for you. The destiny was set. But you pick the path. What will you choose?