Easter Sunday 12 April 2020
Bible Reading: Mark 16:1-8
Your response to the story of Jesus’ resurrection is the most important decision you can make in your life
With many of us now staying at home for most of the week, there’s been an increase in demand for streaming services such as Netflix. I wonder how your binge-watching sessions are going. For me, I like to know that the entire season is available before starting any TV show and one of my pet peeves is when the last episode ends without a proper resolution and then I have to spend the next half hour Googling to see if or when there’s a next season.
If the Gospel of Mark was a TV show, perhaps it would be called “Jesus’ Epic Story”. There would be 16 episodes in the main season and definitely room for a prequel on Jesus’ birth but Mark’s left that to Matthew and Luke. Mark begins with John the Baptist preparing the Way, Jesus performing miraculous signs, and gaining a following. And as Jesus goes around teaching the people, He is betrayed, arrested and killed.
Usually when the main character is killed off, the season ends but we’re not done here yet. If you’ve been watching Game of Thrones in recent years, you’ll know that Jon Snow, who really is the heir to the kingdom, is killed by his own people at the end of season 5 but then comes back to life a year later in season 6. Well, you don’t have to wait a year to find out what happens to Jesus, because on the 3rd day God raised Jesus back to life.
Episode 16 ends with what’s arguably an anti-climax, it’s filled with people being scared, trembling away and shutting up because they were so shocked. At first you might think that there is nothing courageous or hopeful to be found in the final chapter of Mark, but this in fact is what helps us know that this really happened. There is no Hollywood narrative to round out the season, but rather just raw human emotion reacting to what’s occurred. Perhaps if this were to be turned into a blockbuster movie, this is where the fourth wall would be broken. By including the human reaction of Mary and Mary Magdalene, someone who has been following Jesus for the many years, we can know that put ourselves into their shoes and ask for ourselves – what’s our response to Jesus’ resurrection?
When the Resurrection occurred, the women knew it was true. But even from them as people who had been around Jesus for some time prior to the crucifixion, it took them a while to pick up their jaws and understand that they were the first to see this Good News. What I would like to do in our time together is to see what happened through their eyes. In our twenty-first century Western countries, we don’t really understand that there is a back story of resurrection and the male dominated culture of that time, which actually adds a critical understanding to Easter. It’s also a powerful reason for understanding that this resurrection of Jesus really did happen.
If we read Mark 16:1, we know that the empty tomb was first discovered by “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome”. Apart from sharing a name, the really important thing that they have in common is that they’re all women. Today when we see women finding out things first, we take as if it’s no big deal and might even treat it as just another thing that’s too minor for men to notice. But in ancient Israel, women’s standing in society was so low that they were not accepted as credible witnesses and wouldn’t be believed, that is if they were ever allowed near a court.
It’s quite remarkable that Mark emphasises that the first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb were women, but it’s not just Mark but also Matthew, Luke and John too – which were all written at different times. If the Academy Awards were a thing back in the day, and you were writing a fictional movie script and you cast women to be the first eyewitnesses of such a monumental event, you can kiss your chances of winning an Oscar goodbye. There’s no advantage in having women serve as the eyewitnesses for Jesus’ empty tomb in one Gospel let alone in all four as it would have seriously undermined the credibility of the event. Even without the modern gender and diversity quotas in show business – the reason why male writers of the Gospels wrote the women as the first eyewitnesses, is that it was women who found the empty tomb, and the tomb was, in fact, empty.
If you were to buy the re-release of “Jesus’ Epic Story” on DVD or Blu-Ray and stayed to the end of the credits, there might be a little bonus scene too, but that is does not do any justice to what the next step of “Jesus’ Epic Story” really is. One thing that makes Christianity unique to all of the other religions in the world is that we have a definitive starting point in history. Two thousand and a few years ago, there was no such thing as a church, and then suddenly, over what really would have been a long weekend especially for Jesus being separated from God, there was the Christian because the disciples were commissioned to witness to the resurrection of Christ. These group of people who believed in the resurrection of Jesus went on to suffer some of the worst tortures possible for His sake.
As the people of ancient Israel reflected on the past 3 years of Jesus and looked up what the we now call the Old Testament had said about the Messiah, many of those who followed Jesus came to understand that what had happened didn’t just affect Jesus. It’s like us, when we finish watching the middle seasons of Game of Thrones but have so many unanswered questions and then we that moment hits and you realise that who the main character, Jon Snow really is. Jon Snow instead of just being perceived as a child born out of wedlock, is actually the emblematic the heir to the Iron Throne. The realisation of Jon Snow’s true father fundamentally changed how the rest of the story unfolded. And when we recognise that Jesus Christ is God’s one and only Son whom He resurrected; we can never live our lives the same way again.
Perhaps the fictional fantasy of the Game of Thrones plotlines such Jon Snow being “the Prince that was Promised” actually pays homage to the real-life epic story of Jesus being the promised Messiah and the Prince of Peace. Realising that Jon Snow was “the Prince that was Promised” is the fulfilment of the ultimate Game of Thrones prophecy as it helps to eventuate the defeat of the evil times and darkness being that of the Long Night. It took the people in Game of Thrones a while to realise who Jon Snow really was, even after he died at the end of Season 5 but came back to life in next season. It is only slowly as the early Church began that Jesus’ followers start to begin to piece together that “the new age had come” through Jesus resurrection.
This new age had begun that day in Christ, when Jesus walked out the grave. He had defeated death and evil, and now His little community of followers were suddenly pondering the new reality in that you and me; We were dead – dead in our sins. We were cut off from God and bombarded by evil with no escape in this dark world. God had promised that He would fix the world, forgive sin and end the suffering. God promised he would redeem humanity and He has stuck to His faithful promise which came into effect through the resurrection of Christ.
Soon after the Resurrection, when Jesus’ followers realised that when Jesus died on the cross, it was more than just Jesus dying but that it was really their death, too. At the time, this wasn’t apparent to them, and it took the Resurrection for them to begin grasping the epicness of what was happening. On that third day, the greatest step in human history was taken, more significant that Neil Armstrong’s leap on the moon. Jesus walking out of the tomb with the stone was rolled away, and that first step that the resurrected Jesus took changed the world forever.
You might think that the movie director would yell “cut” and then the editors would fade to some a glorious sunrise scene with miraculous background music followed quickly by “the end”. But that’s not what Mark 16 tells us happened. In fact, the scene ends with women in tears and afraid at the sight of the empty tomb. I wonder what was running through the Marys’ minds when they say the angel but not Jesus’ body. In Mark 16:6-7, we know that the angel says, “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Don’t forget that Peter had just last week denied Jesus not once, twice but three times, yet he is not forgotten by Jesus. Afraid of what’s just happened, the women leave, and this is where Mark’s account of “Jesus’ Epic Story” abrupt ends, leaves the ball in our court. What will you do with this great news of Jesus’ tomb being empty?
Just as the curtain was torn in Israel’s temple, the fourth wall is now broken. God accepted Jesus’ death as the full payment for our sins and raised Him from the dead. The risen Jesus is now God’s ruler of the world. God has appointed Jesus to be the ruler of the world. The Bible also tells us that Jesus will return to hold us accountable for our actions. While we wait for the second coming of Jesus, we have His offer of new life for us, both now in the present time and eternally. For the first time ever, our sins can be forgiven through Jesus’ death and resurrection, which allows to make a fresh start with God. The way we relate to God is also epically flipped around; we’re no longer treated as rebels but as His friends. When we live in our new life, we have God living in us through His Spirit. This is the joy of experiencing a new relationship with God.
1 Peter 1:3 says that “in his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”. When we are pardoned through Jesus’ death, we are assured that when judgement comes onto the world, we will be acceptable to God. Jesus’ resurrection if we choose to believe in Him gives us eternal life, not because we have earned it, but because He has died in our place. So, what do you want to do with this Good News? You could run away in fear, go and tell others about this, or do nothing at all and just dismiss this as something that never happened. Whether you choose to run and tell others or ignore this, you are facing a choice that all humanity will have to make sooner or later. Which way will you live?
If you’re already a Christian, don’t be afraid – but go and let people know about the risen King Jesus! If you’re not a Christian and/or maybe you still have more questions, that’s okay. If that’s you, keep reading the Bible, keep asking questions about Jesus. Just as many of Game of Thrones fans are still trying to grasp that Jon Snow being the heir to Iron Throne. It’s alright to keep seeking out the truth. From season 1 in Game of Thrones, there are signs of who Jon Snow really is, and I’m sure many of us have gone back to re-watch the earlier episodes to find out. If you’re not yet a Christian but you’re ready to become a Christian today, let’s turn to start of “Jesus’ Epic Story” as found in Mark 1:15: Repent and Believe the good news. Put your trust in Jesus to be your Saviour who dealt with your sin. Repent by choosing to turn away from your sin and choose to actively live with Jesus as your King.
The Resurrection is not just good news; it’s true news and more essential to salvation than the crucifixion. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ stands up to the many scrutinies and is a real historical event unlike the fantasy of Game of Thrones. All 4 Gospels in the Bible tell us about the empty tomb, the angel and the women. And as Jesus words are recorded in John 11:25-26 saying, “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die,” this is not a literary technique or metaphor but the true reality that death has lost its power to take you away from God. No matter what you have done, guilt cannot separate you from God. No matter how frail your health is, there is no reason to live in fear of death as you have a resurrection coming. For those who have lost their jobs and/or are parents and are stressed by what the future holds, you do not need to fear as you can find refuge in Christ. For the addict trapped in a cycle or the lonely young person longing to be loved, you have God waiting for you with open arms. No matter who you are, if you have taken the critical step of faith like Jesus’ first steps out of the grave by saying, “death you have no power over me, I believe in the risen Jesus”, you are living in a new reality. Our Father God‘s arms are mighty strong, and they will pick you up regardless of your circumstances because Jesus lives.
Please talk a moment to say this prayer with me if you would like to make a commitment or renew your commitment to our Lord Jesus Christ.
DEAR GOD, I am SORRY for my sin, I am sorry for ignoring you. THANKS for sending Jesus to die for me, so I may be forgiven. Thanks that He rose from the dead to give me new life. PLEASE forgive me and change me, that I may live with Jesus as my King. Amen
Here are some discussion questions to guide your reflection about the message:
- Who Jesus is and what did He come to do?
- What is your reaction to the empty tomb?
- What’s stopping you from believing the evidence of the empty tomb?
If you prayed the prayer and/or have more questions about anything that you have just heard, we would love to speak with you further. I would be happy to talk with you about this.