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The Resurrection: Mark 16:1-8

The Resurrection

1When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

The resurrection of Jesus is, of course, reported in all four gospels. It’s the central doctrine of our faith, and without it, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Corinthians 15:14) See my posts on Matthew’s account of it here and Luke’s here. The Jewish Sabbath is from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. So the women were able to buy the spices they intended to use on Jesus’ body on Saturday night, but they couldn’t go to the tomb to do their work until Sunday morning, when it was light enough. I believe that Mary the mother of James was Mary the mother of Jesus. Jesus had a brother named James, who wrote the book of James. The job of treating bodies for burial was the responsibility of the closest family members. So it would make sense that Jesus’ mother would be among those who went to the tomb. Many Biblical scholars also believe that the myrrh that the Magi left when they visited the Christ child was intended for use at his burial. I can imagine Mary carrying this container of myrrh that she had saved for over 30 years to the tomb, finally expecting to use it, but never being able to! If this Mary was Jesus’ mother, why didn’t Mark say so? Matthew calls her the mother of James and Joseph (Matthew 27:56). We know Jesus had brothers other than James. It’s entirely likely that Jesus had a brother named after his father. The gospel writers often mentioned people by name because they were known in the early church. James was the head of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:12-21), and Jesus’ other brothers also became believers after the resurrection (Acts 1:14). Maybe that’s why this Mary was identified in this way. Salome was the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee (Matthew 27:56). Mary Magdalene was a devoted follower of Jesus, and also a financial supporter (Luke 8:1-3).

As they went to the tomb, they wondered who would roll the stone away from the entrance for them, since it was too big and heavy for them to move. The disciples must still have been afraid to go there for fear of arrest by the Roman guard, which should still have been there, guarding the tomb. They had placed a Roman seal on it, which only they had the authority to remove. So the women must have been hoping the soldiers would move the stone for them, so they could complete the anointing of Jesus’ body. These were the same women who had witnessed the crucifixion and Jesus’ burial.

When the women came on the scene, the tomb was open and the guards were either unconscious or gone. I can’t help but wonder if one or more of the guards were converted as a result of this experience. We know now that the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire was greatly helped by believers in the Roman army. At least four Roman soldiers witnessed the resurrection of Christ. How could they help but be changed by that experience?

4But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

6“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. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ “

8Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

When the women arrived, they saw that they didn’t have to worry about who would help them roll the stone away. It had already been done. The stone had been rolled away, not so that Jesus could escape (we know from John 20:19 that Jesus in his resurrected body could pass through solid walls), but so that others could enter the tomb and see that he had risen. The fact that neither the women nor the disciples were expecting this shows how little they understood of what Jesus had been telling them. How many times had he told them he would rise again on the third day? We are often surprised by miracles. Why should we be surprised when a miracle happens if we say we believe in a miracle working God?

Mark says they were alarmed when they found the entrance to the tomb open. John says that Mary Magdalene thought Jesus’ body had been stolen (John 20:2, 13). What would you think if you went to the grave of a loved one and found the grave open and their body missing? Instead of the body of Jesus, they found an angel. The angel identified who they were looking for, as if they might think they went to the wrong tomb. He not only told them Jesus was risen, he showed them the place where his body was laid. These same women had followed Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus and had observed his burial two days before (Mark 15:47). They had seen where they laid his body. So by showing them this place, the angel proved the resurrection to them. This started a long series of physical evidence given to prove the resurrection of Jesus.

When the angel showed them the place where Jesus’ body was laid, they saw the grave clothes in which Jesus had been wrapped. John gives a detailed description of them. From the appearance of the grave clothes, it was obvious that the body had not been stolen. If it had been, the thieves would not have unwrapped the body first, nor would they have taken the trouble to fold up the cloth “by itself, separate from the linen,” as John describes (John 20:6-7). Since John made a point of describing the grave clothes, and said that he saw and believed at that point (John 20:8), I have had the belief for decades that Jesus left them that way for a specific reason. I believe that when Jesus rose, he folded his grave clothes the way he had always folded his clothes during his life. I believe he left them that way for John’s benefit, because John was his best friend. John would see the grave clothes folded the way only Jesus would have done it, and would know Jesus was alive, because he had traveled and lived with Jesus for three years. John had seen Jesus fold his clothes that way many times.

But I also believe that Jesus must also have done this for his mother’s benefit. It would have been Mary who taught Jesus to fold his bed clothes neatly every morning when he got up. Mary was one of the first to see the place where Jesus was laid. She saw the grave clothes folded the way she had taught her son to do. She must have known he was alive the moment she saw that. Of course, I know this is all just speculation. But you can’t prove me wrong! Mary also had personal experience with angels. She knew that what they said was always true. Her son was risen.

In verse 7, Peter is singled out from the rest of the disciples. Some think he was no longer considered a disciple at that point because he had denied Christ, and had not yet been restored. I think it may be that, since this is really Peter’s gospel, it’s not that the angel didn’t want to count him among the disciples right then, it’s that Peter himself did not want to be considered a true disciple before Jesus restored him. It’s interesting to me that the angel singled Peter out to be notified of Jesus’ resurrection. None of the others were mentioned by name. Even when we have failed Christ miserably, he seeks us out personally and calls us by name in order to restore us to him.

Though Mark says that the women said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid, some manuscripts add, “Then they quickly reported all these instructions to those around Peter.” We know from the other gospels that the women did report that Jesus was risen to Peter and the other disciples, and that Peter and John went and saw the empty tomb for themselves, as I discussed earlier. It appears that the last part of Mark’s gospel was lost somehow, and that’s why the version we have ends rather abruptly.

There is some controversy regarding the rest of Mark’s account. The NIV says “the earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.” But most of what is written there is corroborated in the other gospels. The other gospels have much more detail regarding the resurrection of Jesus than Mark does. We know that Jesus appeared to his disciples and showed them his scars. (Luke 24:37-40) He knew they would need that kind of proof to be able to endure the persecution that lay ahead for them. Most people will not endure torture and death for what they know is a lie. The martyrdom of the Apostles proves that Jesus really is risen. The historical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection is undeniable. He is risen indeed!

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