“And [the angel] said to them, ‘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).
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Hallelujah! Amen.
St. Mark brings us a puzzling picture in our text. Did you notice how his resurrection account is different from the other Gospel writers in a significant way? What is different? There is no Jesus. There is no sighting of Him. St. Mark reports to us that people are talking about Jesus’ resurrection, but there still is no Jesus.
This is troubling. It sounds like a myth in its infant stages. Could it be? If we do not see Jesus with our own eyes, did He really rise from the dead?
You can see where this might lead, can’t you? When one questions Jesus’ resurrection, then the crucifixion must be questioned. If the crucifixion is questioned, then His virgin birth and righteous life must be questioned. If His birth and life are questioned, then His miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit must be questioned. The whole life of Jesus, from conception to ascension, all fits together as one message. When one part is removed, the whole thing comes falling down like a house of cards. When one doubts the resurrection, then one doubts God and His promises to us throughout the Old and the New Testament.
In God’s holy Word, we hear His promises of the Seed of the woman Who would crush the serpent’s head, the Prophet greater than Moses, the King more powerful than David, the Priest in the order of Melchizedek, the Savior of Israel, the substitute sacrificial Lamb provided by God to take away the sin of the world, the Kinsman-Redeemer who would pay the debt of His people and take them to be His Bride, the Servant who would suffer the afflictions of the people in their stead.
Throughout all these promises, the consistent message is that God Himself will take our place—not just any lamb, not just any redeemer, or not just any mere human will do. It must be God Himself, given in exchange for our sins. The life of the God-man must be given in exchange for the life of all humanity. These are the promises the Church has heard ever since sin entered the world.
The Lamb of God is sacrificed once for all people, and in His resurrection, He proclaims His victory over death. The resurrection is the “I told you so!” of the Gospel message. It is a moment of glory for our Lord.
Still, everything hinges on this outcome of the life and death of Jesus. It all goes hand-in-hand. Jesus saved us through the humility of His conception, life, suffering, and death. His cross saved us. Without His cross, His resurrection would be meaningless. We would still be in our sins. Without His resurrection, His cross would have been meaningless. He would just be another martyr who died for a cause in which He believed… but not a Savior, not a Redeemer, not the first-fruits of the resurrection for all who would believe in Him.
We need to remember that on the Last Day all people will rise from the dead, not only believers. Believers and unbelievers will rise from the dead. Murderers, sex offenders, liars, and nice people will all rise from the dead. Hitler, Stalin, Gandhi and Mother Teresa will rise from the dead. Those who believed in Jesus Christ as their Savior will be taken to live with Him forever in heaven. Those who denied Christ will be sent to everlasting condemnation in hell.
So the message of Easter is not so much about our resurrection, but the resurrection of Jesus. Just as the crucifixion is not merely about the death of just anybody, so the resurrection is not just about any resurrection. After all, other people were crucified throughout history, and Lazarus and others rose from the dead. So what makes Easter different? What makes Good Friday different? What makes St. Mark’s report of the resurrection different?
St. Mark’s Gospel provides us with the testimony of the angel and the fulfillment of the promises of God’s Word. It shows the reality of our daily lives. We could easily be substituted for the women at the tomb. In St. Mark’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. Sounds peaceful, doesn’t it? Don’t we sometimes wish we were there that glorious Easter morning? It would be so exciting, wouldn’t it?
But you have to wonder, is St. Mark’s recording of this Easter really so different? Could it be a picture of unbelief? Did these three women doubt the Word of God? Did they believe Jesus when He proclaimed His resurrection? Is this a foretaste or prophecy of Thomas, the one who doubted that Jesus was alive?
We love to pick on Thomas because he effectively said, “Prove it!” But we seem to leave out these three women, who were also among the many doubters. Yes, even in the midst of Jesus’ closest circle of believers, even among those few brave women who stood near during Jesus’ crucifixion while most of His chosen apostles cowered in fear, there were doubters. Remember… the three women went to the tomb to anoint the dead body of Jesus. They weren’t planning on seeing Him. They did not expect He was going to rise from the dead.
Did they doubt the Word of God? Had they forgotten the prophecies from Scripture? Did they not believe Jesus when He proclaimed His own resurrection? I mean, it’s one thing not to understand Jesus meant His own body when He told the Jewish leaders, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” It’s entirely another to miss Jesus’ transparent warning only a week earlier as they traveled up to Jerusalem: “The Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. Three days later He will rise.”
Those of us who live two thousand years later can easily look down on Thomas, the three women. It still bugs us, because they were there and saw Jesus. They saw Him perform miracles and heard Him preach in the temple. It seems that they should have had an advantage that we don’t have.
But let me ask you this: If you saw Jesus today, would you believe He is God? Would you think this man, who is performing miracles and preaching, is the same God who created the world and made the first man out of the dust?
Did Jesus look like God when He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the sweat oozed out of His pores mixed with His precious blood? Did Jesus look like God when He was stripped, beaten, and mocked? Did Jesus appear to be God as He hung on the cross? Did He seem like God to when He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
No, He didn’t look like God. The truth be told, He even looked less than human at times didn’t He? Or, at least He was certainly treated less than humanely.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be so hard on them! It’s very likely, at least for the sake of friendship, that we, too, would have taken spices with us to the tomb early on the first day of the week, because we believed that a lifeless body was to be found in the tomb, for which we wanted to show our last respects.
To trust our Lord’s words when He spoke of a kingdom that would never end, or how He would go away and then return, or that He truly was the resurrection and the life goes against all reason and common sense, doesn’t it?
That is the point. It is not about reason and common sense. It is about God’s promises throughout history. The resurrection becomes the proclamation of the fulfillment of God’s promises. It is the very evidence we have that Christ has conquered death and paid the price for our sin. Yet whether it is the young man in white robes of Easter morning speaking to the three women or you and I reading God’s Word, our faith must grasp what we hear and trust it.
But even faith in the Gospel is the work of God. The Holy Spirit must even create the very faith that grasps the Word of the Gospel, for we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him. Only faith is able to confess that Jesus is true God and true man. Only faith can confess that Jesus’ conception was that of the Holy Spirit. Only through faith is one able to look at the body of Jesus on the cross and proclaim that the glory of God is in this death, for God is the one who died for our sins. Only God could reveal to us these teachings, and only faith can accept them and then give thanks for them.
The resurrection is also a matter of trusting God’s Word, whether it is the word of the young man in the tomb or St. Mark’s recording of that incident. We must repent of our unbelief when we second-guess God and His Word. We are in the same circumstances as the three women and Thomas. St. Mark’s account of the resurrection is no different from what we know in our lives. Some things can’t be proved. They just have to be accepted by faith.
Yet we might think back and cry out, “But they were there and eventually saw Jesus. That had to help. It had to make a difference to have Him there with you, to hear His voice and hold His body.” Yes, that is true. Our Lord knows you need His physical presence as well. His grace, mercy, and forgiveness come to us where He said He would be present—in His Word and Sacraments.
What this means is that every time we gather for worship it is Easter. Every time the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, it is Easter. In the Divine Service, God Himself is present, not because He is the Creator and all-powerful God, but rather because in the humility of bread and wine and the spoken Word He proclaims Himself to have risen from the dead. The very work of the crucifixion, the payment for sins, comes to us through this Holy Meal. Here, He appears to you in this Easter celebration, in His Word, and in His very body and blood. Through faith in His Word, we receive Him into our presence and enjoy the forgiveness of sins.
So, as you approach the altar today, let the words of the young man in white robes ring in your ears: “There you will see Him, just as He told you” (Mark 16:7). You can be certain that you will too. For God’s promises are true. And because the risen and ascended Christ is here in His Word and Body and Blood, you are forgiven of all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.