An empty tomb

PROFESSIONS OF FAITH

Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a two-part sermon by the Rev. Dr. James Barnes. The first part was published in the April 27 edition of The Sentinel.

They were ministering to him. Only the angels and these women ministered to Christ. The Bible never says the disciples ministered to him. We know these women. We have met them before. And there were other women. Luke identifies another in 24:10 by the name of Johanna. And there may have been others for Mark said in v.41 there were many others. They had watched his crucifixion from a distance. They watched his burial.

And now it was Sunday and they come back. They brought spices so they might anoint him. Listen, they had been with Jesus for a couple of years. They loved him, they adored him, they served him and they worshipped him. Now they are caught up in horrific sadness, wrenching, agonizing sorrow. He is no mere friend to them. They believed this was the one they rested their salvation in. I can only imagine what agonies since Friday they suffered. Horrors, questions, doubts, fears, anxieties. How could this have happened? How can this be? But they never lost their sense of affection. They never lost their love. And so they are going back to do what loving families would always do, put spices on is body. It is action love on their part. v.2 says they come very early. Luke says at early dawn. Matthew says when it began to dawn. John says while it was still dark. So was it dawn or dark? We have all experienced that haven’t we? You could say it was dawning and yet could be caught up in dusty darkness. Its daybreak and you could say its dawning or you could say it was still a bit dark out. I don’t have a problem with that and especially where this is taking place. The whole eastern side of the city of Jerusalem is the Mount of Olives which towers over the city. You could see the glow of dawn which had already broken on the desert to the east. You could see the glow across the mountain and yet you could be in the dusky darkness of the city until the sun rose across the top of the Mount of Olives. But there is something more here for John says in v.1 Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb while dark.

When the other women arrived the sun has already risen. What does that tell you? These women came later. Matthew tells us when Mary Magdalene started out she was not alone, she had a companion, another Mary, Mary the mother of James and Joses. They started out together but John says when Mary Magdalene arrived, it was dark. What happened? Mary went on ahead. These women may have been coming from different locations, starting together, but Mary gets their first. She arrives, John says on the dark side of dawn. But it is light enough to see that the tomb is open and the stone is gone. She sees the stone rolled away but John says she doesn’t go in. She bolts, spins on her sandals and heads for Peter and John. She has to tell them something. What’s the message? John 20:2, “They have stolen the corpse.” That’s her conclusion.

That tells us she didn’t believe in a resurrection. Even with all the miracles she didn’t believe. She didn’t say, “It happened just as he said it would.” She says they stole the body. v.3

The other women arrive and as they get near they say to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” They knew where the tomb was and they knew the stone had been rolled over it because they saw that on Good Friday.

So now they are wondering who is going to take care of that stone problem and in v.4 they look up and the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large. Wow, what a shock! What should they conclude? Instantaneously, they would have concluded the same thing Mary had because they did not expect a resurrection either. How do I know that? Because they went there in the first place to anoint a dead body. If they were already convinced there was to be a resurrection, why spend the money on spices and why even waste your time? Then what happened to that stone? Matthew 27 gives us the details. Jesus was dead on Friday, Joseph, a rich man, asked Pilate for the body, he took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, laid it in his new tomb and rolled a large stone against the entrance. V.61 says Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there.

On the next day, Saturday, the chief priest and the Pharisees met with Pilate and said that deceiver, referring to Jesus, said he would rise again after three days. So maybe those disciples will make an attempt to steal the body and make it look like he did just that so Pilate gave them a Roman guard and along with the guard they put a Roman seal on the tomb identifying it as Roman property and no one else could touch it. All of that took place on Saturday. In the deep dark hours of Sunday morning, sometime after the Sabbath ended at 6, there was a severe earthquake which occurred before the women arrived. What caused the earthquake? An angel of the Lord came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it, his appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow and the guards shook with fear and became as dead men.

Why did the angel roll away the stone? Listen, not to let Jesus out but to let the women in! In v.5 the women arrive, there are no soldiers because they awoke and immediately they knew they had a problem. They had no one to guard and they would have to report that to the authorities, and they did just as it actually happened. Now these women were not going to fabricate a resurrection and then go and die as martyrs or a fake resurrection. So everything Mark has told us to this point for one purpose and one purpose alone: You have an empty tomb!

The disciples didn’t steal the body because they didn’t believe in a resurrection. The Roman soldiers knew they didn’t steal the body. The women knew they didn’t steal the body. Peter and John when they arrived knew they didn’t steal the body. But the Jewish leaders thought someone might steal the body. Why would they even think that? Because they were fakes and liars and thought other people thought like they did. They lied every day to perpetuate their religion. But when the soldiers arrived to tell them the body was missing, one would have thought they might have believed in the possibility of a resurrection. But what is their first thought? How can we discredit that? How deep and profound is their unbelief? They are so comfortable with a lie, so familiar with hypocrisy that the truth totally escapes them. So they assembled the elders, consulted and gave a large sum of money to the soldiers. There is a word for that, bribery. The soldiers had no other option but to take the bribe and for the money they had to spread the story that the disciples stole the body. They did such a good job that Matthew, 25 years later, says the story is widespread among the Jews. Interestingly, the leaders, nor the women, nor the disciples, nor the guards ever denied the tomb was empty.

Everyone knew they had an unoccupied tomb. No one ever denied that the tomb was empty and that validates the testimony of the empty tomb and that is Marks point in this narrative.

Secondly, we have The testimony of the angels in v.5, They saw a young man sitting at the right. They were shocked or amazed. Luke says there were two angels. John in 20:12 says there were actually two. If I saw a dazzling angel, I might not figure out whether there was one or two. Why two? Because Deut. 19:15 says truth is confirmed by two witnesses. They were amazed.

The word means terrified. Not in the sense you fear for your life but that there is something around you can’t comprehend, you can’t grasp it, you are in a state of bewilderment. Luke says they were so terrified they fell with their faces to the ground. Luke uses the word from which we get phobia, a fear of something v.6. One of the angels says, “Do not be amazed.” Easy for you to say. V.6 He has risen. One verb in the Greek in a passive tense, “He has been raised.”

Luke adds that the angels asked, “Why are you seeking the living among the dead?” So now you have the testimony from the empty tomb and the testimony from the angels. To deny the resurrection of Jesus is to deny the historical reality of an empty tomb, and a historic revelation from angels. Finally, you have the testimony of eyewitnesses in v.7-8. Notice that Mark doesn’t use the term “angel?”

The other writers tell us that they were angels. Go, they said; tell the other disciples and Peter. I like how they mentioned Peter specifically. I think Peter needed a little personal touch of love and recovery because the last scene with Peter was his denial. Tell the disciples and Peter that they are to go to Galilee and there you will see him, just as he said to you.

Jesus had already told them that when he was alive in Mark 14:28 Guess what? The disciples didn’t do that. When the women arrived they didn’t believe them so that night Jesus appeared to them in the upper room where they were huddling in fear. During that week He appeared to two of them on the road to Damascus. He had a private appearance to Peter referenced in I Cor. 15, and a private appearance with James, referenced there as well.

The following week, eight days after the first appearance, He appeared to them again and all of those appearances were in Jerusalem because they didn’t go to Galilee. They just huddled around trying to figure it all out. Finally they go to Galilee and in John 21 Jesus appears to them there and I believe that is where he appeared to 500 believers. But listen to what v.8 says about these women.

They became the first witnesses. Nope. They fled from the tomb trembling and astonished and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. Trembling comes from the word astonished. Afraid from the word phobic. Their inability to give rational explanation to what they saw and heard stunned them to the point they said nothing. Matthew 28:8 picks up the story.

They left the tomb with fear and Matthew adds with great joy. As it began to come clear their fear melted into joy and they ran to report it to the disciples. V.9 says Jesus met them and greeted them. They came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him. These women were the first eyewitnesses of the risen Christ. You know the rest of the story. The women go and they can’t convince the disciples and they hang around for another eight days before they depart to Galilee. Mark ends his narrative where it was intended to end by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In the wonder and awe as anyone’s response should be to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection is thus established as a fact of history. It is established as a fact of theology by the angelic testimony. It is the most important event in the history of the world. It is the most important event in your life and mine because it is by his resurrection that we are justified and that we will live forever.

To deny the resurrection is to deny the testimony of the facts. To deny the resurrection is to deny the testimony of the empty tomb, the testimony of the angels, the testimony of the eyewitnesses, to deny the testimony of the word of God, and to deny the truth.

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The Rev. Dr. James Barnes is currently the pastor of White Memorial Church in Milroy.

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