FEARFUL AT THE TOMB
Today is Easter Sunday, the day of resurrection, the day when Jesus rose from the grave to defeat the powers of sin and death and offer eternal life to all who put their faith in him. Each of the gospel writers tell this story in their own way. This morning we are going to listen to Mark’s version of the empty tomb in Mark 16:1-8 (NIV):
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“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.’”
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
After rising early, Mary Magdalene, Salome and Mary the mother of James walk to the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid on Friday. They carry with them the spices that are needed to embalm the body of their friend.
We know what happened when they get there. We know that the sun is just coming up as they approach the tomb. We know that the first thing they notice is that the stone has been rolled away. Mark tells us that they go into the tomb and see an angel there who informs them that Jesus has risen.
These three women, then, are the very first witnesses to the resurrection. And what is their reaction? Are they glad? Are they overjoyed? Are they ecstatic? That’s what we might expect but, no, they were none of these. This is what it says in Mark 16:8 (NIV): “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
Doesn’t sound like they are overjoyed to see the empty tomb, does it? We think of Easter morning as a time to proclaim to the world that Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! We come to worship and we sing songs of resurrection and hope. We speak of new life, eternal life through Jesus Christ, how he broke the chains of sin and shattered the gates of hell so that we could be with God forever in his Kingdom.
We seldom think about the women’s first reaction on that first Easter morning. It was nothing like ours. They were scared out of their minds. But why? The first clue is in Mark 16:1 where it says that women were carrying the embalming spices. Why would they do that? They did it because they thought that they were going to use them. They thought that they were going to embalm the body of Jesus. Why would they embalm him? Because they thought he was dead. And when they discovered that he was not dead, it totally unnerved them.
Somehow the women had missed the point. Not only them. Everyone had missed the point. Jesus had told all of his disciples what would happen to him. He told them that he would die and rise again. In Mark 10:33-34 (NIV) Jesus was speaking about the Son of Man, which is of course himself, when he said “… the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the 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.”
You’d think that would have been pretty clear to those who heard it. But it obviously wasn’t clear. The women didn’t get it and neither did anyone else. I want you to note that when the women gathered the embalming spices before walking to the tomb, none of the men said, “You don’t need those. The tomb will be empty. You just wait and see.” Nobody but nobody but nobody understood what Jesus meant when he said that the Son of Man would die and three days later would rise again.
We can’t really blame them. This was something totally new. It had never happened before. They simply didn’t know what to expect. They had never before seen anyone rise from the dead. Oh yes, there had been the miracle of the raising of Lazarus in John 11 but that was not a resurrection. It was more like a resuscitation. Lazarus had the same old body with the same old mortality. Someday he would die again. But not Jesus. He was resurrected with a transformed body that was immortal and eternal.
How could the disciples possibly have comprehended what that meant? How could the women have possibly understood how useless the embalming spices would be? They couldn’t. Fortunately, with the knowledge that we have, we know precisely what Jesus meant. When he said that the Son of Man would die and rise three days later, he meant it. And more than that, he did it.
Do you know something? It seems odd to me that people still fear the resurrection. It’s true. They may not admit it but they do. That’s why so many people try to deny it. Even today, people say that the resurrection could not possibly have happened. It’s a made up story. Or if there was a resurrection, then it must have been a spiritual resurrection not a bodily one. But that’s not what the Bible says. The Bible says that Jesus physically rose from the dead. Think about this. When the women entered the tomb, what did they see? An angel. That’s all they saw. There was no body. There was no flesh, no bones. There was nothing except an angel telling them that Jesus had risen.
But let’s take a moment and examine the two major arguments that people make in their attempts to deny the resurrection. The Bible addresses both of them. First of all, some people say that Jesus simply did not rise from the dead. Listen to how Paul responded to that in 1 Corinthians 15:12-14 (NIV) by writing these words: “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” In other words, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then all of us are simply blowing smoke. We’re misguided and fooled by the myths of the past. And we are to pitied more than anyone else on the face of the earth.
But that was not Paul’s experience. And it’s not our experience. His reality and our reality is that there is power in the blood of Jesus. There is power in the Lamb that was slain. There is life changing, life altering power in the faith of him who gave his life for us on Calvary and on the third day rose from the grave. It happened. It really did.
The second thing that people say is that while Christ might have been raised from the dead, his resurrection was not a physical one but a spiritual one. Actually, I hear that a lot especially in the Church. There is a whole whack of influential church people who don’t accept the physical resurrection. They say that it could not happen so it must have been a spiritual resurrection.
What does the Bible say about that? I’m going to turn to the book of Philippians to answer that question. In Philippians 3:20-21 (NIV) it says, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” What this tells us is that Jesus body was transformed. It was changed. It was different. Paul describes it as glorious. The resurrection was not simply a spiritual one. It involved a transformation in the physical body of Jesus.
Another passage that speaks volumes for the necessity of the physical resurrection is Luke 24:41-43 where the resurrected Christ ate a piece of fish as the disciples watched. Why did he do this? Precisely to show them that he was a physical being. After all if he was only a spirit, what would have happened to that piece of fish? It would have been in the mouth and on the ground. But it didn’t. Jesus was no ghost. Our resurrected Lord was a real physical person.
People can think what they want. They can theorize and theologize until the cows come home but I want to be very clear about something. My Jesus rose physically from the grave. His body was transformed and his promise to us is that we too will be transformed when he comes again in glory.
Have you ever wondered why people are so afraid of the resurrection? I suppose there are any number of reason for their fear but I believe that the major one is this: If the resurrection is true, then everything else that Jesus said must be true too. Can you imagine the implications of that?
Wouldn’t the world be a different place if everyone believed Jesus when he said in Mark 12:30-31 (NIV) to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength [and to] love your neighbour as yourself.” Do you think you’d see a few changes around here? I think so.
What would the implications be of everyone believing what Jesus said in John 14:6 (NIV) where we read, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Can you imagine the difference it would make? People would want to tell their friends. Parents would want their children to know the Gospel because they would want their sons and daughters to know God.
Can you image how lives would change if people actually believed what Jesus said in John 3:18 (NIV): “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Do you think that faith would become a much more important topic of discussion? How could it not?
If people actually believed what Jesus said, they would change their lives. They would become much more like the Christians in the first century who believed with all their hearts that what the Gospel said was true. They believed it so much that they spent their lives sharing it and leading people to Christ. It was their first priority. And many of those early Christians believed the Gospel so much that they gave their lives to follow it. That’s belief. That’s real belief. When you are willing to die for something, that’s when you know that you’re serious about it.
Why were those early Christians willing to die for the Gospel? Because they believed that the resurrection was true. It wasn’t just some myth or made up story. It wasn’t just about a spiritual resurrection but it was about a real, physical, bodily resurrection. The resurrection, in fact, is the ultimate proof that Jesus is a unique person in the history of creation. He is the Messiah, the Son of God, who came to save us from our sin, bring us back to God again and make a place for us in the Kingdom. Because of the resurrection, we can be assured that all of these things are true and that Jesus really is Lord of all.
OVERCOMING FEAR WITH HOPE
How do we get the world to overcome its fear? The only way to do it is to enable them to experience the hope that comes through faith in Jesus Christ and the difference it makes in the lives of those who follow him. Paul wrote these words in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV): “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
Those are beautiful words of hope for people who are living through difficult times. Those words promise comfort to the distraught, a feast where there is hunger, peace where there is violence, and life where there is death. It says that, just like what happened to Jesus on Easter morning, fear will be overcome and replaced by the hope of new and everlasting life. How could that not be Good News in a world that is so desperate to hear Good News?
For the world to overcoming its fears, it means putting its trust in God. It means having faith in Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection. It means not being afraid of what is found or isn’t found in the empty tomb.
For us it means proclaiming that Jesus Christ is risen, alive forevermore. That is Good News, the Good News of hope that we are called to share with the world. There is no need to fear. There is no need to be afraid. We, as followers of Jesus Christ, are called to share with the world the power of the resurrected Christ and the hope that is ours in him. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Might and Holy God, our Father and our Friend, we gather this day to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ on that first Easter Day. We give you thanks for the life that is ours through faith in him. We praise you for the forgiveness and reconciliation that has come to Creation because of his victory over sin and death.
You, O God, are the Life of the World. You created everything, every plant, every animal, every bird, fish and insect. You created us as your stewards of Creation. In you, we live and move and have our being.
We stand in awe at how Jesus was raised from the dead. Today, we pray for people who have lost the sense of mystery, who are not able to believe in the Resurrection and the power of new life in Christ. We pray for those who are afraid to wonder, and suspicious of things that they do not understand. Bless them with eyes of faith that will enable them to see the truth and believe in their hearts.
You, O God, sent the angel to roll away the stone. Teach us to trust in your strength and not in the power of our own making. Teach us to be like those first Christians who were sent out to change the world. By your hand, all things are possible. You bless us and you sustain us.
We pray for those who mourn on this day of new life. We remember, especially, the family and friends of Janette Pillon, Gladys Skilton and Paul Barrett (brother of Jayne Kellam). Grant them your peace and the hope of eternal life.
We pray for the sick of our congregation and community. Grant them your healing and peace especially when thing look bleak. Renew them – and all of us – by the power of your love. We pray especially today for Mark, Richard, Angela, Joan and Gary. Grant them a special measure of your Healing and Holy Spirit.
You, Jesus, are alive! You died for our sin and rose again on the third day. You kept all your promises. Help us and strengthen us to be faithful regardless of cost or inconvenience. Enable us to share the message of your word with others at every opportunity. Because you live, we also live! Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
April 4, 2021 / Easter
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Isaiah 25:6-9; Mark 16:1-8; John 20:1-18; Acts 10:34-43; 1 Cor. 15:1-11
CALL TO WORSHIP
Christ is risen! He rose on Easter morn!
Jesus has risen! He rolled away the stone!
God has risen; for us and our salvation!
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Loving God, we come to you in worship on this day of Resurrection.. When we consider the empty tomb, it is almost beyond our ability to comprehend. We are awed by your power and gentleness. Yet, despite your might, you know each and every one of us and care about our concerns in life. You are mindful of our lives and you provide for every need. You raise us to new life with you. We give you praise for your covenant promises never fail. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Lord of Mercy, you call us to live our lives with wisdom and discretion. Yet, so often we continue to repeat the mistakes of the past, failing in our attempts to live up to your calling. We are incapable of living by our own standards. How could we ever live by yours? Help us to mature in our relationship and love for you. Remind us of the hurt that you feel when we intentionally forsake your leadership and direction. We are grateful for your unconditional and limitless love that offers us forgiveness when we repent and come to you. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Our sins were crucified on the Cross of Calvary but our eternal life was secured when Jesus rose from the grave and defeated the chains of death. Repent and believe the Good News. Jesus Christ is risen!
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
As you gave yourself for us, we give our gifts to you. Nothing that we can offer will ever repay you for your sacrifice. Still, we are grateful for what we can give and for the blessings that you provide. Amen.
Jesus Christ rose for us and for our salvation. That is our hope. That is our faith. That is the Good News of Easter. That is the message that we are called to share with the world. Believe it and live it.