Sermon on Mark 16:1-8, Easter Sunday 2021 (B), "Just as He told you"

 

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia! We’ve been spending this year in the Gospel of Mark, which builds up to the final chapter, Jesus’ resurrection here in chapter 16. Mark 16 describes day one of Jesus’ Resurrection. He’d planned it; He’ described it in advance on at least three times. His entire ministry up to this point had been proof that His Word was absolutely reliable—everything He said came true. Jesus never says something and doesn’t follow through, like we’re sadly so used to seeing or doing. Therefore, they should have been ready for His Word to come true, “just as He said.” Instead, on day one of the resurrection, everything is chaos, surprise, and fear. Because they didn’t believe what Jesus had told them. Fear and disbelief controlled their thinking.

Thankfully, we know things didn’t stay like they were at the start of day one. They eventually saw Jesus face to face, in the flesh, touched Him, ate with Him, conversed with Him. They got their composure back, Jesus settled their fears, and confirmed their faith against all doubts. The plain evidence of their hands, ears, and eyes, showed that their Lord Jesus crucified on Friday was alive again that Sunday. The coming weeks and years would be an amazing transformation for all of them as that truth embraced their lives. Jesus’ victory brought them new courage and strength of faith and love for all the days and years to come. Life was changed forever after day one of Jesus’ resurrection. Christians would never look at death the same.

No mistake that this was the same Jesus. The young man at the empty tomb confirmed they were in the right place: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” They hadn’t stumbled into the wrong tomb. The women witnessed the sealing of the grave and came back to the same place. The angel confirmed that they were at the right spot, but no dead body was here. Jesus was alive! When they would see Jesus face to face, they would see the scars on His hands, feet, and side, confirmation that this was their same Lord who died on the cross. It is THE biggest miracle!

But day one had an awful lot of unnecessary fear and alarm. All because they didn’t believe Jesus’ trustworthy Word, what He had said. But the angel’s message wasn’t rubbing it in their face—“I told you so!”—but confirming that Jesus’ Word, as always, had proven dependable. Remember what He said; go to Galilee where He promised to meet you! Far from rubbing it in their faces, the rest of the angel’s message showed that however much they had struggled to “get it” so far, God was patiently waiting to “rehabilitate” their faith and leadership. Lord, don’t we need the same!

The ending of Mark’s Gospel puts our crisis of trust in center focus. All along, Jesus patiently and consistently shows His disciples that they can absolutely depend on His Word. But just like the crowds that followed Jesus, opponents among them, we so often demand proof first, and say then we’ll believe. Jesus’ opponents watched an ever-growing list of miracles and signs but continued to beg for more proof before they would believe. Mark’s Gospel flips that on its head and shows first that we should believe Jesus’ word, and then we will see. For those who will not be convinced, no amount of proof will do, as Jesus plainly said: “Neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Jesus’ point was if they refused to believe after everything He had done up to then, they would still disbelieve, after He rose from the dead. Embarrassingly though, even His own disciples didn’t believe it at first!

I want to be really clear what I’m not saying. Neither Jesus nor the rest of the Bible ever calls for gullibility or “easy-believism”, as though just anyone could make the claims He did and should be believed. Jesus wasn’t just anyone claiming to be God. He showed in spades, over and over, His reliability and power. He demonstrated His authority in Word and deed. Miracles, powerful teaching, and compassion like they’d never seen before. No one could find anything false or hypocritical in Him. No one could show He had anything but the highest respect and obedience to God’s Word and Law, no matter how hard they tried. All the evidence that Jesus is who He said, the Son of God and Savior, is there for those who are willing to hear it. He doesn’t call for blind leaps of faith, but to follow His dependable record and reliable Word. His life and works point in the right direction—we are simply called to walk by faith in the same direction as the evidence.

But we trip and stumble over our doubts and fears also. In their shoes at the empty tomb, we’d have been just as scared out of our wits. But Jesus messages them by the angel: “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.” “Just as He told you” points back to an earlier episode. We go there next.

In Mark 14:26-31, Jesus speaks to the disciples, and especially Peter. Right before His betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane. He solemnly warns they all will fall away from Him, but after He is raised up, He would go ahead of them to Galilee. Peter and the others argue that Jesus is wrong, and they would never deny Him, but we know the rest of the story. They didn’t courageously stand by Jesus, but just as He warned—they tucked tail and ran in His time of greatest need. “Just as He told you” echoes that forgotten conversation before everything “got real.” Proving again, most dramatically, what He was teaching all along—His Word is reliable; trust it! Hindsight again showed how reliable and true He is, worthy of all our trust.

The careful mention of the disciples and Peter recalled how Jesus was right that Peter would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed. Peter wept bitterly at his guilt and betrayal. The emotional and psychological burden of his failed loyalty to Jesus must have tormented him over those 3 days. The others weren’t much better off, having all fallen away from Jesus. From the faithful but fearful women to the surviving disciples, their faith was badly in need of repair. Hiding in fear in their houses, the angel’s glorious word came 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.” Jesus returns to them. To them! Who had denied Him, disbelieved, fallen away! He was returning to them, in Galilee, just as He had said!

Does your faith need repair? Have we doubted Jesus’ Word? Pledged to believe only with enough proof—but there was never enough to satisfy us? Or pledged to stick by Jesus through thick and thin, but our courage proved a shallow boast? Have we trembled before the mysteries of God and worried that it could not be true? Have we thought that because we can’t understand God, then maybe He can’t exist, as if that made sense? Has death ever shaken our faith in God? I dare say we can all admit, yes it has. Yes, my faith does need repair. So hear the angel: “Go tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” The Good Shepherd doesn’t abandon His dear sheep in their trouble, when they run away, or hide in fear. When we don’t know any better, when we’ve forgotten His warnings, trusted our own self-confidence or wisdom, and fallen away. He goes to them. He comes to us. He calls us out of our fear and doubt and reaffirms His Word is trustworthy and true, just as He told us. Truth be told, our faith is always in need of repair and maintenance. God gives faith to trust His reliable Word. Come to Him for repair and healing!

Easter is good news for all of us, because Jesus of Nazareth was crucified for sinners just like us. You can’t know the incredible joy and lifting they experienced on day one of Jesus’ resurrection, if you don’t know the burden He lifts and the death He rises from. The awful agony of the cross, the nails in His hands and feet, the crown of thorns. God nailed every accusation of sin, ever act of hatred, violence, idolatry, theft, pride, weakness, betrayal, selfishness, unfaithfulness; any and all sins, nailed to the cross. Jesus’ cross is God’s total answer to the sin of the world. Large and small, you and me, every rebellious or faithless act we’ve ever done or will do. Easter is good news for us because Jesus finished that awful job victorious.

You’ve felt or known that burden of sin every time your conscience signaled your guilt. Every time you were ashamed of what you did wrong. We continually attempt to dodge or escape our guilt, cover up our sin, lie, deny, or excuse. Never makes the situation better. Never lifts the burden. Only disguises or hides it. But not from God. The only real lifting, the only real and permanent freedom from the burden is when Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and Risen lifts those awful burdens on His cross, and permanently puts them to rest. This is the lifting and the joy those women and disciples experienced when they first saw Jesus alive again! His victorious exit from His grave, alive and in the flesh, is God’s proof, God’s stamp of approval, that Jesus’ Word is undeniably trustworthy and true, and that His cross is in power for us. When you repent of your sins, and believe in Jesus, you can depend on His Word that you are forgiven.

When we need spiritual repair, the Good Shepherd comes to His beloved sheep! However we have struggled and failed and gotten lost, He finds us and brings us home. Learn to depend on Him. Learn to give over the burdens of your sin to Him. He is faithful and He is willing. He’s paid your price in full, and His resurrection proves the cross is a victory, not defeat!

Day one of Jesus’ resurrection began in fear and confusion but led to a transformed life for all who believed in Jesus’ reliable word. Whatever soul repair or faith repair we need; wherever we are on our journey—whether day one in fear and confusion, or year 15 or 50 where we’ve gotten lost and stuck in a dead end, or wherever we are—Jesus is our Risen Good Shepherd. His dependable Word and promises steer us back in the right direction, following Him. He reaches out for our rescue, our help, and our healing wherever we’re lost along the way. With His gift of faith, He will work transformation in you all your life long, till His resurrection fully becomes yours and we die and rise again to join Him in eternal life. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!

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