Staunton Mennonite Church
Mark 16:1-8 (NIV)
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?”
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.
Thesis: None of the New Testament’s witness makes any sense unless the community is vindicated by the resurrection of the dead (pg. 338 Hays).
Over the last three Sundays, you have seen me progressively get rougher looking. My hair was cut short and my beard has been growing out. I have lovingly been called “grizzly” and “grungy” by people in this congregation.
Now nobody ever asked me why I was putting myself through such a metamorphosis. You simply accepted me, as grizzled and grungy as I appeared, and welcomed me. And I appreciate that. Especially since we as Christians need to be accepting of all people, no matter how they look or smell, even when they look different from us. We are all created in the image of God, though some of us might be slightly more distorted images of God than others.
Now I do have a reason for my exceptionally grizzled look over the last three weeks. If I never told you that, you probably wouldn’t have thought anything of it. You probably would have forgotten that rough looking guy that preached a few Sundays in Lent. But now I am going to tell you that there is more to the story.
Through Lent, we have witnessed the worship leader nailing a black piece of paper to the cross every week. These black pieces of paper, which represented our sins, accumulated over the weeks. Then, last Sunday everyone had the opportunity to nail their sins to the cross. And it was covered from top to bottom. It was a black out. Our sins dominated the landscape. Now this week, all of those sins are gone. The cross is now cleared of all of those sins, and it has been made white as snow.
As the black papers accumulated on the cross, I grew progressively grungier as well. The whiskers grew out and thicker week by week. I probably showered less frequently than I should have, and I chose to only wear dark colors. Now, here today I stand clean cut and shaven, washed and made new again.
Probably everyone here would have missed out on that message if I hadn’t disclosed this information to you this morning. You would have just forgotten about my grunginess in a week or two. But now you see the significance in what I was doing. I was trying to show you something symbolically. There is a cleansing, an atonement that makes us right with God again. And the medium for that atonement is the cross. The method for that atonement is crucifixion. And the source of that atonement is Jesus Christ.
Like my frequently changing styles, we have all done things that don’t make sense to many others. Now there are things that are just bad decisions that we make that really never make sense and there are choices that we make that only make sense to others when we explain it to them. Over that last few weeks I have been talking about the counter cultural nature of Christianity, the way that Christians are called to do things differently from the world around us. I have spoken of how we as Christians are called to do things that don’t make sense to the rest of the world. And today I would like to share with you why these things do make sense for those of us living on this side of Easter Sunday. Because they only make sense in light of the resurrection. Like my progressive grunginess, it only makes sense when you have the whole story.
Our text for today speaks about the first Easter morning. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James (and Jesus?), and Salome are said by Mark to be going to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body. Jesus had died on a Friday, the next day was the Sabbath, and it was early on the first day of the week when they had their first opportunity to go to Jesus’ grave to perform this duty. And as they are walking, they become very pragmatic, asking, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they got to the tomb, they find that the stone has already been rolled away. They walk into the tomb to find, not Jesus, but a young man dressed in white. And this young man in white proceeds to tell the ladies, “Jesus, who was crucified, is not here. He has risen. Go and tell the disciples (and Peter) to meet him at Galilee.”
And then we come to something that is somewhat problematic. Verse eight says, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Why is that problematic? Well, originally the gospel of Mark ended with verse 8 and according to Mark, nobody else witnessed the empty tomb. So if these ladies did not tell anyone else, then how did Mark find out? How did we find out?
I wonder sometimes what would have happened if they truly would not have told anyone else. What if nobody had witnessed the resurrected Jesus? What if the burial of Jesus was the end of the story? Would the story have died with Jesus and his disciples? Would we even know the name “Jesus” today?
If I say the name Judas Maccabaeus, could you tell me who he was? Does that name ring a bell? What about Simon bar Kochba? I would guess that most of us have never even heard of these men. They are both very important people in Jewish history, but not really so much in Christian history. Both were very influential people, both had a strong following. Both were thought to be the messiah during their time and date, one coming before Jesus and one after. But what happened to these two men? They both died, they were killed by the Greek and Roman leaders, respectively. And if they were resurrected, we don’t have any text today that shows this. So if they were resurrected, and someone did witness this, then those witnesses, unlike the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, truly told no one.
I tell you the stories of Judas Maccabaeus and Simon bar Kochba to make the point that someone said something that first Easter Sunday. Someone told of Jesus’ resurrection. If they hadn’t, he might have gone down in history next to these two other men that we seem to know so little about. If the Mary’s and Salome hadn’t witnessed to his resurrection, the story of Jesus would have probably died with him or been nothing more to us than a little line in the history books about some counter cultural leader in Palestine in the first century that made a bunch of statements about how the law of Moses was not being lived out properly and how God’s people needed to step it up a bit.
But the word got out. The women did not keep the resurrection a secret. They told others and then those people told others and the word spread exponentially. Eventually people started writing things down about what Jesus had told them, they began to record the things that he had said so that it could be passed on to others who were not there in person. And they began to realize that these things that were confusing, these things that didn’t make sense to them at the time when Jesus said them, only make sense now. Now that they know that Jesus is not dead, these things make sense. Now that we are given the assurance that all those who are in Christ will rise with him, these tough sayings become intelligible.
Jesus said things like “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not murder’, but I say to that if you are angry with a brother or sister you are liable to judgment. You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. You have heard it said ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evil doer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; if anyone wants to take your coat, give them your cloak as well, if anyone forces you to go a mile, go with them a second mile. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Paraphrase from Matthew 5:21-48)
This isn’t the way the world works! The meek shall inherit the earth? That is wrong, the strong will inherit the earth. The powerful will inherit the earth. The one with the biggest guns and the biggest bombs and the biggest bank account will inherit the earth. That is what the culture around us is teaching us. But that isn’t what Jesus says. And what Jesus has taught us only makes sense now that we know about the resurrection. Many of the teachings of Jesus only make sense with the promise of a new creation.
To illustrate this, I think it is appropriate to retell a story that we are all probably familiar with. On October 2, 2006, a 32-year-old milk truck driver named Charles Roberts entered a one room Amish school house in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, taking 10 students hostage. Their ages ranged from 6-years-old to 13. After a boarding up the door and windows, Roberts began shooting the girls execution style, from point blank range in the back of the head. A coroner from Lancaster County said, “there was not one desk, not one chair, in the whole schoolroom that was not splattered with either blood or glass. There were bullet holes everywhere, everywhere.”
Five of the girls died on the spot or soon after. The five other victims survived, though one, six-year-old Rosanna King, survives today in a wheel chair, being fed through a feeding tube, unable to communicate verbally. Roberts also took his own life that morning.
This is a story that we are all familiar with. It blanketed the news for days after the event took place. Books are still being published about the shootings at Nickel Mines almost 18 months later. But as I was preparing for today, and even this morning as I stand here preaching this message, I find myself getting angry. How could someone do such a thing to these young, innocent girls? What did they ever do to Charles Roberts? And when you hear about the things he thought about doing to these girls, it just makes me sick. And the worldly side of me kicks in and I begin to think, “It is too bad that Charles Roberts took his own life, because he would have gotten what he deserves in jail. He would have been harassed by the other inmates and he probably would have gotten some sort of extreme punishment from the courts.”
But what happened? While much of the world thinks of ways to pay back evil with evil, what was the response of the Amish community? They forgave Charles Roberts for his offense. They reached out to his family. One Amish man is said to have held Charles Roberts’ father in his arms as they wept together for an hour. The grandfather of one of the murdered girls was quick to remind others that they must not think evil of this man. Charles Roberts left behind a wife, children, and parents as well. All of them needed to grieve this terrible tragedy, too. And the family of Charles Roberts has been able to do so with the grace and forgiveness offered to them by the Amish community.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:43, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father I heaven.” The teachings of Jesus, the forgiving nature of the Amish community don’t make sense in the world we live. We want vengeance, we want people to pay for what they have done to us. Baking bread and cookies for the wife of the man who just shot 10 little girls is probably the last thing on most people’s minds. But we are called to live a counter cultural life, different from the world around us.
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” I think it is safe to say that the Amish community has taken this passage to heart in many ways. And so often all that the people of the world around them see is the lack of conformity in clothes, cars, and electricity. What people don’t see is the second part of the verse. We are not to become conformed to the patterns of this world, but rather we are to be transformed by Christ.
Now I don’t think that we need to go as far as the Amish do when we seek to not become conformed to the patterns of this world, but I also think that it is clear that the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Paul teach us that we are not supposed to be like the rest of the world, either. We are to be a city on a hill that cannot be hid. We are to stand out from the rest of the world. And they will know us by our refusal to repay and eye for an eye, they will know us when we turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. They will know us as followers of Jesus Christ.
As I began this message, I said that sometimes things just don’t make sense to us until we have the entire story. And the teachings of Jesus just don’t make sense to most people. Like Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:18 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” But that is not the entire story. There is more. Paul goes on to say, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
So as we go from this place today, let us think about that first Easter morning when the Mary’s and Salome found the tomb to be empty. They were so afraid that they didn’t tell anyone what they had found. Imagine what the world would be like if they hadn’t found the courage to share that message. Let us be glad they found the courage to share this message with other, and may we find the courage to do the same.