October 20, 2019
Jason Meyer | Mark 15:40-16:8
There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he 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.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.—Mark 15:40–16:8
Invitation to the All-Church Quarterly Strategy Meeting
Today’s sermon is the final sermon in our series through the Gospel of Mark. It begs the question: What is the next series? The answer to that question is part of a broader conversation.
We want to update you on a conversation the elders have had for quite some time. We are in the midst of a 10-year vision that we have called 25 x ’25. You might remember that this 10-year vision had four major initiatives: (1) engage 25 unengaged people groups and (2) plant 25 new churches by 2025, (3) build a 24/7 facility for the South Campus, and (4) strengthen the core on our campuses.
The first three have been fairly specific and well-defined. The fourth initiative has been the hardest to define. The Lord has shown us some of what that means in the last few years, but recently we believe the Lord has given us a new vantage point and a new level of clarity. We composed a statement that gets to the heart of where we think the Lord is leading. I will read it now, and I am inviting you to the Quarterly Strategy Meeting tonight where we will share about it in more detail.
In light of God’s many graces and our desire to strengthen the core at Bethlehem, the elders are asking the congregation to pray with us for the future structure and organization of Bethlehem. In particular, we are considering a transition to regular live campus specific preaching and campus specific QSMs.“This means that the campus pastors would be mainly responsible for the preaching at each campus and that most strategy meetings would be decentralized from the downtown location and instead held at each specific campus location.”
We recognize this would be a significant change for the church, and if made, there will be implications for our congregation, pastoral staff, and ministries. Therefore, we earnestly desire to hear the thoughts and reflections of the congregation in this process, inviting you to pray with us for God's direction.
So let me say three things upfront before we turn to our text. First, let me make clear what we are really saying by contrasting it with what we are not saying when it comes to your involvement in this process. We are not saying that we have it all figured out and we just want you to rubber stamp it. We are also not saying that you need to figure it all out, and we will rubber stamp whatever you want to do. We are saying we are better together. We sense a definite direction from the Lord, and we believe that your engagement in this will make that sense clearer and stronger.
Second, let us do some expectation management by describing our communication plan for the next few weeks. First, the focus of the QSM tonight will be sharing more details about this new level of clarity we have concerning what “strengthening the core” means. I don’t want you to think it is going to be one long Q&A time. We are hoping to share in more detail the things we see the Lord doing. Second, we have scheduled Family Meetings on each campus that will be more like Q&A sessions, which is important because each campus will have specific questions and need specific answers. Third, I will preach a sermon on November 17 that will address this topic more directly from the pulpit.
Third, I want you to know that there was no polished plan here like, “Let’s wait until we finish the Gospel of Mark, then we will let the congregation in on the conversation during the last sermon. It could look like that, but we are not that slick. The timing for our announcement really did happen to land on this date. I believe it is providential. And as we have an “Easter service” here in October, I believe it is important that we see that the risen Christ is the One who is leading his church. Following the risen Christ can feel like a cocktail of terror, excitement, grief, and hope all in one. We see it all in this text. How appropriate that the last sermon on Mark would feature one final sandwich.
A1 The women at the cross (Mark 15:40–41)
B Joseph of Arimathea before Pilate (Mark 15:42–46)
A2 The women at the tomb (Mark 15:47–16:8)
There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.
Mark paints a contrast between the centurion and the women at the cross in terms of distance. The centurion stands right in front of the cross. (He is near to it and has eyes to see what it really is and who Jesus really is).
The women, by contrast, are “at a distance” from the cross. The three women are identified as Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome. Mary Magdalene is a close follower. Mary is Jesus’ mother—she was also identified as the mother of James and Joses in Mark 6:3. Salome is the wife of Zebedee and the mother of James and John. Why is it significant that they are looking “from a distance”? This is an allusion to Psalm 38:11.
My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,
and my nearest kin stand far off.
Mary Magdalene and Salome were Jesus’ friends. His mother Mary was his nearest kin. They used to follow him and minister to him in Galilee. Now, in Jerusalem, they look at a distance at him as he is considered a plague—condemned and cursed.
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.
It is now Friday evening and there is a rush to bury Jesus before the Sabbath starts. This evening is full of surprises. In fact, there are five sovereign surprises here.
Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council …
Joseph of Arimathea is like the centurion in being one of the least likely candidates for discipleship. He is a “respected member of the council.” We have not met anyone from the Jewish council who was an advocate for Jesus while he was alive (perhaps the scribe in Mark 12:34 is presented in civil or even friendly terms).
There is an unlikely woman in chapter 14 who prepares Jesus’ body for burial and now an unlikely man from the Jewish council secures Jesus’ body for burial. In fact, one commentator notes that perhaps we have side by side here the centurion (a commander of the Romans) and Joseph (a leader of the Jews) to show that Jesus is the Savior of both the Gentiles and the Jews (cf. Edwards, Mark, p. 488).
Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.
The request for the body of Jesus is truly miraculous. Joseph “took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” I think we need to understand why this request required courage. Roman law made clear that the penalty for capital crimes included the loss of all honor in death—even burial. One Roman writer (Tacitus) says that “people sentenced to death forfeited their property and were forbidden burial” (Annals VI. 29). Part of the shame of crucifixion was to show that no one cared for you. You were left to rot on the cross or be eaten by animals or birds.
At times, family members could ask for the body of their beloved and it may or may not be granted, but it was a natural request because of that blood relation. It would require courage for a family member to ask for the body of someone convicted of high treason lest that family member be implicated in it as well. It was unheard of for a non-family member to ask for it.
So this was a surprising twist: A non-family member from the group that universally condemned Jesus asked for the body of Jesus. One commentator says it just right: “His request was daring because it amounted to a confession of his commitment to the condemned and crucified Jesus” (Lane, Mark, 579).
The Jewish council sought Jesus’ death when he was alive, but now one of them shows allegiance to him after his death.
Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead.
Pilate expressed surprise that Jesus had already died. So he summoned the centurion to make sure that Jesus was really dead, and the centurion confirmed it—an important reminder that the “swoon” theory is a bunch of bunk. Some people say the tomb was empty because Jesus just appeared to be dead, but he was only unconscious.
It doesn’t work at all. The job of a centurion was to ensure the crucified person died. But even if he fooled the centurion and was placed in a tomb, how would someone that weak and drained of blood actually be able to move a stone that multiple men could not. And let’s say, for the sake of argument, that someone could fool the centurion and somehow move the stone, do you think that Jesus could compel the disciples to preach his resurrection as he looked completely weak and pathetic?
We learn from the Gospel of John that this quick death was important to fulfill prophecy. Soldiers would hasten a crucified criminal’s death by breaking his legs so he couldn’t push up to get a breath. But when they came to break Jesus’ legs they discovered he was already dead. This fulfilled the prophecy that none of his bones would be broken.
And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph.
Then an even greater twist: Even though Jesus was crucified for high treason (his charge was “King of the Jews”), the Roman Governor Pilate granted Joseph’s request!
And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.
Burial for a Jew would involve washing the body before wrapping it tightly with linen. John’s Gospel confirms this point in saying that Jesus was buried according to Jewish tradition (John 19:40).
A tomb that had been cut out of the rock would be a very expensive tomb. In fact, in saying that the stone was rolled into place fits the picture of a very fine tomb indeed during this time period. “This may have been only a boulder, but if the tomb was an exceptionally fine one, it may have had an elaborate disc-shaped stone, about a yard in diameter, like a millstone, which was placed in a wide slot cut into the rock. Since the groove into which the stone fitted sloped toward the doorway, it could be easily rolled into place; but to roll the stone aside would require the strength of several men. Only a few tombs with such rolling stones are known in Palestine, but all of them date from the period of Jesus” (Lane, Mark, p. 581).
Who cares whether or not Jesus was buried and whether or not it was an exceptionally fine tomb? I bet Isaiah (53:9) has something to say about that!
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
This text talks about the vast difference in the company Jesus will keep—he will die with convicted criminals as a convicted criminal, but will be buried like a rich man. It is amazing that Jesus could be regarded as wicked (a convicted criminal who dies with other convicted criminals), and yet he is counted with a rich man as well.
You can’t make the details of this story up. The irony and the number of times the Scripture is fulfilled is amazing. Once again, a bigger story of Scripture is unfolding here than anyone really realizes—down to the detail and the timing of everything.
So Jesus died on Passover (Friday).
Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.—Mark 15:47
Verse 47 is a transitional verse that goes with the scene on Friday night, but it transitions to the next section in re-introducing the women on Sunday morning. It makes an important point. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus saw where they laid him. This signals to us that the women got the identity of the tomb right—that is, they went to the right tomb on Sunday morning because they knew which one it was.
When the Sabbath was past …— Mark 16:1
This shows us that the Jewish women observed the Sabbath—and Jesus did, too. He died on Passover (Friday) and rested in the grave on the Sabbath (Saturday). What will happen on the first day of the week (Sunday)?
When the Sabbath was past Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he 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.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.—Mark 16:1–8
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.
Jesus said that he would be killed and then on the third day he would rise. But no one seems to believe it in the story. No one comes to the tomb to check out his claim of resurrection. The women go to the tomb not to witness his resurrection, but to delay his decomposition.
In Jewish culture, spices were used to deal with or offset the odor that would come from decomposition. They think Jesus’ body is decaying so they are going to deal with that. They brought things to anoint Jesus, like aromatic oils. These oils would be poured over the head. These acts of service to Jesus are actually misguided— hey show that the women are going to the tomb to address Jesus’ death by delaying decomposition, not because they believed in the resurrection.
And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.
The signal that it was now a new day was the rising of the sun. But the sun in the sky is not the only thing that had risen on that morning. There was a more unique, definitive, once-for-all rising that had taken place that morning.
And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”
That is exactly the right question to ask. They identify a flaw in their plan. They can’t move the stone. It would take several men to move the stone. They could not do it? Who would? The answer comes in the next verse (v. 4):
And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large.
Who moved the stone? Answer: God. God tore the temple veil and now God moves the stone. The veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The stone had been rolled back. Both are these phrases demonstrate literary art. You could easily have an active construction: God tore the temple veil. God moved the stone. But a divine passive construction means the same thing, but in a more hidden way—God still is the subject of the action, but it is hidden in a passive construction.
Why is the angel there? The empty tomb provides evidence at one level that the body is not there but no factual evidence for what happened to the body. What happened to the body? Did someone steal it? No way! God sent a messenger from heaven to herald the answer, which is the good news of the gospel. The angel preaches the gospel and rebukes the misguided efforts of the women all in the same message.
You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.
All their preparations to deal with death left them unprepared to have to deal with resurrected life! What irony! The living are fixated on death, when the Crucified One who died is now forever caught up in resurrection life.
I love that the place where this gospel is first proclaimed is on Easter Sunday. The good news of Jesus’ resurrection is first preached is from the empty tomb. The place of preaching is the very grave that had to give up the One who defeated that grave and every grave.
The ESV translates: “He has risen.” Most commentators agree that the Greek here is another passive construction or a divine passive.
Why does this passive construction matter? Certainly Scripture can highlight Jesus’ activity in the resurrection. John 10 tells us that Jesus has authority to lay down his life and he has authority to take it up again—this authority he has received from his Father. But the passive construction highlights that the resurrection is God’s vindication of Jesus. He was tried unjustly by wicked people. Now heaven declares its verdict. Everything that Jesus said, and everything that Jesus did was right. Arise!
This means that the Gospel of Mark has a confession from God the Father at the beginning (1:11), middle (9:7), and end (16:6). The third is a passive construction, indicating that God did it, but the actor is more hidden.
That is why Scripture can say he was manifested in the flesh (incarnation) and was vindicated (or justified) in the Spirit (i.e., the resurrection). Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). God raised Jesus from the dead by the power of the Spirit, and in that moment Jesus was justified by the Father—that is, all his claims and deeds were vindicated as true. That is why Scripture can say that Jesus was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25). That is, Jesus’ justification at his resurrection forms the basis of our justification or vindication before the judgment throne.
Being a disciple means denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Jesus. Peter had it all backward. He denied Jesus to save himself from taking up the cross, and he left Jesus. Jesus took up his cross to save Peter (not himself), and now Jesus will not deny Peter, but will confess Peter as one of his disciples. “Tell the disciples AND PETER” (v. 6).
A word of hope not scorn: “God completes his plans for the church despite human failure. If the word of grace from the resurrected Lord includes a traitor like Peter, readers of the Gospel may be assured that it includes those of their community who have also failed Christ” (Edwards, Mark, p. 495).
The angel also points to the vindication of Jesus’ words. Tell the disciples that he will meet them in Galilee, just as he said (Mark 16:7).
And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”—Mark 14:27–28
They were together in Galilee and scattered in Jerusalem where he was rejected and murdered, but he will gather them together and they will finally see him with new eyes in Galilee.
Remember from verse 42 that two of the women who had been present when Jesus died (15:42) were observers of his burial (15:47) and then witnesses of the empty tomb (16:1-8). This fact was significant since his death, burial, and resurrection are mentioned as the facts of the gospel.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.—1 Corinthians 15:3–4
The fact that the women were the first witnesses of the empty tomb is very intentional and fits the insider/outsider theme of Mark. Let’s remember that Jewish culture did not place any value on the testimony of women (M. Rosh Ha-Shanah I. 8)—it was not even admissible in court. Luke’s Gospel makes it very evident: “some of our women” (Luke 24:22). These women told them that the tomb was empty, they saw a vision of angels, and the angels said he was alive. And these two male disciples are still leaving Jerusalem—their hopes dashed. They had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel. These reports were immediately disregarded (Luke 24:11, 22–24). It would have been slightly embarrassing for the church that the testimony of women lacked value as evidence. But that means the Resurrection account is too problematic to be a fabrication or invention of the church. The church could not have invented that detail because there would be no benefit in doing so, the only reason the church recorded it is because it really happened.
“[Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20]”
There are several reasons that I do not believe Mark 16:9–20 is part of Scripture—that is, Mark did not write it, but it was added later.
First, Mark 16:9–20 is not found in our oldest and most reliable Greek manuscripts of the New Testament (e.g., Codex Sinaiticus; Codex Vaticanus). Second, it is also not mentioned in the writings of early Christians, such as Clement of Alexandria (d. 215), Origen (d. 253), and Eusebius (d. 340), and Jerome (d. 420). Third, one of the longer endings introduces nine new words that are found nowhere in Mark, and the even longer ending has an additional 18 new words that are not found in Mark. Fourth, the style and phrases are also different. Mark 16:19 names Jesus as the “Lord Jesus,” which seems to come from later Christian worship. Fifth, it does not flow well. Mary Magdalene is introduced in 16:9 as if she is being introduced for the first time: “Mary of whom Jesus had driven seven demons.” Sixth, it appears to have a random collection of signs drawn from the book of Acts. Seventh, one of the main arguments for the long ending is that the ending in verse 8 does not make sense or is not fitting. I could not disagree more.
Every time Jesus does something to demonstrate his deity in Mark’s Gospel, Mark records their response the same: fear (4:41; 5:15, 33, 36; 6:50; 9:6, 32). This gospel is no tame gospel. It cannot be domesticated. Fear here means something like shock and awe and sheer terror as your categories and presuppositions are blown to bits and your understanding of Jesus keeps growing and stretching and soaring.
When Jesus calms the storm, they are even more afraid after he calms it than before, when they thought they were going to die (4:40). “Who then is this?” (4:41). When he was transfigured before them in chapter 9, they were exceedingly afraid (9:6). One commentator says it just right, “Divine revelation lies beyond normal human experience, and there are no categories available to men which enable them to understand and respond appropriately. Mark closes his gospel by saying: ‘the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is an event that shatters all our categories and leaves us with shock and awe – it is both awesome and terrifying.’”
What categories for resurrection did they have? Jews believed in a resurrection, but the timing was very particular. They believed in a future bodily resurrection of the righteous “on the last day” (John 11:24) along with a complete renewal of the whole world. A resurrection in the middle of history without the end of disease and death would have been unthinkable. Many messianic movements existed in the first century, and many self-professed Messiahs were murdered. However, there is not a single mention in any of these cases of the would-be-Messiah claiming he would be resurrected. Never. Why? Because it would be nonsense to the people listening.
‘Move That Bus!’ (Illustration)
Long before Chip and Joanna Gaines, I remember growing up with the show Extreme Makeover Home Edition. They would completely renovate a house, and then they would say: “Move that bus!” The bus would move and they would see the house. Often, they would stand in shocked silence with their mouths hanging open. If this is the way normal people respond to the shock of their lives at the renovation of a house, then how should we respond to the resurrection of a body?
Saturday’s Children vs. Sunday’s Children
Ray Stedman calls people living today, “Saturday’s children.” So many people today live in despair and darkness like the people in this story on dark Saturday. They don’t know about the bright victory of Easter Sunday. Those who are “Sunday’s children” know how to look at the empty tomb in stunned silence, shock, and awe. And then they know how to speak into the night of darkness and death.
Some of you have heard this story before, but I need to share it one more time because I just can’t help myself. My last high school basketball game is a memory that is forever etched in my mind. One scene really stands out. It was the fourth quarter. We were playing defense and the opposing team dribbled the ball to half court. Suddenly one of my teammates stole the ball and passed it to me. I had one guy to beat to our basket. I outran him and scored my one and only career slam-dunk. Our fans went wild. I felt like I was walking on air for a moment. It was one of the greatest feelings in the world.
But I was in for a rude awakening. The fans from the opposing team were cunning and calculated. They started a chant that shut down our whole cheering section: “Check-the-score, check-the-score, check-the-score.” The trash talk hit home. We were still behind by 16 points or something like that. For a brief moment, it felt like we were winning, but the trash talk quickly brought us back to reality: We were losing—badly. It put everything into perspective.
Do you see? The Resurrection is the great game changer and the defining mark for Sunday’s children. We don’t have a buried hope, but a living hope. We know how to check the score. “Check the score, death!” If you feel like you are losing and you have the resurrected Jesus as your Lord, then you are checking the wrong scoreboard. No one will be in heaven with him and say to themselves: Look how much I lost!
The other side of that equation is true as well. If you are not a follower of Jesus and you feel like you are winning without Jesus, then you are checking the wrong score. There is no one who will suffer eternal torment in hell and say, “Look how much I won!”
We know that suffering does not cancel our hope—it just clarifies it. We know that we can’t hope in health or relationships or children or money. Put your hope in the One Hope that can’t fail or die, because he has already defeated death— our Living Hope. We don’t lose heart because our Living Hope is risen. We are Sunday’s children.
Main Point: Mark closes his gospel by saying: “The gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is an event that shatters all our categories and leaves us with shock and awe.”
Pray for a grace to respond to the Resurrection with fresh shock and awe.