“Just as He Told You” (Mark 16:1-8)
Alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
And you say that with such conviction! As you should. The announcement of Christ’s resurrection elicits from us a hearty response of faith and joy. And rightfully so. This is the heart of our great hope as Christians, that Christ our Lord has conquered sin and death for us and has secured for us the sure and certain hope of our own resurrection and everlasting life.
Which makes our Gospel reading today a little strange. It doesn’t end the way we would like it to end. We want those woman at the tomb, who had just heard those great words, “He has risen”–we want them to join us in a hearty “Alleluia!” We want them to go away from the tomb with a spring in their step and hearts full of confidence and assurance, ready to tell everyone they meet the good news they just heard. But they don’t. That’s not how this reading ends. Instead, it ends with them being seized with trembling and astonishment. It ends with–and Mark’s whole gospel ends with–what seem to us these most unlikely words, “for they were afraid.” Now really, Mark, is that any way to end the story? Boo, we demand a rewrite!
But this morning I want to tell you that this ending does work. It’s an ending we can relate to. It’s an ending Mark’s original hearers could relate to. And really, it focuses our attention on the basis for our faith and our hope, and that is, the sure and certain words of Jesus. That comes through in this little phrase that the angel uses, when he says, referring to Jesus, “Just as He Told You.”
So let’s take it from the top. It’s Sunday morning, the first day of the week. It’s very early on Sunday morning, just as the daylight begins to show the way to the tomb. These women set out, bearing spices with which to anoint the body of their beloved Master. They want to get there as soon as possible, because Jesus’ body had been placed in the tomb just before sundown on Friday, but then they could not do anything on Saturday, since it was the Sabbath. So the “Spice Girls” want to get there as soon as they can, before the body deteriorates any further.
But when they get to the tomb things are not what they expect. The stone covering the tomb has been rolled away. They look inside, but they do not see the body of Jesus. Instead, they see a young man sitting there, dressed in a white robe. It’s an angel, of course. And whenever angels appear to humans in the Bible, the humans are always afraid. It’s a natural reaction, I suppose, when confronted with the supernatural, in the form of an angelic being. So there’s that, plus they’re confused and perplexed by the absence of Jesus’ body. What’s going on here? And so these women were, as it says, “they were alarmed.” But the angel immediately tells them, “Do not be alarmed.”
OK, up to this point, we can understand the women being alarmed. What happened to the tomb? What happened to Jesus’ body? And who is this young man sitting here? It’s all very confusing and, well, alarming. But now you would expect the mood to change, with what follows next.
The young man in the white robe begins to tell them why they should not be alarmed. He says: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.” Alright, the resurrection announcement! “He has risen, that’s the reason he is not here!” You came to the right tomb. This is where they laid him. But he has been raised from the dead.
Well, this is good news indeed! The body has not been stolen. It’s not been taken. No, Jesus is alive! Death could not hold him! What could be better than that?
And now the young man in the white robe continues: “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.” Now the women have an assignment to carry out. The good news they have just received they are to pass on to others. To the disciples, in particular. Jesus’ closest followers, the ones who had been with him since the beginning. Naturally, they’ll want to hear this.
But wait, these are the same guys who deserted Jesus in his hour of need, just a couple of nights earlier. When Jesus was betrayed and arrested, they all ran away. Peter, who had boasted that he would never do that–Peter even denied Jesus three times. So it’s significant that the angel makes a special point of mentioning Peter. In other words, Peter has not been thrown out and cast aside. No, Jesus wants him to be included on the good news. All of them, really, Jesus is forgiving them for their failure that night, and he wants them to know it.
“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.” Yes, Jesus had told the disciples that that is what would happen. He had said this just the other night, on Thursday night, when he had predicted that they would all fall away when he is arrested and killed. But, Jesus added, saying to them, “After I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” See, disciples, everything is going along “just as he told you.”
So we think back to the words of Jesus. Remember how, earlier in the day on that fateful Thursday, Jesus had sent two of the disciples into Jerusalem, where they would see a man with a water jar, and he would lead them to a house where there would be a room for the Passover? What happened then? And they “went to the city and found it just as he had told them.” “Just as he had told them.”
What else had Jesus told them? Well, three times he had told them that they were going up to Jerusalem where he, the Son of Man, would be handed over and be killed. But Jesus added each time, the words, “And after three days he will rise.” You see? Just as he told you.
Do you get the point? You can rely on Jesus’ words. If Jesus says he will rise from the dead, he will rise from the dead. If Jesus says he is going before you to Galilee, and there you will see him–well, you can pretty well be sure you will see him in Galilee. If Jesus says he is forgiving and restoring those who had let him down, that is what he will do. Jesus’ words are sure and certain.
And now these words of Jesus are being relayed to the women by this young man dressed in a white robe. He has risen, just as he said. He is going before you, and you will see him. Just as he told you.
And this is where the situation of the women matches your situation here today. They had a young man dressed in a white robe telling them that Jesus had risen and that they would see him. You, likewise, you have a–well, not a young man–you have an old man dressed in a white robe telling you the same thing. Just like the women at the tomb, you have God’s authorized messenger passing along to you the good news. This is a message you can count on. You can rely on it. The words of Jesus are true and sure and certain.
You see, the resurrection validates everything Jesus has said and done up to this point. And that includes what Jesus had said about going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. Why would he do that? Jesus told us: “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The cross is where he did that. Jesus, the Messiah, the very Son of God, died on that cross to pay the ransom that sets us free. Christ our Lord has redeemed us by his holy precious blood, setting us free from the burden of our sin, rolling the stone away from the grave that awaits us. Because, with our sins forgiven, death no longer has any hold on us. We will share in Christ’s resurrection. We have Jesus’ word on it, and that is certain.
And so we come away from Easter the same way the women came away from the tomb. With the words of Jesus passed along to us, the good news, the gospel, ringing in our ears. We haven’t seen the risen Christ, but we know we will. He has gone before us, into heaven, and there we will see him.
OK, fine. But then why do the women go away scared, trembling and astonished and afraid? Well, think about it. Everything was so new and different from what they had expected. The reality of it all had not yet sunk in. And maybe there would be things to be afraid of now. Realize, the enemies of Jesus were still around. They had just killed Jesus. Now what about his followers? Would there be danger in store for them?
Yes, there well could be. Both back then and still now. Maybe you saw in the news, just the other day, on Thursday, over in Kenya, Muslim terrorists gunned down 148 students at a university. And they specifically made a point to kill only the Christian students. They let the Muslim students go. But they killed 148 Christians, precisely because they were Christians. Life can be dangerous for the followers of Christ. It’s no wonder we can be a little afraid.
But in this dangerous world, be assured. Be comforted. Do not be alarmed. Christ has overcome death and all the evil that anyone can do to us. The victory remains with life. This life is yours. It is the gift of Christ your Savior. No matter what, Jesus does forgive you. No matter what, Jesus is risen, and you will share in his resurrection. No matter what, he has gone before you, and you will see him. Just as he told you.
And I’d say that’s a pretty good ending.