Read This Page in My Language
I have never seen an angel, but if I did, I am quite sure that I would be like the three women who ran from the tomb that first Easter morning. Mark says the reason they ran from the tomb was because they were “trembling and bewildered”. And “they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (v. 8).
Yes, I would be too.
They had started out rather brave that morning. Not even the manly disciples had dared to venture out behind locked doors. But women tend to do what is necessary and right even when afraid, whereas men tend to sit passively and think. Jesus needed a proper burial. And these women were not going to let their fears deprive him of that. They loved him.
So, they bought the spices Saturday evening. Mark writes, “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” (v. 1). The Sabbath always started the night before Saturday (Friday evening). That is how the Hebrews tracked time. Once the sun went down the day was over. It was past. You couldn’t go back and change anything. But what you could do was look forward to the future and the rising of a new sun. That is why “Very early on the first day of the week [Sunday], just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb” (v. 2).
Now, they hadn’t worked out a plan yet for what to do when they arrived at the tomb. Verse 3: “They asked one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone from the entrance of the tomb?’” So, no plan, but they did have courage. It doesn’t mean they weren’t afraid. I am sure there was fear. Certainly, there was grief. Think of the funerals of those that you have loved. It’s almost like you are in a daze. You just do what you have to do.
Things changed, however, once they arrived at the tomb. For one, “they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away” (v. 4). That wasn’t right. Had someone stolen the body? Had the soldiers decided to move Jesus to another grave? No. But “as they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed” (v. 5).
“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” (v. 6).
Now, who knows what the women’s exact thoughts were at that moment, but what is certain is that there were thoughts—a whole host of them. Trying to figure out what they were seeing. Trying to interpret what the angel was saying. Jesus wasn’t there, but that was okay because he had risen, right? They could clearly see there was no body, but how in the world … and who was this young man dressed in a white robe?
Then the comfort. “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’” (v. 7).
“Just as he told you.”
Well, Jesus had told his disciples that he was going to die and rise again in three days. He apparently also told them that he would meet up with them afterwards in Galilee. But then Jesus died. And death is so final. And the circumstances that led to his death were so sudden. And the way in which he died was so shocking and inconceivable. Yes, he had told them. But then this all happened...
You see, Jesus has also told us many things in the Bible. He is very clear in what he says. But like the disciples we let it go in one ear and out the other. We come to church on Sunday, and then life happens on Monday. What was it that Jesus said? No, we’re not even thinking about what Jesus said because things have changed. A pandemic happens and the whole place is shut down. Loved ones die. Jobs are lost. People lose their freedoms. What in the world is going on?
Well, apparently a whole lot is going on in the world right now. Just like it was for the three women and the disciples. But here is our comfort: whether your world has turned upside down or not, nothing can ever change what God has said. If he has decreed it, so it will be.
Now, again, let’s think this through. You and I make promises and decrees. We say we will do this or that. And yet the apostle James writes, “What do you know? You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. You’re just a mist that appears for a while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). I mean, we can say all we want, “I’ll meet you in Galilee.” But then life happens. Or rather death. “Well”, we say, “we understand that due to the pandemic things change and we’ll just have to reschedule later.” But the thing about death is that there is no rescheduling. That’s it! And that’s the frame of mind Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome were in on Easter morning. Nothing made any sense.
Does life make sense to you? Do you become afraid when life is out of your control? What about when your physical life, that is, your health and the health of those you love is out of your control? Listen! Every one of us fears death. That does not mean we don’t believe we are going to heaven, but because we haven’t experienced death yet, we fear the unknown. That is the Doubting Thomas inside every one of us. What is the antidote to our fear of the unknown?
The fact that our future is not unknown. Jesus has already told you. You see, the question isn’t whether you are afraid of the unknown. Jesus has already told you what is going to happen when you die. You will rise from the dead and live forever with him in heaven! For the believer then, fear does not stem from the unknown. It stems from a lack of faith in what Jesus has said to us.
Now, of course, the details of the future are unknown. But that we will rise from the dead and be with Jesus in heaven, of that there is no doubt. God has decreed it, and so it will be. “Fine!”, says the skeptic, “But talk is cheap!” Yes, it is. Human talk is very cheap. We are just a “mist that appears for a while and then vanishes”, after all.
That’s why Easter is the most important day in the history of mankind. God is not a mist that shows up in our life only for a little while. Jesus, as God, rose from the dead and lives forever. Under his own power! It’s true that Lazarus also rose from the dead as well as others, but that was because only God’s power had made it so. And even then, they all died again. But Jesus conquered his own death via his own power proving that he is God. “He has risen!”, says the angel. “He is not here. See the place where they laid him.”
“Okay,” says the believer, “but I still don’t want to die.” Yes, I know. Neither do I. That is why it is so important that we go back to the empty tomb. We need to see it again and again. You cannot stop the fears of life from coming, but you can handle them, and yes, even dissipate them by going back to the empty tomb. How so? By going back again and again to what our Lord has said in the Bible. That is the genius of it being written down. We can go back to it again and again. And no matter how many times we grow afraid because of doubt, we go back, and it says the same thing! I can’t tell you how many times I still find the need to go back and reread passages that I’ve read a thousand times!
Why? Well, not because God is unclear. No. You read the passage and it is very clear. It is so clear that I cannot understand it any other way. And so, I believe.
Well, let me just leave you with the clarity of Jesus’ promises, so that you too can believe and not be afraid.
John 14:1-3. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
1 Corinthians 15:22. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
And perhaps the clearest promise in all the Bible, John 14:19. “Because I live, you also will live.”
In other words, “Just as he told you.”
This is the logic of the Bible. Now that he has risen, we can be sure that he will keep all his promises. For if he was able to keep this one, then surely, he is able to keep all the others. Nothing will be too hard for him. Nothing will hold him back from keeping his promise of our own resurrection. Just wait. You will see. It will be just as he told you. Amen.