Mark 16 reads: “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. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other: who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?
But when they looked up they saw that the stone which was very large had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb they saw a young man dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side and they were alarmed. ‘Don’t be alarmed’, he said, ‘you’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He’s going ahead of you into Galilee’. There you will see him just as he told you. Trembling and bewildered the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.
When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene out of whom he had driven seven demons, -great recommendation-. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. Afterwards Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest but they did not believe them either.
Later Jesus appeared to the 11 as they were eating and he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. He said to them ‘go to all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned and these signs will accompany those who believe. In my name they will drive out demons, they will speak in new tongues, they will pick up snakes with their hands, and when they drink deadly poison it will not hurt them at all, they will place their hands on sick people and they will get well. After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” Praise the Lord.
You know, as I read this passage many times but I confess just a few minutes ago as I was trying to get the angle for my presentation, sort of the handle on this passage and how to approach it and how to focus it, it became to me very clear that this whole passage relates the extreme failure of the disciples to do honor to the sublime nature of Jesus, his resurrection, the message of salvation, the nature of the gospel itself.
I mean, this moment of resurrection which is so glorious and so worthy of celebration and so luminous in its content, in its message, in its nature, is wrapped in a dark mantle of human frailty and failure and unbelief. Very inappropriate and very sort of, counter intuitive to what one would expect from this moment.
You know, the people of God are sometimes, we’re prone to over simplify things and to gloss over these deeper aspects of the text that we explore. And so often in relating the message of the resurrection we are prone to just focus on the glory of the resurrection, the light that accompanied the resurrection, the angel that tore open the tomb, so to speak, and tossed aside this huge stone that covered the entrance to Jesus’ body and who sat on that stone in a wonderful gesture of victory over every obstacle that stands between us and the glory and the power of Jesus.
And we’re dazzled by that and we’re dazzled by the fact that Jesus rose from the dead and that all of a sudden all the promises that the Messiah had made were realized and that his glory became evident and his messiahship and his divinity, all became clear. And so we’re very prone to concentrate on the glory of the message and of the event, and the beauty of it, and the luminous nature of that moment and neglect to note that all of that is kind of interspersed with human failure; that the whole process of the crucifixion and the resurrection is full of moments of failure on the part of those who should have known better.
So we see Jesus alone and forsaken on the cross because the men who were his disciples, who had seen his glory, who had seen his power, who had seen his miracles, all of a sudden just left him and were demoralized very quickly. And all that they seen, all that they had heard, all that they had learned, all that they had lived with the glorious person of Jesus, all of a sudden became completely irrelevant when things got a little bit negative.
And so we see the Master alone pretty much there with a couple of women who are crying and who probably were there simply because, you know, as women of that time they probably didn’t expect that the guards or the authorities would take much notice of them. I don’t think it was necessarily because they were much more courageous that the men, but because they thought, you know, we’re like children, we don’t matter so the guards are not going to be so concerned about us, the authorities. It was a bad moment for Christianity, for that beginning church.
And then Jesus dies and everybody is demoralized and thinking ‘Guau, man, we really got sold a bill of goods, I mean, this is not what we expected’, and everybody is hiding in the ….. houses and afraid to come out and only these women again, who are doing this…… I suppose like a king of proforma. I mean, what do you do when somebody dies? You make the funeral arrangements, you go to the funeral house and you sign the papers and you pay whatever needs to be paid to have the body buried, and so on and so forth, so they are going to do the equivalent of that. There they have some spices, that they dutifully are going to take to wrap the body of Jesus, a very mundane kind of thing at that time.
So, they’re walking over and the one thing that concerns them ‘hey, who’s going to take that big stone away from us? They are focused on that, it says here. They’re focused on the negative and on the obstacles. But when they get there they find that the stone has been rolled away and that the Master has, as that young man tells them, actually been resurrected.
There’s another scene in the Book of Luke, chapter 24 of that whole demoralized state of unbelief, and it’s on the road to Emmaus, that famous scene where these two disciples are walking along on the way back to their village and they’re demoralized as well and unbelieving. And they’re returning and they’re the very embodiment of failure and of expectations not met, and they’re walking along, sad and the Master joins them and clothes himself in such a way that they cannot see him, or rather they see him but they cannot decipher who he is, he blocks their interpretive power for a moment. And he starts talking to them, and you know, he says ‘what’s going on?’. ‘Well, about Jesus of Nazareth, he was a prophet’.
Already they demoted him. He’s not the son of God, the Messiah, he was a prophet and they’re speaking in past tense, powerful in word and deep before God and all the people, the chief priests and our ruler handed him –this is Luke 24- to be sentenced to death and they crucified him, but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel, and what it’s more, it is the third day since all this took place. In other words, forget about it. If there was any hope it’s three days, this is it. It’s too late now.
You know, their understanding of what has taken place is clothed in total doubt and sense of failure and what was expected that was going to happen, has not happened at all. Unbelief. And Jesus, we know the passage, he reveals himself to them and there’s something about that I’ll discuss in the appropriate time.
But again, this glorious moment of resurrection, the culminating moment in the sense of Jesus’ career, is wrapped in all these allusions, these references to human failure and doubts, all that Jesus invested in these people, all of the best efforts, of the best teacher in all of history accompanied by huge miracles and huge demonstrations of who he was and supported by the most powerful apologetic to no avail. All that Jesus had invested completely wasted on doubtful hearts and on stubborn unbelief.
The angel testifies to the women, ‘he has risen, he’s not here. See the place where they lay him, look, it’s empty!’. And there are intimations in other gospels that complement this, that evidently it was an angel and they knew that he was an angel. The angel says ‘but go, tell the disciples and Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see him just as he told you.’ Just as he told you. There you will see him.
Now, what happens? These women say, ‘guau, yes Lord. Thank you, let’s do it. He’s saying let’s go and share. Great’. They go and do that. No, look what it says: “trembling and bewildered –an example again of human failure, fear and frailty- the women went out and fled from the tomb and they said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.”
How about that? I mean, isn’t that enough to just throw in the towel and say ‘forget it, man, I’m going to go and find the Hispanics of the Asians, maybe they’ll start all over again and see if they believe me.’ So these women, despite all this, I mean, everything seems to be confirming what the Master has said, they shut their mouths and don’t say anything to anybody and they keep it to themselves, because they’re too afraid. It’s too much for their brain to process.
And so, in verse 9, “when Jesus rose early on the first day of the week he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons”. That causes me also to stop there for a moment. Who is the first person that Jesus delivers his glorious message personally of his resurrection? A woman from whom he had taken seven demons. I mean, this character was really quite saturated and possessed, seven, you know, the number of completeness. This is the kind of people that the Lord is delivering this wonderful message of resurrection to.
She went and told those…. She was a little bit more obedient so she goes and tells those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping because they believed that he was dead, of course, and when they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe. It’s like again, overkill. It’s too much.
And afterwards Jesus appeared in different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest and they did not believe them either. You know, we tend to over romanticize the primitive character of the disciples, and we say ‘man, if I would have been there. If only I had been able to touch the Master and hear him give his beatitudes and speak in the Mount of Olives, if only I could have seen for a moment one of the miracles, then everything would have been all right, I would have been a super evangelist. I would have been my body to be burned for the Lord, on, and on, and on. I would have never doubted anything.
Well, you know, what I find in scripture, time and time again, in the Book of Acts for example that is very historical perspective of the church, I see failure everywhere, I see human frailty, I see people not believing. You know, I see the church praying for the liberation of, I think it was Peter and John, they were in jail, and they’re praying and raising up a storm and saying Alleluia!, and praying in tongues, and jumping up and down in the places, you know, heated up because of all the passion and then the Lord goes ahead, sends an angel, opens the door to the prison, gets them out and they come to the door and they knock and you know, they think that it’s a ghost that these guys…. That they’re just ghosts. They cannot believe that it’s actually them, and here they were, raising up a storm in prayer.
Human nature is the same. Human frailty, this body, this nature that inhabits us. We’re messed up, I’m telling you. We’re crazy. We all need psychoanalysts desperately. That is the truth. I mean, there are no super heroes. There are no angelic beings dwelling in human bodies. I mean, we’re just rotten to the core, that is the truth. And that’s a very liberating thought in the light of God’s mercy and blessing, because that’s what we see here.
You know, but it’s so good to begin there. I remember a little bumper sticker that says something like ‘I used to get depressed every day until I lost hope and then I was ok’, something to that effect. It’s great when you admit ‘I’m messed up, I’m not worthy of God’s glory, I’m a mess’, and then you begin from there. It’s so liberating. You stop struggling with yourself, you know who you are and you know what you deserve, and then it’s great to begin.
And that’s where God loves to begin from with his dealings with the human race, because he knows our pride. He knows that the core problem of human race is that pride, that spiritual pride that we have. And he has a controversy that goes back all the way to the garden of Eden with human pride, and God is set on crushing human pride and this is why in all his great events in history we will see that same process of God’s great moments accompanied by human frailty, by images and actions of poverty, of brokenness, of fallenness, of undeservability if there’s such a word, of people who should not be there, being invited to the party.
If you look at his birth it was the same way. Born of a woman of no great merit except that she was a gentile wholesome soul. That was Mary’s credentials. She was no great beauty, she was no great brain, she was no great accomplished soul of any sort. She was just a wholesome young woman who was ready to believe in God. And he chose her, he chose a humble carpenter for a raw model for his son, and a humble village in which to bring his son up in and a humble country. And whom does he announce the birth of his son to? A bunch of humble shepherds and he’s born in a cave and God’s surrounds this whole beautiful moment in all kinds of rejection and poverty and lack of credentials, because it’s that main thing.
You know, it’s not about us, it’s about God. And God wants to make sure that we understand that. Even as we try to live for him and serve him and be useful to his kingdom and please him and live in holiness, you know, there’s this thing: it’s not about you. God knows who you are. You are not worthy of anything that he can give you. You’re not worthy of any revelation that you can receive. You are not worthy of any witness that you can be of any of God’s great movements. You are not worthy of being an instrument of God’s grace or love. Give it up! You don’t have the credentials. You don’t have what it takes. You have failed the Lord and time and time again God makes sure that before he uses anyone, before he chooses a people, that he reads them the riot act, and that they know that they don’t deserve to be a part of his glorious move in history.
And you know once you get to that point, that’s why I say, it’s so freeing because you stop putting your burden on yourself to perform and to sort of be worthy. You begin by understanding ‘yes, Lord I don’t deserve it, I know it and it’s about your glory. It’s all about your mercy and I don’t have to live under this burden of being good and performing for you. I have to really submit myself to your grace and you are so much less a complicated being than I think so many times. To please you takes so little really. I am moved to go back thousands of years even, before or at least many, many hundreds of years, before that glorious moment of the resurrection or the birth of Jesus, and it’s the same thing again.
And I say this because, and I mention it because we see the pattern. It’s very clear that God is very serious about this kind of way of doing things, this paradigm of human failure and of divine grace in choosing. Because when he chose the Jews, it was the same kind of him. Who does he choose? A decrepit Bedouin with an older wife who cannot bare children, has not born children, from a pagan nation and then a people who are descent from his loins, who are inveterate, doubters and complainers and rebels, to the point that when he is going to enter them into that sublime land that he has chosen for them, the Promised Land, again, he lines them up and he says ‘I want you to understand one thing, I’m giving you this wonderful land, these great houses and all these wells that you have not dug or this land that you have not cultivated, and it’s not because you’re any good. Don’t make that mistake of thinking ‘oh, we got this because we are so disserving!’. You’re just a bunch of jerks and you know, you’ve been a pain in my whatever, in my neck….. since the day that I started dealing with you guys. Actually I wanted to destroy you, I became so impatient with you that I wanted to destroyed you except that Moses prevailed on me to be patient with you.
In Deuteronomy, chapter 9, he says: “After the Lord, your God, has driven them out, these nations, these huge powerful nations again, he says, you can’t deal with these powerful nations. They’ve got tanks, they’ve got missiles and they’ve got planes and you’re just a bunch of puny little Jews. You have nothing to guarantee you anything. And remember this, after the Lord who got them driven them out before you, the Lord, your God, has driven them out before you. Do not say to yourself ‘the Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness. No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness –this is Deuteronomy 9:5- or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of the land. In other words, you don’t have any. But on account of the wickedness of these nations. It’s not because of anything good, it’s rather because of the bad that these people have. That’s really the essence of why I’m doing this transaction here. You have no merit whatsoever. Actually they’re responsible for what I’m doing. You’re not even responsible for anything.
“But on account of the wickedness of these nations the Lord, your God, will drive them out before you to accomplish what he swore to your fathers”. In other words, because of his faithfulness to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Understand that is really driving this nail into their side, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord, your God, is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff necked people. Not a very auspicious beginning for a relationship. But you know, God is really set on letting them know.
But look at this, and I finish with that whole thing of God, sort of setting up the case against us time and time again. And then I look at his beautiful, loving heart and his mercy. What does he tell the Jews after that in chapter 10 of that same Book of Deuteronomy?
Chapter 10, verse 12: “And now, oh Israel, what does the Lord, your God ask of you, but to fear the Lord, your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good”.
You know, we’re prone to think that this kind of simplicity of God’s relationship with man is a characteristic of the New Testament, of Jesus’ interpretation of God’s dealing with the human race, but it isn’t. It’s as old as the Torah, the very, very old testament. It is as old as Maika, it is as old as Isaiah when God talks about what is the true fast. It’s not that you kill yourself not eating, and be going hungry and suffering for me. It’s that you be just and that you do right and that your heart’s given to the Lord.
It’s a message that is so insistent in the Old Testament because you’re not capable of doing all those great sacrifices and all those sublime things. Really, what I want from you guys is just a clean heart. Love me. Fear me. Prefer me. Strive to please me. Do your best, guys. That’s all I want from you. I’m a simple guy, simple tastes. Give me your porchup and some mashed potatoes and a little bit of greens and I’m happy. I don’t need any sophisticated nouvelle cuisine or whatever. All I want you guys, just do your best and behave. I’m fine.
You know, God always goes to that point. You know, he knows what we’re made out of. He knows we can’t perform and so he goes beyond that and he says ‘I’m going to give you a simple message. I’m going to give you the abridged version because I know you don’t have a brain complex enough to take the whole thing. This is all I want of you.
You know, this is what reassures me. This is what God…. This is the way he deals with me and with you and that’s why in these sublime moments we can sort of take a sigh of relief. We failed the test and yet we still get to graduate. And you know what? After a few days it doesn’t matter whether we got cum louder or D minus, it doesn’t matter. Because God is not about the performance to get to that point, it’s about being gracious and a heart that is broken before him and humble and contrite and that knows that, yes, we’ve all messed up and that it’s about God’s great mercy and infusing his love, his power, his grace and that’s what’s going to make the different. That’s what’s going to enable me to perform. It’s not me, it’s him in me.
As I empty myself, as I divest myself of any pretensions and I open this big hole, this big space inside of me so that God can come in and fill it, and move through me, that he can sit his tank inside of that little spot that I’m going to open up and from there he can shoot the enemy, and he can send his projectiles of love to the needy world that I’m supposed to be moving in, living in.
That’s what it’s all about. It’s that brokenness, that…. And so Jesus, you know, in this passage that we just read in Mark and I’m hastening to finish here, he finally appears to them in verse 14 of Mark 16. “Later Jesus appeared to the eleven and he rebuked them”.
You know, he does what God does, I mean, he points to them, just like what any good parent should do. Any good parent when a child breaks the law of the house, he doesn’t ignore it because then that would be kind of strengthening and re-enforcing disobedience and this…. but what a good parent does, he points out what you did. He has an accounting moment, he meets out whatever discipline is necessary and then he says ‘ok, now, let’s go on. Let’s forget about it. You know, clean slate, let’s start all over again now. I won’t hold this against you.’
“….So he rebukes them for their lack of faith and the stubborn refusal to believe”, and then in verse 15, and I added ‘yet’ there a while ago when an exclamation point. “yet, he said to them: ‘go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.’
Guau! Instead of saying ‘you guys have disqualified yourselves. Get the heck out of here. I don’t want to see you. I want to start all over again and I’m going to get me a group of people who can really appreciate my teaching abilities and my miracles and my greatness and my divinity.’ He says ‘guys, you failed the test, now go and preach now.’ You know, go and graduate and here’s all you need to be successful.
Guau! How counterintuitive! How unexpected! How inhuman! How divine! How relieving! How celebratory! How reassuring! Go, into all the world and preach the good news to all creation, to this fail bunch of nincompoops. He says ‘go and carry out this sublime, historical task that has not been entrusted even to the angels.’
And he says “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, who doesn’t believe will be condemned and these signs will accompany those who believe”. In other words, it is an empowerment, it is a commissioning, it an endowment of the power that they do not have, that they have shown that they do not have, of the qualifications that they do not have in themselves. He says ‘I’m going to give them to you. you see, you have demonstrated eloquently that you can’t carry this thing out. But you know what, guys? I’m sending you and I’m equipping you and I’m endowing you with all that you need, super naturally. I will dwell within you. I will share my authority, I will share my power.’
Now, some people have said that this text is not found in the earliest manuscripts and they go through all scholar and you know why it doesn’t bother me whether it is or it isn’t in the original? Because everything that Jesus said that he would do, I can find it in a hundred texts, in the rest of scriptures, that show to me that that’s exactly what they would do. It doesn’t matter to me whether in that particular passage there, it wasn’t there in the original manuscripts, and all the scholarly mumbo jumbo. The fact is that, you know, I just have to go to the Book of Acts and I can take my, you know, in the computer the cut and paste and I put it right in there and it’ll be fine.
They can do all these things: in my name they will drive out demons, speak in tongues, pick up snakes –the apostle Paul did that-, not hurt them at all, they will place the hands on sick people –Peter did that and a few others-, so there’s no problem.
The fact is you see is that what I am to accomplish in life, if I’m going to live a holy life, a life that is pleasing to God, if I’m going to do anything that is worthy of my Master and of the resurrection power, and of the glory of the evangel message, I don’t have to worry about performing it myself. It’s not me, it’s not you, it’s not anything that we can do. We have shown that it’s not possible. It is in the power of Jesus Christ, that loving, gracious, magnanimous, forgiving, generous God that we have, who delights in showing his goodness, delights in being generous, in tipping generously. He’s a great tipper. God loves to show off his love, his justice, his grace and he establishes the best background, our own failure.
And so today as we dwell on the resurrection I want us to find relief. I don’t want us to be over burdened and fatigued before we even begin, by saying ‘how am I going to do justice thought this greatness from the resurrection message? How am I going to live in such a word that I can be worthy of this great God who pulled this great trick out of his hat? You don’t to, he does it in you, through you, with you. That’s the beauty, that’s the encouragement of this message tonight for us. We can be at peace.
I’ll ask the worshiper to come forward. We can rest. I can rest. I can be a pastor and I can preach this glorious word, this glorious message and I don’t have to carry the burden. I have to make sure simply that God is within me, that his power is within me, that I have enough emptiness inside of me for him to be able to fit inside of me and do it through me. I have a forgiving, loving God who has let me off the hook and who delights in showing me his great mercy.
Brothers, sisters, think of what you were when you were called, not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were influential, not many were of noble birth but God chose the foolish things and breathe in and say ‘yes, I’m one of those foolish things’, and rejoice in that. Thank the Lord for that tonight.
God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things and things that are not, to nullify the things are, so that no one including this guy who is preaching to you tonight, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God. That is our righteousness, holiness and redemption, therefore as it is written, let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.
Can we boast in the Lord tonight in his resurrection power? Can we let go of any pretensions, any burdens? Can we receive that free gift that he gives us as he draws us towards him and says ‘come, my son, my daughter, I don’t expect much of you but I’m going to make the best of you. I’m going to use you and you’re going to do things that you couldn’t even imagine you can do, because I’m going to be with you every step of the way and I’m going to help you and delight in doing that.’
So, let’s stand right now. Why don’t you breathe in a collective sigh of relief and say thank you Father because you have let off the hook. Thank you, Father, because you have chosen me just as I am and you delight in helping me. Father, thank you. Thank you, Lord for showing me who I am, for your great mercy, your great love, your generosity. Lord, may we live always in that grace, not to abuse it, Father, not to presume more than we need to, Lord, on the contrary, when I meditate on your goodness, your kindness I tremble at the thought of abusing that and of violating your trust and your love.
Help me, Father. Help us to honor your goodness and your grace by doing our best, by trembling at the thought of offending you or of cheapening your grace. Be with us, Lord. We celebrate your goodness tonight. Thank you, Jesus for your resurrection power that dwells within us. May that peace with each of us tonight. May we always return to that place of grace and find healing there for our own failures. We worship you in Jesus’ name. Amen. Amen.