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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:God shows his grace in Christ's resurrection
Text:Mark 16:1-8 (View)
Occasion:Easter
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Preached:2013
Added:2013-07-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 18:1,2
Hymn 82:3
Hymn 31A
Hymn 32
Hymn 80

Scripture reading and text:  Mark 16:1-8
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our exalted Lord Jesus,

For Christians today is a day of great joy as we remember the victory of our Saviour over sin and death.  Over the centuries, certain traditions have developed in the church in connection with this day.  One of those is known as the Paschal Greeting.  Many Christians still use the Paschal Greeting on Easter Sunday.  When two Christians meet, instead of saying “Hello,” one says, “Christ is risen!”  And the other replies, “Truly he is risen!”  This Paschal Greeting allowed early Christians to identify one another, but it was also their way of reminding one another of the great joy that we having in knowing that our Saviour Jesus is no longer in the grave. 

Truly he is risen!  This is the good news for us today.  Christ died for our sins, but he did not remain dead.  On the third day, on that Sunday morning after Good Friday, his heart started beating once more.  Air entered his lungs again.  His eyes opened.  He came alive again, removed his grave clothes, and exited the tomb.  In doing all of this, Christ revealed that he has great power over sin and death.  This power is a blessing for us who believe in him as Lord and Saviour. 

This morning we’re near the end of the gospel of Mark and here we find the glorious resurrection of our Saviour.  As we look at this passage, let’s see how God reveals his grace here.  Think back to the cross for a moment.  Think of the grace of our Saviour towards the repentant criminal who hung beside him.  That criminal deserved to be in hell that very day.  He deserved to pay for his crimes against God.  Instead, when he turns to Christ with repentance and faith, he receives the opposite of what he deserves.  He is told, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  That’s amazing grace.  Grace is when you receive the opposite of what you deserve; it is not merely unmerited favour, but dismerited favour.  You deserve punishment, but God gives you a place in his family, calls you his child, and brings you into eternal communion with him.  That’s grace.  As we look at our text, we’re going to see how God shows his grace in Christ’s resurrection. 

We’ll see that he does this by: 

1.      Preserving the love and loyalty of the women

2.      Proclaiming the gospel of Christ’s victory

3.      Maintaining the status of the disciples

Mark has written before about the two Marys, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses.  They were at the tomb when Joseph of Arimathea buried our Saviour.  They were also there at Golgotha along with Salome.  They have been observing everything.  They’re the first ones to come to the tomb on that Sunday morning. 

The night before they had gone out and purchased spices.  Remember the Sabbath was over at sun-set.  So on that Saturday evening, they could go and find a merchant from whom to buy these spices.  Why did they buy these spices?  It was a way to show respect for the body of a dead loved one.  The spices controlled the smell of decomposition.  It was like a perfume.  Now you might be thinking to yourself that after a couple of days, Jesus’ body would already be stinking and there wouldn’t be much sense in spending money on spices that won’t do anything.  But these women knew what they were doing.  They knew where they were living and what time of year it was.  It was spring.  Back in chapter 14, Mark describes how there was a crowd in the courtyard of the house of the high priest, and they were warming themselves around a fire.  Moreover, this all happened in Jerusalem, which is nearly 2500 feet above sea level –it’s going to be cooler at that elevation.  No, the women knew that the spices would still be appropriate at this stage and so they go out and buy them. 

Now there was no requirement for people to do this.  The law of God didn’t say that people had to anoint dead bodies with spices.  No, the women simply did it because they loved our Saviour.  They spent their money on him, because they were devoted to him and wanted to honour him. 

However, even though they loved him, our text shows that they didn’t always listen very carefully to him.  In his earthly ministry, Jesus had said several times that he was going to rise from the dead on the third day.  It ought to have been well-known amongst all his disciples, including these women.  But if they’d heard it, they either didn’t remember or didn’t believe it.  Because here they are on the third day, heading to the tomb with the expectation that the body of Jesus is still going to be there.  They expected that the tomb would be closed with Jesus still inside.  We can see evidence of that with the question they ask while they’re on their way.  Suddenly they remember that there’s this big round rock in front of the entrance.  It would have to be rolled away in order for them to go inside to anoint the body of Jesus.  They had forgotten about this giant stone that was too big for them to move. 

This tells us that while the women have a great love and devotion for Jesus, they are still beset with human weakness.  They didn’t go to the tomb in faith to meet the risen Jesus.  Rather, they went to anoint a dead Jesus.  They didn’t believe his Word.  At best, there is with these women a mixture of what should be there and what shouldn’t.   There is love, but there’s also a lack of faith.  They didn’t believe that the Son of God would conquer death on the third day, like he said he would.

Therefore, these women were not model disciples.  Yet God was still working in them and through them.  They still had love for Jesus and that brought them to the tomb.  As they arrive there, the stone is rolled away.  They see the young man dressed in white robes – an angel.  This angel is God’s instrument to graciously call them to a glorious task:  to announce the resurrection of Jesus.  Even though they were lacking in faith, even though they were weak in remembering and believing what Jesus said, God chose them to be his witnesses.  Moreover, we ought to remember the place of women in that culture.  Women were not regarded highly.  They were seen as second-class citizens.  Their testimony counted for nothing in a court of law.  Yet God chooses them to be the ones to carry the word that Jesus is no longer dead, but alive.     

God surprises us with how he works.  He chooses the unlikely and unexpected.  We see it time and again in Scripture.  Paul noticed it too and that’s why he wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:27, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”  God turns human expectations upside down and in this we see his grace.  Even though these women were weak and considered nobodies in their culture, God still wanted to use them for his purposes. 

This continues to be true.  All of us are weak and sinful human beings.  We fall many times.  Our faith is faltering; many times we stumble about.  Isaiah 53 says it best, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.”  We’re sinful and we have weaknesses, regularly falling short in faith and commitment.  But yet God looks upon us in grace.  He still wants to use us as his witnesses for Jesus Christ and his resurrection.  Despite our sins and weaknesses, God wants to work through us to announce that Jesus is alive and well, ruling heaven and earth.  We haven’t earned a place as his witnesses, but in his grace he grants it to us, and he calls us to it.  Even through our feeble efforts, he promises to bring glory to himself through us.  Though we are weak, he will exalt his name as we tell whomever we can about our risen Saviour.     

The second way that God shows his grace in this passage is through the message of the angel to the women.  Imagine if the women had just come to the empty tomb and there was no one there.  Imagine there was no angel with a message for them.  They come to the tomb.  The stone is rolled away.  They look inside.  Jesus is nowhere to be seen.  All they would have would be questions.  Who took his body away?  What happened to Jesus?  They might not ever know the answers.  But God has mercy on them because he wants them to have joy on this day of days.  That’s why God sends the angel to the women.  Angels do the bidding of God.  They don’t go places on their own initiative – they get sent.  They get sent to people with a message.  God didn’t want to leave the women with questions – he wanted to give them the answers so that they could rejoice in Christ’s victory.

Notice the emotional reaction of the women to the sight of the angel.  It’s right at the end of verse 5:  they were alarmed.  They were shocked and frightened to see the angel.  They didn’t expect that at all.  In the Bible, people usually have this reaction when they encounter angels.  That’s why the angel responds with “Don’t be alarmed….”  In Matthew’s parallel, it says, “do not be afraid…”  God’s first words to the women after Jesus rises from the dead have to do with fear, telling them not to be afraid.  God knows how we are.  He knows how easily we do become afraid.  That’s why the most frequent command in the Bible is, “Do not be afraid…”  What we have here in Mark is a variant of this, “Don’t be alarmed…”  It shows God’s merciful understanding of our human nature, how prone we are to fear.  He understands that about the women and he understands that about each one of us.

There’s yet more grace to be found in the angel’s message from God.  These women are the first human beings to hear it:  Jesus isn’t dead anymore!  He was crucified, and yes, he died.  But now he’s alive again.  He’s no longer in the tomb.  You can see the place where his body had been laid.  Look – there’s no Jesus.  He’s not here in the tomb.  He has risen!  The proclamation of this truth by the angel is also a matter of God’s grace for these women – and indeed, for all of us.  Why?  Because his resurrection tells us that God was pleased with his sacrifice for us.  God accepted the sacrifice that Christ made for our sins and raised him from the dead to proclaim that fact.  This makes the resurrection an essential part of the gospel message.  Christ’s victory over sin and death is certified with his resurrection.  Because of the resurrection, we can be 100% confident that Christ has crushed the head of the serpent, like God promised he would in Genesis 3:20.  He has destroyed the power of Satan for all who believe.  The resurrection proclaims this.  It announces that Jesus is victorious!  Since that is true, we receive the opposite of what we deserve when we repent and believe in Jesus Christ.  We can have life, instead of death, eternal life!  Christ’s victory over death means that we can live forever with God and, believing in Christ, we will.  We will live in the new heavens and new earth with glorified bodies, like Jesus’ resurrected and glorified body.  We deserve none of this.  All of us deserve to experience an eternal death, consciously experiencing the torments of God’s wrath in hell forever.  Brothers and sisters, our sins are that bad.  But as we believe in our risen Lord Jesus, then we receive the opposite of what we deserve.  We have God’s grace.  We have eternal life!  That’s why the message of the Bible is not okay news, it’s not so-so news, it’s good news.  It’s the absolute best news that a sinner could hope for.

There’s one more thing for us to look at in our text as we see God’s grace revealed.  It’s what we find in verse 7, what the angel says to the women after he tells them that has Jesus has risen.  He says, “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.’”  This too is a remarkable and unexpected statement.  It shows the grace of God.  The women have to go to the disciples with the news of Christ’s resurrection.  The disciples – these 11 men have been out of the picture since Thursday.  In Mark’s gospel, we haven’t seen or heard from them.  They all abandoned Jesus as he entered into the worst of his sufferings.  When he was hanging from the cross, we don’t see them or hear from them.  Their commitment leaves a lot to be desired. 

And Peter?  Peter had spoken so boldly about following Jesus back in chapter 14.  He said, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”  When Jesus told Peter that he would deny him, not just once, but three times, Peter argued.  He insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”  And the other disciples then agreed with Peter.  Well, we all know what happened at the court of the high priest’s house.  Peter did deny Jesus three times, just like Jesus said he would.  Peter didn’t keep his word.  And where was Peter on Good Friday?  Who knows?  Certainly not at Jesus’ side.

But now the angel from God comes.  He says that the women are supposed to deliver a message to his disciples, to Jesus’ disciples – and to Peter.  Peter doesn’t deserve this.  None of the disciples deserve it.  Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 10:33,  “But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.”  That’s what Peter and those other disciples deserve!  They were unfaithful disciples.  Peter had disowned Jesus by denying him three times.  “I don’t know this man,” he said.  He acted as if he had no connection at all to the one he called the Christ, the one he called Lord, the one he followed and loved.  Peter and the other disciples were fickle.  And when the winds started to pick up, they showed themselves to be fair-weather disciples of Christ.  They don’t deserve to be in the ranks of his disciples anymore.  We would expect these disciples to be thrown to the curb.  It’s time to find new disciples who will be faithful through thick and thin.  How remarkable it is that they don’t get treated this way! 

Instead, the angel gives a message of grace from God.  He still wants them to be disciples.  Even though they turned their backs on Christ, God has not abandoned them.  Christ has not abandoned them.  Even when he was on the cross, he had not forgotten them.  In fact, he died for them and for all the chosen ones of God.  He had their names on his heart.  He still loved them, even though they were so fickle and unfaithful.  His love continued through the three days and it never stopped.  Christ never gave up on the disciples.  They are still his.

That should be so encouraging for us.  After all, if you know your own heart, you know how fickle it is.  You know how easily distracted you are from Jesus and following his will.  We all know how quickly we can be drawn away by idols, things that functionally replace God in our lives.  What do we deserve from our Saviour?  If our relationship with him depended on our thorough faithfulness to him, we would be in serious trouble.  Brothers and sisters, do you see that?  Do you have the humility to realize how dependent you are on the grace of your Saviour Jesus?  He will be faithful to those who humble themselves in repentance and faith.  That faith might be weak and faltering.  That faith might not always bring forth fruit the way it should, but Christ will not abandon us. 

However, that doesn’t mean that we can be satisfied with a weak and stumbling faith.  That doesn’t mean we can be content with a lacklustre Christian commitment.  The Scriptures teach us these things to comfort the weak, but also to encourage them to greater faithfulness.  It works like this:  in humility, you see your need for grace.  You see that you’re weak and you are not as faithful as you wish, or as God’s Word calls you to be.  But then the Scriptures hold out to you the grace of God in Christ.  You look to him in faith and believe his Word.  You can breathe a sigh of relief that Christ is faithful, even when you have faithless moments.  This is a gift, a precious gift.  When you receive a gift, what’s your normal reaction?  When someone you love gives you a gift that cost them so much, how do you react?  Your heart wells up with love and gratitude.  So it is with our Saviour.  When we see the riches of his grace, our hearts ought to love him more, want to thank him more, want to live for him all the more.  The grace of God is designed to produce this kind of tangible fruit in our lives.

The women were entrusted with a message of grace then.  They carried the promise that Jesus was going to meet with his disciples again in person.  Their reunion would take place in Galilee, significant because that was back where it had all started. 

There is one more verse for us to consider here this morning.  Verse 8 tells us of the reaction of the women to the message of the angel.  He had told them not to be alarmed, but as they leave the tomb, they can’t help but be gripped with trembling and amazement.  They’re a bit freaked out, you might say.  You might say that’s understandable.  They’d just seen an angel after all.  What’s difficult to understand is what Mark tells us next.  He says, “They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”  They’d heard the angel.  The angel told them to tell the disciples that glorious good news of the resurrection.  But now Mark seems to say that they didn’t, because they were scared.  What do we do with this?  Is this more evidence of the weakness of these women?  I don’t think so.  There is a better way to understand these words.  We should understand them in the light of all of Scripture.  The parallel passages in the other gospels tell us that the women did tell the disciples what they saw.  In fact, in the next passage in Mark, we find the same thing.  So this is not evidence of disobedience or weakness.  So what does it mean?  It simply means that they didn’t talk to anyone else before they told the disciples.  They wanted to obey the message they had received from God and they were afraid to disobey.  They had the right attitude for disciples of Christ!

Today we remember again the great event of the resurrection.  This is not merely an historical event that took place some 2000 years ago.  The resurrection is exciting because it has a message of good news and grace for us today!  Because our Saviour Jesus rose from the dead, we can be right with God.  Paul says he was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25).  A dead Saviour would do us no good.  But a living Saviour is the way to life!  Praise God that the tomb was empty that Easter morning.  He is risen!  Truly he is risen!  AMEN. 

Prayer:

Gracious God in heaven,

We praise your great Name for raising our Saviour Jesus from the dead.  We rejoice because through Christ we have victory over sin and death.  Through him, we have peace, and we are right with you.  Through Christ, we are so richly blessed.  Thank you for the message of your grace this morning.  We know that so often we are like the disciples, weak and fickle in our faith.  Like them, we don’t deserve to be on the receiving end of your commitment and love.  We’re so prone to wander.  We know it and confess it.  That’s why we’re all the more grateful for your persevering love for us.  Thank you for not giving up on us.  We pray that you would help us to recognize your grace in our lives.  Help us to see more and more what a gracious God you are.  And we pray that this recognition would be the fuel that drives the way we live.  As we see your love and mercy, teach us to love you more.  Work with your Holy Spirit, so that we become more deeply committed to following your will for our lives.  Lord God, we want to make much of you each day.  We need your grace to do that, from beginning to end.  Please hear our prayer and help us, for we are helpless of ourselves.    

 

                                     

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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