Isaiah 25:6-9, Mark 15:37-16:8
April 24, 2011 Easter Sunday!!
“Tell me the stories of Jesus I love to hear,
Things I would ask Him to tell me if He were here,
Scenes by the wayside, tales of the sea,
Stories of Jesus, tell them to me.”
Do you remember that song? I remember it from early in my childhood! It was written by William H. Parker in 1885 for his Sunday school students in Nottingham, England. And that’s what we’re talking about this Easter morning. Telling the story. And it’s a great story! But sometimes I wonder if we really have an appreciation for what happened. I wonder if we have any idea what it was like for the people who were there.
We’re looking at the story of the Resurrection from Mark’s Gospel. And we can say a lot about Mark. His gospel unique in several ways. In fact, the more I read it, the more fascinating it becomes! By the way, we’ve been studying Mark in our Thursday evening Bible study. You’re all welcome to come out and join us any time!
Most scholars believe that Mark is probably the first of the Gospels to be written. And all of them were written years after the rest of the “letters” in the New Testament. Mark is considered to be one of the three “Synoptic Gospels.” The other two are Matthew and Luke. And that word “synoptic” simply means “they look like each other.” And they do. John has a completely different format. But the other three share many of the stories and sources. They may even have spoken with each other or read one another’s writing. But, as I’ve said before, each of them still had their own perspective on this story. And that’s true of Mark as well.
So then, the perspective of Mark’s gospel has been described as being that of an “eyewitness.” That’s his point of view. It was almost as if Mark were writing a “news report” about the life of Jesus. Maybe we’ll get the idea if we think about officer Joe Friday and his famous phrase, “Just the facts, ma’am.” That’s Mark’s Gospel. Still, it’s more than that. Mark gives us some unique perceptions about Jesus. He emphasizes several important things about his life and ministry.
For example, one of the perspectives Mark gives us is what I like to call “Jesus the Rock Star!” Mark shows us that as Jesus grew in popularity, he continued to draw larger and larger crowds. They started coming to him from all the surrounding countryside. And Jesus didn’t rent out the local roman amphitheater, and organize some kind of huge “crusade.” The people didn’t have to go and buy tickets! They just came. And as the word spread, the crowds grew. And after a while, they didn’t just come to hear him speak, they began to follow him around. Pretty soon, it might well have been described as Jesus being “mobbed.” That helps with this picture, doesn’t it?
Mark gives us many indications of how bad it was. In chapter 3, he tells his disciples to “have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they should crush him.” (verse 9) Later in that same chapter it says, “and the crowd came together again, so that they (Jesus and his disciples) could not even eat!” (verse 20)
Then of course, there was Palm Sunday. Remember that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem for the Passover – as many, many people did! During that time of year, Jerusalem became one of the most populous cities on earth! So you can imagine the crowds then! That’s what made it so difficult for the Pharisees to do away with him. It was hard to find Jesus without all those people around! That’s why his trial was late at night, and in the wee hours of the morning. By the time all those people woke up and went out to find him again, he had already been sentenced and condemned by the Romans, and there was nothing anybody could do about it. I hope you can appreciate how difficult it was for the Pharisees to have pulled that off!
The next thing that’s unique about Mark’s Gospel is that he gives special emphasis to what has been called the “Messianic Secret.” What that means is that Jesus often told the people not to say who he was. (Even though they often did anyway!) He seemed to have a very specific sense of timing as to how he was going to let the people know he was the Messiah. And that makes sense if you think about it! Would he have been accepted if, when he first came on the scene, he came right out and said, “Hey everybody, I’m the Messiah!?” “Oh and by the way, I’m also the Son of God!” Remember, we wouldn’t have a problem with that because we see the story from our perspective. We think, “Of course he was!” But those people didn’t know that. And we can just imagine what they would have thought if he had told them right off the bat! So there was this “Messianic Secret,” as it has been called, and Mark brings that out in his Gospel.
Another thing Mark emphasizes is the place of Jesus in the spiritual realm. Over and over he shows us that there is another realm behind and around this one, and he shows us that Jesus is very big in that realm! Think about it. Throughout the Gospel, who is it who always knows who Jesus really is? The demons! They always identify him, and there is always a sense that he is in control and they fear him. And of course, they obey him!! And that was difficult for the religious leadership to deal with. Some of them said he could cast out demons because he was the “prince of demons.”
All these different perspectives come together in this story for today, the Resurrection! And again, as we look at this story, it’s hard for us to imagine what it was like for these people! (That’s another reason an “eye witness” point of view is important!) It’s hard for us to have that perspective, though, because we know this story! We know what happens! We know who Jesus is! It’s very hard for us to imagine what it was like for these people experiencing these things for the first time.
When it comes to the Resurrection, we think of if from our point of view, don’t we? We know that Jesus was risen from the dead. It’s part of our history. We can’t imagine these people’s thoughts and feelings. For them there was disbelief. There was fear. And if we were there, I’m sure we would feel the same things! Yes, eventually there would be wonderment and joy. But in the meantime, fear and trembling was the order of the day!
Mark gives us a wonderful picture of what it was like then. He tells the story of the crowds, he gives us the struggle over who Jesus really was, he gives us glimpses into his power in the spiritual realm. And it all comes together for Mark in this last verse we read today. After all the wild popularity, after the mobs, after the people’s amazement over his teaching and his power, after the careful timing of Jesus in finally telling them who he was, they were finally told that they should “go and tell!” And what was their first reaction? “They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid!”
Many scholars believe that was the actual ending of Mark’s Gospel. In the earliest manuscripts, verses 9 through 20 do not appear. Those are the “post-resurrection appearances” of Jesus. And they’re important! And they may well have been recorded by Mark or one of his followers at a later time. But at first they were not included. And personally I like that! I like that as the “traditional ending.” Because after all the times Jesus told people to say nothing, and they told anyway, now the people are told to tell and they say nothing! And as one commentator said, “Who does that leave to tell the story?” “The readers!”
Isn’t that wonderful? That’s the glory of this! Because tell they did!! The good news – the Gospel of Jesus Christ – began to spread outward from Jerusalem. It started on Easter, it was energized on Pentecost. And as it spread, it spread by word of mouth, one person telling the story to another person. And it spread throughout the empire all over the known world. And it’s been described using the word “wildfire.” Think about that image! The “good news” was uncontainable!
So, what about us? We have the same story. We just weren’t “eyewitnesses” like they were. Thankfully we have Mark to read who was! So we have the same good news. Will we take that in today? Will we let others know it too? Will we go and tell? Or will we say nothing to anyone because we are afraid?
Eternal God, you love us with a love beyond understanding. We are grateful this day for Jesus our Messiah. We thank you that with his stripes we are healed. By the power of his resurrection we are brought back into your presence and your kingdom. We thank you for the joy and wonder – and even the fear – of this special day. Help us to keep that joy and wonder always. For we pray this in the name of our Risen Lord, Amen!