Mark 15:40-16:2 is the story of Jesus’ death on the cross. Compared to the other Gospels, Mark presents a brief account. In this passage, he mentions several people by name. One of the first questions I have when I read this is, Where did these people come from? They are not mentioned anywhere before in the book, and now here they are. Most of the named characters in the story leading up to this, besides Jesus, are the disciples. Jesus did have other followers though. And when Jesus was arrested, the disciples all left him. Jesus has been killed and his disciples are nowhere to be found. So, some of his other followers, have come to take care of his burial. Another reason Mark mentions these names is because his original audience would have known some of these people. In effect he is saying, you can go and ask these people and they will confirm what I have told you. At the time Mark wrote this Gospel account, most, if not all, of the disciples were still living, and he says these other people will tell you the same thing as well. Jesus’ death is confirmed by several women who knew him, by Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, by a Roman centurion who was an expert in capital punishment, and by Pilate the governing authority. Jesus was dead, lots of people saw him die and when the first churches were reading this letter, they could go and ask these people and hear that their stories agreed with Mark’s story.
Joseph of Arimathea is referred to as a disciple in Matthew’s Gospel. He’s described as wealthy, and he must have been in order to have a prepared tomb available in which he could lay Jesus. Verse 43 says he “took courage” to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body. The fact that he was able to obtain an audience with Pilate also suggests that he was quite influential. It took courage for him to ask, because Roman law forbade a crucified criminal to be taken down and buried. Local rulers were allowed to make exceptions though, and on this particular day, Pilate obliged and made the exception probably because of Joseph’s influence in the community.
In Chapters 8, 9, and 10 Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to die, and then rise on the third day. On Friday, Joseph of Arimathea laid Jesus in a tomb wrapped in a cloth. They were forbidden to prepare the body for burial on the Sabbath, so on Sunday, three days later, two of the Mary’s and a lady named Salome go to the tomb with burial spices to prepare Jesus’ body. Although Jesus had told his followers on several occasions that he would rise, they never understood what he was talking about. And really, how could they? Resurrection doesn’t exactly happen every day. So, they did what they normally did when someone died; lay him in a tomb and treat the body with embalming spices. They had no idea what was about to happen in Mark 16:3-8.
The three women approach the Tomb and find the stone rolled away. They enter the tomb and there is a man sitting there, and they were “alarmed”. So he says, “don’t be alarmed”. Jesus was crucified and has risen. Then the angel tells them to go tell the disciples and Peter to meet Jesus in Galilee. What is their response? Trembling, astonishment, and fear. Verse 7 refers to the disciples and Peter. There is special attention given to Peter throughout the Gospel of Mark, but the last time we saw Peter, he denied Jesus 3 times complete with curses and oaths. So the angel says, make sure you tell Peter too. Verse 8 describes their reaction in spite of being told not to be alarmed. They run out of the tomb terrified. They don’t say anything to anyone.
Many textual scholars say this is where the text of Mark’s Gospel ends. We have early manuscripts that point to this and some of the early church fathers talk about a longer reading of Mark’s Gospel, but they say the best manuscripts end at verse 8. This ending does seem a bit abrupt and unpolished. In Mark 1:1 he writes that this is the “beginning” of the Gospel. He ends in 16:8 with the resurrection confirming that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah and true King and leaves it to the church to determine what this now means. Verses 9-20 give us a good glimpse at how the church at an early stage came to understand the implications of Jesus’ resurrection. The other Gospels apply the resurrection in the context of the early church differently than Mark does. So, since the best manuscripts end with verse 8, the nature of the text seems to be complete here, and the other Gospel writers give instruction where Mark does not. I think it’s ok to say the book ends here. Matthew leaves us with the Great Commission – Go and make disciples in all nations baptizing and teaching them. Mark leaves it hanging out there for us. “Now what?” is the question. Now that Jesus has fulfilled the promised time and the Kingdom of God has begun to come, the same response to Jesus remains: repent and believe and follow me.
Throughout history there have been many that have tried to undermine the historical fact of the resurrection. But the eyewitness accounts and the existence of the church are primary arguments for the resurrection. Why would Mark point to several women as eyewitnesses if he were trying to provide evidence for something that didn’t actually happen? Largely women were not regarded as credible witnesses, so if Mark was making up the story, he most certainly would have made it up with male witnesses. But, he casts the 12 closest follower of Jesus in a very negative light. The witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection were initially women, and Mark records it accurately. If it didn’t happen, how does one explain the radical following of disciples? All but one of them stood before their murderers and proclaimed Jesus as the risen Messiah when denying it would have saved their lives. How does one explain the rapid expansion of the church? Within a generation of Jesus’ resurrection, there were Christians all over the known world. The Jesus-religion didn’t spread through killing either, but under oppression and persecution. If the resurrection isn’t well enough documented, how do you believe anything happened in history? Documents, movements, and eyewitnesses are enough for anyone to believe something happened in history, so why would it not be enough to give evidence of the resurrection?
Now, did you see Jesus rise? No, but you can read about lots of people who did. You can see the church thrive from the moment of the resurrection until even today. There is enough evidence for those who will believe. Also, there is new language for what happens to Jesus. The Resurrection was spoken of much differently before this time. Many or even most didn’t believe in it. Those who did believed in a general resurrection at the end of time. Jesus redefines resurrection making it personal and individual as well. The early Christians invent new language to describe what happened to Jesus. They see Jesus alive again but in a transformed way. There are substantial reasons to believe the resurrection of Jesus actually and truly happened the way the Gospels tell us it did. If you haven’t come to terms with believing the resurrection, don’t blame on a way of thinking that says it couldn’t have happened.
The Apostle Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 that for Christianity to have any truth in it, the Resurrection must be true. If it did happen, then Jesus isn’t just a good moral teacher, he isn’t just an historical figure or a religious prophet. He is the fulfillment of the story of Israel and in the resurrection he shows that he has begun to tell a new story. This new story begins with God fulfilling his promises to Israel, but it will end with him finally establishing his Kingdom and renewing and transforming all of creation. This renewal and transformation begins with those who have come to his Kingdom, those who have believed and repented and are following Jesus. This transformation causes us to live differently. Our conduct should point to Jesus. Our manner of living should be changing so that it’s being transformed into a way of living that resembles how we will live in eternity forever. Jesus lays before us the command to love God and people. He says we are to deny ourselves and take up the cross, we are to lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel. Love and humility and sacrifice are not just a moral code for us to live by, they are qualities of living that endure from this life into the next life. We can begin to learn how to live this way now by following Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus changes the way we live today and in the final years of our lives we will still be being changed, and when we die he’ll raise us up to complete the work in us. This type of life causes us to treat people around us differently, not because we are supposed to, but because we are being changed to look like Jesus. This type of life causes us to work to establish peace, justice, and prosperity in our lives and the lives of those around us because this is what the Kingdom of the Risen Jesus is like.