The sudden, shocking realisation that the Resurrection of Jesus was a reality

TUESDAY, MARCH 27
Mark 16:1-8

Three women disciples are those entrusted by God with the discovery of the miracle of the open, empty tomb

In a strongly male-dominated society, the only eyewitnesses to Jesus death, burial and then empty tomb are the “least” of the disciples, the women.

1  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.

The Sabbath ended, shops could reopen for the evening. The women will complete the burial rites left incomplete at the hasty interment earlier.

2  Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb…

“Very early on the first day of the week” – all four gospels state this rather than the “third day”, 1 Cor. 15:3-4. This doesn’t seem to tally exactly with Jesus’ predictions. The reason may be to present the Resurrection as something new.

Mary Magdalene saw where Jesus was laid, so she knew where to go, Mark 15:47.

3  …and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

Tombs like this were constructed with a sloping groove for the heavy circular stone closure, which was designed to stay closed. It would have to be lifted out or rolled back up the incline. Mark keeps to the bare essential facts, while Matthew mentions the earthquake and angelic visitation, Matt. 28:2.

4  But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.

5  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

They reacted as you and I would react to an unexpected, unexplained sight – and unexpected person.

 “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.

There had to be a word from God to explain the inexplicable – the empty tomb. The angelic messenger was God’s provision for this need.

7  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.’ ”

Peter is specifically included because he was, at this point, an outsider through having denied Jesus, Mark 14:66-72

8  Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Afraid, astonished, confused: not able to believe the angel at first. But when they did, they talked about it – a lot, Matt 28:8, Luke 24:9.

Application

Sometimes God just needs people who will look and listen and learn, and then be the ones who communicate what He has revealed to others. From a society of extreme male domination, we have learned, rather slowly, to recognise the God-given roles of men and women and the power of its partnership. This is brought out in this account of the most jaw-dropping of all miracles and those chosen to be the first witnesses of it.

Another lesson is the way an angelic messenger appears to give essential interpretation and direction. Some things are conceptually and emotionally beyond our grasp. God knows this and graciously provides. So we are reminded to be open to the interactions of angels – heavenly spiritual messengers – in our lives, usually unseen, but we can be aware of their presence. We think that our five senses provide the sum total of reality, but the spirit world and the heavenly dimension is being played out in parallel with everything we see and experience. The sixth sense, our spiritual awareness and connected by prayerful engagement, is just as real even if it is just outside our field of vision.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

If God was about to reveal something extraordinary and hard to believe, could He find in you a willing and reliable witness?

How much does the fear of people’s unbelieving and perhaps scornful reaction put us off telling what we know to be true?

Peter extends our limited perspective of Jesus’ death and our baptism

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 15
1 Peter 3: 18-22

Peter explains God’s higher purpose in Jesus’ incarnation and death on the cross, making a way for us to have a clear conscience before God

18  For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. “Suffered once” is hapax which means once, for all time. This has given rise to some misunderstanding of the RSV “once for all”, although the translators’ meaning was “one time, for all times”. Previously, under the Old Covenant, animal sacrifices had to be offered repeatedly. But this is the full and final sacrifice that Jesus made of Himself, once, effective for all who turn to Him as Lord in every generation. No further sacrifice, no additional payment for the debt of our sin, is needed.

“To bring you to God”. A clear statement of the central truth of the Gospel, that Christ’s death enables a personal connection and a personal relationship with the three of the godhead, which makes salvation a personal encounter: “You did it for me!”.

“Put to death in the body” – died on earth. “Made alive in the Spirit” – the new state of human existence in the realm of the Spirit which Christ inaugurated.

19-20  After being made alive, He went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits — to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water…

Verses 19-20 can be understood in more than one way. The traditional view has been that between the Friday of His death and the Sunday of His resurrection, Christ “descended into hell” (Nicene creed) and preached to the souls of people who were disobedient in the days of Noah, or alternatively to fallen angels who incited people to the evil that required God to send a flood to wipe out. Another view is that this happened later; “after being made alive”, the Resurrection and Ascension with Jesus in person were a proclamation of victory, sealing the eventual doom of extreme powers of evil.

“Only a few people… were saved, through water”. It was the most severe judgment, for the most severe evil. The human race deserved to die out, such was the rebellion, but this underlines God’s grace in His readiness to save those who accept His mercy.

21  …and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also — not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…

Baptism saves, only in the sense of what it represents. It represents cleansing from sin and a clear conscience towards God achieved by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The new believer who tells their story of accepting Jesus as Lord and their desire to seal this publicly by being buried under the water to the old life and rising again to new life is already learning to enjoy being a child of God. However, the public sharing of baptism seals that decision and makes it harder for the enemy to “kill, steal and destroy” that new life in Jesus.

An act which pledges a clear conscience toward God is positioning oneself for a fresh impartation of God’s Spirit – as the Spirit came down on Jesus, Mark 1:10.

22  …who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand — with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him. A reminder that in the words of the  Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-19, all authority has been given to Jesus, who now sits at the right hand of the Father having put all things under his feet Ephesians 1:20-22. In the hierarchy that exists in the heavenly realm of both good and evil forces, Jesus is “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked”.

Application

Religion has made God out to be many things – an exacting deity, requiring the performance of religious rituals, looking on us in judgment and possibly wrath if we should lapse from His commandments.

From an Old Testament, Old Covenant perspective this wasn’t entirely wrong. His covenant of unconditional love and provision, His nature of mercy and grace was less emphasised than in the New Testament, the life and teaching of Jesus and especially the New Covenant in Christ Jesus which came into force around the events of the Cross, the Resurrection and the Pentecost outpouring of the Holy Spirit when “God’s law written in our hearts”, Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36:26, became a reality for the new order of Spirit-filled believers.

Peter’s explanation of Christ’s full and final sacrifice, one sacrifice spelling redemption for all sin for all time and for all who would receive is about God’s mercy writ large. So is Peter’s account of Jesus appearing to imprisoned spirits from the time of Noah, and the greatest rebellion the world had known, to proclaim the victory of the Cross and the possibility of God’s mercy in Jesus.

Jesus has had all authority in heaven and earth conferred upon Him. He also represents the full force of God’s love and mercy for a world which wants to be independent from God. As Noah and his family and livestock made a good choice and rose above the water that blotted out the sin of the world, so Jesus is in a far greater way our Saviour and way out from the sin that characterises the selfish world of mankind. We make that choice publicly in affirming Jesus as Lord of our lives and dying to the old life in baptism.

For reflection and discussion

If we understand that Jesus went to the rebellious spirits to proclaim the Cross, His victory and Lordship, should they, in all their wickedness, have opportunity to repent and receive grace through Jesus? How does this shape our attitude to extremely wicked people, such as (in the news) the London cab driver rapist or the IS torturers now in captivity?