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Miraculous Moments in Mark: Enjoying The Beauty, Missing The Glory: Resurrection

Mark 16:1-8

Jesus was dead.

His friends saw Him die. They saw Him draw His last breath. They saw His mangled corpse hauled down from the cross, mournfully carried away on a stretcher, and temporarily laid in the solitary sepulchre in the private gardens of a man named Joseph of Arimathea. They saw the enormous cart-wheel-like stone rolled into the groove against the mouth of the sepulchre, shutting out air, light, and loving ministering hands. That stone was so final. It symbolized the end of everything. Numb with grief, the friends of Jesus took one last look at that impenetrable stone, and then they turned around and trudged sorrowfully home. The next day, being the Jewish Sabbath, they rested. At that point there was only one more thing they could do for Jesus. After the Sabbath, they would need to tend to anointing His body with precious spices and ointments and give Him the final burial rite. It would not bring Him back, but at least it would express their deep love for Him.

So early on Sunday morning, before the sun had risen, the Bible says, Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary, the mother of Jesus silently walked through the narrow streets of the city of Jerusalem, out the city gates, and on to the garden beyond the city walls. Suddenly, they remembered the stone—that enormous stone which was sealing the doorway of the tomb—and they realized that they would never be able to move that stone. They all asked the same question at the same time: “Who will roll away the stone for us?”

Imagine their amazement, then, when they entered the garden and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb! Amazement quickly turned to out-and-out shock when they looked into the tomb and discovered that the body of Jesus was gone. Suddenly, a voice stopped them dead in their tracks. A young man dressed in white—maybe it was an angel or maybe it was young Mark who years later would write the Gospel which bears his name. But the young man said: “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised, he is not here.”

Think about that. Here were these women worried about how they were going to roll away that heavy stone—and they encounter a minor miracle! The stone had already been rolled away. But that minor miracle brought them face-to-face with a major miracle—the most major of all miracles: Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. And like all the miracles of Jesus, there is a meaning and message behind this miracle. Here it is: God eliminates the stony problems we feel powerless to solve in life. That’s what happened on Easter. The cross, the symbol of human brutality, hypocrisy and apathy, put an end to the earthly life of Jesus, snatched Him away from His friends, and sealed Him into what seemed to be the permanent oblivion of death. That was a stone too massive for human hands to move. But then suddenly there came the most miraculous miracle of them all—God put His only Son beyond the power of any cross, and gave Him back to His disciples forever. And in that miraculous Easter moment there is a word for your life and mine. Let me show you what I mean…

First, let me share with you the Biblical witness of Easter.

If you go to Jerusalem today, you can visit what is called “The Garden Tomb”. There you can see an ancient stone tomb set in the midst of a shaded garden where flowers bloom in riotous profusion. It is a very lovely spot. You can touch the massive stone which has been rolled away from the door of the tomb. You can actually step inside the tomb and look around. Then you can—as many of us in this church have, and as many of us in this church will do next October—you can worship and sing and take Communion in that place. It is always a deeply moving spiritual experience to be at the Garden Tomb.

I well remember back in 1987, when it was my privilege to preach one Sunday at the Garden Tomb. After the service, I walked over to a man who had been sitting on one of the garden benches alone. He had been sitting there all during the service, but he hadn’t participated in the service at all. As I sat down beside him, he said quietly: “I love this place. It’s so quiet and beautiful here. I come here two or three times a week just to enjoy it all.” I said to him: “You must be a very devoted Christian.” Immediately he protested: “Oh, no! I’m not a Christian at all. I just think it’s very beautiful here.”

That’s the temptation we face at Easter, isn’t it? We visit the shrine; we go to church; we enjoy the beauty of it all—and yet, we miss the glory of experiencing the Risen Lord personally. We fail to confront the reality that the same God who brought Christmas out of a manger and brought the Son of God out of a dusty Palestinian town and brought the Christian faith marching out of a tomb is the same God who wants to give us personally that same resurrection power.

I have to tell you straight from my heart that the reality of the resurrection has changed my own personal perspective on this life. I know there are some who would write off this belief of mine as being nothing more than wishful thinking or mindless fantasy. And I would confess to you that over the years, there have been times when that belief has been bombarded by doubts created by psychological insight or by historical investigation, or most severely, by walking through the valley of the shadow of death with people I love. Yet, I tell you that even when the clouds of doubt descend and blanket my faith—even then I am conscious of being held fast by the power of God in the Risen Christ. This Jesus has filled my life with a sense of meaning. He has rescued me from my distress. He has flooded my experience with unbridled joy. He has taught my heart to sing. He has blessed my every day with the gift of love and laughter and family and friendship and opportunities to serve Him through this magnificent church. He has taught me that my earthly journey will end neither in a bang nor in a whimper—but rather in a hallelujah chorus. That is why even in a world where we are surrounded with the tidings of death, a world where violence is regarded as the expected thing, a world where human life, born or pre-born, is counted as an expendable commodity, a world where anger and hatred are celebrated as liberators, a world where despair has become the god of the stage, screen, literature and art—even in the midst of that kind of world, we claim the Biblical witness that this is still our “Father’s world and we can rest ourselves in the thought that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” That’s the Biblical witness of Easter.

Now may I share with you my personal witness of Easter?

Easter is a time of great beauty—colorful flowers, glorious music, smiling faces, crowded churches. But I cannot let the beauty of Easter keep us from experiencing the real glory of Easter. So hold on tight. I’m going to kick it up a notch. After all, it is Easter!

I believe that God is the Creator of the world and the universe and everything in it—and I believe that God is in control of everything that happens in the universe, the world and in your life and mine. I believe in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. I believe that He is God in human form and I believe that He came to this earth to become the sacrificial Lamb to die for your sins and mine. I believe His Holy Spirit is the energizing power of God at work in the world and I believe that Spirit is at work in every moment, in our world, in this church and in your life and mine, orchestrating events, changing circumstances, softening hearts, transforming lives, leading us to draw closer and closer to Jesus Christ, and enabling us to know that we have been forgiven and washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. I believe that the church of Jesus Christ is the New Israel—and I believe that the old Israel, the chosen people of God, and the New Israel, the Church of Jesus Christ, ultimately, in ways we cannot yet begin to understand, will be reunited in redemption before the throne of grace, in the Kingdom of Heaven.

I believe that you and I, though we die, though we suffer, though we hurt, though we fail, though we fall, though we are frustrated, though we do not always understand, though we have questions we cannot answer, though we have issues we cannot decipher, though we have problems we cannot resolve, nevertheless, we are part of God’s creative flow in human history—He has put us here with a purpose as part of His plan and He calls us to fulfill it—and ultimately we are going to stand before the great throne of God with the 24 patriarchs and apostles on either side and the sea of glass before it—then we will have our questions answered, our problems solved, our frustrations removed, and then we will see where and how we fit in God’s great and ultimate scheme of things. I believe that in the end God’s purposes will prevail and God’s plan will be fulfilled. I believe that Jesus Christ will return to this earth and the curtain will ring down and everything promised in the Bible will come true. I believe that at that point in time you and I will experience resurrection to eternal life if we have not already experienced it prior to then. And I believe that in that moment we shall see the new heaven and the new earth described in Scripture and everything that has happened in this life will be pale imitation by comparison, a preliminary experience for the real life that is still ahead. That’s what I believe because of Easter. Therefore, on this great Easter Day, what I want for you more than anything in all the world is to have a new, powerful, personal relationship with this Jesus who was raised from the dead. I am not offering you some squishy God of nature so popularly presented in our time. I am not offering you some ethereal spirit who defies description or definition. I am not offering you some cuddle-up, warm and fuzzy, feel-good God who has no more power and presence than a stuffed animal on your bed. No, I am offering you a Christ who knows what life on this earth is really like, who faced the worst this life can offer, who endured the most agonizing pain this world can inflict, who ran slap into the stark reality of death and emerged on the other side whole, complete, triumphant and victorious, and who stands ready to give that same power to you and me.

I want you to know what it’s like to live in obedience to Him every day that you live, to know that He walks right beside you every step that you take, to feel His power, to know His forgiveness, to recognize that no matter how many times you fall or fail, He is always there ready to pick you up and dust you off and head you in a new direction. I want you to know what I know—that the day will come when you and I will stand together before the throne of God and we are going to hear Jesus say, “My blood has made you clean. Enter into the glory of your heavenly Father”, and we are going to hear the choirs of angels singing; and we are going to join that multitude of people, which no one can number, from every land and nation, offering praise to the God who created us all; and then we shall know that the kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdom of our God and of His Risen Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever. That’s the real glory of Easter!

Hallelujah!… and Amen.

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