Mark 16:1-8 (The Resurrection of Our Lord—Series B)
“No More Fear”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
April 6, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark 16:
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back–it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
It is estimated that 56.2 million people die every year. That comes to 154,000 deaths per day; 107 deaths every minute. Since I began this sermon, about 60 people in the world have died. We hear or read about death every day. Obituaries are printed in papers daily. The news is filled with stories of this person’s death and that person’s demise. Many of us have known death personally in our lives as we have lost fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, family and friends. Many folks don’t even want to talk about death. It makes them too uncomfortable.
Death makes us all a little more than uncomfortable. It makes us afraid. People fear death, whether it be the process of dying or the moment of death itself or what happens after death. Death is a cause of fear because it is unknown. We don’t know what to expect, what it will be like, how it will feel, etc. And what makes death even more fearful is that fact that death is unnatural. Don’t think that because death happens to all creatures that it is supposed to happen. Evolutionists and others would very much like you to believe that death is a perfectly natural, normal thing that happens to everyone. They say that to take some of the fear out of it. But it is simply not true. It was never intended for people to die.
When God created Adam and Eve, they were not going to die. They would remain immortal, in perfect communion with their Creator-God forever. Death was not on their radar. The only mention of death was in connection with the Lord’s one command to the man and the woman: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:16 ESV) It is here that we come to know what death actually is—the consequence, the punishment, for disobeying God’s commandment. Death is God’s judgment against sin. When Adam and Eve sinned, when they disobeyed God’s command, the Lord told Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19 ESV)
So you see, death is not natural or normal. Death is not part of what it means to be human. “The person who sins is the one who will die.” (Ezekiel 18:20 NET) Death, therefore, is God’s punishment for humanity’s sin. Our fear of death comes from the fact that we are afraid God’s punishment. We fear God’s judgment rendered against us that declares us guilty of disobeying God’s commandments and announces the verdict that we all merit and deserve death because we are sinners. Perhaps, by way of comparison, this is similar to the child who is afraid of his father’s punishment which is received when the child has disobeyed. Losing television or video games for a week isn’t the “normal” part of everyday life; it is the consequence, the punishment for the child’s sin. The child, knowing the consequence, fears the punishment. Multiply that fear many times and we might just begin to understand the fear of death. Death is not the “normal” part of life. It is the consequence, the punishment, for our sin. Because God has told us that if we should sin, we will die, knowing the consequence, we are afraid of the punishment.
So, when confronted with death, we are afraid. We are afraid because we come face to face with God’s judgment. We are scared of His just and right anger at our sins. We are terrified at the prospect of the punishment of death—physical and temporal/spiritual and eternal. Death means our condemnation—our sentence of endless suffering in hell, separated from God forever—no rest, no peace, no hope, and no life.
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning when the sun had risen, the women went to the realm of death. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went the grave in search of the dead Jesus in order to anoint His body with the spices they had bought. This was such an act of intense devotion after two nights and a day of being in the tomb because, in the climate of Jerusalem, deterioration of Jesus’ body should have occurred rapidly. But that’s to be expected in the realm of death. Death takes physical life and subjects the body to decay. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Quickly, however, the women discover that the One they are looking for is no longer residing in the realm of death. “You seek Jesus the Nazarene who was crucified. He has been raised; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” But notice what was lacking? You came here today and shared greetings of “Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed” with one another. You spoke words of “Happy Easter!” There’s none of that here at the tomb. The response of the women to the revelation from God that Jesus is risen from the dead is described in categories of terror. They fled from the tomb, unable to control the dread which overwhelmed them and reduced them to silence. For a time they kept their experience to themselves because “they were afraid.”
Such is the case when sinners encounter the presence and action of God. In fact, fear is the constant reaction to Jesus in Mark’s Gospel when He reveals His divinity. When Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mark 4:41) When Jesus came to the disciples walking on the sea, “they all saw Him and were terrified.” (Mark 6:50) At our Lord’s Transfiguration, Peter proposed to build three tabernacles for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah because “he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid.” (Mark 9:6) Encountering God means fear for the sinner. We fear being near God’s holiness because of our sinfulness. We fear God’s wrath and judgment against our sins. We are afraid of God’s punishing verdict of death. But it is in death’s very own backyard that a new message is given to us. It is not a message of Law and judgment, but a message of Gospel and mercy: “Stop being afraid. He has been raised. He is not here.”
The Church Father St. Augustine wrote, “[Jesus] died, but he vanquished death; in himself he put an end to what we feared; he took it upon himself and he vanquished it, as a mighty hunter he captured and slew the lion.” (St. Augustine) Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, took the punishment of your death and mine upon Himself on the cross. There in the cosmic darkness of Good Friday, Jesus received the full brunt of God’s burning wrath and anger against human sin. On the cross, dying in excruciating agony, Jesus suffered the fullness of death and hell, completely separated and cut off from God—“My God, my God, why have your forsaken Me!” During those hours Jesus became sin for us. (2 Cor. 5:21) He was the most disgusting, repulsive human that God had ever seen, carrying in Himself our sin and evil, all of our disobedience, greed, and selfishness. God the Father wretched at the sight of such a sinner, and turned away from Him, condemning Him to death and hell as He died on the cross.
God exacted the punishment for the sins of the whole world against His own innocent Son. Christ suffered the wages of sin in our place. St. Paul says it like this, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Rom. 8:1-2 ESV) A sentence different from the one we deserved has been handed down. We deserved condemnation and death. Instead, on account of Christ’s perfect life, suffering, and death, we have been sentenced to eternal life. Christ’s obedience to the Law is now ours. Our innocence is Christ’s innocence. What incredible good news! You are declared—and are!—not guilty of sin. You are forgiven!
As undisputable evidence of this, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Sin has been forgiven and death has been conquered. See the proof in the empty tomb! Jesus Christ has taken away our sins and put to an end what we feared. In the very realm of death, Jesus rose again, rubbing the glory of His resurrection right in death’s face. Christ’s death and resurrection swallowed up death and rendered it powerless against us who have been saved by the death of Jesus and the shedding of His blood.
Having received the full pardon and forgiveness of sin through the blood and merit of Jesus Christ, death now has no power over us. The punishment of death has been paid for in full. Death has lost its sting. There is no reason to be afraid. For the believer in Jesus Christ, who enjoys the forgiveness of sins and eternal life as God’s free gift as you do, death is as harmless as falling asleep at night. Death for you is but the gate to life with Jesus in heaven for our souls, as our bodies await their resurrection from the realm of death when the Lord comes again at the Last Day. Death will not have the last word. Jesus will! He will raise our bodies from the grave on the Last Day. All believers in Jesus will enter into a new creation in glorified body and soul—risen from the dead to life everlasting.
The hymn writers of “In Christ Alone” summarize this Good News for us so well. I will let their words stand as my conclusion this morning as they proclaim to the glory of God that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ takes away all our fear of death:
No guilt in life, no fear in death—This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man, can every pluck me from His hand.
Till He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.
“Christ is risen! He is Risen, indeed. Alleluia!” Amen.