“He Is Risen!”

(Mark 16:1-8 – Easter – April 4, 2021)

Mark 16:1-8 – 1Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. 2Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” 4But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away – for it was very large. 5And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. 7But go, tell His disciples – and Peter – that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” 8So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Dear Redeemed in Jesus Christ, our risen and living Savior:

On Good Friday, we heard Jesus cry out three words of victory on the cross: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). On that horrible instrument of judgment, He had finished paying the full price to redeem us from our sin and its wages of death. Now having removing all sin and condemnation, Jesus has reconciled us to God in His blood-bought peace of forgiveness. Those three words of victory Jesus cried on the cross cannot be separated from the three words of truth we hear today, as the angel announced at His empty tomb: “He Is Risen!” If those words were not true, then nothing would have been finished at the cross for our salvation. But because Jesus is risen – risen indeed! – we have the forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and eternal life He promises.

“He Is Risen!” Let us see how true these words were for Jesus’ followers that first Easter. And let us see how true these words are for us, as we live in the hope of Jesus’ resurrection.

Imagine how difficult it must been for the women as they came to the tomb. The last they had seen of Jesus on Friday was His suffering figure on the cross, succumbing to crucifixion by enemies, and finally hanging limp in death. Before sundown on Friday, to avoid dealing with death on the Sabbath, Jesus’ body had been buried hastily in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. But now early Sunday morning, they came to Jesus’ tomb to finish carrying out proper anointing of His body for burial. It was the least they could do to honor their deceased teacher and friend.

As they approached the tomb, the thought must have filled their mind, as the apostle Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 15:17: “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile.” That thought must have filled the minds of all the disciples. For three years they had followed Him. They had put their faith in His claim that He was the Son of God, sent from His Father in heaven. As Peter had declared: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16-17). They had seen His miracles, they had heard His teaching – and they had believed that He was the Messiah, the one who was to come with power from on high to bring salvation and peace to God’s people.

As the women approached the tomb, they might have thought about how joyfully they had worked to support Jesus in His ministry. But now, it was all they could do to put one foot in front of the other, and just try to focus on the task ahead of them; but under the veil of grief, even that seemed difficult: “And they said among themselves, ‘Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?'” (vs. 3). Everything seemed like a barrier now; life itself seemed like a dead end. And what about the disciples? For three years they had joined Jesus in His ministry, joyfully preaching the good news of His Kingdom. But now, they found themselves hiding out in fear of Jesus’ enemies, fearful that the same fate might overtake them.

And there was more than just the fear of having believed in futility. As the apostle Paul went on to say in 1 Corinthians 15:17:And if Christ is not risen… you are still in your sins!” Jesus had claimed to bring forgiveness and peace between God and sinners. But if He had only died and been buried, how could He be any kind of Savior from sin? Once Jesus’ opponents had accused Him of blasphemy for forgiving the sins of a paralyzed man. For only God can forgive sins. But to prove His authority to forgive sins as the Son of God, and that it was not empty words, Jesus had told the paralyzed man to rise up and walk, and he did (Matthew 9:6-7). But now, if Jesus Himself could not rise up, what authority would He have to forgive anyone? How could even His greatest sacrifice have made any difference to give sinners peace with God?

Surely this thought would have troubled the disciples. Think of Peter, for example, who was sensitive about his sinfulness. When Jesus had first called him to discipleship, Peter had felt his unworthiness and said to Jesus: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8). And just a few days before, when Jesus was on trial, Peter had denied knowing Him three times, to save his skin. And when Jesus had turned and looked straight at him, Peter had gone off by himself and wept bitter tears. What could he do with his sin and guilt now, if he could no longer hear the loving voice of Jesus, forgiving him? If he could not hear that voice of divine authority, declaring his sins forgiven in heaven, how could he come face to face before God in death?

With the prospect of all this, as the women came to the tomb to anoint a dead body, and as the disciples contemplated the futility of believing in a dead man, one more thought must have come to mind as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:18-19: “Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” Indeed, what good would it have been to follow one who had called them to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him as His disciples – if He were dead? What good would there have been in all the sacrifices they had made to follow Jesus, all they had left behind in this world, all the scorn and suffering they had felt for His sake? What good would there be in losing their lives for His sake, if it were all just a lie? Not long before, the disciples had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, after he had been in the tomb four days. But what if Jesus were just in the tomb, unable to rise? How then could He raise anyone from the dead? Then all those who have fallen asleep believing in Him would simply have perished.

But just as all had begun to seem hopeless, as the women came to Jesus’ tomb, early that first Easter Sunday, they experienced a heavenly scene that changed everything. To their surprise, they found that large and heavy stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb. “And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him'” (vs. 5-6).

“He is risen!” Those three words of truth made all the difference for the disciples, and for us! Jesus’ resurrection turns futility of faith into fulfillment of His promises. Jesus’ resurrection turns guilt and fear into forgiveness and peace with God. Jesus’ resurrection turns death and sorrow into eternal life and joy.

Thirty years before, an angel had announced glad tidings of great joy at the Savior’s birth. Now at His resurrection, the angel sent the women forth with glad tidings of great joy to share. “He is risen!” It was good news to be shared with all the world. But first, the angel gave these instructions: “‘Go, tell His disciples – and Peter – that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you'” (vs. 7).

As they went forth from the empty tomb, holy faith and joy was mixed with holy fear and awe at this greatest news, those three most important words of truth ever spoke: “He is risen!” Soon, even as the women were on their way back to Jerusalem, Jesus would appear to two of them that morning (Matthew 28:9; Mark 16:9). They would see Jesus with their own eyes. Then they ran with fervently desire to share the good news with His disciples, and with all people.

What is that good news that comes to us today? First of all, our faith in Jesus is not futile. As Paul wrote in Romans 1:4: “He was declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” Jesus’ resurrection powerfully proves that He is who He claimed to be. His Church is built on the rock-solid truth of who He is as “the Christ, the Son of the living God”; and even the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:16-18). Our faith is well founded; we can believe all that Jesus taught, recorded in Scripture. As we rest our faith in Him, nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ.

How good it was for the disciples, and for us, to hear this good news. For secondly, Jesus’ resurrection proves that He has saved us from all our sin. Again as Paul wrote in Romans 4:25, Jesus was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” In other words, when God the Father raised His Son from the grave, He was declaring that His sacrifice on the cross truly had taken away all our sin. When Jesus cried out “It is finished,” He had paid the full price with His blood to win our forgiveness and peace with God. Now at Jesus’ empty tomb, by those words of truth, “He is risen!” God declares that He justifies us – no longer counting our sins against us, but counting Jesus’ perfection to us.

As the women brought the good news to the rest, we note how the angel specifically said: “Go, tell His disciples – and Peter.” Later that day, Jesus also appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34). Think of what a relief it would be to that disciple, who had been weeping for his sin, to hear that loving and forgiving voice of his Savior again. John’s Gospel also tells us that later that evening Jesus, in His resurrected body, passed through the locked doors where His disciples were hiding in fear. What was the good news the risen Savior proclaimed? Forgiveness and peace with God. As Jesus showed them His nail-pierced hands and feet, and His spear-pierced side, He said: “‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23).

This is the same good news that our once crucified, and now risen, Savior sends His Church to proclaim to all the world. This is the good news that our loving Savior speaks to each of us, as His disciples: “Your sins are forgiven you…. Go in peace!” (Matthew 9:2; Luke 7:50).

“He is risen!” Finally, these three words of truth tell us that He has conquered death for us. As Paul declared in 1 Corinthians 15:20: “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Now that we are united with our living Savior through Baptism and faith, even death cannot separate us from the eternal life He gives. Though our bodies die and are laid in the grave, yet it is only a kind of sleep. What happened to Jesus’ body will happen to ours. As He committed His spirit into His Father’s hands before breathing His last on the cross; so also in the hour of death, we commit our spirit into His hands. And so our souls will live on with our Savior in heaven. And as His body was raised from the grave that first Easter; so also in the Day of Resurrection, He will raise our bodies, reuniting them with our souls, to live forever with Him in heaven.

How good it is to know, as we grieve the death of a loved one who has fallen asleep in Christ. As we stand at the tomb it is not a final goodbye, but “Until we meet again.” As the women came to Jesus’ tomb, their tears of grief were turned to shouts of joy in the resurrection of Jesus. So also at the Last Day, all our tears of grief will be turned to shouts of joy, when our Savior stands beside the tomb, raising us with glorified bodies: “And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

How all the disciples would cling to this good news, as they saw their risen Lord that first Easter, and as He continued to appear to them for 40 days until His Ascension! This good news, this living hope in the resurrection of Jesus, changed their lives profoundly. They would leave behind those locked doors of fear, and proclaim Jesus’ Gospel with great zeal and boldness to all the world. They would even give their lives for the sake of this truth: “He is risen!”

These three words of truth make all the difference for us, too. No matter what troubles and sorrows we face in this world as Jesus’ disciples, we have been given the same living hope through His resurrection from the dead. “He is risen!” With these words of truth, we can leave behind our fears and doubts, knowing we live each day in His loving care. And we can joyfully share His truth with all people: Jesus is risen – risen indeed! And in His name, you have the forgiveness of sins and peace with God, and the salvation and eternal life He has won for you.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.