By Pastor Glenn Pease
Back in 1851 two missionaries, one English and the other American, were walking past the temple of Siva in Tanjore, India. They noticed the people carrying out one of the brass idols. It was a hot sunny day and the idol had become heated. One of the worshipers happened to touch it, and feeling that it was very warm, concluded that it was sick with a fever. The Rajah, or king being present immediately sent for a physician. He came and told them not to be alarmed for the god was well. The king called him a fool and sent him away. He ordered that another physician be called. When he arrived and examined the idol, he told them the god was very ill with a high fever and would soon die if remedies were not immediately applied. He directed them to put the idol in a shady place, and wash him with cool liquid. When it was cooled off the physician pronounced him cured, and the Rajah gave him three thousands rupees for saving the life of the god.
It is not everyday that a man can save a god, and he was no doubt delighted with his accomplishment. We can laugh, of course, at the ignorance of men who could seriously believe in a god capable of getting sick, dying, and needing to be rescued by men from the jaws of death. Any god who can get sick and die is no god at all. This ought to be as obvious to us as any truth is. Those who make statements that God has died only reveal that the God of whom they speak is no more than a man made idol, and not the God of Biblical revelation. It is true that God, out of the great love with which He loved us, became incarnate in human flesh, and submitted to the death of the cross. He did literally go through the experience of dying, but the vital fact, the great fact of Easter, is that He went through it. He did not remain in death, but rose to live forever. Jesus said to John in Rev. 1:18, "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen and have the keys of hell and death." Christ has the keys of hell and death because He experienced both, and triumphed over both. A poet has written,
Yes, He is risen who is the First and Last,
Who was and is, who liveth and was dead.
Beyond the reach of death He now has passed.
Of the glorious church the glorious head.
This is more than the message of Easter, for this is the foundation of the whole of Christianity. Anyone is free to disbelieve, and even deny it, but none are free to honestly bare the name of Christian who do so. There is no Christianity if the resurrection is not true. If men have lost faith in the idols of their self-made religion, let them cry out that their god is dead, but let us not confuse their petty idols with the Living God of Revelation. Those who have a God who is dead need to be even more enlightened, and recognized that their god was never alive.
We want to consider the great story of the resurrection from the point of view of two groups of people. Both groups are believers, but Mark's account first deals with the experience of the women, and then of the men. We want to consider the male responses in another message. For now we will consider the experience of the women on this day of resurrection. The first thing we see is-
I. DEVOTION DISPLAYED. v. 1,2.
These few loyal women have endured the agony of watching their Lord die a violent death, and they watched Him being placed in a tomb hastily before the Sabbath began. How much real resting they did on that Sabbath we do not know, but our text shows that as soon as it was over these devoted disciples made a purchase. Late in the evening they bought spices for the purpose of going to the tomb in the morning, and anointing the body of this one they so loved.
They harbor no hope of the resurrection, for they would not spend money for spices to anoint His body if they had any hope that it would be alive soon. They acted in the belief that this was the end, and that His body would forever lay in the tomb, or at least until the resurrection at the last day, which all faithful Jews looked for. They are so grateful, however, for all that He was, and all that He did for them, that they must express their devotion, and the only way they could do so was to honor the body that once housed His much loved soul.
Call it an extravagant waste if you will, but to discerning eyes it is an act of devoted love that is taking place. It is in sharp contrast to the despair that characterized the 11 disciples. All of the men were thrown into a state of paralysis by their sorrow. They did not make a move until they were compelled by the testimony of the women, and even then it was with reluctance and skepticism. But here we see action in the women, and a love that has not altered because it alteration found. Jesus was no longer alive and with them, yet they display what Macaulay refers to as "The perfect disinterestedness and self-devotion of which men are incapable, but which is sometimes found in women."
They had seen the worst and were convinced that Jesus was dead for good, yet they could not wait to display their loyal devotion. Verse 2 says it was very early in the morning they came to the sepulcher. It was at the rising of the sun. They were hardly able to wait for dawn to carry out their act of love. When we consider the devotion displayed by these faithful female disciples, we can well understand why it was they were granted the honor of being the first to receive the good news of the risen Redeemer. Women bore the shame of being the first to bring the cause of death upon man, but now she bares the honor of being the first to bring the good news of victory over death to man.
Not only were they the first to hear the message, but Mark makes it clear in verse 9 that Mary Magdalene was the first to see the risen Christ. This is no accident, or incidental fact, but appears to be an act by which the risen Redeemer recognizes and rewards her devotion. Jesus could have appeared at anytime to any person, but he chose to appear first to Mary. Jesus said, "To whom much is forgiven the same loveth much," and this was certainly true for Mary whose devotion did not depreciate even in the face of death. Valzac spoke in truth when he said, "To feel, to love, to suffer, to devote herself, will always be the text of the life of woman." It is also true that it will always be the role of the risen Redeemer to richly reward those who are devoted to Him.
If these women were so devoted to Christ when they thought He was dead, imagine the beauty of their lives when the shock wore off, and they realized he was in reality a risen and living Lord. Mary Magdalene was the first to be able to affirm with assurance and confidence the conviction of the poet Robert Heirich who wrote,
I do believe, that die I must,
And be return'd from out my dust;
I do believe, that when I rise,
I shall see, with these same eyes.
She was the first to see Jesus risen and transformed; the first to know that the grave has been conquered. If such was the reward for her devotion, and such was the honor granted to the other women to be the first to hear the good news, how great will be their reward in heaven after a life of devotion to the risen Redeemer? We cannot pretend to know, but we can learn a marvelous lesson from their experience on that first Easter. We can learn that Jesus prizes devotion, and that there is no greater testimony to the reality of our love and devotion to Him, than to act in love and honor Him, even when the circumstances are darkest, and hope seems to be demolished. Their display of devotion was not anything profound. It was very simple and personal. There is no need for elaborate display, for Jesus looks on the hearts, and we should care only that He sees our hearts as He saw the hearts of those women in the morning hours of that first Easter. May the experience described by Thomas Moore be ours:
As down in the sunless retreat of the ocean,
Sweet flowers are springing no mortal can see,
So deep in my soul the still prayer of devotion
Unheard by the world, rises silent to Thee.
As we move on to consider the second aspect of their experience that morning, we see their devotion magnified even more. The second point we want to consider is-
II. DIFFICULTY DISSOLVED. vv. 3 and 4.
There is a saying that out of difficulty grows miracles. This is true, for if there is no difficulty, there is no need for a miracle. All miracles are divine solutions to human difficulties. A miracle is only a miracle to man, and not to God, for He has no unsolvable difficulties. These devoted women had a dandy of a difficulty facing them, yet they moved forward. They watched the large stone rolled in front of the tomb by strong men on Friday night, and now early Sunday morning, all alone with no muscular men to help them, they made their way to the tomb. When we add the details of the other Gospels, we see that the obstacles that they faced were even greater. Not only was the stone large, but it had been sealed, and not only that, the Jewish leaders had seen to it that a guard was standing watch lest there be any attempt to remove the body.
If ever the weaker sex faced what appeared to be an insurmountable problem, it was here as they walked along discussing how they will deal with the difficulty of the stone. When you consider the circumstances there is a natural tendency to question their good sense at this point. Common sense would tell them that they had to sit down and figure out a solution to this problem before they went marching to the tomb. They knew they could not do it, for they were wondering who could roll the stone away for them. Their devotion refused to be delayed until a solution was found, and so with the attitude in mind, we will cross that bridge when we come to it, they headed for the tomb. Lesser love would have failed to make such a plan in the first place, or would have forsaken the whole idea in the second place, and would have retreated in the face of the difficulty.
These women were like the English drummer boy who was captured and brought before Napoleon. He was told to sound the retreat and his prompt reply was, "I never learnt it!" Loyalty and love do not care to learn the march of retreat, but like these devoted disciples it marches ever onward in spite of difficulties. And again we see that their determined devotion was richly rewarded. Like so many difficulties that are faced with no apparent solution, when they are met head on they dissolve and disappear. So here we see that when they arrived at the tomb their problem was gone. The difficulty had been dissolved, for they looked up and the stone was already rolled away.
We need to learn another valuable lesson from their experience. We need to learn to be persistently positive in the face of difficulty. We must be always actively advancing in our cause of serving Christ. Difficulties are not imaginary. They are real, as real as the stone that sealed the tomb, but the experience of these women reveals that for those who walk forward in the face of obstacles to serve Christ, there will be a solution available. The church has plenty of obstacles to overcome, but until there are devoted disciples marching forward, there will not be solutions to these difficulties.
In 1799 one of Napoleon's generals appeared before the town of Feldkirk in Austria. It was Easter day and the leaders of the town were at a loss as to what to do. The old dean of the church gave this advice, "This is Easter day. We have been counting on our strength and we know that always fails. On the day of our Lord's resurrection let us ring the bells and have our church service as usual and leave this thing in God's hands. He will show us the way out, and we can certainly not find a way out without Him.
The bells began to chime, and worshipers thronged the streets as they made their way to the house of God. The French general was frightened by the bell ringing, for he interpreted it to be a rejoicing on the part of the city because an Austrian army had arrived in the night to rescue them. He ordered his men to quickly break camp, and they marched away leaving the city safe. God specializes in special delivery, and so we need to learn to leave the impossible to Him, and move ahead in devoted service regardless of obstacles.
If these women could display such determined devotion with the conviction that Christ was dead, how much greater ought our devotion to be who have 19 centuries of evidence of the power of the risen Redeemer? They marched forward to a sealed tomb, a dead Lord, and a hard difficulty, on a dark morning. But we can shout with Fortunatus,
"Hail, Day of days! In peals of praise
Throughout all ages owned,
When Christ, our God, hell's empire trod,
And high o'er heaven was throned."
We serve a living, royal, risen, reigning king. The Easter experience of these women challenges us to consider the weakness of our devotion, and to commit ourselves more completely to live for the honor and glory of our risen Redeemer.