The Death of Pity
1 Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. 2 Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3 And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away——for it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 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. 7 But go, tell His disciples——and Peter——that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” 8 So 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. (Mark 16:1-8)
Sunset, Saturday evening, April 7, AD 33. Three women leave from their houses and meet in the town square. Now that the Sabbath was over, the markets were once again open and they could go shopping. Normally, shopping for them was like it was for most women—a joyous occasion, an opportunity to look at new things, and spend time with each other. But this shopping trip was different. While everyone else seemed to be in a celebratory mood, especially the Scribes, Pharisees, and town elders, these three women were as sad as they could possibly be. So with heavy hearts they made their way, zombie-like, to the spice store. Without saying too much, they brought the spices they would need for the next morning. Laden with their burdens, they shuffled back toward the town square. At the place where their paths home diverged, they agreed to meet again early Sunday morning. They hugged each other silently in sorrowful farewell, barely restraining their tears.
Before sunrise, Sunday morning, April 8, AD 33. Three women leave from their houses and meet again in the town square. It’s obvious that none of them had slept much since they had last seen each other a few hours earlier. Having slung their burdens on their backs or placed them on their heads, holding hands, they made their way toward their destination. No one talked. What could they say that they haven’t already said to themselves and to each other a thousand times already? They thought He was the One. But they saw Him mocked and beaten and spit upon. They were in the crowd when that cowardly rascal Pilate paraded Him before them all. They couldn’t believe their eyes. There He was, on the steps, wearing a purple robe and holding a flimsy reed. But the robe didn’t cover up His wounds. So much blood. These weren’t pampered women. They were used to seeing animals butchered. They weren’t squeamish about such things. But nothing they had seen before had prepared them for that sight. There He was. The cruel Romans had crushed a crown, made of long, sharp thorns upon His head and His blood was running freely down His face. The blood from His flogged back and chest and stomach mixed with that from His head and puddled on the marble stone beneath His feet. They had thought that He was to be the One. Was it only six days ago that they were in the front of the procession leading Him through the streets of Jerusalem, shouting, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord?” But they saw Him crucified. They saw Him lifted high upon that dishonorable tree. They heard Him cry, “It is finished.” And they watched Him breathe His last breath. They shuddered when the soldier stabbed his dirty old spear into His side to make sure that He was dead. They saw the soldiers take His body down from the cross. They’d heard a rumor that kind old Joseph had put Him in one of his tombs. That’s where they were headed. They had brought the spices to anoint His body. They figured that it was the least that they could do for all that He had once done for them. Their faith was dead. Their hope was dead. Only their love for Him drove them on.
As they drew near the tomb, one of them had an awful thought. What about the stone? How were they going to move the stone? They were by themselves—all of the men were too frightened to show their faces around town because they feared that they would share His fate. So it was just them. And there was no way that those three women had the strength to roll that huge stone out of the way. “What will we do?” They asked each other. Well it’s too late to turn back now, they must have agreed. Let’s deal with that problem when we get there. So, on they went, their destination nearly reached.
They arrived at the tomb just as the sun had started to rise. To their relief, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. But that relief quickly turned to fear. Who did that? They must have whispered among themselves. Grave robbers? Or worse? Huddling closer together for safety, they peeked into the tomb. The first rays of the morning shone on a young man, dressed in white robes that reached down to the stone floor. He must be some kind of nobleman to be dressed so expensively, they had to be thinking. And now they were definitely afraid.
As if reading their thoughts, the young man told them not to be frightened. Surprising them even more, if that were possible, he told them that the One whom they were seeking was no longer there. What did that mean? They must have asked themselves. Where did He go? Again reading their thoughts, the young man told that that He had risen, just like He said He would. And that He would meet them all later in Galilee. But now they needed to go back and tell the men, the disciples, that Jesus was risen. And be sure to tell Simon Peter that Jesus is looking forward to seeing him later.
Could this be true? They wondered. Turning around quickly they started walking back. As they walked they began to remember what He had told them. Yes, yes, they said among themselves, now I remember…suffer and die and after three days…rise again. Has it been three days? Yes, I think it has. Could He be the One? The excitement caused them to walk faster and faster. Soon they were running. They had to find the men and tell them what they had seen and heard. They’re not going to believe this, they must have speculated. Do we? They asked themselves. Let’s not tell anyone until we know for sure.
And that’s how the first Easter morning went. There were no sunrise services, no joyful celebrations. No girls in pretty dresses, no Easter eggs. There was just a tomb and three sad women whose love had called them out of their warm beds, early in the morning, to pay their respects to their dead teacher.
They weren’t expecting Him to be alive and risen. They were expecting Him to still be dead. They had all forgotten what He had said before. The truth is, they probably didn’t really believe Him after all, because if they did, they would have been expecting a miracle on that morning. Instead they approached the tomb feeling sorry for themselves.
Incidentally, and in passing, what about you this morning? Have you been listening to God or your circumstances? Is there something that God promised you long ago, but He has not yet delivered it to you, and so you have given up on God? Are you feeling sorry for yourself this morning? If so, take a lesson from the ladies. Be encouraged by the words of Habakkuk: For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. (Hab 2:3) Don’t give up on God. Let this be the morning that pity dies in your life. Let faith and patience live in your life instead.
But that’s not the main point of our lesson this morning. The main point of our lesson this morning is this, what is Easter really about?
Well, I think it's about one thing, one four-letter word—love.
Turn with me in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 13. Follow along as I read these verses:
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails (ekpiptw ekpipto ek-pip’-to, fall off). But whether there are prophecies, they will fail (katargew katargeo kat-arg-eh’-o, be destroyed); whether there are tongues, they will cease (pauw pauo pow’-o, cease); whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away (katargew katargeo kat-arg-eh’-o, be destroyed). 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. 13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)
Let’s take a closer look at this passage.
First of all, verses 4 through 7 can be divided into four major groupings.
Group 1: Love suffers long and is kind. This is not saying that love suffers long and love is kind. No, what this passage is saying is that love suffers long and still remains kind.
Hold your finger there and turn with me to John chapter 19, verses 26 and 27: When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold your son!" Then He said to the disciple, "Behold your mother!" And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.
Here is one of the best examples of suffering long and remaining kind. Jesus, having already been betrayed by Judas, flogged by Pilate, and crucified by the centurion, despite all of the physical and emotional pain that He was suffering, still took the time to show kindness to His most beloved disciple, John, and His earthly mother Mary. Yes, true love suffers long and still remains kind.
Let’s turn back now to 1 Corinthians and look at the second grouping.
Group 2: Love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked. What do all of these have in common? They are all aspects of selflessness. What does it mean to be selfless? It means putting others first. Letting others go ahead of you. Rejoicing when others receiving blessings. It means loving others more than you love yourself.
Keep your finger here and turn with me again to John, this time chapter 18, verses 7 and 8: Then He asked them again, "Whom are you seeking?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus answered, "I have told you that I am He. Therefore, if you seek Me, let these go their way."
This scene is from the Garden of Gethsemane, right before Jesus was arrested, right after Judas had betrayed Him with a kiss. One on side are 200 to 300 soldiers, scribes, Pharisees, and Jewish leaders. On the other side are Jesus and three disciples. Jesus stands in between the mob and the disciples and makes sure that the mob kept its attention on Him, so that His disciples could go free. He did not seek His own safety. He did not let the mob provoke Him. But rather, He selflessly offered His self so that the others could go free. Yes, true love means loving others more than you love yourself.
Let’s turn back now to 1 Corinthians and look at the third grouping.
Group 3: Thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth. Love thinks about and does the right thing. How easy it is for us, in this modern age that we live in, to rejoice in iniquity. After all, everyone else seems to be doing it, right? Wrong. Love means having the right mindset so that when you have to make choices in life, you choose the way of godliness.
Keep your finger here and turn with me again to John chapter 18, this time we are going to look at verses 37 and 38: Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are You a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." Pilate said to Him, "What is truth?" And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, "I find no fault in Him at all.
Pilate was faced with a choice. The truth of the matter is that he could find no fault in Jesus. So what did he do? What should he have done? If you were a judge and the prosecution could offer no evidence that the man or woman sitting before you had done anything wrong, what are you supposed to do? You are supposed to set the prisoner free. Pilate was supposed to let Jesus go. But what did Pilate do? First, he had him flogged. Now, flogging wasn’t like you see in the movies. Flogging involved taking a whip that was made of leather cords. In the leather cords were sewn bits of bone and stone so that when the leather cord hit the back of the prisoner, the pieces of bone and stone would bite deep into his flesh, tearing away skin and muscle and tissue. Does this sound like something you would do to a man who did nothing wrong? And yet Pilate did it to Jesus. But he didn’t stop there as you all know. After flogging Him, Pilate then sent Him away to be crucified. Pilate, therefore, is an example of what it means not to love. When faced with the truth, he choose to do the wrong thing, rather than the right thing, for true love means doing the right thing, rather than the wrong thing.
Let’s turn back now to 1 Corinthians and look at the fourth and final grouping.
Group 4: Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. This fourth grouping shows us that no matter what else happens, love carries on. We live in a time when love is thought to be an emotion or a funny feeling in our stomachs. But the Bible teaches us that love is much more than a temporary feeling. Love is an action word. It is a commitment that carries on despite the challenges, the disappointments, the sufferings, and all of the roadblocks placed in its path. Love is like the Energizer Bunny, it keeps going and going and going.
This takes us back to our Easter passage. Despite their grief, despite their fear, despite their tiredness, despite their small numbers, the three women carried on. Their love for Christ carried them to His tomb. True, they were expecting to find a dead body there, but that didn’t stop them from doing their duty. For true love carries on, even in the face of great difficulty or overwhelming sorrow.
So that’s what Easter is really about. It’s about love. Love that suffers long and still remains kind; loves others more than itself; does the right thing, rather than the wrong thing; and carries on in the face of difficulty and sorrow. Because that’s what Christ did for us when He died upon the cross.
So as we close, let me ask you this question: Is there someone in your life that you need to love this morning? In the quietness of this moment, let the Spirit of God bring his name or her face to your mind. Whom are you refusing to forgive? What did they do to you? I am not saying that what they did to you was right; it probably wasn't. I am not saying that what they did to you was fair; it probably wasn't. I am not saying that what they did to you didn't hurt; it probably did it, deeply. It wasn't right. It wasn't fair. It hurt you deeply. But, was it less right than Judas's betrayal? Was it less fair than Pilate’s finding no fault with Jesus, but crucifying Him anyway? Did it hurt more than the nails in His hands or the utter loneliness and abandonment that he felt in His heart? Certainly not.
My dear Christian family, Easter is about the death of pity and the resurrection of love. It is about following in the footsteps of Christ who suffered and died so that we may live. I beg you not to let this day go by without asking God to make you like His Son. I plead with you to stop feeling sorry for yourself and start following Christ. Stop waiting for the other person to earn your forgiveness and start loving him or her anyway. Let the hope and faith that have been buried under the rocks of bitterness and impatience rise up out of the tombstone of your heart. Let love rule in your hearts and so honor the Christ who died for you and rose for you that you, and I, might live forever.
Let us pray. Father God, we thank You for Your word. Thank You for illuminating our paths this morning and guiding our steps. Thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus, to die for us. Please forgive us for believing our circumstances instead of trusting you. Forgive us for not forgiving others. Oh Lord, please increase our faith and fill our hearts with true love. Help us to go through this week and the rest of our lives displaying a love that suffers long and still remains kind; loves others more than ourselves; does the right thing, rather than the wrong thing; and carries on in the face of difficulty and sorrow. We ask these things in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!