Introduction: The renowned Evangelical theologian Carl F. H. Henry once said of Jesus that “He planted the only durable rumor of hope amid the widespread despair of a hopeless world” (As cited by Ray Stedman, A Rumor of Hope: The Good News of Easter, p, 24).
This statement may sound a bit odd to many of us because we so often think of rumors as gossip that is at least mostly untrue. But, of course, not all rumors are untrue. For example, I am reminded of my service in the Navy, when I and my shipmates would hear rumors about where the ship was going next, or about some training exercise coming up, or about some difficult or dangerous situation that awaited us. Yet no matter how often the officers would tell us not to pay any attention to such rumors, it was uncanny how often the rumors were actually true!
In the same way, we shall read about where the rumor of Jesus’ resurrection began. We shall also see that it is a true rumor and that it is indeed – as Carl Henry put it – “a rumor of hope”!
NKJ Mark 16:1 Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him.
Observe that these women were coming “that they might anoint Him.” They clearly expected to find Jesus’ dead body at the tomb, in spite of Jesus’ repeated promise that He would rise from the dead on the third day. For example:
NKJ Mark 8:31-32a And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke this word openly.
NKJ Mark 9:31 For He taught His disciples and said to them, “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.”
NKJ Mark 10:32-34 Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid. Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him: 33 “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; 34 and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”
To be sure, most of this teaching was done among the Twelve, but we have every reason to believe that He said the same things to His other followers as well (a fact confirmed by the angel’s words in Luke’s account – Luke 24:5-7). Sadly, however, we see in the text before us that the women clearly were not expecting to find that Jesus had risen from the dead. They had no hope that they would see Him alive again. But they nevertheless showed remarkable devotion, for they spent money to buy spices – which would not have been cheap – and they came to anoint Jesus’ body even though it would have begun to decompose rapidly in the climate of Jerusalem.
Their devotion is also seen in their going to the tomb early in the morning, as the next verse indicates.
NKJ Mark 16:2 Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.
Mark has already informed us that the women did not come to the tomb sooner because they had to wait for the Sabbath to end before they could buy the appropriate spices. But he is sure to report that they came just as soon as they could.
Application: Even though we do not always trust in the Lord’s promises as fully as we should, and even though the immediate future may even appear hopeless to us, we can be encouraged that Christ will work in our lives – as we will see that He worked in the lives of these women – if we remain devoted to Him and available. After all, these women may not have trusted in Jesus’ promise of resurrection as they should have, but they clearly did remain devoted to him, and they were there!
NKJ Mark 16:3 And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?”
Not only did these women come with the low expectations of a weak faith, but they hadn’t even planned out how they were going to get into the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. The stone would have been so large that it would have required a number of strong men to move it. Perhaps in their grief and dismay, they simply weren’t thinking clearly.
Application: What about those of us here this morning? Are there some here today that are going through difficult times that feel confusing and hopeless? That have a hard time even looking far enough ahead to plan as they should? If there are any here today whose struggles feel so overwhelming to them, then you are among those who need to have a revelation of hope today. You need to be reminded of the hope that we have in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Look with me again to see how, as the women in our text approach the tomb, they will see the first indication that a whole new life awaits them!
NKJ Mark 16:4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away — for it was very large.
Apparently, as they were discussing their dilemma about the stone on their way to the tomb, they looked up as they approached and saw that it had already been moved. I wonder what would have been going through their minds as they came up to the open entrance of the tomb? Were they relieved that they didn’t have to move the stone? Were they wondering if someone else was already in the tomb? Were they beginning to worry that the body may have been moved?
We don’t know what they were thinking, but we can imagine that many thoughts were going through their troubled minds … except for one thought … the thought that Jesus had, in fact, risen from the dead! We can only imagine their surprise, then, when they entered the tomb and and encountered a revelation from God that would change their lives forever!
NKJ Mark 16:5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed [ἐκθαμβέω, ekthambéō].
Although Mark doesn’t explicitly say that this young man is an angel of the Lord, his description of the white apparel and the revelation delivered by him in the following verses leaves no doubt that he is, indeed, an angel. This is confirmed by Matthew:
NKJ Matthew 28:1-5a Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. 3 His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. 5 But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid ….”
The appearance of this angelic being also helps to explain the alarm of the women upon entering the tomb, although, as we will see, the absence of Jesus’ body contributed much to this reaction!
The Greek word translated alarmed – ekthambéō – is a very strong word. The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature gives this definition: “… to be moved to a relatively intense emotional state because of something causing great surprise or perplexity … [to] be amazed … [to] be overwhelmed … [to] be alarmed… [or to] be distressed” (#2359, BibleWorks).
The word ekthambéō is used only by Mark in the New Testament, who appears to reserve its usage for special occasions of great spiritual significance.
This reminds me of how a brother once told me that he doesn’t like to use the word awesome except with reference to God. To be sure, it is an overused word these days, overused and cheapened almost to the point of being meaningless. One thinks, for example, of the surfer dude describing an “awesome wave.” This is why I suspect that Mark would appreciate that brother’s thinking, for he has done a similar thing with this Greek word ekthambéō. As I have already said, he is the only New Testament author to use this particular word, and he appears to reserve its usage only for special occasions of great spiritual significance. In fact, it is found only three other times in the Gospel of Mark. Let’s take a few minutes to briefly examine each of these instances.
First, there is the instance when the crowd saw Jesus after the Transfiguration:
NKJ Mark 9:14-15 And when He came to the disciples, He saw a great multitude around them, and scribes disputing with them. 15 Immediately, when they saw Him, all the people were greatly amazed [ἐκθαμβέω, ekthambéō], and running to Him, greeted Him. [Jesus showed up in the nick of time!]
Second, there is the instance when Jesus was troubled in Gethsemane:
NKJ Mark 14:32-34 Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled [ἐκθαμβέω, ekthambéō] and deeply distressed. 34 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.”
Third, it is used again in the next verse here in chapter 16:
NKJ Mark 16:6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed [ἐκθαμβέω, ekthambéō]. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid [τίθημι] Him.”
The angel’s tender words, “Do not be alarmed,” followed by an explanation of what happened to Jesus’ body, seems to presuppose that their alarm was at least in part due to the fact that the body they sought was not there. The angel points out that they were seeking the crucified Jesus, who had been buried a few days before, but that they should be seeking the risen Jesus! Since they had not believed the promise of His resurrection as they should have, the angel thus stresses that the promise had indeed been fulfilled.
The angel even calls their attention to the place where the body of Jesus had previously been laid, where the women had actually seen Him buried the preceding Friday. Remember, for example:
NKJ Mark 15:40-41 There were also women looking on from afar [watching the crucifixion of Jesus], among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, 41 who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.
NKJ Mark 15:47 And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid [τίθημι].
The angel is making sure that these women, who had followed the events of the death and burial of Jesus so closely, have all the facts clearly in their minds, for they are called upon to be the first human witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus, as we see in the next verse.
NKJ Mark 16:7 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.
The women had not expected the resurrection, but they still got to be the first witnesses to it. And now the angel gives these women a divine commission to be the first witnesses to tell others about the resurrection of Christ, something else they surely did not expect!
As a matter of fact, women were not eligible as witnesses in Jewish culture, as the first century Jewish historian Josephus made clear in his Antiquities of the Jews:
But let not a single witness be credited, but three, or two at the least, and those such whose testimony is confirmed by their good lives. But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex. Nor let servants be admitted to give testimony, on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment. But if any one be believed to have borne false witness, let him, when he is convicted, suffer all the very same punishments which he against whom he bore witness was to have suffered. (4.8.15, “The Polity Settled By Moses; and How He Disappeared from Among Mankind”)
This is yet another reason we see the trustworthiness of the Gospel accounts, for in that culture they surely wouldn’t have recorded that women were the first witness if it were not true. Yet the women are commanded to go tell “the disciples – and Peter.” Note that these same men who had abandoned Jesus and fled in fear are still called His disciples. And see how Peter – who failed most of all – is singled out as one who is to see Jesus risen from the dead.
Application: Praise the Lord that His ability to use us does not depend on our faithfulness, but on His faithfulness! Nothing, not even our failures or the weakness of our faith, “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
The angel then tells the women that “He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” This also was something that Jesus had foretold before His death on the cross:
NKJ Mark 14:27-28 Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”
As Coty Pinckney has aptly said of this text:
Suppose I promise to give you a million dollars Monday at noon, and then a thousand dollars Tuesday at noon. You might have reason to doubt my promise – particularly if you could see my bank balance! But suppose I manage to fulfill the promise on Monday – you get the million dollars! What do you expect to happen on Tuesday? If I fulfilled the promise to give you a million dollars on Monday, surely I’ll give you the thousand dollars on Tuesday! You will have no doubt! I’ve kept the hard promise – surely I’ll keep the easier one.
Think, now: Isn’t the promise to rise from the dead the hardest promise to keep anyone has ever made? Jesus kept the hard promise. He lived up to His word. Shouldn’t we then believe the rest of His words, and trust Him to be speaking truthfully? He’s fulfilled the million-dollar promise – surely He’ll fulfill all the thousand dollar promises He made. (Online sermon on Mark 15:40-16:8, entitled “Just As He Said”)
Such were the kinds of lesson these women would learn from this amazing event, but probably not until they had some time to reflect upon it. As we will see in the next verse, they were initially too afraid to do anything but flee from the scene.
NKJ Mark 16:8 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 [φοβέω, phobéō].
Here Mark highlights the fear of the women at having seen the angel and at having been given such an important commission. Again he uses a word that he has often used at other times throughout his Gospel to highlight fear in response to Divine revelation or action. For example:
After Jesus calmed the stormy sea: NKJ Mark 4:41 And they feared exceedingly [φοβέω, phobéō], and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”
After Jesus cast a legion of demons out of a man in Gadara: NKJ Mark 5:15 Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid [φοβέω, phobéō].
After a woman had been healed from her bleeding: NKJ Mark 5:33 But the woman, fearing [φοβέω, phobéō] and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth.
After the disciples saw Jesus walking on water: NKJ Mark 6:49-50 And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; 50 for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid [φοβέω, phobéō].”
After witnessing the transfiguration of Jesus: NKJ Mark 9:2-6 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them. 4 And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” – 6 because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid [ἔκφοβος, ékphobos, “pert. to being intensely afraid, terrified” (BAGD3 #2452, BibleWorks)].
Now, getting back to the women in chapter 16, we know that after some time they did go and tell the other disciples as the angel had commanded them, since both Matthew (28:8) and Luke (24:8-12) tell us that they did. And Mark himself tells us in verses 9-11 that Mary Magdalene went and told the disciples.
But Mark wants us to know that they were initially paralyzed by their fear. Although he doesn’t go into detail about the exact reason(s) for their fear, we can conclude from his usage of the same term elsewhere in his Gospel that their fear was at least in part due to the fact that they had experienced a Divine revelation from a messenger of God and were apparently still in shock over the event. But it is also possible that they were afraid for other reasons as well, such as fear that they might not be believed when they told others what the angel had said to them. If this was the case, it wasn’t an irrational fear, since Mark tells us that the other disciples did not, in fact, believe them, at least not at first (vs. 11).
But notice that, in spite of their fear, Mark doesn’t in any way indicate that these women themselves were disbelieving. In fact, one can only conclude that it was their faith that overcame their fear and eventually led them to go and tell the others what they had seen and heard.
Conclusion: Application: What can we learn from their example? Well, it seems to me that we can see here how faith can be mixed with fear and still be genuine. Perhaps you are one who has felt fear at hearing what God says in His Word and what He commands you to do. Perhaps you have even been afraid to tell others about your risen Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps you have even begun to doubt your own faith at times.
Well, just know this, that being afraid doesn’t mean you have no faith, even if it may indicate a weak faith. The real question for you is this: Will you allow your fears to conquer your faith, or will your faith win out in the end? Perhaps what you do when you leave here today with the Gospel message concerning the risen Lord will tell the tale. Will you go out in faith to tell others? Will you trust the Lord to be with you and to enable you?
If you question whether your faith is strong enough, then perhaps you should learn a lesson from another incident recorded in Mark. When a certain father approached Jesus and asked for help for his demonized son, “Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” (9:23-24).
You may question whether you have the faith to obey the command you have been given to tell others about Jesus, but do you have enough faith to cry out to Jesus and ask Him to help your weakness? If so, then you have enough faith to overcome your fears as these women did on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection.
For those of you who may not yet have trusted in the Lord Jesus for salvation, I encourage you to hear the words of Scripture and believe.
NKJ Romans 10:8-11 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”