Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 19, 2013
1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, 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.
-- Mark 16:1-8, ESV
God died when I was five years old, according to Time magazine. In 1966 they ran an infamous cover story with the title, “Is God Dead?” Yes, was the assertion of a college professor named Thomas Altizer, who ironically was trained in a historically Baptist school (University of Chicago) and taught at an affiliated United Methodist school (Emory University). The entire article was infused with ideas and claims made by those with less than conservative, historical, and evangelical views of God and Holy Scripture.
To say God is dead is blasphemous. To say God was dead is honest. For there was a day, a few years before our fifth birthdays, when God died. God, in the person and in the finished work of Jesus Christ, died for our sins, according to the gospel and the word of God. Christ’s death set off a day of terrible mourning, a day of incredible hope, and appoints a day for all of us when we will see for ourselves, God is most certainly not dead.
The Darkest Day
Holy Week includes a name for (Maundy) Thursday, (Good) Friday, and (Resurrection or Easter) Sunday. There is no name for Saturday. The Gospels seem to fly right over it. After the memorial day of Jesus’ death and before the monumental day of Jesus’ resurrection, the mention of Saturday was simply, “The Sabbath was past.”
On Friday it was dark for three hours while Jesus finished dying. On Saturday, when Jesus was dead to the world, it seemed dark all day long, at least in the world of His followers. Devout Jews, from which came the first devout Christians, could do nothing with dead bodies on a Saturday due to Sabbath customs and regulations. But that was not the problem. The problem was that Jesus’ body was in a tomb on any given day. God, it seemed, was dead.
We don’t know exactly what the first Christians did on that dark Saturday. They no doubt were in shock. Jesus had been threatened for three years, but this time they really killed Him. They were no doubt in deep mourning, for their love for the Lord was very evident. But the women in this story, excellent examples of true Christian faith and devotion, also made a plan. They agreed to show up at Jesus’ grave on the first day of the week and bring spices for His dead body. This was a wonderful and terrible plan.
It is wonderful that they showed up on Sunday to see Jesus. Think about that. Do you love your kids and grandkids? If so, you show up at the important events in their lives. Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ? Then show up on Sundays to see Him. See Jesus in the assembly of the saints, see Jesus in the praise and the prayers, see Jesus in the Scripture readings and sermon, see Jesus in the bread and the wine, see Jesus on the first day of the week, and see Jesus every day of the week in the ways He has given us to show us that He is not dead. These ladies, bless them all, showed up on Sunday to see Jesus. Wonderful! But, they mistakenly bought and brought spices.
Why the spices? Well, anything men can do, women can do better, that’s for sure. The women had watched Joseph and Nicodemus anoint and bury Jesus, but apparently they had not done it well enough. So, they sat out Saturday and arrived on Sunday to finish the job. To them, Jesus was loved and would always be loved. And to them, at that moment, Jesus was dead and would always be dead. That’s why they wanted to cover His deceased and decaying body with spice. Every day would be dark Saturday and they doubted God would do anything about it. That’s where they were wrong.
“For ... the Lord my God lightens my darkness” (ref. Psalm 28:18). Remember this when the dark days come in your life. A loved one dies, you go through a divorce, your health fails, your finances crash, or something else happens that makes every day feel like that sad Saturday. Go to the cross and the tomb; but, don’t bring any spices. Spices are like religion, they make dead people smell better. What we need is the cure for death. What we need is the Son rise.
The Son Rise
One Sunday morning at twilight, the Son of God rose from the grave. The Old Testament predicts this gospel truth, the New Testament proclaims this gospel truth, and we must believe this is the gospel truth. As always, the truth of the gospel centers not on what we can do for God, but upon what God had done for us.
The women went to roll the stone away; but, God had already done it. They faced an impossible task. A large grave stone rolled tightly over a tomb by a group of men, probably strong soldiers, could not be moved by a petite pack of women. They asked, “Who will roll away the stone?” I think we know the answer to that question.
The women went to look for someone to help; but, God had already sent an angel. With what they were about to see and experience, the women needed a helper, a guide, someone to explain what was going on. Where did the “young man ... dressed in a white robe,” who was in fact an angel, come from? Who sent him to help tell these women the good news about Jesus Christ and the resurrection? I think we know the answer to that question.
The women went to tend to the dead body of Jesus Christ; but, God had already raised Him from the dead. “He has risen!” Spices were not necessary when the Spirit was present. Mourning is broken when the Son rises. Who raised Jesus from the dead? I think we know the answer to that question.
At every turn when these women were ready to do something for God, they found that God had already done something amazing for them. It was all of grace. It was all for God’s glory. It was all for their good. By grace through faith, God will roll away that stone of sin in your life. God will send messengers in the form of godly parents, Christians friends, Bible-teaching pastors, and sometimes even angels unaware to proclaim to you the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Just as God raised Jesus from the dead, so God will give life to your mortal bodies through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is when the Son rises in your heart, captivates your mind, washes away all your sins, and comes into your life as Lord of lords and King of kings forever.
For people of the gospel, blackest darkness will always give way to incredible light. At the moment of justification, the Son rises to cancel the condemnation of sin and death. At each point of sanctification along the way, amidst the trials and tribulations that make us grow, the Son rises to lead us to be like Him. And when the time comes for glorification, human words will be inadequate to express the “trembling and astonishment” we will feel. For finally, we will look upon a God who is not dead. “He is risen!” And, “You will see Him!”
The Gospel Promise
“You will see Him!”
In the immediate context, of course, this meant that the women, a singled-out Simon Peter, and the other followers of Jesus would see the resurrected Lord in Galilee, just as He promised. They would see Him, walk with Him, talk with Him, eat with Him, worship with Him, and fellowship with Him for about forty days in Galilee and Judea. After that, Christ ascended into Heaven with the promise to visibly, bodily, and certainly return in the same way.
God’s gospel promise to you, if you believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, is the same. “You will see Him.” This should fill all of us with “trembling and astonishment” in sobering and hopeful ways. For when “You ... see Him,” all that will matter is whether or not you know Him, in a personal and covenantal way, as your Lord and Savior.
I did not know anything about God in 1966, but I knew enough to know He was not dead. I did not really know God at all until 1982, when He became alive in me. When I visited Galilee and Judea in 2008, I kind of hoped I’d see Him, returning to earth in the place where His earthly ministry was lived out. But most of all, when living through the dark Saturdays of my life, crushed by disappointment and depression, I really, really wanted to see Him. God appoints the dark Saturdays, too, and they will come and go on this side of Heaven. But Heaven knows no such days. So for now, keep showing up on Sundays to see Jesus. Let the Son rise in your life every single day. Then, at God’s appointed time for each one of us, this gospel promise will come true: “You will see Him.”