Mark Lesson 23: Take Courage

mark 23

I hope you all have had a chance to see Marvel’s latest movie – Avengers Infinity War. This movie was a big deal! I will do my best not to completely spoil it for you, but you must know, I went into this movie with high expectations! This what the one all the others had been leading up to! I went into it expecting some hard stuff to happen, but then the last 10 minutes happens. And as I am watching all the possibilities for the future seem to dash to pieces as option after option is taken away, and even the characters themselves are left in stunned, confused, hopeless silence.

As I was processing through what I had just witnessed with my husband, I told him, “I think I understand a little better now what the disciples felt like on Friday night!” This was not the way it was supposed to be –how can what he said possibly come to be now? Jesus is dead! I mean, yeah, we have seen people come back to life – but that was because HE made them! He’s dead.

I’m not even sure if they were thinking clearly enough to wonder what would happen to them – if the authorities would come for them next.

I also realized that, like the disciples, if I had read the history (for the disciples, that was what we call the Old Testament, and for me it was the comics that have come before) I would have not been surprised. This was actually written about. Just not with the full details of how we saw it played out. And if I had been paying better attention along the way, I would have not been left without hope in the face of apparent hopelessness.

We have been asking all year, “Who is Jesus?” It’s the title of our study guides. And we have seen plenty of evidence in the last two weeks of people who responded to Jesus by making him out to be a liar and a criminal. Today, as we are begin our passage, we are still in the weightiness and the stunned silence of Friday night. We are going to examine three other responses to Jesus: That he is the crucified King to be identified with, the risen Savior to be in awe of, and the only one sufficient for our salvation.

The Crucified King to be Identified With

It is fitting today that our text is the last of the Markan sandwiches (sorry Mary). And while we encounter the women first, we don’t actually see their response till later, so we are going to start in the meat of the sandwich and consider Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph is a respected member of the council – that is the Sanhedrin.

Yes, this is the very same council that handed Jesus over to Pilate. We don’t know where Joseph was during the trial. Mark doesn’t seem to think that particular detail is important enough to clarify. What he does clarify for us, though, is that Joseph was looking for the Kingdom of God. We hear that phrase a couple other times in the other gospels when the baby Jesus is brought to the Temple and Simeon and Anna the prophetess recognize him as Messiah even then. I think it is safe to assume that Joseph, then, recognized Jesus for who he was. He is even called a disciple of Jesus in another gospel.

Now, it is Friday, the day before the Sabbath, and there are rules for what you can and cannot do – however burying the dead is an exception. Burying the dead must happen within 24 hours, according to Jewish law. Remember, though, it was not Jewish law Jesus was convicted and crucified under. It was Roman law. And Romans preferred to leave their crucified criminals up there to decompose and serve as a warning. Rarely would they grant to take someone down, and if they did it was usually only to family.

Right there in the meat of our passage, we encounter these two words. What did Joseph do? He took courage. He risked everything. Do you realize that? This was a member of the Sanhedrin! A respected member. As we will see in a little bit, he was wealthy, and he obviously had clout both with his own people and with the Romans. Joseph asks Pilate’s permission to take down Jesus’ body and bury it.

By going to Pilate and asking, Joseph is claiming Jesus – he is identifying himself with Jesus. He is claiming allegiance to a crucified king. He is risking his position, his social standing, his livelihood, his well-being and life possibly, by claiming Jesus.

But why shouldn’t he?

After all, wasn’t it Jesus who identified with us first? Remember back in chapter 1, we learned that Jesus had to be baptized so that he would identify with us. Without his identification as fully human, what he accomplished on the cross would have been insufficient. He took on flesh – he identified with us. Why shouldn’t we identify with him?

Last year, I heard someone teach on this passage, and I was overcome when she called us to consider – Joseph was the one who climbed up the ladder. Joseph was the one who pulled Jesus’ body down. Put yourself in that place. Here is the man whom you believed to be the long-awaited Messiah. And you are either having to pull stakes from his hands or pull his hands over the stakes, and hold his lifeless body up while you do the other hand, and then the feet, balancing and pulling his beaten body closer to you as you climb down.

We shy away from pain and death. Understandably so. It is ugly, hard, terrible. But here, because of his great love and care for Jesus, Joseph pulls in closer, he experiences Jesus’ death. There is no question that Jesus – is dead. Was Joseph confused? Was the grief overwhelming? When I put myself there, I am physically shaking with silent sobs because I just don’t understand, and I don’t know what to do.

Joseph, though, he lovingly wraps Jesus in linen, and places him in a tomb. The linen and the tomb themselves are evidence of Joseph’s wealth. This is probably a family tomb that would be reused as the bodies laid there would decay, and then the bones left would be placed in a vessel so that room would be made for the next person. All of this, as excruciatingly heartbreaking as it is, is fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah 53.

Joseph rolls the stone in front of the entrance, and we don’t hear from him again. This was a man who risked everything, he took courage, and identified himself with a crucified king.

The Risen Savior to be in Awe of

This is where the women re-enter the story. But let’s go back to the beginning, because there is a detail here that I don’t want us to miss.

Read 40-41.

These women were with Jesus in Galilee. They were followers. They ministered to him. These were not casual passersby. These women were every bit as devoted to him as the Disciples were.

As a quick side note, I have to say something. I would be remiss if I left it unsaid. Things are happening in our culture today that I think make it necessary to point out the way Jesus treated women. In his culture, women were less than, property. Yet, he elevated them – not in position, but in value. He spoke to the Samaritan woman, he loved them, taught them, showed they were worth respect as fellow image-bearers. We see in the other accounts of his death, among his last words were provision for the care of his mother. And here, we are going to see that these faithful women are given a special privilege.

Now, I am unashamedly complementarian, so I am not denying the difference in the established roles and authority between men and women, but women are not less-than to Jesus. I am thankful for this church and for many of its leaders who have demonstrated a similar respect and value of their sisters.

You, my dear friends, are fellow image-bearers of the creator of the universe, and as such are endowed with an inherent dignity that should be recognized – by those around you, and by you yourself.

Anyway, back to our story. These women are watching. They watched the crucifixion from a distance. They then watch as Joseph takes Jesus down, and follow him to the tomb, and see where he is laid. They see the stone rolled in front of the entrance. But it is now the Sabbath. They had been ministering to him all along, and now they wanted to remain faithful. So, they remained faithful to what they knew to be true. It was the Sabbath, and they could not do anything until that day of rest was over.

As soon as the sun went down on the Sabbath, though, they bought the spices, and prepared to head out in the morning. When they were on their way, they were discussing the large stone. They had seen Joseph move it in place. We know from other gospels that there were guards placed there to prevent any shenanigans. I am sure the women are wondering how they are going to accomplish this task. It seemed too big for them. What did they find when they arrived?

I love it when this happens. It makes me smile. Isn’t that just like God? Just when we think it is impossible to do, he makes a way. They arrive, and they find the stone has already been moved! So, what do they do? They just go on in!

What they find there is not what they expected, that’s for sure! Mark describes him as a young man dressed in a white robe. Now, if you looked at your cross references, this “white robe” is the same as the dazzling white of the Son of Man in Daniel 7 who sits on the throne, or the radiant, intensely white of Jesus clothes at the transfiguration. This was no ordinary white! This was heavenly white. It is safe to assume this young man was an angel. And as if his heavenly white robe wasn’t enough, what is the first thing he says? It’s the same thing almost every angel says when they appear – “Do not be alarmed.” I wonder sometimes if they realize how utterly silly that statement is. Of course we are going to be alarmed and afraid! They’re angels!!!

What is not silly, but nearly incomprehensible is what he says next. “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here. See the place where they laid him.”

He seeks to reassure them that yes, they are in the right tomb, because he details who they are looking for. But then, almost as if they haven’t taken their eyes off him (I mean, would you?) he points out that they are in fact alone in the tomb. These ordinary, faithful women were given the greatest privilege I can imagine. They were the ones chosen to hear the news of the resurrection of our Lord first. And then they were given the command to go and tell first – go and tell the disciples, and Peter that he is going to Galilee. And there you will see him, just as he told you.

They ran away, my translation says they fled for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing for they were afraid. We know from the other gospels that this does not mean that they stayed silent and did not tell anyone. So, what does Mark mean?

Their response to their risen Savior is fear, yes. But it is the same word used when we talk about the “fear of the Lord.” We understand this not to be terror or fear for life, but to be a reverence and respect – I like the word – astonishment. Or Amazement. Or awe.

These two responses – Joseph’s and the women’s – are very different from the ones we see just before Jesus’ death. Contrary, fully opposite to the mocking, hateful, murderous responses to Jesus’ declaration “I am,” these faithful followers held on to what they knew to be true – even when it didn’t look like it could be true – and sought to serve the one they loved as best as they could.

The ending seems kind of abrupt, right? They ran away because they were afraid. The end.

He is the Only One Sufficient for My Salvation

All along through this gospel, we are faced with the implied question – what about you, reader? What do you think? Who do you think Jesus is? It is almost like Mark is dropping the mic.

So, let me tell you who I think he is.

Jesus of Nazareth was and is the fully human, fully divine son of God, who came to earth to live a perfect human life, so that he could die an undeserved death on my behalf to cover over my sins and reconcile me to full relationship with God.

In my darkest moments of fear and doubt, I have learned to remind myself, “What do I know to be true?” This is what I know to be true. And I don’t just know this is true because I read it here. No, my proof is the very evidence of our text this week. I know that his death in my place was sufficient because three days later he walked out of that tomb, alive. Death could not hold him. That is how I know. Because of that, and because I have placed my faith in his sufficiency, I am redeemed, ransomed, rescued to new life in him. I have been given the Holy Spirit to remind me, empower me, and encourage me in this new life.

What about you?

If you are here, and you do not understand yourself to be a believer, I want to point out something to you. It is one of my favorite lines in all of Scripture. Look back at verse 7. “But go, tell the disciples, and Peter…” Mary touched on this a couple of weeks ago – but we must see it again. There is no sin, no rejection, no past that is too big to come back from. Peter, our beloved, dramatic, exuberant, devastated disciple would need to be reassured that he is still included in the disciples. And Jesus knew him well enough to know he needed that. If you are hearing him calling you today, how will you respond? Will you mock him? Or will you identify with your crucified king and your risen savior, repent and believe?

And for you, my sisters, both in this room, and the ones I know are listening online, be encouraged not only to rejoice in your ransom by your risen savior. But be encouraged by the responses we considered today. Because of what he has done for us, we can continue to hold fast to what we know to be true even when all the evidence around us seems to say otherwise. We can move in closer to our crucified king who knows our pain, our exhaustion, our loneliness, our betrayal. We can cling to him. And we can know with awesome reverence and assurance that he is alive, ever interceding on our behalf with the Father. And we can know this for certain, because . . .

Christ is Risen.

He is risen indeed.

Let’s pray.

Lord, when I want to express my gratitude, my reverence, my utter awestruck-ness, I am so thankful for the writers of the past who have put to music that let my heart soar.
One writer said,
And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

And another,
Come behold the wondrous mystery
Slain by death the God of life
But no grave could e’er restrain Him
Praise the Lord; He is alive!

Lord, to be able to fully communicate the depth of my grief over my sin that held you to the cross, and the height of my joy at your calling of me is beyond my finite mind. My heart swells as I sing, as I read, as I pray, as I rest in the grace of your love. May we never lose our awe of you, may we always sing your praises. May we go and tell the world what you have done. Help us to remember what we know to be true as we seek to serve our crucified king, our risen Savior, and to cling to the sufficiency of what you have done in our stead. We praise you, our Lord Jesus, for your grace and mercy.

It is in your powerful name we pray.


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