Mark writes about the three women who were at the tomb of the Lord Jesus; ‘And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid,’ (Mark 16:8).
The women who came to the tomb that first Easter morning showed wonderful devotion to the Saviour. When the disciples had scattered at His arrest, the women stood at the foot of the cross while Jesus was crucified; and after He died they probably helped Joseph of Arimathea to wash the body of Jesus and to begin preparing it for burial. Since Jesus died around 3 p.m. and since it probably took another hour or so to receive permission from Pilate to receive the body, they were not able to finish the preparation for burial. That’s because at sundown on Friday, the Sabbath would begin and no work could be done for twenty-four hours. So the women had to wait until Saturday at sundown to purchase more spices, their intent being simply to preserve the body of Jesus from the smell of decay for a few more days.
They came to the tomb on that Sunday morning, waiting until daylight so that they could see what they were doing, in order to better prepare Jesus’ body for burial. As women of supreme devotion to Jesus, they came to the tomb with both hope and unbelief. By hope I mean they were so intent on preserving the body of Jesus they had not really considered how they might roll the heavy stone away, something they were incapable of doing. Nor had they thought about the Roman guard at the tomb, or how they might get past it. Nonetheless their love for Jesus moved them forward to do a seemingly impossible task. But they were also filled with unbelief, and we know this because Jesus had told His disciples at least four times that He would be crucified and three days later be raised from the dead. The thought of this actually happening was completely foreign to the minds of these devoted women. They were coming to prepare His body for burial. They were not expecting to see a resurrected Saviour.
When they came to the tomb, they found the stone rolled away, and looking inside the tomb, found a man sitting, clothed in garments, whiter than white, saying to them, ‘Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, “He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He said to you.”‘ The word ‘amazed’, in some translations is rendered ‘afraid’. Actually the word has a very full meaning which is vitally important to our understanding of how we are to live in this world. They were afraid, awed, amazed, profoundly thankful, overjoyed, giving praise to God. The emotion they had was like one who narrowly escapes drowning, like one who is cured of a terminal illness by some new drug or procedure, like those on a plane which is going down, only to experience the pilot righting its course at the last moment. You will note also that after receiving this command from the angel, the women went immediately to the disciples, not speaking to anyone along the way. The resurrection of Christ, properly understood and applied, also brings obedience.
Many today are terribly confused about the nature of Christianity and what the church is to do. Some think Christianity is a white man’s religion, a western cultural phenomenon. Others think it is a political action committee for those on the right or left. Some think the church is for entertainment, for psychological well-being, for social gatherings. Some are expecting things of the church which she cannot or should not try to do. But Christianity is the life of God in the soul of man, and the church’s job is to do what no other organization can do – prepare people to live and die well, to point out the sinfulness of man, and God’s only remedy through Christ’s death and resurrection.
The unbeliever who sits in a worship service ought to be disturbed, concerned, troubled. I am not unaware how controversial this statement may sound to some people. After all, we should intensely desire that people find the church a welcoming place. We ought to be friendly and inviting to all who enter her doors. But a church which is heavy on grace and light on law, a church which does not preach a discriminating message, where people know, after listening to a sermon, that they are either in the kingdom or out of the kingdom, I suggest is not doing its job. To paraphrase John MacArthur from his book, Ashamed of the Gospel – an unbeliever who sits in church for more than a couple of weeks ought to be so uncomfortable that he does one of two things. He leaves out of fear or disgust at the message, or seeks Christ until he is assured of his salvation, his right standing with God. The latter may take a long time, perhaps even years, but the gospel calls people to specific action, and true gospel preaching eventually evokes one of two responses – true belief and repentance, or rejection of Christ.
The division over this issue in the modern American church can be traced back to the same theological issue of the second Great Awakening when the major players, Asahel Nettleton a strong Calvinist who believed in the depravity and inability of man to believe on his own efforts, and Charles Finney an Arminian who believed man had the ability to believe the gospel without the Holy Spirit’s regenerating work, were preaching in two different ways. This led to New School and Old School Presbyterianism which is very much with us today in one form or another. One very popular author and pastor has said that anyone will come to Christ if the one sharing the gospel finds the key to his heart. This is Arminianism and terribly discouraging to preachers. In other words, to follow this thinking all the way through – if you are not slick, winsome, and really understand how to speak to people, then you should not expect a whole lot from your evangelistic efforts.
But these women, seeing the empty tomb, were filled with devotion, hope, joy, fear, terror, rejoicing, and a desire to obey God and to repent daily of sin. True Christian faith does this to people. Becoming a Christian will evoke a profound change in people. They begin to love God and hate their sin. They begin to believe that simple faith in Jesus can help them gain victory over their past sins which so enslaved them. They begin to glory in the cross of Christ. If you are not there, then it must be for one of two reasons. Either you never have been given new life in Christ, or you have lost your way from sincere devotion to Him. Repent and believe the gospel, if the former; and if the latter, repent of your coldness of heart, for settling for lesser things, for your doubt concerning the power of Jesus to transform you and others, and open yourself to the Holy Spirit in prayer, knowing and believing that if He chooses not to move on people, then there is nothing you can do to convince them.
May we live with joy, hope, reverence, fear, and profound thanks to God. Tell others of the resurrection of Jesus, always depending upon the Holy Spirit to open people’s eyes and ears. And sit back in profound wonder when He does it.
Rev. Allen M. Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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