Trembling, bewilderment and fear? Some thoughts on the resurrection from Mark 16

Posted: April 5, 2015 in Bible Study, Bible Study - Mark, Christology, Easter, Resurrection

not-here-tomb-jesus_1157749_inlTime had run out on Friday to give Jesus a proper burial. Touching a dead body would make a person unclean for 7 days (Leviticus 19:11), however the only exemption to this was if the passover fell during this time of uncleanness, in which case they were required to keep the Passover regardless (Numbers 9:10) So it was probably simply the Sabbath regulations against working – including preparing a body for burial – that made the women wait for their next opportunity, Sunday morning.

This was not embalming. The only record of a Hebrew being embalmed in the Bible is Joseph, who at the time of his death was an Egyptian official. The standard Jewish custom was to bury the dead as soon as possible, on the same day as death if possible. However the period of mourning was 7 days, and often the mourning was performed at or even in the tomb. Quite likely the practice of covering the body with spices and perfumed ointments was simply a way of masking the smell of death as the body began to decompose (Lazarus (John 11) was already stinky after 4 days) So, these women were going to commence this mourning process, starting with anointing the body.

Just as Mark gives a concise description of Jesus’ death, so he give a concise description of the resurrection. He is not concerned so much with the how, but the simple fact. None of the Gospels give us a statement on the meaning or reason for the resurrection; it is assumed that this is obvious: Jesus is the Son of God, of whom the Father says, ‘This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased’; God’s chosen and anointed King who does nothing but what pleases the Father, to his dying breath. The wages of sin is death (and all have sinned, therefore all die), but also God promises to vindicate the righteous and reward them with life. The Psalmist (Psalm 16:10) (quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost) says, ‘You will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your holy one see corruption.’ Because Jesus’ sacrifice was the culmination of all Jesus did in his God-pleasing life, the Father’s response to this action is to declare Him to be the Son of God and King by raising him from the dead.

To us verse 8 (Most likely the original ending of Mark’s gospel) may not seem like a very satisfying conclusion, especially as we are used to Hollywood movies that end with a moving speech, a song and the hero riding off into the sunset. However Mark, in his succinct way, is simply stating the facts, and the way he does has a ring of authenticity about it. If someone were inventing the story of the resurrection, and making it the lynchpin of their whole religion (ie. without the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus, the whole of Christianity is pointless), we would expect them to embellish the story to make it believable. Instead Mark records the authentic response of the women.

How would you respond after a traumatic weekend of seeing Jesus tortured and killed, and expecting to find his body in the tomb, but instead encountering an angel who tells you he is alive? Would you immediately believe, or would it take a while for the reality of it to sink in? This was not just one miracle – the last in a long list of 3 years worth of miracles. Jesus’ resurrection means not merely that the man Jesus is alive again against all odds. It marks the start of a cataclysmic, history making, destiny forming, earth shattering reality of the establishment of the Kingdom of God, and the resurrection not just of one man but of the entirety of humanity, which will in turn mean a total renewal and liberation of the entire universe. The enormity of this had gripped them, and according to the NIV their response was, ‘trembling’, ‘bewilderment’ and ‘fear’ – three words which have almost wholly negative connotations for us. The word translated ‘bewildered’ is ‘ekstasis’ – ‘ecstasy’. ‘Fear’ is not terror, but extreme awe. And so their ‘trembling’ (‘tromos’) was not a disturbed trembling, but one of joyful anticipation, like a child may tremble as they stand before the Christmas tree on Christmas morning, or a contestant on X-Factor.

‘They said nothing…’ obviously doesn’t mean ever, otherwise we would not have this account. Rather, it simply means they did not speak to anyone as they fled, as they had been commanded to report to the disciples.

Mark ended his Gospel at this point possibly because of the purpose for which he wrote: it is thought that Mark was especially an ‘Evangelistic’ Gospel – ie. written not for Christians but for non-Christians who had heard the Gospel proclamation of the crucified, risen, reigning Jesus, and wanted more background to the story. He leaves the ending somewhat open – as if to say, ‘What do you now make of all these events? What is your conclusion about Jesus, who claimed to be the Son of Man and the Son of God; who healed the sick, proclaimed the arrival of the Kingdom of God, and willingly laid down his life to be a ransom for sinners; who predicted both his death and his resurrection?

One writer has suggested that Jesus, his miracles and the resurrection simply give us useful symbols to help reflect on the paradox of life and death. However Mark presents his account of Jesus as historical fact, with geographical and biographical references to confirm this. If the claim of Mark and the rest of the New Testament that Jesus literally rose form the dead is true, as well as the implications it gives for the hope of our own resurrection and the renewal of the entire universe, we ignore Jesus at our peril.

So what is our response to the news of Jesus’ resurrection? It may be rattled off as one in a list of core Christian beliefs, and we may talk about it so often that we end up taking it for granted, and it no longer grips us with awe, ecstasy and trembling like it did the women. However we view verses 9-20, it is an indication that this reality of the resurrection captured the hearts and lives of the disciples, and that they were unable to contain the wonder of all God’s promises being fulfilled – being ‘Yes’ – in Jesus; what resulted was a revolutionary, world and history changing explosion of the Gospel going out to all nations. This is what we are a part of, and God calls us to continue to be part of this explosion.

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