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17. A Follower’s Opportunity - Mark 15:42-16:8

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In the days before modern harbors, a ship was forced to wait for the flood tide before it could make it to port. The term for this situation in Latin was ob portus (ob, toward; portus, port), that is, a ship would approach its port and wait for the moment when it could ride the turn of the tide to harbor.

The English word opportunity was originally derived from this term. The captain and the crew were ready and waiting for that one moment, for they knew that if they missed it they would have to wait for another tide to come in. Shakespeare turned this background of the exact meaning of opportunity into one of his most famous passages. It’s from Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 3:

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Before finishing his story, Mark wants to provide his reader with three very simple but important truths, and one very important opportunity.

Jesus Was Dead (15:42-47)133

15:42 Now when evening had already come, since it was the day of preparation (that is, the day before the Sabbath), 15:43 Joseph of Arimathea, a highly regarded member of the council,134 who was himself looking forward to the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 15:44 Pilate was surprised that he was already dead. He called the centurion and asked him if he had been dead for some time. 15:45 When Pilate was informed by the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. 15:46 After Joseph bought a linen cloth and took down the body, he wrapped it in the linen and placed it in a tomb cut out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone across the entrance of the tomb. 15:47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was placed.

Friday of Passion Week (or Holy Week) was preparation day, and the Sabbath traditionally began at sundown on Friday.

One should always ask when approaching a text of Scripture, “Why is this text here?” This passage exists simply to highlight that Jesus was truly dead—not mostly dead, not dead tired, not even just critically wounded, but dead. Five different proofs are given here that Jesus was in fact dead (the other Gospels include more):

  • Joseph, a highly respected Jewish leader, confirmed His death. At times, crucified men would survive for two or three days before dying of asphyxiation. The severe beating that preceded Jesus’ crucifixion likely contributed to His early death. The body of a deceased Jew would ordinarily be washed and then wrapped. Though Mark does not mention a washing, it can be assumed. Jesus’ burial was necessary to confirm His death. Paul mentions Jesus’ burial explicitly in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. From the time Jesus is removed from the cross until sundown was only about two hours, thus urgency was required, as Jesus had to be buried by sundown which marked the beginning of the Sabbath. Nicodemus, a recurring figure in John’s Gospel (see John 3:1-9; 7:50-52), joined Joseph in burying Jesus (see John 19:39-42).
  • The Centurion, a highly respected Roman, confirmed His death.
  • The grave clothes confirmed His death; whether this was one strip of cloth or several layers, the body of Jesus was wrapped. A face cloth was included, that would have made it difficult or impossible to breathe had He still been alive (John 19:40; 20:7).
  • The enclosed tomb confirmed His death. How big was the stone? Big enough that three women were looking for help, knowing that they were unable to move it. Joseph could roll the stone in front of the tomb because it was a downhill groove. It would take several to roll the stone uphill and away from the entrance. It would be difficult—if not impossible—for a man in Jesus’ condition to survive for two nights entombed with no food or water or medical attention.
  • The women confirmed His death.

There is a humorous story of a lawyer questioning a doctor on the witness stand:

Lawyer: “Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?”

Doctor: “No.”

Lawyer: “Did you check for blood pressure?”

Doctor: “No.”

Lawyer: “Did you check for breathing?”

Doctor: “No.”

Lawyer: “So, it is possible that the patient was still alive when you began the autopsy?”

Doctor: “No.”

Lawyer: “How can you be so sure, Doctor?”

Doctor: “Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.”

Lawyer: “But could the patient have still been alive nevertheless?”

Doctor: “Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law somewhere . . . ”

Jesus was dead. No one who saw Him questioned this fact. As was customary, Jesus’ body was supposed to remain in the tomb for one year and one day, after which His bones would be collected and placed in a small stone box called an ossuary.

Jesus Was Raised (16:1-7)

16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought aromatic spices so that they might go and anoint him.135 16:2 And very early on the first day of the week, at sunrise, they went to the tomb.136 16:3 They had been asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 16:4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled back. 16:5 Then as they went into the tomb, they saw a young man137 dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 16:6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been raised! He is not here. Look, there is the place where they laid him. 16:7 But go, tell his disciples, even Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.”

These three women were the first witnesses to the resurrection. In fact they were commissioned to go and tell the disciples, who had apparently not collected their courage after “falling away.” But who were these women? Let’s take a closer look at them.

  • Mary Magdeline. One of four prominent “Marys” in the New Testament, this woman was freed from seven demons by Jesus according to Luke 8:2. Apparently, she followed Jesus faithfully from that day forth, and was one of only three women who first learn of the resurrection (other “Marys” not to confuse her with: 1. The mother of Jesus, 2. the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and 3. the mother of James and Joses).
  • Mary the mother of James and Joses. Little is known of this faithful follower and (probably) financial supporter of Jesus.
  • Salome. She was the wife of Zebedee and the mother of James and John.

The purpose of the aromatic spices was not to preserve the body; Jews did not practice embalming. It was designed to reduce the stench of decay and, perhaps, served as a gesture of worship (in this instance).

“He is risen” (Greek, ἠγέρθη). He has conquered; He is victorious. Mark juxtaposes two words in Greek to drive home the point: “the one who was crucified” (one word in Greek) is followed immediately by “he was raised” (also one word).

All four Gospels include the resurrection; it was an historical event that serves as the height of each Gospel. Just as Jesus was really dead, now He was really alive again.

Some theorize that a literal, physical resurrection did not take place. Over the centuries, great men of understanding have sought other plausible solutions to the empty tomb. Let’s consider some of these “empty explanations” and why they fall short of the facts:

Empty Explanations

1. Jesus’ Body was stolen by his disciples. This is the oldest false explanation for the empty tomb known to exist. In fact, this explanation began almost immediately (Matthew 28:11-15). Could it be true? Sure. It’s possible. But would the disciples have died (knowingly) for a lie that they themselves began and perpetuated? It seems unlikely.

2. Jesus’ Body was stolen by his enemies. The first question that comes to my mind is why the Jewish leadership would want the body in the first place. For them, the headache ended the moment Jesus’ heart stopped beating. Besides, if they did know the location of the body of Jesus, wouldn’t they have produced it when Jerusalem began believing en mass (Acts 4:1-12 would have been a great time to produce a dead body)?

3. The women, and subsequently everyone else, went to the wrong tomb. Again, possible but highly unlikely. The women had followed Joseph and Nicodemus and watched where Jesus was laid in the tomb. Besides, if the women had been confused, wouldn’t the right tomb have been found and the body produced by someone when Jerusalem began believing?

4. Jesus did not die on the cross, but merely swooned. Again, several eyewitnesses concluded that Jesus was dead (Mark 15:44-47). No one thought to call in a doctor after Jesus was taken down from the cross; nor was a doctor called when Jesus appeared to the disciples on Sunday evening following His resurrection. If He had been alive on the cross before they took Him down, He certainly didn’t survive the spear in the side that pierced his pericardial sac around His heart spilling out water mixed with blood. The spear was administered to ensure He was no longer living (see John 19:33-34).

5. Jesus’ Body was devoured by wild animals. Romans placed a large stone in front of grave openings to prevent wild animals and grave robbers from entering the tomb. Jesus’ tomb was protected by such a stone.

The tomb was really empty, and the best explanation is the one reported by eye witnesses. This Jesus, who had truly been dead, was now truly alive and surprisingly in great condition.

Jesus Lives (16:8)

16:8 Then they went out and ran from the tomb, for terror and bewilderment had seized them. And they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

And there the story ends. The Gospel of Mark ends in open-ended fashion, at v. 8. Later manuscripts exhibit scribal tendencies to smooth out the abrupt ending of Mark by adding extra verses. These extra verses contain “happy endings,” where Jesus appears to the emboldened disciples and commissions them. However, the earliest and best manuscripts end abruptly with v. 8. The earliest and best biblical manuscripts do not contain 16:9-20, and the style and vocabulary of this section are not characteristic of Mark’s Gospel. Thus, Mark probably finished his Gospel with verse eight. Due to the abrupt nature of this ending, however, well-meaning scribes appended the Gospel with an exciting (though fabricated) conclusion and commission by the risen Lord (similar to the other Gospels). Of course, the story doesn’t end there. These witnesses eventually did tell the disciples and the disciples did tell the world (as the other Gospels rightly explain).

Why would Mark end his Gospel so abruptly? It is a literary device designed to involve the reader to the highest degree. The reader is left to complete the story with his own response to this Gospel. Remember, the Gospel of Mark was written to evoke a lasting response in word and deed to the true identity of Jesus. We’ve examined dozens of responses to Jesus over the last several weeks. Mark leaves the story open-ended for the reader to enter the picture and take over where Mark leaves off. It’s now our turn to participate. This is our opportunity. What will we do with this story? What will we do with Jesus?

The Gospel of Mark was written to evoke a lasting response to the true identity of Jesus. What’s your response? You and I have the awesome privilege and responsibility to fill in the remainder of the chapter. As I see it, we have three choices: Reject Jesus, Embrace Jesus, or Ignore Jesus in hopes that he’ll go away.

Meditation Verse

We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: meditate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for this lesson is Mark 16:6:

But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been raised! He is not here. Look, there is the place where they laid him.”

133 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.

134 If Joseph was a member of the “Council” (i.e., the Sanhedrin), then didn’t he vote for Jesus’ execution (cf. 14:53, 55, 64)? Not necessarily (see Luke 23:51). By requesting Jesus’ body, Joseph was aligning himself with this dead Messiah.

135 This verse describes Saturday’s events (though after sundown, so technically Sunday for the Jew). Since this was after sunset on the Sabbath, they were permitted to engage in commerce. Also on Saturday—according to Matthew 27:62-66—the stone was sealed and a guard was placed at the tomb.

136 Pay careful attention to the time of the event. I’ve always found it interesting that Jesus arose at the first hour He could, while still remaining faithful to prophecy. The third day was Sunday. He could have arisen any time on Sunday, but as though death could hold Him no longer, it happened very early in the morning—BEFORE the women arrived.

137 This “young man” dressed in white clothes is an angel, according to Matthew 28:2.

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