For they were afraid! Happy Easter

By Joel A. Hess

“For they were afraid!”

That’s the end of Mark’s gospel. After being told that Jesus had risen from the dead, 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!

The last words of Mark are “They were afraid!”

Are you comfortable with that? Don’t you want more? We want a beautiful scene of rejoicing. We want Jesus appearing to the women and hugging them. We want lilies, mums adorning the tomb, and angels singing in a blue, sunlit morning! And Barney the dinosaur handing out eggs.

The last thing we want on a beautiful Easter morning is to hear “They were afraid!’

But Mark is finished! For they were afraid! We are not the first ones to want more from Mark. We are not the first to feel uncomfortable with his ending. It seems that a couple hundred years after Mark completed his gospel, well-intentioned Christians added other more conclusive accounts to the end of Mark’s gospel. That is why in your Bibles you find the additional verses of 9–20.

But from all the earliest manuscripts, Mark abruptly ends here. The angel says, “He is risen!” And the women are seized with astonishment and don’t tell anyone—for they were afraid!

Does that ending make you feel uncomfortable?

Does the resurrection of Jesus Christ freak you out?

I hope so!

Every time you hear it. Every time you read it. Every time you remember an empty tomb and a walking dead man, I hope there is some astonishment and trembling in your heart. And even a little fear. Otherwise, I don’t think you really get it.

He is risen!

I love Mark’s account because it is honest! It’s not the account of someone trying make up a neat little myth. Mark tells it like it is. In fact, back then in Jewish and Roman culture, if a guy wanted to invent a story about Jesus rising from the dead, it wouldn’t be women who would be the first witnesses. Both Jews and Romans thought woman to be too emotional to be trusted as a legal witness. And people say the Bible is sexist! Yeah, it’s always the women that look good.

Ah, but Mark tells it like it is. They came to anoint Jesus’ body. They loved him so. They even came three days after he died. He would certainly be smelling by then. They were so devoted. But they lived in a world where dead men—stay dead! And large heavy stones are fit permanently into the cut grooves of tombs and aren’t meant to be moved.

So when they saw the stone rolled away and an angel sitting where Jesus’ body was supposed to be, they didn’t say, “Hey, this is cool! We expected to see you. Alleluia!” And when the angel told them that Jesus is risen and that He is going ahead of them and that they would see Him in Galilee, they didn’t say, “Ah, wonderful. What a splendid way to begin a Sunday!” No—they totally freaked out!

They reacted like real people who saw an empty tomb where a dead body once lay and were told by an angel that Jesus had risen from the dead! In fact, they were so astonished and afraid they RAN from the tomb and didn’t tell anyone for a while!

For they were afraid! Bang! The resurrection should freak you out! Shake you up! Flip your world upside down! Christianity is not just a bunch of rules. It’s not a bunch of ideas. It’s not just a philosophy or a self-help guide. It’s not like a really great book you like to pick up and read sometimes. You can’t shove it in the corner. You can’t put it in one compartment of your life. It is everything—or it is nothing!

It’s not about self-improvement, seven steps to holiness, or making the world a better place. Jesus came to raise the dead!

It’s the real deal! It’s historical and demonstrable! It’s about A REAL GOD who spilled REAL blood on wooden beams on a particular place and a particular time for us. He was put in a real grave. And three days later He rose from the dead! God dealt specifically with our real problems in Jesus Christ! Everything that messes up our lives now, that keeps us from being who we were meant to be—sin, death and the devil—has been taken care of in Jesus Christ!

When he says he forgives you of your sins, you can believe him!  When He says you will rise again, you can believe it! You can’t just say, “Oh, that’s nice!” You got to get a little freaked out!

He is risen!

So don’t leave here comfortable and cozy, with an “Oh, that’s nice!” smile on your face. Don’t go back home, back to work, back to school as if everything is back to normal. Back to living for today because who knows about tomorrow. Back to holding grudges and getting even. Back to clinging to your temporary gods and your temporary idols, things that you know will not last. To things you know will fade away.

The devil wants you to smile today and say, “Oh, that’s nice!” And then fade back into a world where sins are forgiven and the dead don’t rise! The devil’s a liar!

He is risen!

And you will rise too! And that should freak you out a little as well! For Jesus didn’t die and rise for himself; He died and rose FOR YOU! In Holy Baptism, you have been united with Him, you and all believers. Today we don’t just celebrate Jesus’ victory over sin and death. We celebrate ours too! You know who promises this? The fellow that rose from the dead himself!

You know, every Easter, pastors across the country—including myself—try to figure out brilliant sermon illustrations and clever metaphors or we try to coin the perfect phrase to get the Easter point out!

We don’t need any of that!

Jesus rose from the dead and promises to raise you up too!

Now start freaking out!