Sunday, April 5, 2015

Dazed and Confused

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.  And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.  And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”  And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large.  And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed.  And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed.  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen; he is not here.  See the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see him, just as he told you.”  And 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.  (Mark 16:1-8)

A young rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, had been teaching with authority and working miracles for the past three years.  Many had followed him, believing he was someone special from God, but his ministry came to a screeching halt.  A week prior, Jesus was being heralded with great rejoicing upon his entry into Jerusalem, but it ended a few days later with his whirlwind arrest, trial, and execution as a pernicious, traitorous vigilante—a victim of trumped-up charges.  His followers were left with nothing but dejection and hopelessness from a crushing defeat.  What now?

After the Sabbath, three women—Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome—hurriedly purchased spices, then set out the following morning before daybreak to anoint the dead rabbi.  Anoint him?  One does not simply anoint a condemned criminal.  Holy places and holy things are anointed.  Holy people are anointed: kings like Saul, David, or Solomon.  Priests are anointed: Aaron, his sons, and every high priest afterward received it.  Even prophets are anointed—Elisha, anyone?  But a criminal?!  Never a criminal.  Besides, anointing can only happen by a prophet or priest—protocol, people, protocol.

Jesus was worthy of the planned anointing.  He is the Prophet like Moses, proclaiming repentance for the kingdom of God was at hand.  He is a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek giving the last and only abiding sacrifice.  Condemned as a criminal, he bore the punishment of something far greater—your sin and mine—and now ever lives to make intercession for us.  He is the rightful King to sit on David’s throne.  He now waits until all things have been put under His feet when He will reign with righteous judgment and rule the people with equity.

The women had good intentions, but they never got a chance.  He had already been anointed—once in Bethany by Mary, but before that from His Father.  He was Messiah, the Anointed by God Himself.  He did not need an anointing, the women needed it, and Jesus would provide it.  In the Upper Room, Jesus promised that He and the Father would send the Holy Spirit to empower the disciples and point to Himself.  The promised anointing did come—in amazing fashion—on the first believers; and wonderfully, it is now promised to all who believe:
But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.… But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you.  But as his anointing teaches you about everything—and is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you—abide in him.  (1 Jo 2:20, 27)
Besides the preparations for this last act on their leader, the ladies had another problem: a huge stone prevented the completion of their mission.  While walking toward the tomb, the women kept trying to determine a plan to get the stone rolled away.  This was difficult enough for a group of men to accomplish, but for three women impossible.  Help was needed.  There is no indication that they were aware that a guard had been placed, and even if they did know, that the guards would be willing to help.

As the sun came up, the women arrived at a most unlikely scene.  There before them was the tomb with the stone rolled away.  What’s going on?  Who would desecrate the tomb?  Vandals?  Grave robbers?  Mary Magdalene immediately ran to tell Peter and John the body had been stolen (John 20:1-2).  The other Mary and Salome looked inside the tomb and saw a man in white.  They were dumbstruck, alarmed by the sight.  The man told them, “You’re looking for Jesus, but he’s not here.  Go and tell the disciples and Peter that he will meet up with them in Galilee, as he had said” (Mark 14:28).  What was their immediate reaction?  Did they whoop and holler like a Cinderella team during March Madness?  Did they run to the city proclaiming to one and all that Jesus was alive?  No, they went home and said nothing.  It was all too much to take in.

We might not consider their silence to be conduct befitting a disciple, but it was certainly typical that weekend.  Judas Iscariot had silenced himself permanently.  The eleven disciples were behind closed doors for fear of reprisal.  Mary Magdalene kept the news of the violated tomb to a select few.  None of Jesus’ followers believed that he would rise.  We can’t judge too harshly though.  Let’s face it: we would have done the same.  It was all too incredible.  People do not raise themselves from the dead.  Yet on one magnificent morning outside Jerusalem, Jesus did just that, as He had promised.  Now two millennia later, we can rejoice in joyful chorus with those who have gone before:
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!

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