He Changes Everything: “Men in White” – Mark 16

Many of you are familiar with the “Men in Black” franchise of films. The first film bearing that name appeared in 1997. For the two uninitiated people on the planet that do not know of them, the Men in Black stories offered a tale of the exploits of agents “K” and “J”, members of a top-secret organization established to monitor intergalactic matters as well as police alien activity on planet Earth. Known for their uniform black suits and dark glasses, the two heroes untied a plot to destroy earth after an alien  terrorist came to assassinate two ambassadors from opposing galaxies. A few years later, movie-goers were entertained with a second slice out of the galactic pie in 2002. In this story, agent “J” became aware of an old enemy of the MIB, who returned to earth in search of a powerful artifact. “J” was forced to restore the deliberately wiped memory of his old mentor “K” to stop the Earth’s calamity. A third installment is promised to those who are waiting to save the earth – yet again – in May of 2012. Based on other movies that predict the end of the earth that year – it is a good thing we have “J” and “K” to save at least Hollywood – if not the earth!

We want to take a brief look at a different story today. This one is also intergalactic and has a SAVE THE EARTH heartbeat to it. This one has one striking difference to it – it is the TRUTH AS GIVEN BY THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE. This one enlists the help of a covert  organization as well – but they don’t dress in black. They are the ‘MEN IN WHITE’ and they truly exist. They were present long ago when the work of Jesus was done on earth… and the Bible says they are still here among us. Look at a short story that includes one of them, and listen to the words of the agent of the “Men in White”:

Mark 16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. 2  Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3 They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large. 5 Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. 6 And he said 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. 7 “But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.’” 8 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.

When we read the Mark account, we know that we are reading a summary of the story, not the whole story. We don’t want to forget to synthesize the story with the other account so that we will add much more richness. All four Gospel writers mention the tomb of Joseph of Arimethia (though Luke doesn’t name him, but only says a man of Arimithea). Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that Roman soldiers guarded the tomb following Jesus’ death. The same three tell us of the group of women who prepared the spices to use them the morning after the Sabbath. On the way to the place of the burial, Mark reveals the discussion between the women – they were unsure of how the stone could be moved for them to do their work. Matthew mentions that a severe earthquake, powered by the Angel of the Lord, moved the stone from its resting place, exposing the tomb. As the women approached, their discussion about moving the stone was hushed…. Now they stood amazed the tomb was open. Entering the tomb, they heard the testimony of the man in white.

The shocking part of the story as Mark tells it is this: the man in white told the women to do something, and fear kept them from obeying him right away! How much like God’s church in this time they were!   

Key Principle: The promise that Jesus kept in His death and His resurrection is a truth designed to be shared – but our fear can keep it from reaching the ears of our neighbors!

It is true that Matthew shared that they overcame their fear and eventually ran out of excitement to the disciples to report the news. Luke explained that they “remembered Jesuswords” (Lk. 24:8) suggesting that it took a bit of “memory jog” to snap them out of fear and get them in gear, running as they should have been. Yet, Mark’s story ends on a note of uncertainty that bothered people through the ages. Later manuscripts appeared to have added a monk’s notes that were later inserted as verses 9-20 – they don’t appear to belong in the original Gospel. [For that reason, we end our systematic study in this Gospel at verse 9. For those who want more on these “rogue verses”, we will offer the notes of another teaching on that subject.]

If Mark truly ended with the words “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” One may wonder why he didn’t resolve the problem. There are at least two plausible answers: first, the proper ending to the text may have been lost (a view shared by many New Testament scholars) or second, perhaps he wanted to teach us something that has become relevant for every generation of inheritors of the Gospel

Step back for a moment and look with me at the meaning of the events of that 100 hours, in a week long ago. The death of Jesus remains to this day to be the single event that separates human history between broken by need of redemption and mending toward eventual redemption. The Cross is the watershed event of our faith. It means everything. Before the Resurrection, we must understand His death – for only when we understand that will we be truly drawn to share the message of Jesus. Let me be clear: the women didn’t share the message of His Resurrection right away, because they didn’t understand the meaning of His death. Had they grasped what Jesus was truly doing and able to complete – they would not have hesitated. For many believers, the problem is the same even today. When we don’t grasp the real hopelessness of men without the salvation offered to them – we sit silent and let them pass from our sight without offering the urgent warning.

When we hesitate from fear and do not share the Gospel – a MEMORY JOG IS IN ORDER.

Perhaps the most important study we could have in this passage is one that underscores the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Why did Jesus die? Why was He raised? We must remember some important truths:

First, we must remember that Jesus’ Death and Resurrection satisfied the Father in Heaven:

Jesus died a criminal’s death. The Bible says that was essential. Listen to Paul’s writing to the first century church at Rome: Romans 3:21 “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.The words may sound complicated, so take them apart:

Paul shared that the Gospel of Jesus – the message that people can be right with God simply by trusting that the work of Jesus on the Cross paid the full and complete price for their sin – was both consistent with the Hebrew Scriptures and for everyone, both Jew and Gentile. (3:21-23).

Paul then carefully explained that God gave a right relationship – “justification” – as a gift, and that gift was in Jesus paying the price for our sin. At that point, Paul explained WHY the death had to take place from God’s perspective. He said that God PUT JESUS ON DISPLAY publicly as the complete satisfaction He was looking for as the Righteous Judge – found completely in the blood of His sacrifice. That means, from God’s point of view, His wrath (the penalty for sin – with its cause and effect relationship) was turned away by the offering of Jesus as a gift. The death of Jesus on the Cross at Calvary turned away the punishment that was judicially right for me – because I trusted in that payment. The Resurrection demonstrated clearly to those who were following Him that the payment was accepted.

Imagine a man was guilty of killing his neighbor. Imagine him being brought into the courtroom in shackles to stand before a judge. Now imagine that the judge, after hearing the jury’s verdict, gives the man this sentence: “Having been found guilty of murder in the first degree by a jury of your peers, the people demand a life for the life you have taken. You are therefore sentenced to forfeit your life by lethal injection… and may God have mercy on your soul.” Now imagine that from the back of the courtroom a voice is raised that catches the ear of the judge. “Your honor!” cries the voice. “Before an appeal can be raised for this man who has been found guilty, I would like to pay for his crime in full. I will forfeit my life in his place.” Such a suggestion would have been quickly dismissed as lunacy, but when the judge looked up, the one that said this was none other than his very own son. In our system of jurisprudence, no such substitution could be made – period. Yet, a careful look at the Bible shows that God had long before set up a system of substitution – allowing an animal (after a sinner placed his hand on that animal’s head in acknowledgement of personal sin) to represent the man and die in his place. Keep going with the illustration… Imagine that the judge tearfully allowed the substitute to carry the death penalty for the man who was found guilty. Do you think the guilty man would ask to die anyway? DO you think he would ask to be taken back to his cell and await punishment in spite of the fact that the substitute was found and the judge declared that substitute to be effective?

The problem with the Christian message is that we often repeat a fundamental truth that “God loves you!” Though this is absolutely true, when shared out of balance with man’s guilt before God, it can leave the impression that God doesn’t care about the mutiny of our hearts and the stubborn rebellion we exhibit day to day. We talk of God’s love much more than we speak of God’s “wrath to come” – a phrase taken from the Bible (Lk. 3:7) and very much part of Biblical thinking.

Ray Pritchard wisely reminds us: “When Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” the listeners held on to the pillars of the building lest they suddenly slip down into eternal damnation. Can anyone imagine that happening today?

Make no mistake. God’s loving nature is not in conflict with His Righteousness. Any judge can tell you that they both have deep sympathy for people on trial and at the same time uphold the standard of righteousness in the law. God understands us and loves us, but His nature requires that He not dismiss rebellion and self will. In a very real way- parenting is a reflection of this same issue. We need to LOVE enough to DEMAND OBEDIENCE – and we cannot allow rebellion under the guise of calling it real love.

Up to the time of the death of Jesus, God provided a temporary system though animal sacrifice to turn His wrath away. There was a problem with that system – it was incomplete and could cover the sin, but not wash it away, according to the Scriptures (Hebrews 7:23-28;10:4) When Jesus died, He became a Lamb of God that was the last necessary sacrifice.

In the Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, an Englishman is caught trying to flee France during the French Revolution. He is to be put to death on the guillotine. One hour before his appointment a friend visits him in jail. He insists that they swap clothes. The Englishman refuses. The French friend tells him that at that moment his wife and child are waiting in a carriage at the door. Moments later guards led the wrong man to his execution. In some ways, our message of the Gospel fits into that scene.  We were under a sure sentence of eternal death. Our Savior took our place at the cross. At the same time, we have to admit that He did more than that. He paid a debt we could NOT pay.

Second, we must remember that God COULD NOT accept a lesser payment!

God provided Jesus as a spotless lamb – something that I could not be if I died for my own sin. We must recognize that God is NOT LIKE US if we truly want to understand the meaning of Jesus’ death on Calvary. Again, using the words of Ray Prichard, let me offer explanation: “God is infinite in holiness, and every single sin committed against him is infinite in magnitude. Only a gift of infinite value could turn away the infinite wrath of God. And only God himself (in the Person of his Son) could make such an infinite gift. That’s why our piddling efforts to turn aside God’s wrath are doomed to failure. We think that going to church or being baptized or going to Mass or saying our prayers or being good or stopping a bad habit or “trying really hard to be better” will somehow turn away the infinite wrath of God….Because God is holy, he cannot allow sin to go unpunished. His justice demands that every sin be punished—no matter how small it may seem to us. … That’s why sinners can’t simply say, “I’m sorry” and instantly be forgiven. Someone has to pay the price.”

We follow this same principle in our criminal justice system. Suppose a man is found guilty of embezzling six million dollars from his employer. Let us further suppose that just before sentencing, he stands before the judge, confesses his crime, begs for mercy, and promises never to embezzle money again. How would you react if the judge accepted his apology and released him with no punishment? Suppose the man had been convicted of rape and then was set free with no punishment simply because he apologized. …When lawbreakers are set free with no punishment, respect for the law disappears. … The same principle applies to raising children. When parents refuse to discipline with tough love, they end up raising criminals instead of responsible adults. The same is true in the spiritual realm. When sin is not punished, it doesn’t seem very sinful.“ (Prichard)

If the central message of the Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus paid the full price for my sin when I willfully trust that His substitution fully delivers me from my deserved punishment – than it is essential that I recognize the reason God will accept no other way. God has set ONE DOOR by which men can be accepted by Him. Buddha cannot offer it. Mohammed did not believe it. Confucius did not accept it. Joseph Smith did not trust in it…. No denomination can manufacture some method of obedience that compares to it.

The acceptance of Jesus as my punished substitute is the one and only way to God according to the Bible. Every attempt man makes to blow another hole in Heaven’s wall to gain access by some other good work is an affront to the price of Jesus’ blood in God’s eyes. God provided what God demanded… but we must accept that God knew the best way.

Good works lived to find Heaven’s gate are another manifestation of man’s rebellious nature. “Their must be a way I can earn it in SPITE of what God has done and said”, we tell ourselves… it is deception and rebellion revisited.

More than two hundred years ago in England, William Cowper, a man of nervous disposition who struggled with bouts of severe depression began fearing that he was under the wrath of God. “I flung myself into a chair by the window and there saw the Bible on the table by the chair. I opened it up and my eyes fell on Romans 3:25, which says of Christ, ‘Whom God has made a propitiation through faith in his blood.’ Then and there, I realized what Christ’s blood had accomplished and I realized the effects of his atonement for me. I realized God was willing to justify me, and then and there, I trusted Jesus Christ and a great burden was lifted from my soul.” Looking back on that day, William Cowper wrote a hymn that we still sing today:

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins.
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stain.

In our mad rush to feel “ever satisfied” with every area of life, Bible preaching has left the airwaves and many pulpits. In its place a steady stream of psychological sermons that could have come from Oprah or Dr. Phil offer us management tips, diet recommendations, and child rearing truths. It was not always so…The early church quickly made the death and resurrection of Jesus the central feature of their message.  Paul wrote:

  • We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23).
  • I decided to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
  • For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3).
  • But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).

We must be firm in our commitment to preach the cross. There is simply no other message so important. No facebook status update will offer eternal life. Jesus, and His sacrifice must be proclaimed clearly by a church adrift.

One time a man was on a fishing trip and was sleeping on his house boat. He heard a splash right between his boat and the one next to his. The man on that boat had been drinking quite heavily and had apparently fallen into the water while drunk. The first man jumped in, found him and rescued him. He gave him artificial respiration, revived him, dried him off, changed his clothes, and got him into bed. An hour later he returned to his own boat, wet and exhausted. The next morning he went back to the man’s boat to check on him. The other man told him to go away, leave him alone, and mind his own business. He said, “Why are you being so mean. I saved your life last night.” The drunk did not remember. Instead of thanking him he laughed at him and then began to curse him. As this man left, unappreciated and rejected, he thought for a moment of how Jesus must feel when people reject him.

Third, we must remember that God delivered on His own promises!

The Gospels present clearly that Jesus saw His death not as some after-thought designed to touch men by the sheer size of the self-sacrifice  – but rather as the central work God called Jesus to do – and the work that He accepted beforehand (Phil. 2).

After all: “Hadn’t the Hebrew Scriptures already revealed the need for the death of Messiah?”

  • Jesus saw His call as clear in the Hebrew Scriptures: After his resurrection Jesus reminded the disciples: “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled” (Lk. 24:44). Clearly Jesus saw his life and his death as being prophesied in the Old Testament.
  • Jesus saw His call as required by God’s promises: At the last supper Jesus explained one of these prophecies: “For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was reckoned with transgressors’” (Lk. 22:37). Notice the strong word “must” that is used here. It was not a matter of choice. Since God had foreseen and predicted it, it would occur. Paul said Jesus’ death was “in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3).
  • Early church leaders saw this as the PLAN of God, not a surprise ending: Peter realized that the death of Christ was a part of God’s scheme of things: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). Later Peter wrote “He was destined before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20).

Early church leaders understood this was a difficult message for Jewish people – Jews were not expecting a crucified Messiah. It was very difficult for most of them to accept Jesus as the Messiah for this reason: “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews” (1 Cor. 1:23). The term “stumbling block” was “skandalon” – a scandal to many Jewish leaders. The Scriptures taught that anyone who was hanged on the tree was cursed. Dt. 21:23: “…his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.” Even during His ministry, Jesus saw opposition among His followers to the idea of His death. When Jesus first spoke of it, Mark reminds: “Peter took him, and began to rebuke him” (Mk. 8:32).

Because they went through the learning curve, the early church leaders explained Jesus death carefully: When Jesus was raised and the Holy Spirit was given, His followers had to go back and research the Prophets of old. They rediscovered passages like Isaiah 53 and Psalms 22 there they recognized in the shadows the crucified Messiah.

Fourth, we must remember the scene poured out God’s power in front of man:

The Bible says: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). It is the message that reveals the power and truth of God like no other: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:22-24).

  • THE CROSS REVEALS OUR NEED: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:4-6). Look at the words “our” and “him”. Clearly the cross was a payment by an innocent on behalf of the guilty.  The cross very clearly reveals that we are sinners in need of salvation. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24).
  • THE CROSS PRODUCES CONVICTION: When Peter at Pentecost, he laid responsibility for the death of Jesus at the feet of his listeners. When many of them realized this truth, they were “pricked in their hearts” or “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37). They were convicted of sin.
  • THE CROSS PROCLAIMS FORGIVENESS: The writer of Hebrews said: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22). Someone has said: “God forgave people under the Old Covenant in advance of full payment for sin….Figuratively speaking, they were saved on credit and Jesus finally came and “paid it all”.
  • THE CROSS CREATES LOVE: 1 John 4:9 “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” … 19 “We love, because He first loved us.

Looking at the cross and the empty tomb, we have seen that like the women who hesitated, it takes a memory jog to get in GEAR and proclaim the Gospel.

  • We must remember that Jesus’ Death and Resurrection satisfied the Father in Heaven:
  • We must remember that God COULD NOT accept a lesser payment!
  • We must remember that God delivered on His own promises!
  • We must remember the scene poured out God’s power in front of man:

The promise that Jesus kept in His death and His resurrection is a truth designed to be shared – but our fear can keep it from reaching the ears of our neighbors! We need to remember. One Pastor wrote: “In Arizona an Indian boy was out plowing corn while his sister was playing in the mud hut in which they lived. She turned over a rock and a rattler crawled out, coiled up, struck, and bit her. She screamed loudly, and her brother came running. Quickly he killed the snake and squeezed his hands around her leg. He sucked the blood and poison out and may have saved her life. Due to a sore in his mouth the poison entered his blood system, though, and he died shortly thereafter. Long ago back in the Garden of Eden mankind was bitten by a poisonous snake called the Devil. We received the poison of sin which would surely bring about death if something was not done. Jesus came running from heaven and took that poison into his own body, dying on the cross for our sins. At the same time he struck a death stroke against the ancient Serpent, Satan. That is what God promised: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed: he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).” (A-Z Illustrations).