Jesus has come to conquer death, so don’t underestimate his authority (Mark 15:40–16:8)

Jesus is dead.

Mark is very clear on the matter. He introduces three women to the story, and he follows their eyewitness accounts of the events following Jesus’ crucifixion. The women watch Jesus breathe his last and die. Two of them take note of where he is buried, seeing a great stone rolled as a seal across the entrance. The man who buries him, a secret disciple named Joseph, handles Jesus’ body, taking it down from the cross and wrapping it in a linen shroud before laying it in his own tomb. The centurion who observed Jesus’ rapid death also confirms it to the Roman governor Pilate.

Jesus is dead, dead, dead.

It’s really hard for me to imagine the effect Jesus’ resurrection had on his disciples. For us, the events have already taken place, and we know from the beginning that he will rise from the dead. It’s no surprise. But to Jesus’ followers, his resurrection was a thundering shock. When the women arrive at the tomb early on Sunday morning, they are convinced that they will find a dead body. They’ve prepared their anointing spices and are ready to play out the familiar postmortem rituals. Their only question is, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”

Even as they’re worrying aloud to one another about this rather important detail, they catch sight of the tomb from a distance—“and they saw that the stone had been rolled back.” Suddenly, events are taking an unfamiliar turn. As they enter the tomb, they see “a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe.” And they suffer a collective heart attack.

This strange young man sitting in a tomb immediately tries to calm them down. First, the obvious: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.” Then, the shocking twist: “He has risen! He is not here; see the place where they laid him.” The young man gestures toward the niche where Jesus’ body was placed. It’s empty now. The women see the truth with their own eyes.

This “young man” (clearly an angel!) gives them a message from Jesus. He says, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” Even though the disciples (especially Peter) have abandoned him, Jesus hasn’t abandoned them. Not only is he alive, he plans to meet with them again!

Now, the angel’s commands to the women are “go” and “tell.” So what do the women do? Mark records that they “went out”…and “fled.” And “they said nothing to anyone”—at least not right away.

What gives? Why did they fail to carry out the angel’s instructions? Mark explains that “trembling and astonishment had seized them…they were afraid.” In other words, their response to the angel was pure terror. They panicked and ran away.

So why the hysteria? Well, their actions speak loud enough. They were fully expecting a dead man. Their minds were locked into the usual pattern of things; it never occurred to them that Jesus might not stay dead. So when the angel’s announcement shattered the orderly reign of Death, they were utterly unable to process what had taken place. Mentally overloaded, they turned and ran.

The women had stood at a distance and watched Jesus’ death. They could handle that, albeit with great pain. Joseph could even exercise courage when it came to preparing Jesus’ body for burial. But when Jesus breaks loose from the dominion of Death, the women can’t take it.

Jesus calmed a storm which threatened his disciples, and they became afraid of him. Jesus drove a legion of demons out of a wild man, and the people nearby responded with fear and asked him to leave. Now Jesus has conquered the undefeated enemy, Death, and the response is shock and terror.

These people responded in fear because they underestimated Jesus. He seemed to be a good teacher, perhaps a prophet, even the Messiah. But when he began to overpower natural and spiritual forces, that caught them by surprise. Then he announced that he would triumph over the grave—and so he did, “just as he told you.” No one believed him.

It is not possible to underestimate Jesus. He is the Son of God. He has authority over Death itself. If you have not given up on yourself and bowed the knee to him, this is very bad news. If he can conquer Death, what will he do with a rebel like you?

But if you belong to him as his disciple and servant, Jesus’ victory will fill you with confidence in his limitless authority:

Fear not! I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Revelation 1:17–18)

Why I need Easter

I’m not the kind of guy who gets excited about celebrating holidays or setting special days aside.

But the truth is that I need Easter.

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.

I was born with a mind already shaped to believe that my behavior is what will make me acceptable to God. It’s not hard to think this way. The culture around me promotes it. Do all the right things and be a decent person, and God will be happy with you.

But how much is enough? God’s law is too high a standard. How can I love him with all my heart and love my neighbor as myself? That would take a zealot—one of those Christians who are championed in little paperback biographies, spiritual giants whose stories I have no hope of matching.

I can’t become one of these radical Christians. I don’t know how. I haven’t traveled overseas and adopted dozens of orphans or preached the gospel to villages or spent three hours a day in prayer or given away all that I own. I don’t have the will to force myself into anything more than a marginal level of devotion today.

I feel deadened by failure. The law has killed me. And so I die to the law. There is no hope here, only inadequacy and guilt. I am repenting not only of my sin, but also of my righteousness.

This is exactly the way God planned it. This is how he cuts me off from my self-sufficiency and teaches me to live in his strength.

I have been crucified with Christ.

It’s not enough to be given Christ as an example. So many popular teachers will say that this is all he came to be. Anyone who says that is a slave merchant, trying to sell me into bondage to the law again—as though I could match Jesus!

No, I am not called to match Jesus. I have been joined to him. When God looked at him 2,000 years ago, he saw me. He saw my endless sin and my pathetic self-righteousness. And he dashed the fury of his wrath against Jesus until not a drop was left over for me to drink. I have been crucified, but not I—Christ in my place.

On that cross, Jesus obeyed his Father and became obedient even to death. There was never a better man, because he is the Son of Man, the man who is God. On the cross he fulfilled all righteousness: love for God and love for man. And because I am joined to Christ, I was there too. I have been crucified with Christ. When God looks at me, he sees the righteousness of Jesus. I look like him.

It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

Most people would say that I am fairly decent and polite. I know better because I see the inside of the costume. It is frayed, torn, and filthy with sin.

The good news is that I don’t need it any more. I don’t need to force myself to be one of these “radical Christians.” I don’t need to feel depressed because I can’t measure up. That’s the way a self-righteous person thinks. Jesus wants me to look at him, at his righteousness, and know that it is mine. It is mine because he is mine, because he is alive, because he is risen from the dead.

And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

I live because the Son of God lives. I am joined to him.

If he were still dead, I would still be dead. If he were still dead, I would have no one to trust. If he were still dead, I would have no proof that God loves me.

But he is alive.

It’s true that my mindset is that of a dead man. Even now, I feel the shame of knowing that I haven’t prayed enough, that I haven’t shown enough kindness to others, that I haven’t given enough of my money away, that I haven’t been courageous enough to tell others about Jesus Christ. I need to do more, more, more.

That’s how a dead man thinks. You can scarcely call it “life” to be crippled with doubts and fears like that.

The grim reality is that nothing is ever enough. I can never be radical enough. I don’t have what it takes. That’s why I live by faith in the Son of God. I trust him. I trust that he loves me. I trust that when he gave himself for me, it was enough to satisfy the Father’s need for holiness. I trust that he is not merely the Father but now my Father.

It’s so hard to think this way. So hard. It is not intuitive. It doesn’t make sense. I usually don’t feel that it’s true. That’s why I have to trust Jesus on this one.

You see, Jesus is alive. And that means that he hasn’t left me but is still joined to me. And that means that when God sees me, he will always see Jesus. And he really loves Jesus.

I haven’t been given a system of principles and laws to trust in. I’ve been given a person—Jesus Christ. And this person is alive and victorious and interceding on my behalf, at this very minute, before the throne of the Almighty God.

I need Jesus.

That is why I need Easter.

May the Holy Spirit open your eyes this Easter to see your need for Jesus Christ. May you know that when you believe in him, you are joined to him and never let go.

Scripture taken from Galatians 2:19–20.

Jesus has come to correct small views of God, so align your thinking to his (Mark 12:18–27)

Sometimes people refer to God in a flippant way. He’s “the man upstairs.” Or (worst-case scenario) “Jesus is my homeboy.” Nearly everyone who is deeply religious bristles at such casual treatment of the one “who dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16).

Unfortunately, it’s also possible to devote yourself to a small, handcrafted god who is not the God you think you’re worshiping. You may be taking the one true God too lightly.

Jesus has drawn the attention of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin. His teaching is a threat to their political power structure. So they’ve sent delegations to him to trap him in his words. Every time they do this, Jesus evades the trap and demonstrates that he is superior to his opponents.

This particular delegation from the Sanhedrin is composed of the priestly, upper-class Sadducees. They are a group that is skeptical of most of the Old Testament; they only accept the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy) as scripture. As a result, they deny many doctrines which the Pharisees, most Jews, and Jesus himself affirm. One in particular is the resurrection from the dead. There isn’t much Old Testament teaching on this subject (though see Isaiah 26:19 and Daniel 12:12), and there seems to be none whatsoever in the Torah. So the Sadducees believe that once you die, that’s it. If there’s any afterlife at all, it’s found in the gloomy confines of Sheol, the underworld.

The Sadducees deny the resurrection for another reason as well. They’re convinced that it’s logically incoherent. To prove their point, they present Jesus with a hypothetical situation. What if a woman marries a man who dies? According to the Jewish custom of Levirate marriage, the man’s brother is required to marry her and raise up an heir for him. The Sadducees take this to the point of absurdity—suppose seven such brothers died!—but it would only require one death for the woman to have married two husbands in this life. So “in the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be?” they ask.

Note that, once again, we have Jesus’ enemies asking a question when they’re not genuinely interested in learning from him. They just want to humiliate him. They’ve already decided they’re not going to believe.

Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush here. “Is this not the reason you are led astray, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?” he tells them. Now, this is a slap in the face! The Sadducees were fanatic students of the scriptures, and they stood in positions of great political and religious power. Yet Jesus is saying to their faces that they are wayward and ignorant.

Jesus explains what he means. The Sadducees clearly don’t know the power of God because they have made wrong assumptions about the resurrection. They’ve assumed that the next life will be an extension of this one; people will get married and raise families and go on living like they do now. Jesus is telling them that God will reorder everything; those who are resurrected will no longer marry. In fact, marriage will no longer exist; it’s a temporary institution that will pass away. God is powerful enough to recreate the world in a way that exceeds the wildest dreams of man.

Jesus continues to pile it on. He quotes Exodus 3:6, in which God told Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”—his ancestors. The eternal, self-existent I AM had chosen to identify himself with these patriarchs, to bind himself to them with an eternal covenant, to make promises to them which had not yet been fulfilled. None of this makes sense if they have simply ceased to exist. Would God really identify himself with something that no longer exists? Would his promises to Moses be reliable if he had no intention of fulfilling his promises to the (living) patriarchs? No! “He is not God of the dead, but of the living,” Jesus says. Then he adds, “You are led greatly astray.” And he’ll drive his point home in the final chapter of Mark, when he himself rises from the dead.

The Sadducees are a monument built for us, a warning that it’s possible to be a devout person, to be a student of the Bible, to be in a position of power in the church, and yet to be ignorant and easily deceived. Jesus insists that all of his followers contemplate and adhere to the words of scripture—all the words, not just those which we want to believe! Jesus wants you and me to expand our understanding of who God is. When you try to grasp who God is, do not be quick to draw conclusions about what he can’t or shouldn’t do. He is powerful, and you are in no position to question him. Instead, align your thinking with his written Word, lest you stray from the path and into deadly error.