Lives transfigured from fear to faith.
Mark 16:9 gives us the first appearance of the resurrected Christ. By this time, according to St. John’s record of the events, the women who visited the tomb early in the morning had already made their report of the vacant tomb to the other apostles. Likewise, Peter and John have raced to corroborate their account, finding the tomb just as empty as they said it was. Mary, though, stays behind. (Jn 20:11) This was an hour of incredible turmoil for Mary. Not only was the Lord whom she so loved dead, but now his body was missing. “They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him!” she bawls. (Jn 20:2) And yet, it is to this grief-stricken ex-demoniac that the resurrected Lord of all things first reveals himself. (Mk 16:9–10)
The apostles, though, are dubious of Mary’s claims. (Mk 16:10–11) Even though they have witnessed the tomb’s emptiness, they dismiss Mary’s story of the resurrection without much of a second thought, refusing to put any stock into her announcement that “Jesus lives.” In fact, Luke 24:11 tells us that they considered her story nothing but an “idle tale,” something not worth the time of day. For the apostles, the pain of their Teacher’s ignonimous death was still too real, too raw. This was not a time of victory. This was a time for “mourning and weeping.”
The fact that the apostles lament over Christ’s corpse demonstrates just how dense they were. Resurrection was the last thing on their minds. They had seen Jesus die, and for them, there was a period at the end of that sentence. He was dead. The aftermath of the cross carried with it an ominous sense of finality and failure. Their dreams of reclaiming Israel from Rome’s tyrannical grip had been bulldozed by the events of Golgotha. The hope of the kingdom died along with Jesus. Therefore, Mary’s story was more than just “idle.” It was offensive, scandalous, and disrespectful.
And as if that were not enough, two other disciples visit the apostles to underwrite Mary’s story, affirming that the resurrected Lord had visited them on the road to Emmaus. (Mk 16:12–13; Lk 24:13–31) But even their testimony is not enough to convince the apostles of the resurrection. They still could not see past their pain.
But all of that changes in a single moment.
It is Sunday evening now. The Eleven are having dinner, when suddenly, the Lord appears in the middle of the room! (Mk 16:14) I cannot help but imagine the gasps and spit-takes that occurred when Jesus of Nazareth, who had died a few days prior, stood in front of them breathing, speaking, and very much alive. The rumors were true after all. Jesus had risen from the dead! He had come back to life from a literal death with a literal body. One that was tangible. That had blood and bones and breath. And it is in this moment that Jesus’s passion and death are recast from things to fear to things to glory in. Hope in. Believe in. The Eleven, then, are empowered with the Word by the Word himself (Mk 16:15–18), and are reorganized from a ragtag bunch full of fear to marshal as a unit unafraid of man’s threats. A prime example of this occurs very early on in the Acts of the Apostles:
Fellow Israelites, listen to these words: This Jesus of Nazareth was a man attested to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did among you through him, just as you yourselves know. Though he was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail him to a cross and kill him. God raised him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by death . . . God has raised this Jesus; we are all witnesses of this . . . Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah. (Acts 2:22–24, 32, 36)
Those are the words of the apostle Peter in a sermon on the day of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring, that is, Pentecost. Do Peter’s words sound like the utterances of a man who is trying to convince you of a hoax? Of something contrived in a grand, labyrinthine conspiracy? Of course not. Because his are the words of a man who had been utterly and entirely transfigured by his resurrected Lord. Peter the Denier has been transformed into Peter the Declarer, dispatched to aver the incalculable and uncanny consequences of Jesus’s passion, death, and resurrection. Such is what you will find throughout the record of Acts. The apostles have their thoughts of Jesus, their entire lives even, turned upside down by the facts of the cross and the empty tomb. (Acts 4:10–12; 10:39–43; 13:29–38; 26:23)
And like those first century saints, the power of the resurrection persists for you and me even now, transfiguring our lives, too. Alexander Maclaren says it best:
Easter day transfigures the gloom of the day of the Crucifixion, and the rising sun of its morning gilds and explains the Cross. Now it stands forth as the great redeeming power of the world, where my sins and yours and the whole world’s have been expiated and done away. And now, instead of being ignominy, it is glory, and instead of being defeat it is victory, and instead of looking upon that death as the lowest point of the Master’s humiliation, we may look upon it as He Himself did, as the highest point of His glorifying. For the Cross then becomes His great means of winning men to Himself, and the very throne of His power. On the historical fact of a Resurrection depend all the worth and meaning of the death of Christ.1
The power of the empty tomb serves as God’s referendum on his Son’s mission and message. It is the divine vindication of everything he ever said or did. All of Jesus’s words and deeds are true. Bankable. Reliable. Foundational. You can stake your life on the power of the cross because of the power of the resurrection. The church assembles on Sundays because of what happened on a Sunday 2,000 years ago. When Jesus walked out of the grave. In the fullness of his glory. In the triumph of shouldering and settling all the world’s sins. And every Sunday since — and every Sunday going forward — the saints of God assemble because of the power of Jesus’s resurrection.
Alexander Maclaren, The Gospel According to St. Mark: Chapters IX to XVI (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1906), 278–79.