Speaking of Jesus: An Angel

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Mark 16:6-7

And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; 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, as he told you.”

Mark 16:6,7 rsv

We’ve been thinking together recently about what various of Jesus’ contemporaries said about Him. We’ve heard from a Jewish king and a Roman official, from disciples and detractors, from His forerunner and His family. We’ve even listened to the Almighty speaking a word from beyond. Today it’s one of His angels. Listen. I’m reading from Mark, chapter 16, the message of that first Easter morning.

And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him [that is, Jesus]. And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back; for 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 amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; 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, as he told you.”

All we are told about this person, unknown to the devoted women, is that he was young and clothed in white. Matthew says that his appearance was “like lightning,” Luke that his apparel was “dazzling.” The features were human, the language familiar, but there was something extraordinary about this messenger. He spoke with a strangely far-off style, as though from another world. Those who saw and heard him that Easter morning were sure that the vision and the report had been angelic. This was a messenger from the Lord of Hosts.

What did the angel say to the women and the disciples about Jesus? In effect, three things: He’s alive; He’s in command; and He has a mission for you.

HE’S ALIVE

The women arriving at daybreak and the disciples, when they came a bit later, saw an empty tomb. They well knew where the body of Jesus had been buried. The idea that they could have been confused about the location seems highly improbable. Jesus had been the light of their lives, their leader, the One whom they trusted and loved. Is it conceivable that what had been done with His body had escaped their notice? Can we imagine that when they started out early that morning carrying spices to anoint His body they didn’t know where to look? Hardly.

But the empty tomb by itself did not assure them that Jesus had been raised from death. All the tomb could say was: “His body isn’t here.” It might have been stolen by enemies, although it’s hard to imagine why. If they had wanted to have it as evidence that He was truly dead, they surely would have brought forth that proof when word began to circulate that He was alive.

Perhaps the disciples carried it away, we are told. That seems plausible. Maybe they wanted to hide the evidence that He had died so that they could spread the news of a resurrection. But if they had done that, could they have later preached with such confidence and joy that He was alive? Are people willing to risk, suffer, and gladly die for what they know to be a lie? It doesn’t seem likely, does it?

So the empty tomb at least raised the possibility that Jesus had conquered death. It gave His followers something to wonder about. But its cold silence could give them no certainty. The absence of His body did not prove that He was gloriously alive.

Nor were there human witnesses to the resurrection event. No soldier, no disciple, no passerby saw the stone move or Jesus emerging from His tomb. Many testified later that they had seen Him but none could tell just when or how the original miracle had occurred.

Note how the first word about it came from God through His “messenger.” That’s what the word angel literally means. The report, though brief, was highly specific. It left no room for doubt about the person involved: “Jesus of Nazareth,” said the angel, the One “who was crucified . . . he is not here [that was evident to those who entered the tomb]; see the place where they laid him.” They could look at the shelf in the sepulcher where His body had formerly been lying. But that investigation, of course, could have been made without angelic help. Here was the crucial word, the overwhelmingly joyous report, “He is risen,” or “He has been raised.”

That latter way of saying it is more precise because it’s a passive verb here. The resurrection is something that happened to Jesus. God raised Him from the dead. It’s something only the Almighty could have done and to which only He could bear reliable testimony. God did it and God told us about it through His appointed messenger. “Don’t be amazed” came the word. Don’t be alarmed. Don’t be upset, worried or afraid. Jesus, the One who was crucified, is now alive!

HE’S IN COMMAND

The second theme implied in the message of the angel is that Jesus is in command. Later the Lord Himself would say that: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). The startled women were to go and tell Jesus’ disciples and Peter. This was clearly the command of Jesus through His ambassador. The fact that He was alive had tremendous implications. The women were to go and tell the disciples that all of them were to make their way to Galilee. It was like the charge they had heard when in their fishing boats, at the tax collector’s booth, or under a fig tree somewhere: “Follow me.”

All of this was happening just as Jesus had said it would. Remember those strange words about Galilee that Jesus had spoken on the Mount of Olives just after the Last Supper and a hymn? He had said to His followers: “You will all fall away; for it is written, `I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee” (Mark 14:27-28). And so it was. All the disciples forsook Him and fled. The Shepherd had been struck down and the sheep dispersed. The Lord had been crucified. His followers had melted away into the crowd and gone into hiding. But now the Good Shepherd had been raised up and was leading His own to a rendevouz in Galilee, just as He had said.

The disciples had been utterly devastated by recent events. The arrest of Jesus, His trial, the hatred heaped upon Him, the shame and suffering He bore, His execution, had all but destroyed them. This is the One they called Rabbi, even Lord. They had believed that their destiny and that of the whole world was somehow in His hand. They had ventured on His promises, risen to obey His commands. But the events of Passion Week had seemed to make a mockery of all that.

Jesus had seemed totally helpless. When they came to arrest Him, He offered no resistance. When they falsely accused Him, He had nothing to say in His defense. When they treated Him with scorn, slapped and spat upon Him, nothing happened. No angelic hosts came to His defense. No sword of divine judgment struck down His tormentors. The grisly spectacle went on and on until finally in darkness and forsakenness He breathed His last.

What could they say after that – these brokenhearted disciples? Listen to two of them on the Emmaeus Road: He “was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people . . . our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel . . . .” (Luke 24:19-21). There it is, “we had hoped that he was the one . . . .” But what hope could they have now? Jesus, the One to whom they had looked as Savior and Master, had been defeated and destroyed. Where was His power? Where was His authority? Where was His kingdom now?

But the word of the angel meant, “Fear not, He is still in command.” He’s still your king; He’s still your guide; He’s still keeping His promises. He hasn’t been taken by surprise. He hasn’t been victimized or vanquished. He’s still on the throne and He’s saying, “Go, tell the disciples and Peter.”

HE HAS A MISSION FOR YOU

That leads us to the last great theme of the angel’s word, “He has a mission for you.” Can you imagine how the disciples must have felt after the Crucifixion? It was not only the loss of their leader that crushed them, not only having to witness their dearest friend subjected to such torture, not only the cruel smashing of their hopes. Beyond all that, what a wound it was to their self-esteem! They had been His trusted followers, but in the hour of His great need they had feared for their own safety and ran away. They hadn’t even spoken in His defense, hadn’t raised their voices in protest when the crowd screamed for Him to be crucified, hadn’t dared to be identified with Him when He hung on the cross. He had warned them about their weakness but they had promised to be faithful. What waves of self-reproach must have swept over them in those hours after He died! How could they lift up their heads now? How could they live with themselves any longer?

Isn’t it striking that the command was to “tell [his] disciples and Peter.” Why was Peter singled out? It wasn’t because he, as the leader of the apostles, should have the honor of hearing the message first. Then the word would have been “Peter and the disciples.” Peter is mentioned last, but he’s singled out by name.

Remember how on that night of warning when Jesus had talked about all His followers fleeing that Peter had protested so vehemently? Listen to his words, “Even though they all fall way, I will not.” Jesus had said to him, “Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times” (Mark 14:29-30). But Peter had been insistent: “If I must die with you, I will not deny you” (v. 31).

We can scarcely doubt that Peter meant that, at the time, his intentions were good. He wanted to be loyal to Jesus, wanted to stay by Him to the end. But he had no idea how weak and vulnerable he really was. He couldn’t imagine any kind of circumstance in which he, Peter, would not play the man for the sake of his Lord. He saw himself as committed enough and courageous enough to face anything without flinching. The others might go down. He could see the possibility of that. But not he.

You know what happened. In the time of crisis, Peter didn’t prove more brave and loyal than the rest. In fact, he failed more grievously and shamefully than any of the others, denying repeatedly with oaths and curses that he ever knew Jesus. If the rest of the disciples felt guilty and self-condemned afterwards, what must the inner misery have been for Peter? Could he ever be trusted again? Could he ever believe his own promises after that?

But here the Lord says, “Tell Peter.” It was as though he had said, “Let my friend Peter know that he’s not disqualified. I’m still counting on him. I still want to see him there in Galilee.”

We know from Matthew’s gospel what happened when that meeting took place on a mountain somewhere in Galilee. Jesus gave His disciples and Peter what we call the Great Commission: “Go . . . and make disciples of all nations [go and preach the gospel to everyone], baptizing them [teaching them all that I have commanded you].” In other words, Jesus had a mission for them, even after they had failed Him so miserably. And if they felt insufficient and unworthy, as they surely did, He had a promise for them too, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” By His Spirit, He would walk with them, go on before them, filling them with His own life and power.

And that’s the message for us today. Jesus is in command and He has a mission for you. Even if you’ve been a doubter like Thomas, even if you’ve failed Him in a crisis as all the disciples did, even if you’ve denied ever knowing Him, like Peter, O believe that the Resurrection makes everything new! There’s forgiveness, there’s hope, there’s power for your life and witness to Him.

That’s what the angel was saying. That’s what the Gospel according to Mark is echoing. That’s what prophets and apostles, saints and martyrs, the church in every age and place, are telling, “Jesus is Messiah. Jesus is Son of God. Jesus is Lord of all. Jesus is alive.” And if you will trust Him and heed His call today, there’s mercy and a great mission for you.

PRAYER: Father, for this unspeakably good news that Jesus Christ is risen and reigning and has a mission for us, we praise You. Let every person sharing this message so trust in Him and follow Him as to enter into that joy. In Christ’s name. Amen.