16 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene,who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
(Mark 16:1-8 NIV)
Jesus was crucified and died on the cross. Before sundown on Friday, Joseph of Arimathea had boldly asked Pilate, the Roman governor, to give Jesus’ body a proper burial. Pilate, surprised that Jesus was dead already, ordered a soldier to verify Jesus’ death. Upon the soldier’s verification, Pilate released Jesus’ body to Joseph. Joseph then prepared Jesus’ body for burial, placing Jesus’ washed and wrapped body in a tomb and rolling a large stone over the entrance.
Early Sunday morning, at the crack of dawn, the three women (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome) that had been present at Jesus’ crucifixion (15:40) and at Jesus’ burial (15:47) are now returning to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. The spices were not to embalm Jesus’ body, but rather to mask the smell of decomposition. This was the final step of burial that they were not able to perform before Friday sundown and the beginning of the Sabbath moratorium on work.
These women expected that they would find Jesus’ body still in the tomb. Their biggest concern was who would be available to roll away the stone that covered the entrance to the tomb.
Imagine their surprise when they arrive and find the stone already rolled back! They step inside, only to be shocked again when a young man dressed in white (presumably an angel) speaks to them. He assures them that yes, they are at the correct tomb, and yes, Jesus was buried here, but is now physically resurrected from the dead.
The angel then commands the women to go tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus has risen and will meet them in Galilee, just as He had promised. The women fled the tomb in fear, not saying a word to anyone along the way.
Imagine Peter telling this story to young Mark, how the angel had specifically called out his name. Peter was likely drowning in self-loathing and had given up on ever being reconciled to God. Before Peter ever saw Jesus after the resurrection, the angel’s words must have given Peter hope that Jesus wanted to restore their relationship.
As we put ourselves alongside the women as they approach the tomb in unbelief, we are confronted with the reality of an angel and his good news of Jesus’ resurrection and a promise of seeing Him face-to-face.
How would we respond to an empty tomb and the angel’s message? Would we turn away in disbelief, with no proof that Jesus was there? Or would we believe in Jesus’ resurrection before we see Him?
Do we look back on Jesus’ history and life before He died, as just another historical figure? Or do we look forward in faith and joyous expectation of meeting Him face-to-face one day?
Faith requires belief and trust before proof. This is not “faith in faith” or “hope in hope”, crossing our fingers and wishing that all will turn out in our favor. This faith is grounded in the person of Jesus as our only means of peace with God. His physical resurrection from the dead gives us hope that there is life after death, and we can know of our standing and relationship with God this side of heaven.
In his subsequent letter to the churches, Peter expresses this same choice of faith and hope in Christ before we one day meet Him face-to-face:
8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
(1 Peter 1:8-9 NIV)