The Rolled-Back Stone

[The women] were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’ And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large” (vv. 3–4).

- Mark 16:1–4

Jesus died late on a Friday afternoon nearly two thousand years ago. Ordinarily in that day, the Jews anointed the bodies of the dead with oil and spices as a sign of respect and to cover up the odor of decaying flesh. But since there was not enough time before the Sabbath to prepare Jesus’ body for burial according to all the proper customs, the body of our Lord could only be wrapped in a cloth and laid in a tomb before the sun set and the day of rest began (Mark 15:46). Ancient Jews reckoned their days from sundown to sundown. Jesus died on a Friday, was laid in the tomb from late afternoon Friday through early Sunday, and then was resurrected sometime Sunday morning near the break of dawn (Mark 16:1–8). That represents a total of three days—Friday, Saturday, and Sunday—because the Jews counted time inclusively. That is, when they said three days from Friday, they included Friday as one of those days.

The first witnesses to the resurrection were the same women who were there when Jesus died—Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Salome. They journeyed to the tomb in order to finish the burial customs and anoint Christ’s body, clearly not expecting to find anything there but His body. As we see in Mark 16:1–4, they were most worried about who would roll the stone away for them. Since Jews sometimes used caves carved into the rock for tombs, the stone covering the entrance of Jesus’ tomb would have required several men to roll it away. The women wondered where they would find someone to roll the stone aside because the disciples were in hiding, and it is interesting that they traveled to the grave without having made arrangements for the stone’s removal. Apparently, they hoped to find a stranger who would help them. It might also testify to their confusion and grief. The loss of the Lord had struck them so deeply that they could think of nothing else to do but follow through with the customary burial procedures even though they did not know how they would get into the tomb of Jesus.

When they arrived, the women found an unexpected sight—the stone was already gone (v. 4). Mark’s brief description invites us to conclude that God rolled the stone away, and Matthew’s gospel makes it clear that our Creator sent an angel to remove the stone and give the women access to Jesus’ grave (Matt. 28:2). Jesus’ prediction that He would rise from the dead after three days had been fulfilled, as the women would soon find out (Mark 10:34; 16:5–8).

Coram Deo

The women went to the tomb while not expecting anything out of the ordinary. Often, we also go about our days the same way. Yet, as we serve a God who loves to delight us by surprising us with good things, we sometimes find good from His hand that we have not expected. The women experienced this at the tomb, and they feared God. Let us honor and fear the Lord when He intervenes in an unexpected and powerful way.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 91:11–12
Matthew 28:1–2
Luke 24:1–2
John 20:1

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