Mark 16:1–13

By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was raised from the dead. This signaled to the world that His atonement was accepted by the Father for the redemption of all who trust in Christ. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul begins to examine Mark’s account of the Lord’s resurrection.


We continue this morning with our study of the gospel according to Saint Mark. Today we start the last chapter, chapter 16, which gives us Mark’s account of the resurrection. I will be reading today from Mark 16:1–13. I ask the congregation to stand for the reading of the Word of God:

Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.

But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is 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 into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

We have just heard the account of an astonishing work of God given to us through God’s own inspired Word. May we take this truth to our hearts and embrace it for our entire lives. Please be seated. Let us pray.

O Lord, how great is the joy that we experience when we contemplate this narrative. We still fear death and the things that surround it despite this record of our Savior’s conquest of it. We pray, as we hear this story afresh this morning, that You will quicken our hearts and kindle a flame of faith that will sustain us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Resurrection Day

This morning, I heard part of The Lutheran Hour on the radio, and the message today was about the cross. As I was listening to it, I thought about how we hear messages on the cross all through the Christian year. The cross is proclaimed somewhere every day in the world, yet it seems that we restrict our preaching of the resurrection to our celebration of it on Easter Sunday. We rarely hear sermons focusing on the resurrection at any other time during the year unless we happen to be engaged in expository preaching, in which we’re following a book chapter by chapter and verse by verse, and a text about the resurrection falls on a time that it is not Easter, such as is the case for us.

I remind you that the reason we are gathered this morning on the first day of the week rather than gathering yesterday on the seventh day of the week is because Jesus rose on Sunday. Because He rose on Sunday, in the very early days of the Christian church, the Christians came together to celebrate the Lord’s Day. The Lord’s Day, then, became the Christian Sabbath. Every Sunday that we come together, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ.

The Women Come to Anoint Jesus

Let us look at Mark’s narrative, which is characteristically Markan—very brief. When we first started studying this book, I mentioned that one of the key words in Mark’s gospel is the Greek word euthys, which is translated either “straightway” or “immediately.” He moves rapidly, sticks to the salient facts of the matter, and gives us very little lengthy commentary. To fill out this narrative, we would have to look at the other Gospel records. But let us look today at Mark.

“Now when the Sabbath was past”—the Sabbath finished at sundown on Saturday—“Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices.” We recall from last week that Jesus’ burial was made in haste so that it might be accomplished before sundown on Friday and the beginning of the Sabbath. There was no time to buy precious ointment and spices to anoint the body.

The practice of anointing a body with spices of myrrh, aloe, and other precious spices was done not to preserve a corpse but to show respect and devotion to the departed loved one. However, the disciples were not able to perform that task in time for the burial. We do not know where the men were, but presumably they were still cowering in fear, having fled the scene of the crucifixion, and they remained in hiding. But the women who had followed from a distance and been eyewitnesses of the crucifixion took it upon themselves to complete the custom of anointing the body of their Master. As soon as the women were able to engage in commerce after the sun went down on Saturday, they went out and purchased the substances they needed for the task, and they came to anoint Jesus.

Who Will Roll Away the Stone?

Mark continues: “Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, ‘Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?’”

Notice that the men were in hiding. Their question was, “Who will find out that we were numbered among His followers?” The women, however, were fearless in coming out on Sunday morning in broad daylight, after the sun had risen, to go to the tomb of Jesus for the purpose of anointing His body.

The women were not worried about who might see them. Rather, they were worried about how they were going to manage to roll the stone away from the tomb. They knew they did not have the strength to do that, even together. They were hoping that one of the workers who tended to the garden tombs might be present to help them get inside the tomb so they might anoint the body of Jesus.

There is irony in this text, as there is all through Mark’s gospel. Just a few weeks ago, in our studies on chapter 14, we read of the lavish anointing of Jesus by the woman who poured precious oil upon Him, flowing over His whole body. Mark gave us the cryptic note that she was preparing Him for His burial. But that anointing and preparation was premature. She was anointing Jesus before He died.

The only anointing Jesus received was before His death because when the women came at first light, they were too late. Their purpose would be thwarted. They would have wasted their money by buying the precious oil and ointments because the body was gone.

“‘Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?’ But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away.” We are told in the other Gospels that the stone was rolled away not by a caretaker but by an angel and that the hand of God brought an earthquake to bear. The stone was rolled away not by human device but by divine power. That is important for us to remember because every detail of the resurrection of Christ in the New Testament points to the reality that it was accomplished by God and God alone.

The Angel in the Tomb

The women came and saw that the stone was already rolled away, and when they looked up, they saw that it was gone, and it was very large, so they went inside the tomb. Upon entering the tomb, Mark says, “They saw a young man clothed in a long white robe.” That language describes the presence of an angel. We can say they saw an angel clothed in a long white robe “sitting on the right side.” Notice that detail Mark gives from the testimony of the women: they saw a young man, the angel dressed in white, and he was standing on the right side of the tomb.

During the time of the New Testament, the Jews gave little credibility to the testimony of women in courts of law. They ranked the testimony of women with the testimony of slaves and criminals. They did not think women could be trustworthy witnesses. Considering that bias of the first century, is it not striking that the New Testament record of the resurrection of Christ was borne witness chiefly, at least initially, by the testimony of women?

Some people look at that to discredit the historical reliability of the women’s testimony and the biblical writers. On the other hand, if someone were trying to falsify the testimony of the resurrection of Jesus, the last thing they would do is put that testimony on the lips of women. But Mark is not interested in the law court. He is interested in truth and in conveying exactly what happened, and he does it down to the detail of where the angel was standing.

The fact that Mark records an angel standing in the tomb is another point of contention. I have heard people regularly argue that the New Testament cannot possibly be inspired or inerrant because the resurrection accounts disagree. The chief disagreement is the question of how many angels were present at the tomb. Mark mentions one angel. Other Gospel writers speak of two angels being there, and this is alleged as a contradiction.

In answering the objection, I try to remind people of the elementary principles of logic. If there were two angels present, and somebody says an angel was there, that is not a contradiction. Manifestly, if there were two angels there, there also had to be one angel there. If Mark said, “There was one angel and only one angel,” and the other biblical writers said, “No, there were two angels,” then you have a contradiction. But in this case, Mark only mentions what the women saw on the right side of the tomb and their vision of the young man in the flowing white robe.

Do Not Be Alarmed

We read that when the women saw the angel, they were alarmed. The word used for “alarmed” indicates a kind of fear and distress that is profound and intense. This is the same word used to describe the inner conflict our Lord experienced in the garden of Gethsemane when the pathos He endured there pierced His very soul.

With that same force of alarm and distress, the women saw the angel there in the tomb. They were terrified. If you look at the accounts throughout Scripture, anytime an angel appears to somebody, as Gabriel did to Zacharias, and as he did to Mary, the initial response was terror in the presence of the supernatural realm. But he said to them: “Do not be alarmed. Don’t be distressed. Don’t be afraid.”

God Raised Christ

The angel continued: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” I am going to quibble just a bit with this translation, but I think it is an important quibble. The text does not say in the original language, “He is risen!” I know that we use that text all the time on Easter Sunday when we say, “He is risen!” Then the people say, “He is risen indeed!” But that is slightly inaccurate because the text uses the verb in the passive form, so what the text actually says is not that Jesus “is risen” but that He “has been raised.”

If Jesus has been raised, then He is risen, but here is the point of the quibble: the idea that He is risen at least suggests that Jesus came back to life on His own, but the biblical testimony is not that the human corpse of Jesus was supernaturally able to defeat the jaws of death and come out of the tomb. It is God who raised Him from the dead, specifically God the Holy Spirit, whom Peter tells us is the life-giver in the first place, who injects life back into the corpse of Jesus. By the power of God, the dead man was raised from the tomb. That is very important.

Elsewhere, Scripture says that Jesus was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25). Recently, we looked at the cross and its theological significance. Our Savior satisfied the demands of the righteousness of God and remitted a payment for us vicariously, which God did not have to accept. But when God raised Christ from the dead, God was saying to the whole world that our justification was secured and that He accepted completely the atonement Jesus offered for His people.

The Father, who sent Jesus to the cross and to the grave, brought Him out of the grave for our justification and His vindication, as we are told elsewhere that it was impossible for death to hold Him (Acts 2:24). Had God allowed an innocent man to stay dead, God would have been unjust, but He vindicated the sinlessness of His Son by removing the power of death over Him. So, the angel said: “He has been raised. He is not here.”

Our faith in the resurrection is not based upon an empty tomb. It was not that they found an empty tomb, so we infer a resurrection from it. No, the testimony for the resurrection is based upon the eyewitness accounts of those who saw Jesus after He had been raised from the dead. The resurrection is not the result of the empty tomb. The empty tomb is the result of the resurrection. That is why He was not there: He was not dead anymore, for God had raised Him from the dead.

The Need for Eyewitness Experience

Mark records the next words of the angel: “See the place where they laid Him.” The other Gospels give more details of the graveclothes that were remaining. The angel said to the women, “But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

Mark’s gospel is almost completely devoted to Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. We know from the other Gospel writers that Jesus saw the disciples before they ever returned to Galilee. He saw them in the upper room while they were still in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, He later joined them for an extensive period in Galilee after His resurrection.

“So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Mark continues: “Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. When they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.” The other Gospel writers tell us how two of them ran full speed to the tomb to see if it was true.

Then Mark tells us that later, Jesus appeared in another form to two of them. This was on the road to Emmaus, as they walked and went into the country. Mark says, “And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either.” The first response to the testimony of the women and the two men was unbelief. Secondary witness was not enough for the disciples or for the world. What was necessary for them to believe was not hearsay but eyewitness experience, which Mark mentions in the text that we will examine, God willing, next week.

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.