Sin is not a popular topic to discuss in our world today. Our culture has virtually banished sin out of its vocabulary. Sin has been re-defined, re-labeled, re-directed, and even revered. People who sin are not sinners because nearly everyone is a victim.
The reality, though, is that you can erase sin from a culture, but you can’t erase guilt. There is the sense that all human beings have that we are guilty of doing wrong. We are born into this world having been created in the image of God, and because we live in God’s world as creatures who bear His image, we can never escape the reality of our guilt because of our sin.
What has been so fascinating and so tragic to watch over the past several years is that the more the world has tried to deny the reality of sin, the greater the guilt they feel. We can see the reality of that all around us. Wokeness, social justice, anti-racism, virtue signaling, false religions, vague forms of spirituality, mindfulness, psychology, and more – all attempting to do one thing: erase the guilt we feel over our sins and make us feel like we are good, righteous people. But all of these attempts at self-justification are ultimately futile and useless.
The real tragedy is that they don’t work at the spiritual level. Denying your sins will never erase your sins before a holy and just God. The real problem we have as sinful human beings isn’t that our existential happiness is hindered by sin; it’s that we are destined for an eternity under the wrath of God because of our sin. This is the tragedy of denying your sin; simply wishing it away or pretending your sin is virtue doesn’t deal with the problem of the wrath of God abiding on you. And you know that in your conscience, and you can’t escape it no matter what you do.
It’s into this setting of a world of sinners in need of real forgiveness from God that Mark begins the story of Jesus of Nazareth. Mark tells his readers from the outset that he has good news to share with sinful people about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. He ensures we understand at the outset of his Gospel that Jesus has come into this world to defeat Satan by bringing forgiveness to sinners. The miracles, the healings, the casting out of demons are external signs of a spiritual truth, that Jesus has the authority to do the most important thing for us that we need: to forgive our sins. That’s the good news of the gospel that Mark is writing about.
As this Gospel progresses, we learn in Mark 10:45 exactly how Jesus is going to provide forgiveness for our sins. He will do it in the most degrading manner possible, by giving His life for sinners on a cross. There’s one detail, though, that Jesus includes in Mark 10:34 that will vindicate Jesus’ claim that His sacrifice was accepted by God and brought forgiveness to sinners: He would rise again three days later.
Here, we come face to face with the most crucial fact of all: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The one thing Jesus must do if He is the Messiah, the Son of God who has authority to forgive sins, is not only die for sinners but rise for sinners from the grave. And so, Mark ends his Gospel in a unique way from the other Gospel writers. He ends, having proven that Jesus rose from the dead because at that point his work has done. Mark has proven that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God; and he has proven that the gospel is true, and that forgiveness is found, not by denying your sins, but through faith in this crucified and risen Savior.
The way Mark presents the resurrection leaves no doubt of its reality as the only hope for sinners, and Mark 16 gives four ways the resurrection confronts sin.
The first fact that Mark presents is the women’s doubt. The women, who journeyed to the tomb, had absolutely no anticipation that Jesus would rise from the dead because they spent money on spices to anoint their Lord’s body. We can look at these women and say that they had a deep affection for Jesus, but they did not yet understand or believe what he had previously said about rising again from the dead on the third day. Mark is coming alongside us as his readers and letting us know that he and the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection understand what it’s like to hear the truth of the resurrection and not be able to grasp it. And the women’s doubts make the reality of the resurrection all the more clear.
The second fact is the angelic messenger. We read that the women’s doubts turn into a shocking, terrifying amazement as everything they find is nothing like they expect it to be. They went into the tomb, expecting to find the body of Jesus – but instead being greeted by a young man. This man, the angelic messenger, was there for the express purpose of rolling away the stone and letting the women into the tomb.
The third fact is the angelic message. The angel begins his discourse by telling the women, “Do not be amazed!” Then the angel delivered to them divine revelation that made sense of the empty tomb by first ensuring that the women know that the Jesus who has risen is the exact same Jesus they knew during His earthly ministry and the exact same Jesus they came to the tomb to find. Following this, the angel summarizes the gospel in one word in Greek (three words in English): He has risen.
That’s the gospel, that this Jesus who was crucified for sinners has risen from the grave. The angel verifies that this is precisely where the body of Jesus was placed, but He is no longer in the tomb; He has risen! This is the central fact of Christianity, the central fact of the gospel, the central fact of all human history: He has risen. This is the fact that every person has to reckon with: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christianity would have been the easiest movement in history to squelch because anyone would have had to do to end Christianity in those early years was to produce the body of Jesus. But they never did, and they never will. Jesus is not dead, but alive forevermore, which is such good news for the worst of sinners. And the angel wants to make that clear.
The fourth fact is the women’s dread. The women’s response of fear is not meant to indicated that they didn’t believe it or were disobedient to the word the angel said, but to indicate that this is truly a divine work. Throughout the gospel of Mark, whenever Jesus does something that manifests the power of the kingdom of God, people are left in fear and wonder and astonishment. The response of the women is not one of unbelief, but one of profound belief that they have just encountered the greatest miracle God has ever done in raising His Son from the dead. And seeing the mighty power of God in the resurrection of Jesus, they are in awe, they are in shock, their bodies are shaking, and there is even a fear because the power of God is so great.
What happens next for them isn’t Mark’s concern because his real concern is what happens next for his readers. Mark 16 stands as a testimony to us that Jesus, the Son of God, came to bring good news to sinners under God’s judgement because through His death and resurrection, we can be forgiven of our sins and reconciled to God. Jesus alone has the power to forgive sins, and He proved it when He defeated death.
As believers, we are reminded afresh of the full forgiveness of our sins through the death and resurrection of Christ. The good news of the gospel never gets old to the heart of a redeemed sinner because we never stop needing grace. We know that never-ending grace is ours because of our Savior’s empty tomb.