“Do not be alarmed. 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, just as He told you.” Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia! Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this glorious Easter morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, what is Easter without the risen Christ? Not much, it seems. The risen Jesus is what Easter is all about; that is why we’re here today, that is why we are Christians in the first place. An Easter without Jesus is a let-down, it doesn’t make much sense; ‘disappointing’ is a vast understatement. But that is what Saint Mark seems to have given us. You may have noticed that one thing is missing from our text this morning: an appearance of Jesus! We have women, the angel, an empty tomb, but no Jesus. No wonder later Christians added verses to the end of his Gospel—it just doesn’t seem right to have Easter without a resurrection appearance, to have a Gospel end with: “They were afraid.” Mark leaves us hanging, his Gospel concludes with many questions, but few answers: What will the women do? Can we trust this angel? Where is Jesus?
Mark’s Gospel ends with our reality; like the women, we live in the midst of a dangerous world, assaulted by sin and death, living in fear and trembling, and our eyes haven’t seen the risen Christ. We know the fear that filled those women, for we feel it ourselves. We have felt Satan’s hot breath on our necks; we know the power of temptation, and we know that we have fallen into that temptation. We fear the sin of this dangerous world; only a glance at the news shows us disaster and evil. From tornadoes to shootings, this world threatens us at every turn. We have come uncomfortably close to death; we know that it stalks our steps. A diagnosis of disease, the prospect of surgery, the knowledge that we too will someday die, fills our hearts with fear. From the outside, we may look calm and confident, but inside our hearts are trembling with fear, like the women on that first Easter morning. Doubts assail us, fears attack, and it seems like Satan has us right where he wants us.
We are standing in the world of Mark’s Gospel; confused, afraid, not sure what to do or say. But then we hear the message of Easter, we hear the proclamation of the angel: “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” The proclamation of Easter breaks into our world, bringing a message of victory and hope into the midst of suffering, evil, sin, and death. Like the women at the tomb that first Easter, we must trust the word of others; the women had to trust the testimony of the angel, and we must trust the testimony of the women. We believe because others saw and reported to us. This is the life of faith, and this is exactly why Mark ends His Gospel the way he does. Mark’s first audience was a church under persecution, a church that lived each and every day in the midst of danger. Mark wrote his Gospel to Christians who live in fear, to Christians who must believe without seeing; he wrote to you and me. He wrote to all those who celebrate Easter without seeing the risen Christ; he wrote to comfort and assure us. His Gospel doesn’t end with the glory of Christ’s appearances; it ends where you are right now: in the midst of a dangerous world, trusting not in what your eyes have seen, but in what others have proclaimed to you. And the Holy Spirit accompanies that proclamation, working faith in the hearts of trembling souls. He worked faith by seeing in those first forty days, but ever since, He has worked faith by hearing. As Saint Paul declares, “Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” We live by that faith, not by sight. We live by faith in the testimony of those who did see. Others see and we believe.
Mark emphasizes that we are hearing eyewitness testimony; he is delivering to us exactly what the women saw with their own eyes: they saw the stone rolled away, they saw the angel sitting there, and they saw the place where Jesus was laid. Saint Paul even goes farther in our Epistle lesson: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me.” Others see and we believe.
We believe in Easter not because Jesus has walked through these doors and showed us His hands and side; we believe in Easter because others saw the risen Jesus and have proclaimed that message to us. We believe because the Holy Spirit worked faith in us through that proclamation, faith which clings to the risen Christ. And when we believe in Easter, then we believe in all that Jesus said and did. Saint Paul declares, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” You cannot have Christianity without Easter, because the resurrection proves all of Jesus’ words. As the angel declared, the resurrection happened “just as He told you.” He told His followers that Good Friday wasn’t the end; they didn’t believe Him, but the women came to the tomb that day expecting to deal with a huge stone and a dead body. They came looking for Him in the tomb, but as the angel said, “He is not here!” He had risen just as He said He would; He walked out of His tomb as a confirmation of His promise. If Jesus was speaking the truth when He promised His resurrection, then all He said is confirmed. Everything we believe in is because of Easter; without the resurrection, all that Jesus said and did is a lie.
How do you know that Jesus is the Son of God, true God in the flesh? Because the one who died on Good Friday was raised on Easter! How do you know that the Bible is true? Because the one who died on Good Friday was raised on Easter! How do you know that God has accepted the sacrifice of Jesus in your place? Because the one who died on Good Friday was raised on Easter! How do you know that your sins are forgiven? Because the one who died on Good Friday was raised on Easter! How do you know that you will live forever, even though you die? Because the one who died on Good Friday was raised on Easter! He was raised up just as He said; the women saw and reported to you that the stone had been rolled away. That stone is still rolled away; Christ is still risen, a body will never be found, proving that all He said is true. Every promise, every word of comfort, every absolution is true only because the one who died on Good Friday, bearing the sins of the world, rose again on Easter morning.
From the empty tomb flows comfort to frightened sinners, to those who tremble in a world filled with sin and death. Easter changes everything; it is the only answer to fear. The angel could only declare “Do not be alarmed” because He also said, “He has risen; He is not here!” Only Easter can provide comfort when we see the evil of this world, only Easter can assure a mourning family, only Easter can comfort us when we face surgery or disease, only Easter can absolve us of our great and many sins. This comfort, this absolution is meant for the entire world. Easter is universal; it isn’t limited to any nation, race, or generation. Easter is the victory for all people who have ever lived; every person receives forgiveness and eternal life only because the one who died on Good Friday rose on Easter morning.
But Easter is the victory also for you. The angel told the women, “Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as he told you.” Why does Jesus single out Peter? Surely Peter knew that he was a part of “His disciples.” But this was the Peter who had denied Jesus, the Peter who claimed to not know his Lord. This was the Peter who thought that he was no longer an apostle, not worthy of Christ’s forgiveness. But Jesus singled him out because He knew that Peter needed to hear that forgiveness personally, individually. It isn’t difficult for us to believe that the world is redeemed; what is difficult is to apply this redemption to ourselves. Our anxiety isn’t whether the world is saved, but whether we are saved. And so let me declare this to you today: You are forgiven of all your sins, great and small, for Christ died for you, and He rose again for you. You need not fear death, for Christ will bring you to heaven with Him forever. Jesus didn’t just die and rise again for the world, He died and rose again for you. This salvation is for you; if you had been the only sinner on this planet, Jesus Christ still would’ve gone to the cross for you.
And now He goes on ahead of you, just as the angel said: “But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” He goes ahead of you not to Galilee, but to Mount Zion, the mountain of the resurrection. On that mountain, you will see Jesus face to face, no longer with the eyes of faith, but for eternity you too will be an eyewitness of His glory. You will see Him, just as He told you. For Christ’s resurrection will lead to your own, and you will spend an eternity on that mountain, where sin and death will be no more. “He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” Death is swallowed up because the one who died on Good Friday rose on Easter morning. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Amen.