Hope in a Larger Story
My favorite hockey team, the Detroit Red Wings, played for 38 years in an arena that bore the name of one of the best boxers of all time, Joe Louis.
In 1936, when Nazism was at its height, Joe Louis had a spotless record of 27-0 going into his fight with the German Max Schmeling. The fight was held before a sold-out crowd at Yankee Stadium.
Lousi was expected to win, but he didn’t. Twelve rounds turned into a fifteen-round bout. Schmeling knocked Louis to the mat. Louis remained there—out cold. The hero had fallen. This was not a fight just between two men. It had been a battle between democracy and fascism. Right and wrong. Good versus evil.
And it appeared that evil had won. It was reported that, throughout the country, people cried when they heard the news of Joe Louis’ defeat.
Two years later, a second fight was scheduled between Louis and Schmeling. The location was the same. But this time, the fight didn’t even make it out of the first round because Louis came out swinging. In just under a minute, Schmeling went down for the third and final time. Louis had won the match with a TKO.
When all was said and done, Louis threw forty-one punches to Schmeling’s two. In this rematch, the one who was considered the enemy—the one who had once been hailed as the victor—discovered he had indeed lost. Schmeling later wrote, “The whole area was filled with celebration, noise, and saxophones, continuously punctuated by the calling of Joe Louis’ name.”
Jesus was taken down by death in the first fight. But he deliver death deciding blow in the end. Confucius didn’t do it. Buddha didn’t do it. Muhammed didn’t do it. Jesus was crucified on Friday, laid in the tomb on Saturday, and on Sunday Jesus did what no other has ever done.
He got up.
This morning we are going to consider the question:
- Why did Jesus rise?
Mark 15:40–16:3, ESV.
There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”
- What objections to Jesus’ resurrection might folks have?
Jesus Was Truly Dead
A common objection to Jesus’ resurrection is that he wasn’t actually dead; it’s called the swoon theory. Jesus passed out and the coldness of the tomb enabled him to regain consciousness.
The passage I just read, however, communicates one critical truth: Jesus was actually dead as a doornail! He wasn’t revived. He wasn’t resuscitated. He was resurrected.
Last we I spoke about why Jesus had to die. Do you remember something of that message?
- Why did Jesus die?
Please understand without the resurrection none of that would be possible. Without the resurrection a nice, spiritual, but confused man would have died a horrible death—that’s it!
And… you don’t get to the resurrection without a death. So… Mark has a way of making the truth of Jesus’ death clear. Notice what he reported about the Roman governor.
“Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph” (Mark 15:44-45).
Now, think about that.
A centurion was a professional officer in charge of no less than 80 men. As an officer he was trusted. As an officer he was a responsible. As an officer he knew what dead meant. As an officer he has access to the Roman governor.
So Mark makes this centurion a key witness for two reasons:
- The centurion was the one who gave the order to thrust the spear into Jesus’ thoracic cavity and saw the water and blood flow out blood and plasma begin to separate after you die, so it was a sure sign that Jesus’ heart had stopped.
- The centurion isn’t going to give Pilate a false report, putting his own life at risk.
Jesus is dead, which is why Pilate willingly gave Joseph of Arimathea the body for burial.
Now, Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man; he owned a tomb and wanted to honor Jesus buy burring him in it. Those kind of tombs were cut into the rock and inside they had a shelf on which the body would be laid for a year to decompose. After decomposition, the bones were collected and placed in an ossuary, a bone box, which slid beneath the shelf.
So, Jesus is placed on that shelf, a massive stone is rolled in front of the tomb, and soldiers are posted to guard it. The Romans don’t want any rumors going around about some Jesus-dude making appearances like Elvis.
The last thing I want you to notice is that the women come to anoint Jesus’ body. They’re carrying about 75 lbs of expensive oil and spices. You just don’t go through such trouble if you’re questioning if someone is dead. They know Jesus is dead. The only question they have is how to get that stone rolled out of the way.
Jesus Is Truly Alive
This brings me to my second point. Let’s read on…
Mark 16:4–8, ESV
And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “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.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Mark doesn’t shilly-shally around as he tells the story. He wants you to understand that Jesus was alive and kicking, so he throws in an unexpected, abrupt statement. Most of us have heard the story so often that we’re not shocked by the details, but the women were.
They go into the tomb and find a man, who is an angel, sitting on the shelf where Jesus should be swinging his legs and taking it easy—utterly relaxed. Maybe he’s sipping on lemonade, I don’t know. But he doesn’t have a care in the world as he says, “Jesus’ ain’t here. He went to Galilee for a goat-cheese pizza with capers.”
You’ve heard it before, but that story was totally unexpected to the first readers.
What do you think it all means?
You’ve heard it said that there’s no sure thing but death and taxes, right? Well, it’s a lie. Jesus just knocked death out like Louis knocked out Schmeling. So, the only sure thing you get it taxes.
Now, if one holds that death is the end, then periodically you’ve got to think: What’s the point to life? If death is the end, life is meaningless. It’s trying to catch the wind in your hand (Ecc 1:2).
That lemonade-sipping angel, however, is telling the ladies that even though there are times…
… when you feel your life has no meaning,
… when you can’t find your purpose,
… when you find yourself in a season of serious uncertainty,
… when it’s painfully hard to live by faith and not by sight,
there is, nevertheless, reason and significance and value … because there is HOPE!
I have a tendency to get so frustrated at my life and fall into a dark depression. I mope around the house doubting everything under the sun. Why does this happen to me?
I have this idea… Maybe it’s because I get stuck trying to live my life between my birth and death. I’ve scripted a story of which living my life between my birth and my death should be like and I want God to give it to me. But I’m learning that God thinks my story is too small, and he’s not necessarily willing to cooperate with it. He wants me, he wants us, to live in between the Cross and Jesus’ second coming—a whole different paradigm.
As Larry Crabb has said: “The script I’ve written for my smaller story is not a script God always cooperates with, but He’s always advancing the script He’s written for the larger story. When problems come into my life and difficulties happen—the job is lost, cancer comes, or whatever it might be—we need to be aware that there is something God is doing here.”
How do I know God’s up to something, that he’s writing a larger story? Answer: A dead man got up and walked!
Death isn’t the end. My story is part of a larger story—yours too!
Need to Hear of Jesus
Do you recall what 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.”
Think about Peter for a moment. He was a leader among the disciples. When they all fled, Peter tried to stay as close to Jesus as he could. Peter watched the trial. Then he did something worse that fleeing, he denied he’d ever known Jesus. Peter was feeling that darkness.
So Jesus wants Peter to hear something. The angel tells the women, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter.”
That’s not just for Peter’s benefit. It’s for yours. It’s for mine. We need to hear of Jesus too. Why? Because Jesus forgives, yes—true. But there is more … He gives hope. The risen Jesus is hope.
When sin, circumstances, and confusion bring you down—and they will. The fact that Jesus rose, that death isn’t the end, means you can wait a little longer. You can lean in, and hug the cactus … and find God in that place … because there’s hope!
Albert Einstein is reported to have said he wouldn’t give a nickel for simplicity on this side of complexity, but he would give his life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.
This world is a dark place; human nature has a dark side; and death is pretty dark too. If I said, “I’ve got hope!” but didn’t pretended all the darkness and deadness wasn’t there, it would be stupid … it wouldn’t be worth a nickel. Yet the hope we find on the other side of Jesus’ resurrection, his defeat of death, that hope is worth everything. For he is the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it (John 1:5).
Jesus rose to give us a hope that God is writing a larger story.