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Lent: Minor Characters About Calvary. No 6

Mark 16:1-8
27th March 2005


The first people at the tomb of Jesus, were some women who had come to anoint the body of Jesus with some spices. Who were these women? I asked my granddaughters ten years ago and they gave me their names. There was Victoria Spice, Posh Spice, Melanie Spice… but they were a different lot of Spice Girls! But by comparing the four Gospels, you gather a great deal of information that one Gospel alone does not have. In choosing these women to be the first witnesses of the Risen Christ, God chose the lowly and despised people of the world to shame the wise and strong, as Paul put it. 1 Cor 1:27–31 In those days the testimony of women was discounted, but God chose them as the first witnesses. If someone had made up the story of the resurrection they would never have included women. That they are there is a sign of authenticity.

These women came from Galilee, two of them mothers of disciples, who traveled with them to see they had proper meals. Luke 8:2–3 There was Mary the mother of Jesus, and of His younger brothers, James and Joseph. 13:55 There was Mary from Magdala, and Salome, the mother of Zebedee’s sons, John and James. Salome was Jesus’ mother’s sister — His aunt on his mother’s side. There was also Joanna, wife of Chuza, associate of King Herod Antipas. When the Sabbath was over, Saturday evening, the women who had been at the Crucifixion and at Jesus’ burial, gathered aromatic oils to anoint the body of Jesus. These were apparently in addition to the spices and perfumes that were prepared before the Sabbath began. Luke 23:56

When Joseph of Arimathea sought the body of Jesus to give it a proper burial, we read: “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about thirty four kilos weight. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” 

The anointing of a body was not to preserve the body as in embalming, for that was not practiced by the Jews. The spices were to reduce the stench of the decomposing body. Palestine’s hot climate causes corpses to decay rapidly. The women waited till “very early” Sunday morning “just after sunrise.” As the women walked to the tomb, their chief concern was with the heavy stone they knew had been rolled in front of the opening of the tomb. Mark 15:46–47 Their concern with moving the stone was a real one because, no matter what kind of stone it was, it would have been difficult to move. A circular stone, though relatively easy to put in place in a sloped track, once established in place was very difficult to remove. It would have to be rolled back up the incline or lifted out of the groove. 

Mark makes no attempt to explain how the stone was removed. He does, how ever, say that it was very large. Once inside the tomb, the women saw a young man dressed in a white robe. His dress suggests an angel. The reaction of the women to the angel was what one would expect: “They were dumbfounded”, a strong verb used only by Mark. The women’s fright was calmed by words of reassurance: “Don’t be alarmed.” The angel knew whom they were seeking, Jesus of Nazareth. The angel then spoke the revelatory word “He has risen!” and invited them to see the evidence of the empty tomb. The explanation is Resurrection! 

The confrontation with the angel proved to be too much for the women. They fled “trembling and bewildered.” It was a natural and to-be-expected reaction. Only Mark tells us, “They said nothing to anyone,” they were so frightened they were at first silent. After they had collected their wits, they did a lot of talking! The women never got round to using their spices, because there was no need: He was risen from the dead! The process of preserving bodies from decay involved many spices. The spices used were aromatic, pungent substances used in the preparation of foods, sacred oils for anointing, incense, perfumes, and ointments used for personal healing and for burial of the dead. Spices were very expensive. They were brought into Palestine from India, Arabia, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Egypt. Sheba, present day Yemen, had an extensive commerce in spices. The queen of Sheba made a long journey of 1,200 miles because she was afraid that her caravan spice business would be hurt by Solomon’s merchant fleet.” (2 Chron. 9:9).

Some spices were used in food preparation such as cummin, dill, cinnamon, and mint. Frankincense was used in the incense used in worship. Exodus 30:34–35 Balsam, myrrh, cinnamon, cassia, were used in the preparation of the holy anointing oil. Myrrh and aloes were used in ointments for burial. Luke 23:56; John 19:39 Myrrh was given to Jesus at His birth as a gift Matt. 2:11 and as a drink when He was on the cross. Mark 15:23 Spikenard a very expensive fragrant oil used in the manufacture of perfumes and ointments.

The disciples were not expecting Jesus to rise. They obviously had not understood or believed Jesus’ teaching about His own resurrection. Jesus’ shameful death completely shattered their belief that He was the Messiah, the one who would establish God’s kingdom. The melancholy words of the disciples on the road to Emmaus expressed the mood of Jesus’ first followers: ‘We had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel.’ We can understand why the disciples were not the ones who witnessed the burial or who went to the tomb. It was the women of Jesus’ inner circle, who, in love and devotion to their dead friend, went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. They did not use their spices, because there was no need for them. There was no body there in the tomb! They rushed to report this sensational news to the disciples. 

Only John believed immediately, when he saw the empty tomb. Peter and John found the linen burial wrappings, stiff with dried spices and ointment, just as though they still enclosed a body with the head cloth separate. It was as if Jesus had passed through the shroud. The disciples were really convinced when personally they met with the risen Jesus, and found their hopelessness and despair turned into joyful belief. It was Jesus without a doubt. He was neither a ghost nor an apparition. The disciples saw him with their own eyes, touched him, and ate with him. At the same time, Jesus’ body was different after his resurrection. He went through closed doors. He could appear from nowhere and disappear. Paul called this sort of body a ‘spiritual’ or ‘glorified’ body.

The risen Jesus appeared to a number of people at different times — on one occasion to 500 people at once-but not to everybody. The Gospel accounts show signs of the disciples’ complete surprise at what happened. They describe different parts of an inexplicable course of events. And so they vary from one another — over such things as the names and number of the women who came to the tomb with their spices. These variations make the resurrection more believable, not less. If Jesus’ resurrection were a concocted story, the Gospel writers would have been most anxious to provide us with identical versions. Modern psychological studies on courtroom witnesses show that eyewitnesses often give different versions of what they saw, particularly, if it was completely outside their normal experience. 

The accounts of the resurrection are all in agreement about the principal features. All tell us that the tomb was empty and that Jesus physically appeared. The apostles were to witness both to the truth and the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. The Resurrection is one of the cardinal facts and doctrines of the gospel. Our Lord clearly taught His resurrection. If Christ be not risen, our faith is vain. 1 Cor. 15:14. The New Testament revelation rests on this as an historical fact. On the day of Pentecost Peter argued the necessity of Christ’s resurrection. 

Ten different appearances of our risen Lord are recorded. He appeared to Mary Magdalene at the sepulchre. Then to the spice women, Mary, Salome, Joanna, and others, near the sepulchre. Then to Simon Peter alone. Then to two believers on the way to Emmaus. Then to the ten disciples, Thomas being absent and others “with them” at Jerusalem on the evening of the resurrection day. Then, a week later, to the disciples again, Thomas being present. Then to the disciples when fishing at the Sea of Galilee. Then to the eleven, and to more than 500 believers at once in Galilee. Then to James, then the apostles immediately before the ascension as they travelled from Jerusalem to Mount Olivet. There they saw Jesus ascend “till a cloud received him out of their sight”. On every occasion there was ample opportunity of testing the fact of His resurrection. He conversed with them face to face. They touched him. He ate with them. In addition, Christ’s appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road. Luke implies Acts 1:3 there may have been other appearances. 

The importance of Christ’s resurrection will be seen when we consider that if He rose the gospel is true, and if He did not rise from the dead, it is false. His resurrection from the dead makes it obvious that His sacrifice was accepted. Our justification was secured by His obedience to the death. Therefore He was raised from the dead. Romans 4:25. His resurrection is a proof that Jesus made a full atonement for our sins, that His sacrifice was accepted as a satisfaction to divine justice, and His blood was a ransom for sinners. His resurrection also gives a pledge of the resurrection of all believers. As He lives, so we shall live also. For us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, will raise us also to eternal life. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” The death of Jesus enabled our sins to be forgiven and His resurrection enabled our justification. 

As a boy, I was taught a chorus in religious instruction classes in state school. I did not get it fully, but it does teach the principle of the inclusiveness of the Gospel:

“Living, He loved me; Dying, He saved me; 

Buried,. He carried my sins far away; 
Rising, He justified, freely forever, 
One day he’s coming, Oh, glorious day!” 

Gordon Moyes

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