The Resurrection of our Lord, 2018
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
It’s all a fairy tale, isn’t it?
Jesus walking on water. The miracles. The resurrection.
All a fairy tale.
Have you heard that before?
It probably won’t surprise you that people who find no value in the Church find no value—either—in what the Church teaches.
But do you remember when the good-ole Lutheran Church had its Battle for the Bible?
There are many wrong ways to read the Bible. One of them is called Historical Criticism or Higher Criticism.
According to this method of reading the Bible, you search for “the world behind the text” (not what it says but what’s behind what it says) basically by tearing any use of the Bible away and looking sadly at what’s left.
Here’s what I mean.
In the 1950’s and ’60’s, professors at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis taught the Bible using Higher Criticism.
Every year, for decades, there were pastors graduating, being sent to congregations, and teaching that Jesus didn’t actually walk on water—He merely walked alongside the water.
Higher Criticism looks at the miraculous and says, “Since that can’t happen—what does it mean?”
They started with the assumption that the Bible couldn’t mean what it meant—so they had to make it say whatever it is they wanted to hear.
Pastors taught that you couldn’t be sure of anything—you couldn’t be sure of what Jesus said. You couldn’t be sure of what Jesus did.
These professors and pastors reduced everything down to this question, “Do you believe the gospel?”
And that sounds like a good question—and it is—but it’s not the only question.
Because if you said yes to that one question—you could basically believe whatever else you wanted.
Do you believe the Gospel? Yes? Well, it doesn’t matter, then, that you doubt the efficacy of Baptism.
You believe the Gospel? Yes? Then it doesn’t matter that you think it’s impossible for the bread and wine to be the Body and Blood of Christ.
You believe the Gospel—but you don’t quite know about the resurrection? That’s okay, too.
One pastor flatly denied the resurrection saying that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead but rather the spirit of Christ rose in the hearts of the disciples.
Higher Criticism is a ridiculous, useless, and false way to read the Bible.
But it gets one thing right—what we believe sounds absurd.
We believe that God created the world in six twenty-four hour days and rested on the seventh. That’s why we have a seven-day week, folks, it’s been on repeat ever since God created it.
We believe Israel walked through the Red Sea on dry ground.
We believe Jonah was a real person, swallowed by a great fish, vomited onto the earth on the third day.
We believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ.
We believe He walked on water—not alongside it.
We believe He died for the sins of the world, suffering the wrath of God in our stead, putting to death our enemy, that ancient serpent the devil.
We believe that all who look on Jesus will be saved.
And we believe that our dead God got back up.
And there’s more.
We believe in angels and demons. In miracles and prayer. We believe that the ancient serpent, the devil, called the dragon in the book of Revelation, is our enemy.
Did you know you believe in dragons?
It’s such a strange thing to say, but the reason we read fairy tales about large, scaled, fire-breathing, sea-creatures is because the Bible describes a large, scaled, fire-breathing, sea-creature called Leviathan.
“His back is made of rows of shields, shut up closely as with a seal. One is so near to another that no air can come between them. They are joined one to another; they clasp each other and cannot be separated. His sneezings flash forth light, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn. Out of his mouth go flaming torches; sparks of fire leap forth. Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke, as from a boiling pot and burning rushes. His breath kindles coals, and a flame comes forth from his mouth” (Job 41:15-21).
Did and/or does that animal exist?
If you believe that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then yes—we must say yes.
Do you believe in dragons?
See—it’s all a fairy tale, isn’t it?
Today’s Gospel lesson is a perfect example of how the absurd claims of Christianity were not only verifiable but transmitted through the years to us.
“When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint [Jesus]” (Mark 16:1).
St. Mark records that Mary, Mary, and Salome didn’t believe in fairy tales either—they expected Jesus’ dead body to be in the tomb even though He had said that “he must be killed and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).
So they go to the tomb.
“And they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’” (Mark 16:3).
This is marvelous.
Jesus can heal the sick—raise the dead—miraculously multiply bread—promise that He will rise from the dead—but a big rock, man, that’s just too much.
But, “looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large” (Mark 16:4).
The stone wasn’t rolled away because Jesus needed it rolled away. He’s God. He Is.
“And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed” (Mark 16:5).
They were alarmed because they expected to see a large stone.
They were alarmed because they expected to see a dead body.
They’re alarmed because they see this guy just sitting there.
For the life of me, I don’t know why I think this, but I have a mental picture of what this would look like—some young man sitting in the tomb, smiling, kicking his legs with excitement, waiting for these women to show up so he could say to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here” (Mark 16:6).
In my head it’s a vivid picture—but it skips over two really important details.
The word used for young man here is [νεανίσκον].
It means “young man.”
That’s important because he’s not an angel. The other accounts of the resurrection—Luke, for example—don’t record this young man sitting in the tomb but rather two men in dazzling apparel—angels—who are there.
And the word [νεανίσκον] is also important in Mark’s account of the Gospel because it’s the same word used in chapter fourteen when Jesus is betrayed and arrested.
There, “a young man [νεανίσκον] followed [Jesus], with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked” (Mark 14:51-52).
Big deal, right? So what?
Well, this young man at Jesus’ tomb was the rich young man who asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17).
This young man at Jesus’ tomb is the rich young man to whom Jesus said, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).
This young man at Jesus’ tomb was the rich young man who, “Disheartened…went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22).
He went away sorrowful because he didn’t like what Jesus had to say. In fact, what Jesus had to say went against everything this man knew.
It’s like Jesus told him his favorite hymns weren’t any good. Cut him to the quick.
But, in this case, it definitely needed to be said.
And have you ever wondered what it would look like if the rich young man actually sold all he had and gave it to the poor and went and followed Jesus?
He’d look like a young man, a [νεανίσκον], who would follow Jesus with nothing but a linen cloth around himself.
If this young man were seized, he might even leave behind the linen cloth and run away naked—for what are earthly possessions when your treasure is in heaven?
And since he followed Jesus in His life—He would follow Jesus in His death—one of the first to announce the marvelous truth of the resurrection of the Christ:
“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” (Mark 6:6).
What joy that young man would have—not just seeing where he is—but seeing where he was—and, then, knowing where he will be.
This young man is St. Mark, by the way, the author of the gospel.
Matthew includes himself. John is the beloved disciple. Luke is working for Theophilus. Of course, Mark includes himself. They all, humbly, include themselves.
And look at what he gets to say, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:7).
Just as He told you.
What marvelous faith!
It looks like a fairy tale. It sounds like a fairy tale.
But it is our hope of life everlasting—witnessed—and passed on to the disciples and to Peter and then to all the world.
Just as He told you.
Jesus would have you know that the wrath of God against sin is quenched in His blood shed for the world.
In His crucifixion, in His death, Jesus put-to-death our enemy, that ancient serpent, satan, the devil, the dragon.
If it sounds like a fairy tale, if you’re given guff because you believe the Bible, remember:
“Fairy tales are more than true—not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten” (Neil Gaiman, referencing Chesterton).
The Bible is no fairy tale.
You don’t need the Bible to know and fear the terror of the devil—every parent knows what it’s like to worry and fear for a child. Every one of us knows what it is to fear the darkness.
But you do need the Bible to hear and believe that death is defeated. That Light shines in the darkness and overcomes it.
The Bible provides us with Jesus who kills the dragon.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!