There are some times when I come to prepare a passage for class that I will draw Matthew Henry in to guide the lesson and this is one that I will do that upon. If you wish to read the text of that great work it can be found in many places online. I used this one.
1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. (Mark 16:1-5–ESV)
Never such a Sabbath
The observance of Sabbath days was instituted by God through Moses many centuries before the arrival of Jesus. It was even given a place among the 10 commandments.
This was the first Sabbath of all time where Jesus had laid in the grave. It had been a Sabbath rest to him, but a Sabbath of mourning to the remaining disciples who now must be about thinking of the future. Soon enough their thoughts would be cheered, but during this Sabbath cheer was absent.
This, also, would have been the first Sabbath where the services in the temple would have been such an abomination. Many times the ungodly character of the religious leaders of Israel would have presided over the weekly service, but never with such guilt having cast the son out of the vineyard. There was the most terrible blood upon their hands and yet at the services, rejoicing, it would seem they were.
But, for all the darkness of that Sabbath, the sunrise on the following morning would be the first of a new world. That new world had been given a great redemption. Now it would be for the disciples to go and teach it, for the followers of Christ to go and live it. It could indeed be a brave new world (and how far from the ill conceptions of Aldous Huxley).
The anointing the women hoped to give
Mark told us of a venture three women made the morning after that first bleak Sabbath. It was not a superstitious mission, but a respectful one marked by interest and love for Jesus. After the Sabbath had drawn to a close they went and bought spices from a local market to pay their respects to the body of Jesus. At least that is what they planned to do.
When Jesus had died his body was taken down from the cross and given into the custody of Joseph of Arimathea. He and Nicodemus had attended to the body wrapping it in sheets of linen with a mixture of myrrh and aloes. These two men had managed the burial of Jesus’ body meeting all the ceremonial customs.
The women who set out that Easter morning were not deterred by the burial customs already having been done. They were not on a mission of ceremony or duty, but one of love and devotion.
Matthew Henry makes the point that respect others have made to Christ’s name should not hinder us from showing our respect to it.
These women were not deterred by problems
Have you ever set out to do something only to find out on the way that there are rather obvious obstacles to that project? Sometimes those close to you will be rather ungracious in pointing out how this, that or the other thing was something ordinary people would not miss.
These women had that type of realization. On the way to the tomb they realized that actually getting to the body of Jesus would pose a problem. The body of Jesus was closed up inside the tomb by a large, round rock. Moving that rock would be to much for these ladies.
Matthew Henry points out that there was another problem that they were not even aware of: the guards. Remember that Pilate had posted Roman guards by the tomb to pacify the worries of the Pharisees who thought the disciples would come and steal the body.
Two things to see: the arrival of problems did not deter them. Their love for Jesus carried them to the tomb. The other thing to note was that by the time of their arrival these problems were removed. That is, the problems did not deter them. They were not knocked off course by things they saw but went on anyway and when they got to the point where those problems should be manifest they were lifted.
Those who follow the Lord will find difficulties to be strangely removed. We will be helped beyond our expectations, that is, helped in the areas we knew of and helped in the areas we had no clue of.
They went into the opened tomb
How far that these women ventured into the tomb is not known, but they clearly intended to go in. Going in and anointing the body is why they bought the spices and why they went. Their love motivated them to carry on even when the odds were high that their efforts would fall short. Upon getting there the way had been made and so in they went.
The body was not there, but his representative, an angel, was. I don’t know what they recognized first, the absent body or the angel. Both soon came to light in their minds, though, and that scared them to a point of terror.
It could have been a thing in which they were encouraged but was rather a thing they were frightened by. Matthew Henry points out that the Christian is often frightened by things that should be encouragements. It is possible and all too frequent for us as Christians to see terror in the great things of life. This happens through our own mistakes and misunderstandings of what we see around us.
The angel comforted and helped them
Not terrible but tremendous
When people see angels they get scared, and it was no different for these three women. Angels do not rejoice in scaring people (kids do, angels don’t), but rather rejoice when sinners are saved and consoled. So here we see this angel consoling 3 scared women who were in the midst of great sorrow and uncertainty. Their initial response was not triumph but terror. His initial response was consolation and then explanation. What they were seeing was not terrible. It was tremendous! It was a cause for rejoicing. A great struggle had concluded and a new world had dawned.
Matthew Henry points out that instead of anointing him dead they may rejoice in him living. That is tremendous. Of course they must still awaken to that knowledge and rejoice in it, but there is great cause to do that. There is a needful faith for they had not yet seen him with their own eyes, but they had seen enough in the angel to put their faith in what he said.
Note that the angel does not hide the crucifixion, but speaks of Jesus in terms of that event. The women were looking for Jesus the Nazarene who had been crucified. Even in the book of Revelation1 Jesus owns himself as one crucified and is later on described as the lamb that had been slain2. On the heels of that acknowledgment it is stated that he has risen. His death was not his end. His body was not stolen by his enemies or even the disciples, but he was raised from the dead. The glory of his resurrection is of such greatness that it wipes out the shame of the cross.