The opening

Thomas Kuhn famously described the struggle involved in accepting a new view of the world:

‘In science … novelty emerges only with difficulty, manifested by resistance, against a background provided by expectation.’​

Why is changing our mind so hard? How open to the unexpected do you feel you are? 

Most people thought that the crucifixion ended any possibility of Jesus’ being the Messiah.

For the Romans, crucifixion was the ultimate demonstration of weakness and failure. For the Jews, it was the final proof that he was a blasphemer and a fraud. To die in such a way could only mean that he had been rejected by God himself. A crucified Messiah was no Messiah at all. Case closed; end of story.
Except, of course, that Jesus had said this was exactly how things would happen. He’d told his disciples on several occasions how he would be betrayed and abandoned by his friends, rejected by his people and handed over to suffer and die at the hands of the Romans. And he’d also said something else. Repeatedly, after explaining how the Son of Man would have to die, he went on to say, ‘and three days later he will rise.’

These warnings were so unthinkable at the time, and the events so terrible when they finally took place, that Jesus’ words had apparently been ignored and were now forgotten. They had made no sense to his followers and therefore offered them no comfort or hope.

No one was expecting what would happen next.

Mark 15: 42–47

The burial of Jesus

42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.


What particular details does Mark focus on here? Why might these details be of significance?

Romans usually left executed prisoners hanging on the cross to be eaten by scavengers. Special permission was needed to take a body for burial. Jews, however, required everyone, even criminals, to be buried on the day of death – especially with the Sabbath the next day. Since none of Jesus’ followers stepped forward, a devout Pharisee named Joseph made the request to bury Jesus himself. 


Why did Joseph’s action take courage? What does this imply about the absent disciples?

Mark 16: 1–3

Jesus has risen

16 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’


The women went to visit the tomb at the earliest opportunity. Why were they in such a rush? What were they expecting that morning?

Despite Jesus’ repeated promises, no one seemed to be anticipating anything unusual happening on that third day. The women went expecting to find a rapidly decomposing body shut inside a sealed tomb. Peter and the other male disciples didn’t even show up.


Considering what you’ve seen and learned of Jesus, might you have gone to check whether anything had happened? Why/why not? 


Why, considering what Jesus had promised, do you think the disciples were so closed to the possibility of his rising from the dead?

Mark 16: 4–8

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”’

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.


The tomb was open! What thoughts might have gone through the women’s minds when they saw the stone rolled back? How might they have tried to make sense of it?

The tombs had a low entrance tunnel leading to a burial chamber where bodies were laid on shelves cut into the wall. The women would have had to stoop or crawl to enter the chamber. 


The word translated ‘alarmed’ describes a mixture of fear, wonder, astonishment and distress. What was it about the young man’s appearance that may have caused this reaction?


Consider the stranger’s remarkable words. What insights into the situation does he display?

Mark has carefully named Salome and the two Marys as witnesses to Jesus’ death (Mark 15:40), the two Marys as witnesses of the burial (Mark 15:47) and now all three women as witnesses of the empty tomb.


Why do you think Mark emphasises the eyewitness evidence for these three events in particular? What alternative explanations are being ruled out?

This heavy reliance on women as eyewitnesses is significant, since, at the time, women were seen (by men, at least) as unreliable and their testimony was not accepted in court.


Considering this background, why would Mark take such care to name these women as eyewitnesses? What implications might this have for the reliability of Mark’s account?

The most reliable manuscripts end suddenly at Mark 16:8. Some suggest that the original ending has been lost, but, if this is indeed how Mark ends, he finishes with a punchline. Again and again, Jesus has been telling people not to say who he is or what he can do, yet no one could keep quiet. Now, at last, the women hear ‘Go, tell!’, but instead ‘they say nothing to anyone because they are afraid’!


We would expect the women to be thrilled at the thought that they might see Jesus alive. Why do you think they were so afraid that they kept silent?


Why might Mark have chosen to end his Gospel in this dramatic way?

The message that the women did, eventually, tell others recalls Jesus’ final words to the disciples: ‘You will all fall away … but after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee’ (Mark 14:27–28).


The message was for ‘the disciples and Peter’. Why do you think Peter was mentioned specifically? How would you feel, if you were Peter, on hearing that this message was also intended for you?

As other accounts make clear, the women, the disciples and Peter soon saw Jesus face to face. Over the next five or six weeks Jesus appeared to them and many others. He walked with them, ate with them, comforted them and taught them. These meetings were so obvious and tangible that not one of these once disbelieving and fearful disciples ever again denied what they had witnessed. Their testimony was uniform: Jesus, the one who was crucified, is alive.

What does this mean for us?

This was a wild, unorthodox claim then and it remains so today. It left the women confused and afraid, unable to make sense of what they’d seen. 


How hard do you find it to make sense of what you’ve heard about Jesus in Mark’s Gospel? 

Many, like Peter, struggle to see how Mark’s good news could possibly be meant for someone like them. 


Is there anything still holding you back from accepting the good news of Jesus for yourself?

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