Three Days (Easter 2020) – Mark 15:42-16:8

by Roger McCay
12 April 2020
Sermon Passage: Mark 15:42-16:8
Link to Audio Version

In three days, everything changed for everybody—despair was transformed into joy.

Every year, on the Friday before Easter we have Good Friday services, worshipping the Lord, remembering what Jesus did on the cross for us—his death and burial—his sacrifice, as the perfect lamb of God. He did this so that we might be forgiven, so that we might have life—eternal, abundant, joyful life. He did it to secure God’s people to himself, with the Lord as our God. The Lord Jesus died in our place, suffered so that we do not have to spend an eternity in hell. He took God’s wrath upon himself on that cross for our sins, even though he had never sinned. And in his death, we were redeemed, set free, in Christ—washed clean by the blood of the Lamb.

This year, however, we did not gather for worship on Friday evening, due to current events with this whole coronavirus thing, with the social distancing, and so forth. Nevertheless, that does not change one-bit what Jesus did on the cross for you.

Every year we also celebrate Easter, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead on the third day. In the normal (the regular gatherings and same-ole, same-ole), traditions of Easter may have gotten rather humdrum for some people; having become something taken for granted; a time to wear new clothes, get family pictures taken, come to church and sing of the resurrection, and hear a sermon on whatever resurrection passage the pastor chose for that year. It’s Routine. A comfortable routine. While routine can be very good and is a very human need, if we are not careful, routine can put us in a mindset of taking the extraordinary and wonderful for granted, when it has become the same-ole-same-ole.

But our routine has been changed these days, has it not?

We had originally hoped that we’d be gathered back together, not virtually, but together in person for worship this Easter. But that is not the case. We had, perhaps, romanticized this idea of coming out of our homes, like bursting from the grave, and gathering together at church, celebrating the resurrection as if we were being resurrected, too. So much for that.

In a way, it’s like we’ve been put on an extended fast from the ordinary things of our ordinary lives. Yet fasting is a regular spiritual discipline of God’s people. We do it for a reason—like we did this last week as a congregation. Fasting has a way of making us appreciate what we deny ourselves during the fast, when we can finally partake once again. Fasting also, in the depriving of the physical, focuses us on the spiritual disciplines, such as prayer.

In the extended, involuntary fast we are currently under (with most of us holed up at home; with only periodic excursions out for food or some such; or maybe just going for a walk since the gyms are closed) … in our extended fast, perhaps things (like gathering for worship on Sunday mornings, going to Sunday school and the evening service, meeting for Bible study, having our fellowship meals, and so forth), do not seem so routine and ordinary anymore. Perhaps, in this fast, Easter has become a little more special for us. I hope and pray that it has.

Still, in the normal (the non-coronavirus pandemic lockdown times) … in the normal, Jesus’ resurrection, due to our yearly Easter celebrations and hearing about it over and over through the year in one form or another, had, perhaps for some, taken on a sense of just being ordinary, like the script of a routine. “Okay, we got it, we hear this every year. Get on with it, pastor.”

But there is nothing normal about Easter Sunday this year. We have stepped outside the normal. Yet, the Lord tends to use the non-normal (even extreme trials of the soul), to get our hearts and minds in the right place to perceive, receive, and participate in his mighty works. Think on that.

The iconic pattern for such phenomena is seen in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. In three days, everything changed for everybody—despair was transformed to joy. Let us refresh our minds on what happened.

At 3 PM, the Friday he was crucified, Jesus died, finishing his work before the Sabbath began. Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, and a respected member of the Sanhedrin, who was, like Nicodemus, secretly a disciple of Christ, saw the urgency of needing to get Jesus buried in the next three hours. The Sabbath began at 6 PM, and it was a violation of the Law of Moses to bury someone on the Sabbath. So, if nothing was arranged, the Romans would throw Jesus in a common grave with the criminals. Joseph, a true believer, knew the Lord’s body must be treated with dignity and respect. Hence, he petitioned Pilate for Jesus’ body.

Now, Pilate was surprised to find out Jesus was already dead, as it usually takes a few days for the crucified to die. So, Pilate asked the centurion, who verified that Jesus was dead, if Jesus was actually dead. Finding out it was true, Pilate gave his permission for Joseph to take and bury the body. This was likely because Joseph was one of the Sanhedrin, and also because Pilate knew he had crucified an innocent man. So, he approved for political reasons and, perhaps, to ease his conscience.

Hence, Joseph, assisted by Nicodemus (as John tells us), took Jesus’ body down from the cross and hastily prepared the body for burial, wrapping him in a linen burial shroud with spices. They then put the body in Joseph’s own, already prepared tomb. So, there Jesus’ body lay. Dead on Friday at 3 PM and buried before 6 PM.

What were these three days like for Jesus? Well, we know Friday was particularly difficult, suffering and dying on a cross. Jesus was then under the power of death all through Saturday, the Sabbath, with his body lying at rest in a tomb. Thus, in The Apostles Creed, we confess: “Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.”

After those creedal statements, you may have noticed that at MPC we say “On the third day he rose again from the dead.” Some, who recite the creed, add, between those two statements, “He descended into Hell.” We do not say that because, as “the Hell clause” is written in the creed, it is an inaccurate, unbiblical statement. Jesus did not go to Hell. … Again, the Bible does not teach that Jesus went to Hell.

John Calvin, the great Reformer, knew this teaching was not in the Bible. So, he rationalized that the Hell Jesus went to was his suffering on the cross—thereby creating a work-around for the troublesome clause. Yet, the workaround itself is problematic. It means that when we say the creed including “the Hell clause,” we are saying that Christ was literally crucified, literally dead, literally buried, but metaphorically descended to Hell back when he was on the cross, and literally rose again on the third day. This workaround is inconsistent with the thrust of the language of the creed.

The Westminster Larger Catechism, question 50, handles it this way. It says,

“Christ’s humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell.”

So, like Calvin’s workaround, the Westminster “divines” gave the creed’s plain statement a meaning that it does not say.

True, Jesus suffered a metaphorical hell on the cross; and true, Jesus was “under the power of death till the third day.” Yet, the unmodified creed says that after Jesus died, he descended into hell (a place of suffering). The Scriptures give absolutely zero support to the interpretation that he went to Hell and suffered while he was dead.

It was Jesus’ death on the cross that atoned for our sins. It was finished (John 19:30). There was no need for him to go to hell. This is why many churches either delete the phrase (as we do) or they change it to say, “he descended into the dead”—a change which is, frankly, redundant, as we had just said he was dead and buried.

What the Scriptures do teach, is that immediately after Jesus’ death, he was glorified by the Father in Paradise (Heaven). For example, John 13:31-32 speaks to God the Father’s being glorified in Jesus’ suffering and his death on the cross (glory displayed, revealed, and achieved), with God the Father then glorifying the Son immediately after his death on the cross. Further, when Jesus died, “he gave up his spirit” into the Father’s hands (Luke 23:46). When Jesus died, he immediately was in the presence of the Father. Then, of course, there is the promise in Luke 23:43, where Jesus’ told the thief on the cross (“today you will be with me in Paradise”). Today!

Jesus did not go to Hell when he died; Jesus was immediately glorified upon his death, by the Father, in Paradise (Heaven). Rather than suffering in Hell, over the three days Jesus was dead, he experienced a renewal of his communion with the Father—after the Father had forsaken him on the cross. The Father glorified the Son, and then the Lord rested in Paradise until the Sabbath rest was over, while his body lay in the tomb.

Think of that, Jesus kept the Sabbath, even when he was dead. He didn’t go down to Hell for some work on the Sabbath. He was resting. His work was finished on the cross. He rested on the Sabbath. Then, early on Sunday morning, the third day, Jesus rose from the dead.

Which, by the way, is why the first century church (under apostolic direction) began the practice of worshipping on Sunday—to celebrate the risen Christ.

Following his resurrection on Sunday, Jesus went to Galilee, just as he had told his disciples he would in Mark 14:28: after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”

So, what were these three days like for the disciples? Over Friday and Saturday, it was rather a mix of experiences.

For the centurion, who confessed Jesus was the Son of God at the cross, it was a time of witness and marvel.

For Joseph of Arimathea, it was a time for courage (v. 43). Jesus’ death had a great impact on him, causing him to come out of hiding, and acknowledge before all that he was a disciple. He was probably the only one who could do what he did at that time. So, he bolstered himself and took care of the body of the Lord.

For the women disciples, the two Mary’s and Salome, in a similar way to Joseph, it was a time of great courage. They were there when Jesus died, and then the two Mary’s witnessed his being taken down from the cross by Joseph, and witnessed Jesus’ hasty burial. So, they knew exactly where his body was laid. And, they took note that Jesus’ body needed to be more thoroughly prepared, to be anointed, with spices.

Yet, the twelve disciples were hiding in terror. For them (and undoubtedly for Joseph and the ladies and all the other disciples, too), it was also a time of desperation, sorrow and despair. For Peter, having denied Christ, it was a time of crushing guilt. Strangely, they had apparently forgotten, or they just didn’t believe, Jesus’ repeated promise that he would be resurrected (8:31; 9:9, 31; 10:34). Perhaps in the face of Jesus’ corpse, it was too much. All hope was crushed.

So, Friday and Saturday were a time of mourning and despair at the death of Jesus, whom they loved, and of their hopes being shattered that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Was it all a lie? What went wrong? How could this happen? What are we going to do? Now that they killed Jesus are they going to hunt us down and kill us too? There’s no hope! All is lost! …

But that’s not the end of the story. The sun rose on Sunday morning.

The two Mary’s and Salome woke up very early on Sunday, the first day of the week, and brought spices in order to anoint Jesus’ body, which they had seen buried in haste. Knowing exactly where Jesus’ body was laid, they headed to the tomb. Yet, when they got there, they were astonished to find the large stone that sealed the entrance rolled away, and the tomb wide-open. Verses 5-6:

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.

Jesus’ body was gone. Yet, a young man, as Mark describes him, a messenger for Jesus (an angel – Matt. 28:5), was waiting for them, and he reassured them: “He has risen,” and he pointed out that Jesus had gone. The angel then passed on to the women Jesus’ message (v. 7):

“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.”

The revelation was quite a shock to these blessed ladies, and v. 8 tells us:

“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.”

Now, in your Bibles, there is probably a note after v. 8, unless you are using a King James Version, saying “Some of the Earliest Manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.” This is because the passages we have after v. 8 in Mark 16 were added in a later century by scribes. Those passages are not Scripture any more than the notes in your Study Bible are Scripture.

It is from the other gospels that we find out what happens next. Matt. 28:8 describes the women’s emotions at the news of being “with fear and great joy,” describing a holy awe. And, though they initially remained silent, that quickly changed. Matt 28:9 tells us,

“Behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

Jesus’ appearance turned these ladies fear into full-on joy. Then, at Jesus’ behest, the ladies went on to Peter and the disciples and proclaimed the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.

Hence, on Sunday, the disciples went from crushing despair to great joy; from shattered hopes, to awe at God’s great work; from unbelief, to belief in the resurrected Christ. Sunday became a time for rejoicing and worship, and God’s people have continued that joy and worship on Sunday ever since.

We all know the feelings that the disciples felt on Friday and Saturday. We know guilt; we know desperation; we know sorrow; we know what it means to mourn; and, perhaps, we also know despair. In general, it is as Kent Hughes states:

There are more people living today in the despair and darkness of dark Saturday “than have ever lived in the drama of Friday or the victory of Easter.

As Ray Stedman has written

Someone has called our present generation “Saturday’s children,” and it is an apt term. Our great American cities are, for the most part, teeming with pools of human misery where people live out their days in a kind of ritual dance toward death …. In the midst of an increasingly godless world, despair grips people’s hearts everywhere. Hopelessness and meaninglessness come crushing in on us from every side.[1]

Hughes continues:

Without the Resurrection, we are all Saturday’s children. We may see that Christ has done a heroic thing on the Cross. We may even see it as the consummate act of love in the universe. But there is no power in it! “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor. 15:13-14).[2]

The thing is, Jesus was resurrected, and this vindicates our faith. It proves that his work was victoriously completed on the cross, approved by the Father, and is effectual for our salvation.

United in Christ in his resurrected and glorified state, we live and are free. We are dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:2-11). Sin has no hold on us. We are saved. We are immortal. And we have an eternal, loving relationship with God.

Believers are not Saturday’s children. We are, as Hughes says, “Sunday’s children.”[3] Christians live every day in the joy and hope of Sunday. We express our joy and hope in witness and proclamation of the gospel; the study of the Word; meaningful prayer; and we worship in Spirit and truth.

These expressions of joy and hope, these spiritual disciplines, are also not just something we do on Sunday morning at 1100. These are ways of life, disciplines of life throughout the week. This is why we don’t despair when circumstances keep us from all meeting together in the sanctuary to worship. We do not starve for worship. We do not starve for the Lord’s Word. We feast on the bread of life (John 6:35).

We live in joy because we live within the sure hope in Jesus Christ. We don’t force joy. It bubbles forth from within us. It’s not a, “Man, I have to have joy,” thing. It is a fruit of the Spirit. With the Holy Spirit in you, empowering you, as you follow Jesus upon the path of righteousness, joy is yours. No matter what is going on in your life, even amid depression, anxiety, and all the uncertainty of a coronavirus pandemic, Jesus’ work on the cross stands. His resurrection is an absolute fact. Your hope in Jesus is secure in heaven by the power of God, and you can rejoice in the Lord (1 Peter 1:3-7).

So, ask yourself, are you living in the sorrow and despair of Friday and Saturday, or are you living in the joy and hope of Sunday?

If you are stuck in the misery of Friday and Saturday (and I’m not referring to a period of time here and there where the troubles of life really gets you down and you feel as if your joy has gone), but stuck, as in that is the state of your whole life—how you live your life. If this is you, don’t just keep slogging along. Look deep down inside yourself and consider whether you are truly following Jesus in faith and repentance. Consider whether you have ever truly believed. And if you haven’t. Trust in Jesus. Follow Jesus in repentance of faith.

If you follow Jesus in faith, as he has called us to follow him, you live in his resurrected life. You have all the spiritual blessings of Christ.

It is in Jesus we find our joy. Rejoice! Rejoice! No matter what’s going on in the world and your life, rejoice in the Lord! “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!”

He is risen! Rejoice in him!

Since Jesus was resurrected on the third day, Christians should live every day in joy.


[1] Ray C. Stedman, Expository Studies in Mark 8—12: The Ruler Who Serves (Waco, TX: Word, 1981), 209, 210, quoted in R. Kent Hughes, Mark: Jesus, Servant and Savior, vol. 2, Preaching the Word (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989), 215.

[2] R. Kent Hughes, Mark: Jesus, Servant and Savior, vol. 2, Preaching the Word (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989), 215.

[3] Ibid, 217.