If we built our theology upon our circumstances, none of us would be believers. Now we are the children of God, but it often neither looks nor feels like it. Just like everyone else, we get sick, wrestle to break bad habits, struggle in our marriages, and watch our children make immature, foolish decisions. And in the end, just like everyone else, we die.

If we are honest, some of us reading this article are disappointed. We are disappointed with life. We are disappointed with ourselves. And some of you are perhaps just a little bit disappointed with God, for you prayed, but He didn’t answer. You longed for peace, but He gave trouble. You dreamed dreams, but He sent nightmares. Perhaps you even feel bitter at the Almighty. Like Naomi, your life no longer fits your name (Ruth 1:20).

Let’s take a moment today and walk beside a group of disappointed women (Mark 16:1–8). As they trudge doggedly on toward Jesus’ grave, a litany of dashed expectations harangue their souls. For a while, it seemed that He could do anything: Jesus healed the sick, cleansed the leper, stilled the storm, banished the devil, and could even raise the dead. He saved others, but the one thing He couldn’t do was save Himself. As they traipsed through the pre-dawn gloom, whatever these women were expecting, it was not Easter.

However, these ladies have many lessons to teach us, the chief of which is that the way Jesus responds to our expectations will often surprise us. This, of course, raises the question: What, then, can we expect from Him?

He Will Be Faithful When We Least Expect It

The grave of Christ quietly proclaims this. The Suffering Servant was, after all, supposed to have been buried in a mass grave with the other felons, but then Joseph intervened, just as Isaiah had foretold eight hundred years before (Isa. 53:8–9). But unbelief has blinded their eyes to the sola Scriptura logic of faith. They can see only what’s just ahead of them. They haven’t the hands to reach through “reality” and lay hold of the invisible but even more real promise of God. Did you catch the gentle rebuke in the angel’s message? “[Jesus] is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:7). Jesus had told them, hadn’t He? Again, and again, and again (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33–34). Unbelief is the ultimate realist. Like the famous old detective, its mantra is: “Just give me the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.” In the minds of these women and the disciples, the facts were rather blunt; Jesus was dead, gravestone dead. But faith views facts differently. What is faith but the ability to see what most men never see and to hold what most men never touch (Heb. 11:1)? To the eye of faith, a whole new world of facts opens up—facts that are more real than all the certainties that this world has to offer.

He Will Be Merciful When You Don’t Deserve It

Though the Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about angels, one thing is certain: as God’s messengers, they do His will and not their own. The ability to improvise is not part of their job description. With that in mind, take a look at the angel’s appearance. It’s certainly on the least pyrotechnic end of angelic epiphanies. Normally in the Bible, when people see one of these celestial beings, they almost die with fright. But this one takes the appearance of a young man. Now, I have to confess, I have no idea how this works. Can angels dial down their brightness the way we do with our screens on a dark night, or do some angels look more spectacular than others? Whatever the case, we have to believe this rather understated angel was no accident. God knew these women were feeling a bit fragile. They couldn’t cope with shock and awe. Perhaps their heavenly Father also wanted their focus to remain on the angel’s word and not his appearance.

To the eye of faith, a whole new world of facts opens up—facts that are more real than all the certainties that this world has to offer.

The details of this message are all important for one disciple in particular, for the angel, as the spokesperson of Christ, proclaims, “Go tell my disciples and Peter” (Mark 16:7). I can’t imagine those words were haphazard, can you? Let’s imagine for a moment, as the angel receives this message from Jesus in heaven, that he asks a question: “Lord, why the extra verbiage? Isn’t briefer always better? Why not just say, ‘Go tell My disciples,’ for after all, isn’t Peter one of Your disciples?” Now, I know no self-respecting angel would ask such a question, but let’s imagine that he did. What do you think Jesus would have said in reply? I like to think it might have gone something like this: “Yes, of course, Peter is one of My disciples. You know that, and I know that. But right now, Peter isn’t so sure. And if you say, ‘Go tell My disciples,’ Peter will be wondering, ‘Well, what about me? Does He mean me as well?’ And so, when you go, make sure you don’t just say, ‘Go tell My disciples!’ but ‘Go tell My disciples and Peter!’ I have not left him out in the dark. He might have abandoned Me, but I will never abandon him. He is still one of My own.” 

Now, if Jesus had an “and Peter” for that faithless, impulsive hothead of a fisherman, He will have one for you, as well. Jesus will be merciful when you don’t deserve it.

He Will Be Fearful When You Finally Get It

One of the great themes of Mark’s Gospel is that when people finally figure out who Jesus is, they do not feel comfortable in His presence, for they find Him unnerving and uncanny and come away feeling more than a little afraid. We see this on the sea when Jesus rebukes the storming hurricane (Mark 4:39–41), when He masters the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:15), when the woman’s flow of blood stops with a touch (Mark 5:33), when Jesus walks on the turbulent waters of the sea (Mark 6:48–50), and again on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2–7).

Many scholars believe that Mark 16:8 marks the final verse of this Gospel. (The longer ending doesn’t appear in the earliest and best manuscripts.) If they are right, what a way for Mark to end his Gospel: Jesus comes to meet the disciples, and they are terrified at the thought. I wonder if Mark is gently reminding us all that Jesus is also coming to meet us, as well? How do you feel about that?

We tremble, of course, not because Jesus is terrible. He is not. His name is wonderful, so wonderful that even the seraphim, the burning angelic spirits created to live in the incandescent glory of God Himself, cannot bear the sight of His face. The Lion of the tribe of Judah roars with an undomesticated, heaven- and hell-shaking glory. So, with his last words, Mark gently corrects those who expect Jesus to be safe. Such an expectation won’t last a moment in His presence.


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on January 27, 2021.

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