The impact of Jesus’ death is impossible to over emphasize. He touched lives in real time – like the Centurion at the foot of the cross and the women who went to anoint his body. But he also touched lives hurtling through time and space right into your very own living room. It’s a remarkable thing. And embedded in this story of some of the details of those eventful days surrounding his crucifixion, we find a plethora of astonishing lessons. Today I’d like to look at the implications of just one of them. Let’s talk about rolling stones, shall we?
In order to get the full context of Mark 16, we need to read the parallel accounts in Luke 24, John 20, and Matthew 28 as well. The Gospels are always best read in-tandem like this in order to glean all of the details. Different events are emphasized in each of the gospels and I am not dogmatic about the sequence in my interpretation here. When we weave the resurrection morning accounts all together we find it appears there had been a “severe earthquake” prior to the women approaching Jesus’ tomb. The guards (placed there by the chief priests to make sure no one stole the body- cp. Mt. 27:62-66) had witnessed an angel who descended from heaven whose “appearance was like lightning and his garment white as snow”. Frightened to their very core, they saw him roll away the “extremely large” burial stone and sit down on it. Their fear was so great that they were described as “dead men.” This all may have occurred before dawn, and these terrified Roman soldiers had likely fled for their lives since we know that some of them went to report the events to the chief priests. (Mt. 28) They are not mentioned when “very early in the morning” the faithful women approached the tomb “with spices that they might come and anoint him”. The women sorrowfully discuss how they will accomplish their mission since the stone covering the tomb was far too heavy for them to budge. (Mk. 16)
When the ladies get there, however, they find, to their great astonishment, that the “very great” stone has been rolled away! And two angels are there. One of them describes how Jesus had prophesied to them that he would die and rise again. He then invites them into the tomb. A third angel (or the second one gone in?) looks like a “young man” and sits at the right side of Jesus’ burial place. He too repeats the message that Jesus is risen, and directs them to go share the good news with the disciples. And it was good news indeed! Good news represented succinctly by that rolled stone. All four Gospels point out the stone. Stones are important Bible symbols and this one becomes a focus of the narrative. The stone is immovable for the women. When we are reading our Bibles we must take special note of such things.
That’s what got me to thinking. After Jesus was resurrected, he himself could have spoken to that stone and had it move (rather than an angel doing it). Or, if he was raised before the door was opened, he still could have passed through the walls (like we know he did in later appearances to the disciples – cp. Jn. 20:19.) Why were an earthquake and angels necessary? Why does God emphasize this rolling stone? Why did he emphasize an empty tomb to the on-looking world – including Gentile soldiers? A quick concordance search on the term, “rolled away,” lead me to some remarkable answers. My first discovery was that the same term is used in 3 of the 4 Gospel accounts. That is definitely a giant blinking neon arrow pointing to its importance (in a respectful scriptural way 😀). My next discovery was that the only other place that phrase is used in scripture is Joshua 5:9.
Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.
Hmmm. The reproach of Egypt. Egypt represents a place God delivers from. It represents sin and slavery. It represents unbelieving people who scorn God and His chosen ones. In the context of Joshua, this contempt is rolled away from them in a new beginning when they re-commit to the covenant between themselves and God. The timing here is just after they have crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. They set up 12 stones of remembrance. And they observe the Passover right after God declares He has rolled away their reproach. It became a long-term encampment for them as they worked to conquer the land of idolatry that God had promised through their forefathers; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He will pass before to open the way of deliverance for them. Plenty of mental fodder for connections, isn’t there?
And Gilgal – the name Joshua gives this place – means “a wheel, rolling.” Because the reproach of Egypt was rolled away there by God. I discovered that it was also in Gilgal – several generations later -that another highly significant change was made for the nation. Gilgal was specially selected as the location where Saul was anointed as the first king of Israel. The prophet Samuel calls it a time to “renew the Kingdom there.” They “offered sacrifices and peace offerings before the Lord: and “rejoiced greatly.” 1 Samuel 11:14-15 Another new era was rolled in for God’s people.
And that brings us back to the tomb. Rejoicing angels were sent to open the way for us and to declare God’s Son was risen indeed. The best new beginning of all! God provided Jesus to roll away the reproach of shame/sin for us. Permanently. Establishing a new relationship with God through deliverance from sin (cp. The reproach of Egypt) and through a perfect King (cp. Saul). Our own Gilgal of renewal of covenant. Not through our own doing. But through a gracious God who invites us to approach Him through His gracious son’s obedient sacrifice. He invites us (people who were incapable of moving that stone of reproach) into an empty tomb – to declare to us that He will save all who approach him through His Son. The Son/ King who bore our reproach and died once for all as the Passover Lamb that we might no more be slaves to sin.
For zeal for Your house has consumed me, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.
Surely our griefs he himself bore, and our sorrows he carried; yet we ourselves esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon him, and by his scourging we are healed.
We are to walk with those wonderful women so long ago, in faithful devotion outside the city “bearing his reproach.” And with them to return rejoicing with unspeakable thanksgiving and joy. Hebrews 13:13 We are to be changed by this encounter.
Therefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people through his own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. Through him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.
We are to understand that, in love, God provided the mechanism for human salvation over and over again in new beginnings that culminated in the sacrifice of His son. God sent the angels to roll away the stone and announce Jesus’ resurrection because the angels too, have always been a part of this great salvation celebration. Think of that angel’s consummate joy as he sat there on that stone! They have always ministered to God’s people, and he realized intensely just what had been accomplished on that resurrection morn on behalf of the people to whom he ministered throughout time. Angels are the chosen heralds of the good news of God’s coming peace on earth and good will toward men – The hope of believers. The ultimate fulfillment of entering the Promised Land is The Kingdom of God on earth with Jesus as the righteous king.
A verse in Hebrews reminds us of the choice we must make to be a part of that joyful time – as people who choose to be delivered from Egypt into a promised Kingdom. It sums up so many of the beautiful threads we have followed in this study. We, like Moses, must
Choose rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.
I wanted to conclude with this marvelous song that describes the Resurrection Morning. It is written and performed by Jim Croegaert and is entitled, “Was It a Morning Like This?” In this Youtube video it is illustrated by children’s drawings of that eventful day that changed everything for those who would approach God.
Let’s resolve to rejoice in this story like a little child. The stone rolled away is a beacon that declares he is risen and invites us to come see for ourselves what great things God can do. Both now and in the coming age. Hallelujah!