“But Mary stood outside facing the tomb, crying. As she was crying, she stooped to look into the tomb. She saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet, where Jesus’ body had been lying. They said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? ” “Because they’ve taken away my Lord,” she told them, “and I don’t know where they’ve put Him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not know it was Jesus. “Woman,” Jesus said to her, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for? ” Supposing He was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you’ve removed Him, tell me where you’ve put Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said, “Mary.” Turning around, she said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” — which means “Teacher.” “Don’t cling to Me,” Jesus told her, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to My brothers and tell them that I am ascending to My Father and your Father — to My God and your God.” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord! ” And she told them what He had said to her.” (John 20:11-18 HCSB)
As mentioned last week, I wanted to pause our study in Mark for these two weeks as we celebrated Palm Sunday last week and as we celebrate Easter and His resurrection, this week. I hope you have a place to join with family and friends to worship and celebrate this incredible day. Last week we considered the Jesus’ concern over the people of Jerusalem and how the city that was to be the foundation of peace completely missed out on the SOURCE of peace that God sent – Jesus. If you are seeking peace, don’t overlook that story. Not only is Jesus the source of peace for the people of Jerusalem, He’s the source of peace for our lives, too. Don’t miss out on that.
This week, I want us to stop and consider the impact of His resurrection in Mary Magdalene’s life and how that might translate into hope and joy in our lives. Some of you reading these words may still question the truth of His resurrection. There are many who are fascinated by Jesus’ teachings but deny His deity, question His power and reject His authority over life and death.
So, I want to start by giving you several simple reasons why I believe the story of His resurrection:
1) The tomb was empty on Sunday morning and is confirmed by the Gospel accounts, Jewish religious authorities, the Roman soldiers and the historical accounts. That’s a fact you must address in some way.
2) The Jewish religious authorities responded to the fact of the empty tomb by bribing the Roman soldiers to tell everyone that “His disciples stole the body.” To disprove the resurrection claims the authorities only needed His body and it was never produced. In addition, if the disciples truly stole the body and made up the resurrection story then you must explain why they refused to recant and went to their death claiming the resurrection as fact and the basis of their faith in Jesus. Simply put, you don’t die for a story you know to be a lie.
3) The first and primary witnesses to the resurrection were the women whose testimony would not have been considered trustworthy. Why is this evidence for the accuracy and truthfulness of the Gospel accounts? If you’re going to make up a story as fantastic as Jesus’ resurrection, you don’t make the primary witnesses of the event women. Instead, you’d choose someone like Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus as the primary witnesses. Joseph and Nicodemus are included in the story, but not as the primary witnesses of the resurrection.
4) Finally, the most convincing proof of Jesus resurrection is the life and conversion of Saul of Tarsus. The church’s greatest enemy becomes its greatest champion after He encounters the resurrected Jesus on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus. In addition, Paul gives a detailed list of witnesses to the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.
Now, I want us to focus in on the the events in our focal passage in John 20. John tells us that he and Peter were informed of the resurrection by Mary. She and several other of the women had gone to the tomb early on Sunday morning to finish the burial process and to add additional embalming spices to the His dead body. When they discover the empty tomb, Mary runs to tell Peter and the others. While John doesn’t note the presence of the other women, the other Gospels do. This doesn’t discredit John’s account or theirs, he simply focuses in on Mary’s part of the story.
Notice that Mary doesn’t assume Jesus is alive, she assumes they’ve moved His body without their knowledge. When Peter and John hear Mary’s report of the missing Jesus, they immediately take off running for the tomb. John arrives first, stoops down, glances in and notices the linen cloths lying there but doesn’t go in. When Peter arrives he goes in and finds the linen cloths that John saw, but also notices something else – another cloth folded and lying separately from the others. Why take notice of a folded cloth? If someone had moved Him in an attempt to hide His body, they would not have folded the cloth. The folded cloth is a subtle sign of a resurrected Christ.
John’s next statements are not the words of someone who’s telling a tall tale. They are the words of someone humbled by his own lack of faith and understanding: “for they STILL (my emphasis) did not understand the Scripture that He must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went home again.” While John does say he entered the tomb, saw and believed, the real question is what did he believe? Did he believe Jesus was risen? It doesn’t seem so because he immediately states that they didn’t “understand the Scripture that He must rise from the dead.” He believed what he saw, he believed the tomb was empty and Jesus was not there. Perhaps his belief even extended beyond what he physically saw to heart-felt trust, trust in God and His plan. I think John saw, he saw beyond an empty tomb, beyond some linen cloths and deep down inside him belief began forming, forming hope and trust in his heart and mind.
But, let’s focus in on what happened with Mary. Mary of Magdala has had her life completely transformed by the love and power of this unbelievable man from Nazareth. She had lived many years under the power and authority of the oppressive evil spirits that controlled her mind and her actions. She was completely unworthy of God’s love, or so she thought, but Jesus changed all of that. Jesus’ power and authority was greater than the evil spirits that had controlled and oppressed her. He had driven them out, transformed her heart, renewed her mind and given her a new direction in life – walking with Him.
Now, He’s gone and she’s devastated. The authorities have killed Him, His friends have buried Him and she’s come to finish the difficult task of preparing His body for its final process – death and decomposition. The destruction of the One who had given her life, given her hope, given her love and purpose. But He’s gone now and she doesn’t know why or even where they’ve taken Him. She stands outside, facing the tomb and crying. Her hopes and dreams are shattered. She stoops down, looks in one last time and sees something completely unexpected – two angels clothed in bright white garments sitting where His body had been lying. They simply say, “Woman, why are you crying?” Why? Why? Can you hear the tone in her reply? “Because they’ve take away my Lord and I don’t know where they’ve put Him.” She turns away, but…
Someone is standing there and He repeats the question, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” She apparently can’t see clearly through grief stricken, tear filled eyes and assumes it is the caretaker: “Sir, if you’ve moved Him just tell me where you’ve put Him and I’ll take Him away.” These aren’t the words of a woman filled with faith and hope. No, these are the words of a woman filled with grief, desperation and agony.
But listen closely, He speaks to her. Calls her by name: “Mary.”
I’m not sure it is possible to put into words what happened to Mary in that moment. There’s only one person who has ever spoken to her like that, spoken her name with such love and compassion and she remembers it like it was yesterday. Can it be? How is it possible? Rabbouni/Teacher! Tears, doubt and fear are gone in an instant and replaced with elation, overwhelming joy and irrepressible hope. If you’ve never known that feeling, go back and read those words, again. Let them wash over you and, as they do, discover the hope that God might speak your name with that same kind of love and tender, compassionate care.
That, my friends, is the hope of Easter. It is the discovery that God has somehow turned the world upside down, changed everything. No longer are we trapped in the hopelessness of a pointless existence. No longer are we consumed by the fear of death. Sin no longer has authority to control us, evil no longer has the power to mock us, hatred no longer has the ability to blindly drive us. Why? Because the compassion of God has conquered sin, the power of God has destroyed evil and the love of God has surged into life and overwhelmed anger and hatred. Mary knew this because she’d experienced it, firsthand. When He spoke her name, all of that love, relief and joy came flooding back into her life and washed over the grief and swept the fear away.
John doesn’t tell us how Mary physically responded, but Jesus does… she grabs onto Him and she has no intention of letting go, ever again. He gently tells her, “Mary, don’t cling to me. I have not yet ascended to the Father.” This is not a rebuke, it is a promise. Mary had tasted the grief of losing Jesus, she wasn’t going to let that happen, again. She fell at his feet, grabbed onto Him, wrapped her arms around Him and was determined to never let go. But scripture says: “There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love.” (1 John 4:18 HCSB)
For a few dark hours that long weekend following Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary had felt her hope slip away as it was replaced by fear. But in an instant, it was driven out when He spoke her name: “Mary.” Mary wasn’t the only witness to the power of Jesus’ resurrection, just the first. Why her? Jesus had said of her, “because her many sins have been forgiven, that’s why she loves much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” (See Luke 7:47) You need to let those words penetrate your thoughts and settle onto your heart. You can only let them settle onto your heart because it takes the Holy Spirit to get them into it. Hear them once again: Only those who are forgiven much will love much…
That is the very reason so many scoff at Easter, ridicule the Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection and only see Him as a great prophet or religious teacher/preacher. They’ve never seen their need for His limitless grace and unfettered forgiveness, but Mary did. Do you? As your view of your own self-sufficiency and personal righteousness grows, your love for God and need for His grace diminishes. Not because you actually need it less, but because you believe you do. British author, G.K. Chesterton, wrote: “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” We see sin and the failure of mankind all around us, but often only in everyone else and never in ourselves.
For a moment, stop and recognize that if everyone in the world were just like you the world would not be better off – it would be just as doomed as it is now. See in yourself that same deep, deep need for God’s love and forgiveness that Mary saw in herself. If you’ll join her at the entrance to the empty tomb, weeping, looking for Him then I promise, you’ll hear Him speak your name. You’ll find that He’s been waiting there for you, all along. You’ll find love, grace, forgiveness, hope and life as you fall at His feet. Let Him forgive you deeply, completely and you’ll find that you’ll love Him more and more deeply, more completely, each day. Listen, He’s speaking your name…