John invites us to witness this drama played out on an early morning inspring in a cemetery outside of Jerusalem.
He especially wants to focus our attention on one person – MaryMagdalene. Though the other Gospels namethe rest of the women who were with her that morning at the tomb – Mary motherof James, Joanna, Salome – John introduces only Mary Magdalene and shows us howshe experienced the events of this incredible morning and the impact the eventsof that morning made on her.
Perhaps it is Mary’s background that makes her such a powerful exampleof the transforming work of the Lord in her life.
·Luke tells usabout a woman from whom Jesus drove seven demons – that was Mary.
·The woman whoshowed up uninvited at Simon the Pharisee’s dinner party and washed Jesus’ feetwith her tears – tradition tells us that was Mary.
·The one who brokethe alabaster jar of perfume and poured it on Jesus’ head – and was scolded bythe disciples as wasteful – some suggest that was the same Mary.
Again and again, this woman whom Luke describes as a sinful woman, aprostitute, but who had experienced the incredible forgiveness and cleansingthat Jesus gave, displays her devotion to the one who gave her back her life.
And here on the third day after Jesus’ death on the cross it is Marywho has come to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. But what she finds is an empty tomb with thestone rolled away. Her grief is suddenlyturned to disbelief and shock. She runsback to where the disciples were gathered and tells Peter and John.
Her footsteps are retraced as John and Peter race back to the tomb tosee what she is talking about – their own eyes confirm what Mary has told them– the tomb is empty, the body of their Lord is gone.
Do not miss John’s parenthetical comment here in vs. 9 – it is crucial to understanding why theyare all filled with shock and dismay – “They stilldid not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”
You see, this side of the resurrection we know what has alreadyhappened and for us it is simply an old story too often told – we already know“the rest of the story” – and we have lost the initial emotion it must havestirred. But for these disciples, it wasthe end of their world; it was crushed dreams and shattered lives.
John and Peter return to their homes, this time feet dragging and headsbowed. But Mary remains at thetomb. Grief has now been immersed indespair. Even the one physical reminderof her Lord has disappeared.
Nearly overcome, and weeping, she leans over and looks once more intothe empty tomb – but instead of seeing the dismal darkness, there are twoangels clothed in white sitting where the body once lay. They ask her, “Whyare you crying?”
She sobs, she cries, “They have taken myLord away, and I don’t know where they have put him.”
Another voice, this time behind her – “Woman,why are you crying?”
She spins around to find another man she does not recognize – sheassumes he is the gardener. She thinks,maybe he can tell her where Jesus has been taken.
Perhaps she doesn’t recognize him through her tears – maybe it issimply the unexpectedness of finding him there – but John tells us it is Jesus.
And then he speaks a word, one simple word – “Mary” – and suddenly the veil islifted and the recognition floods over her as she cries out “Rabonni” and falls athis feet.
I know it’s impossible to step in and know what Mary was thinking andfeeling at that moment. But I amespecially fascinated by the irony that is present – we know what we knowbecause John has (like a good narrator) given us more information than thecharacters – contrasted with Mary’s own very natural reactions because she isunaware of what is about to happen – the unfolding of this event which willshape the rest of human history.
What is so ironic is the unexpectedness of it all – the resurrectioncame as a complete surprise. How manytimes Jesus had told them what would happen, and yet as they stand in the midstof it, they have no clue as to what has just taken place.
Jn 2:19 “Destroy this temple,and I will raise it again in three days.”
Jn 11:25“I am theresurrection and the life.”
Jn 16:16 “Ina little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you willsee me.”
Mt 12:40 “For as Jonah wasthree days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish so the Sonof Man will be three days and threenights in the heart of the earth.”
Mt16:21 Even the chiefpriests and Pharisees remembered Jesus’ claim and told Pilate, “we remember that while he was still alive thatdeceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’”
And yet now, we find Mary in grief and shock, with no notion thatsomething else could have happened except that someone has taken the body.
How much different are we?Promise after promise from God, and yet, we go about our lives as thoughhe had never spoken.
Paul will write to the Corinthian church, “Therefore,if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new hascome!” To the Colossians, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set yourhearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not onearthly things.”
Yet, we live lives hopelessly chained to the old man, dominated by theworld’s values, living in fear of the very thing Christ defeated at theresurrection.
The irony grows with the drama – as Mary bends over to look into thetomb, and sees the two heavenly angels, there is no recognition. Jesus speaks and she still remains blind toreality. She is in diligent search,questioning Jesus himself, where the body has been taken, yet in the diligenceof her search she fails to recognize the very one she seeks.
How much like Mary we are.Seeking the desire of our heart – success, independence, security,education, family, happiness – in the process we brush by Jesus as though he isthe one who keeps us from our pursuits.We neglect to worship him, to study his word, to put our lives in hiscontrol, because we think that he will keep us from what we truly seek.
When in truth, the very one that we should be seeking is Jesus. Those very things we invest our lives in soheavily that we sacrifice our spiritual lives, Jesus says, “the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenlyFather knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and hisrighteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
All of those things we think are so important, yet Jesus reminds us, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world,yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
The key to this passage, and perhaps to our own dilemma, comes whenJesus speaks one word, “Mary.” Suddenly she recognizes Jesus. But until that moment she had not expected tosee him, could not have dreamed she would find the one she was looking foralive and standing before her.
Her reaction is understandable – she is so overjoyed she falls at hisfeet and holds on for dear life. Morethan anything, she wants him to be there with her, his tangible presencereassuring her that it is all right.
But Jesus says, “Do not hold on to me, for Ihave not yet returned to my Father.”Jesus’ ultimate purpose lay, not in coming back to earth to live in bodilyform – his mission now was not on earth, but in heaven. He had already promised them, “I am going to prepare a place for you…” and a few verses later, “I will not leave you alone, as orphans, I will send one tobe with you and walk beside you…”
How desperately we want some reassurance of his presence – we want tocling to him and we bring him down to our level. Like Thomas we want some demonstration thatwill remove all doubts and force us to believe.
But we, like Mary -- as long as Jesus remains dead -- his resurrectiononly so much wishful thinking -- the Savior a distant, impersonal figure thatis, for practical purposes an historical person with no relevance for real life– we remain blind to his presence and his power.
But when we hear the call that Jesus makes: “Mary… Scott ..., Nancy..., John…” thensuddenly it is a call that is personal, that demands we see him in all hisglory, that opens our eyes and fills us with hope.
The impossibilitybecame reality – it defied everything they (and we) know to be possible. But God has never been bound by possibilities– and in fact, he uses those things which are impossible, unbelievable,unexpected to cloth his purposes in faith.
I hope for youthat the resurrection is not an odd little historical footnote, but a personalreality that transforms your life day in and day out.
It is not optional – for Paul, Peter, for all of the disciples it wasthe heart of the Christian’s faith. Toreject it or minimize its importance is to nullify God’s promise and neutralizethe good news that Jesus Christ has come to save us from our sin and give us aplace with God forever in heaven.
The gospel – the good news – has its roots in that empty tomb outsideof Jerusalem, where two angels said, “Why do seekthe living among the dead? He is nothere, he has risen, just as he said.”
Let me close with a couple ofstories:
In the 1904, the U.S.Congress issued a special edition of Thomas Jefferson's Bible. It was a simple copy of our Bible with allreferences to the supernatural eliminated.Using a razor, Jefferson cut and arranged those verses from the Bible hebelieved were the essence of Jesus teaching.He described the verses he selected as diamonds in a dunghill. Jefferson, in selecting what to include orexclude, had confined himself solely to the moral teachings of Jesus,eliminating all references to the supernatural, to miracles, or even Jesus’deity, believing that Jesus was only a great teacher of morals, and not in anysense the Son of God. The closing wordsof Jefferson's Bible are: "Therelaid they Jesus and rolled a great stone at the mouth of the sepulcher anddeparted." He believed that Jesus’story ended at the grave. Thank God thereal gospel ends with the news that "he has risen, just as he said."
Contrast that with the story told by Margaret Sangster Phippen of herfather, British minister W. E. Sangster, who in the mid 1950’s began to noticesome uneasiness in his throat and a dragging in his leg. When he went to thedoctor, he found that he had an incurable disease that caused progressivemuscular atrophy. His muscles would gradually waste away, his voice would fail,his throat would soon become unable to swallow.
Sangster threw himself intohis work in British home missions, figuring he could still write and he wouldhave even more time for prayer. "Let me stay in the struggle Lord,"he pleaded. "I don't mind if I can no longer be a general, but give mejust a regiment to lead." He wrote articles and books, and helped organizeprayer cells throughout England. "I'm only in the kindergarten ofsuffering," he told people who pitied him.
Gradually Sangster's legsbecame useless. His voice went completely. But he could still hold a pen,shakily. On Easter morning, just a few weeks before he died, he wrote a letterto his daughter. In it, he said, "It is terrible to wake up on Eastermorning and have no voice to shout, 'He is risen!' – but it would be moreterrible still to have a voice and not want to shout."
Posted on Sun, April 4, 2010
by John Roberts