John 20:1-18 (NIV) 1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)10 Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
Mary Magdalene had been a faithful follower of Jesus. She had traveled in the company of the disciples after Jesus cast seven demons our of her. Seven demons. What would life be like having seven demons controlling you? Can you imagine having seven competing voices, seven compelling inclinations, seven forces inhabiting your body, your mind? Seven forces coming against you and perhaps even competing with each other while sharing the end goal of tormenting and destroying you? If there was ever a showdown between the power of God and the forces of Hell it was when Jesus set Mary Magdalene free.
No wonder she followed Jesus. He gave her life. He gave her peace. He gave her sanity. He gave her a hope and a future. She wasn’t going to let Jesus out of her sight. Her healing was tied to Jesus. Her hope was tied to Jesus. Her future was tied to Jesus. Jesus had given her new life. She followed Him as long and as far as she could. She went all the way to the foot of the cross. She watched Him die.
What would have gone through her mind that Resurrection morning? Was she afraid her demons would return? Was she wondering if her healing would be reversed? Did she fear what the future would look like without Jesus in it? Would she have considered life over as she had come to know it? Were there already satanic whispers in her ear trying to confuse her about what her heart and mind had come to know?
Having traveled with the disciples she had heard Jesus’ teaching. There was no shortage of talk about the resurrection. Jesus predicted His death and resurrection several times. His followers had seen Him raise Lazarus from the dead. Resurrection wasn’t a new idea. An empty tomb shouldn’t have been such a surprise. It should have been a confirmation, but Mary wasn’t thinking clearly. After hearing Jesus teach about what would happen to Him, the empty tomb should have been what Mary had expected to find. But grief is loud. It is heavy. It can blur a person’s perspective and shroud a person’s heart. Perhaps her tears clouded her eyesight. She mistook Jesus for the Gardener. But when Jesus spoke, when He called her by name, the light of the situation, the revelation of the Resurrection came flooding into view.
When Jesus spoke Mary’s name, the reality of the Resurrection was undeniable. No one could ever tell Mary from that moment on that Jesus was dead. No one could convince her that her future was compromised. No one could argue that her hope was gone. When Jesus spoke Mary’s name, when she SAW that He was alive, no one could ever tell her He was a thing of the past, that He had come and gone, and that He was no longer Someone to believe in and to follow. No. When Jesus spoke Mary’s name, the joy and confidence, the peace and hope, the safety and security that she had experienced as a Christ-follower, returned. It was instantaneous and forever.
Perhaps you are watching this morning and you have relegated Jesus to an historical figure, a Person of the past, a good teacher, an inspiring figure, someone who would have blown up Instagram and You Tube with billions of followers had He lived today, but someone of outdated influence. Maybe you haven’t allowed yourself to embrace the reality of the Resurrection. I just want you to take a moment now and ask Jesus to call you by name. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Ask Him to remove any barrier, any distraction, and to silence any negative thought about who He was and is.
This I know, we have more archaeological, historical evidence first-hand testimony to verify the life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ than any other ancient happening, and yet people many still haven’t “seen” the Risen Christ to themselves. If there is one thing I know for sure, it is that Jesus wants to reveal Himself to you today, and once He calls you by name, you will no longer be able to deny that He was and is and will forever be. And when that happens, you will have to decide if you will embrace or reject Him which is your choice to make, but you will not be able to refute that the reason the tomb is empty is because Jesus rose from the dead.
Well, Mary embraced Jesus. She reached out to touch Him. She thought she had lost Him once before, and she was going to hold onto Him this time. And He replied in verse 17:
“Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.
When Jesus said that, when Jesus spoke, a new kind of Relationship was established.
Mary was no longer going to have Jesus physically present with her. When He had previously told the disciples that He was going away, He meant it. The plan was still the plan. He was leaving the earth. He was returning to Heaven, but that wasn’t going to be the end of the relationship, friends. It was like Jesus was saying, “But wait, there’s more!” The Resurrection wasn’t going to be the end of the miracles God would do on the earth. It wasn’t Jesus’ last Hurrah! Oh, Jesus was Heaven-bound, but His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, was going to descend in a miraculous and mighty way and take over, possess, and literally fill the hearts and lives of those who would follow after Christ. Jesus would inhabit the earth in multiplied ways as He inhabited the hearts of His followers.
The plan was still unfolding. There was more coming. Jesus’ work on Calvary was finished, but more work would be accomplished through the new kind of way that Jesus’ people would experience Him. Again, Jesus had prepared His disciples for all of it. He told them in John 16 that He was leaving, and that it was for their benefit. He was going, but the Counselor, the Holy Spirit would come in His place. He said that the Holy Spirit would speak to Jesus’ followers and would instruct them about the future, that the Holy Spirit would make known the things of Jesus to believers, and that He would guide them into all truth.
Oh, so many of Jesus’ teachings were all making sense to Mary. Her heart must have been smiling from rib to rib as she began to put two and two together, as she recalled His teaching and knew that things were not only NOT over, but they were about to be ramp up. For Jesus had told His disciples in John 14:17 that the Holy Spirit would live IN them. They were going to move from an external knowing and following to an internal empowering and fellowship. There would be a relational shift from Christ with them to Christ in them!
Jesus was saying, “Mary, our relationship is about to take a turn for the better. Things are going to get even more personal, even more powerful. Mary, you thought it was great to have seven demons cast out of you? Just wait until the Holy Spirit is deposited into you. Just wait until we are together 24/7. Just wait until My thoughts become your thoughts. Just wait until my works become your works. Just wait until we are moving together as one to let the world know who God is.” Oh, this is getting good. Are you shoutin’ “amen” at home?
My friends, the Resurrection wasn’t the end of the story, but it paved the way for the kind of relationship that God has wanted with us all along. The Resurrection didn’t just open Heaven to us, but it opened our hearts to the Spirit of God.
Have you had a resurrection in your heart yet? You see, Mary couldn’t hold onto Jesus in His physical form because He still had another job to do. He was going, John 14:2, to Heaven to prepare a place for us, but in His place, One was coming that would dwell in us forever. Jesus, in His physical form, could only be in one place at one time, but the Spirit of God who was poised to come to believers would be everywhere present all over the earth and would personally and powerfully indwell those who would choose to follow Jesus. That’s the new kind of relationship Jesus signaled with His words to Mary.
Have you experienced that transition? Is Jesus living on the inside of your heart? Have you welcomed Him in? Once you hear Him speak your name and know the reality of the Resurrection, you have an opportunity to welcome Jesus into your heart and your every day life, minute by minute. Oh, I’ve got to tell you that Jesus came into my heart when I was five years old and we have lived life together ever since. The Holy Spirit has filled me, anchored me to peace, joy, and hope, has given me insight into God’s Word, has guided my path, has given me ways to serve God, and has given me power to say “No” to the devil and in those moments that I have taken the wrong path, the Holy Spirit has gently said, “Wanna start over? Let me help you get back on track.” “O what a wonderful change in my life has been wrought since Jesus came into my heart. I have light in my soul for which long I had sought since Jesus came into my heart!”
Jesus wasn’t telling Mary to let go of Him in the sense that He wanted her to leave Him alone, to disconnect from Him, but He was inviting her to experience Him in a fuller and more permanent way. He invites us to do the same.
Jesus went on in verse 17 to say, Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary Magdalene, the one who had been delivered from seven demons, was commissioned as the first preacher of the Gospel. She was to “go and tell” the others about her encounter with the Risen Lord.
Oh, when Jesus spoke, a new Responsibility was issued to Mary. I’m not really even sure we can view the sharing of this awesome news as a responsibility. It’s really more of a privilege, isn’t it? Do we still believe the Gospel is “Good News?” It is the BEST news! It is life-changing news! Don’t we love sharing Good News?
I know we love sharing. If there is anything this time period in history will be known for it is how openly and often people share their thoughts, feelings, and accomplishments on our social media. We love to share. We love sharing what we made for dinner. For crying out loud, we take pictures of our plates and post them on our social media. We love sharing about the accomplishments of our children. When they make the Dean’s List, when they win the tournament championship we are proudly posting about their success. It doesn’t even have to be a big moment, friends, let’s face it, we’ll share anything… a lost tooth, a successful potty training moment, the riding of a bicycle without training wheels, our quarantine haircut on the porch. Yes, I went live on FB when Thom cut Josh’s hair on the porch this past Thursday. I’m a sharer. I don’t have to tell you. I’m always posting something. We have no trouble sharing those things. We’re happy to post about our anniversaries, graduations, weddings, and nothing is bigger online these days than a gender reveal. Am I telling the truth? We don’t have a sharing problem!
But why is it that what we made for dinner, how our pets look after their grooming, and our vacation pictures often get more press than the Good News that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead? I know I opened the message kind of soft and fluffy, but folks, I am coming in kind of hot on this responsibility point. If you are a believer, you have a responsibility to talk about the empty tomb. It’s fun to see someone posting that they are in a relationship, but how about we all start talking about being in a relationship with the Risen Lord? Hey listen, right now, we have a captive audience! People are online more than ever looking for connection and comfort. They’re bored. They want someone to talk to. They are scrolling the internet looking for some status that has weight, value, and hope.
It has been so wonderful this week to have so many of our church members sharing videos about what Easter means to them on our church FB page. Their friends, whether personal or just online acquaintances will view them in a new light as they watch and will begin to watch their lives for the evidence of the relationship to which they are testifying. Christ will be streaming through their lives in new dimensions for those people. People will start to recognize Jesus in them. It will happen.
That same question that Mary asked of the person she thought was the Gardener, “Where is He?” will start to be asked more and more by people during this pandemic. Where is God when our hope seems threatened? Where is God when our fears are real? Where is God when our future looks uncertain? Where is God when a boulder has been rolled in front of the doorway to our dreams? Trust me, people are wondering, and if they aren’t asking out loud we need to start the conversation and give them the answer that can get them through. What is the answer to where is God right now? If you are a Christ-follower it needs to be, “He’s in me. Let me introduce you to Him.”
Remember how Mary didn’t recognize Jesus at first? Life was heavy, she was in shock, and it was tough for her to make Him out. The same is true for many people right now. They can’t see Jesus because their situation is so heavy, so uncertain. Notice that Jesus started the conversation with Mary. He asked her why she was crying. She didn’t know in that moment if Jesus was a good guy or a bad guy. She didn’t know if He was a grave robber or the Gardener. She said, “If you have carried Him away, tell me where You have put Him, and I will go get Him.” Even though she didn’t know if He was friend or foe she was willing to talk to Him about what she was going through. Friends, we have an opportunity right now, to speak into, to lean into, to listen into people’s stories, to express concern over their situation, to ask why they are crying and to let them see the Resurrected Jesus in us.
Well, Mary took the responsibility seriously. Look at verse 18:18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
I would say this about verse 18: When Jesus spoke, a Response was called for.
What would Mary do with this responsibility she was given? She took it seriously, didn’t she?
The Good News went public because one person was faithful to assume the responsibility to proclaim it. As she shared it, she prepared the hearts of the others to fully receive what Jesus had done for them, and when Jesus appeared to the disciples later in John 20 they were ready to receive Him. And that’s how the Gospel started to spread. One light, one person, one witness who fulfilled the responsibility to go and tell became the catalyst for millions upon millions times millions of people to come to Christ.
In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Listen, I know we miss having church right now, but more important than us having church is us being the church. What is your response to the Great Commission to make disciples? What is your response to the commission to go and tell others that the tomb is empty and that a personal relationship with Jesus is possible?
Fritz Kreisler lived from 1875 to 1962. He was a world-famous violinist, who earned a fortune with his concerts and compositions, but he generously gave most of it away. So, when he discovered an exquisite violin on one of his trips, he wasn’t able to buy it. Later, having raised enough money to meet the asking price, he returned to the seller, hoping to purchase the beautiful instrument. But to his great dismay it had been sold to a collector.
Kreisler made his way to the new owner’s home and offered to buy the violin. The collector said it had become his prized possession and he would not sell it. Keenly disappointed, Kreisler was about to leave when he had an idea. “Could I play the instrument once more before it is consigned to silence?” he asked. Permission was granted, and the great virtuoso filled the room with such heart-moving music that the collector’s emotions were deeply stirred and he said this: “I have no right to keep that to myself. It’s yours, Mr. Kreisler. Take it into the world, and let people hear it.”
Christians, we have no right to keep the Good News to ourselves. We must take it to the world. What will your response to your responsibility be?
And to those of you who haven’t yet responded to the Cross, to the Empty Tomb, to the invitation to do life with Jesus, what are you waiting for? The difference Jesus made in Mary Magdalene’s life was the difference between daylight and dark, between demonized and free. Jesus, the One who set her free could keep her free because He overcame every enemy she could ever face. You see, His triumph becomes ours when we accept Him. To follow Jesus is to follow the One with the keys to every prison. It is to follow the One with the answer to every question. It is to follow the One who has authority over every demon. It is to follow the One who knows the way through death into eternal life in Heaven.
Why are YOU crying today? What is causing you grief and anguish right now? You aren’t out of options. You aren’t without hope because hope is a Person. His name is Jesus. He is speaking your name. He is validating the Resurrection right now in this moment. If you are listening, He is talking to you, and you know it’s all true. Maybe you have known Him in the past but your relationship with Him needs a Resurrection. Guess what? He’s willing. He’s waiting. That is what He wants more than anything. Allow Him to take control. He can protect you from the darkness that seeks to steal your joy and rob you of your destiny. He can empower you to be an instrument for His glory. He can erase your fears and dry your tears, and He knows the way out of here, out of the temporary and into the eternal, out of the struggle and into perfect peace. What will you say in response to what Jesus is saying right now to you? This I know, when Jesus speaks, a new day dawns. There is resurrection, new life, a fresh start, and an opportunity to follow Him into your best possible life.