John 20:1-18 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). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” 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.
Mary Magdalene was among the first to discover the empty tomb. The death of Jesus had meant something awful for everyone who had followed Him, but it was especially troubling to her. Jesus had delivered her from 7 demons (Luke 8:2). She had gone from demoniac to disciple in one incredible miracle. It wasn’t until she met Jesus that she could think clearly. It wasn’t until she encountered Jesus’ power that she could have peace. It wasn’t until she experienced Jesus’ authority at work on her physical body, her mind, and her spirit that she was no longer a slave to the devil. She was free to love and serve the Lord, and that is what she had done. She had traveled in the company of the disciples, being just as devoted as the 12 men whose names we often remember when we think of the disciples. She had helped fund Jesus’ mission. She knew He was the Messiah, the One with power and authority, the One to follow because she knew what He had done for her.
But she watched Him die. She stood there at the cross. She knew what she had seen. Jesus was gone. What would that mean for her? Would the demons that possessed her and tormented her and stolen her life, would they return? Would she be forced to live as a prisoner again? If Jesus was dead, was His power gone forever? Was she vulnerable to attacks from the powers of darkness?
John tells the story a little differently than the other Gospel writers. He lets us see Mary wrestle with and process the whole thing. He shows us the raw, human emotion she felt and worked through. He allows us to see her doubt and her distress.
Look at verses one and two again: 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!”
John doesn’t say she went in to investigate. He doesn’t say she even looked inside. It says she just saw the stone had been removed. She just observed from the outside and never got closer to learn the truth, and she went running to tell two of the disciples that some people had stolen Jesus’ body. Why do you think she didn’t take a minute to peek inside? Why jump to the conclusion that the grave had been robbed instead of the reality which was that the grave had been conquered?
The way John tells the story, she must have gone back to the tomb with Peter and John, and she watched THEM go in, but again she didn’t go in. She had already committed to a belief that Jesus’ body had been stolen. In verse 5 we read that John bent over and looked at the situation. The verb there just means “to glance in, to look in.” A second word was used to describe what was seen in verse 6 as Peter saw the strips of linen and the burial clothes. That word there means “to look carefully, to observe.” In verse 8, John saw and believed. The verb “saw” in that verse means “to perceive with intelligent comprehension.” John knew that the grave hadn’t been robbed. John knew that Jesus had robbed the grave!
The two male disciples left, but Mary, verse 11, tells us, stood outside crying. She hadn’t gone in. She hadn’t been swayed by the revelation John had. She was still tied to the early conclusion she had drawn. While she was crying, she then looked inside. When she did, there were two angels in the tomb. They were seated where Jesus’ body had been. Notice that one angel was where His head would have been and one was sitting where His feet would have been. Their position makes me think of the cherubim on the mercy seat as was described in Exodus 25:17-19. It is as though God was saying, “There is now a new mercy seat! My Son has paid the price for sin, and the way is open into the presence of God!”
Mary seemed un-phased by the presence of the angels. You would think she would have had a reaction to them sitting inside of the tomb, but she just conversed with them as if they were any other ordinary person. They asked her, “Why are you crying?” She proceeded to tell the angels that the crypt had been robbed-that Jesus’ body had been stolen. This is a woman really committed to her own perception, right? She believed what she believed, and she couldn’t see past her faulty belief to experience the truth. To Mary Magdalene, death meant death, and because of that, she couldn’t conceive of any other explanation other than a robbery.
She turned around and there was Jesus, only she didn’t recognize Him. Maybe it was still kind of dark and she didn’t get a good look at Him at first? Maybe her tears had caused her vision to be blurry. We know emotion can cloud our ability to see and understand what is really going on. Maybe her fear and grief had so overwhelmed her that she couldn’t see Jesus even when He was standing RIGHT in front of her. Jesus also asked her why she was crying. It was tragic that she was weeping during the most exciting and dramatic moment in all of history! She could have been rejoicing! She could have been singing and dancing and running and shouting and celebrating! She could have been “high-fiving” angels and Jesus, Himself. She could have been on top of the mountain and experiencing the highest high she had ever known, but she was weeping in the presence of Jesus. How sad. How unnecessary. She just needed to recognize it was Him. That was going to make all of the difference!
Jesus asked Mary a second question in verse 15. Don’t miss this. “Who is it that you are looking for?” Mary had been seeking a dead body. Mary had come to pay honor to a dead Jesus. Mary had come to memorialize and reflect on and be sentimental about what she had believed was now in her past. She hadn’t been looking for the Living Lord, the Resurrected One, the Jesus who said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” John 11:25
Who are you looking for this morning? Who are you seeking? Jesus isn’t merely an historical figure. He isn’t just a wise, departed teacher. He isn’t merely a controversial philosopher. He was and is the Resurrection and the Life. He is our Living Hope. He is strength for today and bright Hope for tomorrow. He is the peace that passes understanding. He is the Sovereign Lord, the King of Kings. He is the One who laid down His life and took it up again so that you and I can follow Him. He knows the way! He’s like, “Death and resurrection? Been there and done that. Follow Me, and I will show you how you can do it too.”
She began to tell Jesus that someone had stolen His body. I honestly don’t know how He kept a straight face. Wouldn’t that have been hilarious? Bless her heart! It wasn’t until Jesus spoke her name, “Mary,” that she snapped out of the realm of death and grave robbery and into the reality of eternal life with Jesus. What will it take for some people to snap out of the realm of death and come alive into the reality of eternal life with Jesus? Just as He was standing in front of Mary that day, He is present with us, calling us to attention, inviting us to see Him!
There is a nuance in this account I had never seen before. I don’t want you to miss it. Look at verse 16 again: Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
Mary had to turn toward Jesus after He called her name. You know what that tells me? She had turned away from Him. If you have to turn toward Someone, it is because you weren’t facing them, right? Mary was about to leave His presence without discovering who He really was! Oh, friends, how many of us get so close to Him, how many of us get face to face with Jesus only to turn away, to walk away, to leave with our fears and anxieties and burdens still weighing us down? How can Jesus dry our tears when we walk away from Him? She almost missed the Resurrection. How tragic would it have been? To be in the presence of the Risen Lord and to miss the miracle of the Resurrection? Don’t let it happen to you this morning! Don’t miss the power of the Resurrection!
Who knows how long this entire scene took to play out, but what I see with clarity is that when Mary thought she was looking at death, she was really looking at Resurrection. When she thought she was looking at a dead end, she was looking at a doorway.
How often are we like Mary? How often do we draw conclusions about our life’s circumstance or about spiritual matters without truly investigating the truth? How often do we stand on the outside, allowing death to have the final say, instead of entering in to the truth, instead of believing all that Jesus has said. He had prepared the disciples for His death. He had assured them of His resurrection. Mary would have heard His teaching, and yet, she wouldn’t allow herself to believe what her mind couldn’t understand and what her eyes couldn’t.
Can you just exercise some faith this morning to believe what God tells us in His Word? What feels fatal, what feels final, doesn’t have to be the case. What seems impossible, what seems implausible, isn’t because Jesus has conquered death! What God wants us to understand this morning is that for those who follow Christ, because the tomb is empty, we can never be overcome, and because of that truth, we don’t have to live defeated, afraid, hopeless or overwhelmed. Once we place our trust in Christ, once we respond to Him when He calls us by name, no devil can possess us and not even death cannot have the final say regarding our lives. It is time to give up death, to give up our perceptions of death and to let Jesus have the final word about everything in our lives. The Bible says that Jesus is the Logos which is Greek for “word.” He is the Word. He is the Living Word. Let Him be the last Word for you.
Too many people are living a doom, gloom and tomb kind of lifestyle. Too many people are expecting the worst case scenario, like Mary did when she arrived at the tomb. Too many people are living without hope, living in fear. When Jesus spoke Mary’s name, she woke up to the reality of the resurrection. Is Jesus calling your name this morning? Have you been standing on the outside of what God really wants to do for you? Have you been blinded to the truth by your fears or your tears?
Once Mary recognized Who it was that she was talking to, she didn’t want to let Him go. She grabbed onto Jesus for dear life. She never wanted to lose Him again. She wanted to relate to Him as she always had done, though. She wanted the Jesus back that would walk with her in a physical sense. She didn’t know more was to come with Jesus’ ascension into Heaven and with the descending of the Holy Spirit to live in every believer. Jesus said, “Don’t hold onto me”, verse 17, “for I have not yet returned to my Father.”
Sometimes we hold onto an idea of Jesus that limits what He wants to do in and through us. We cling to the ways we have encountered Him in the past and we don’t let Him do the new thing He wants to do in our lives. The Resurrection, the New Life Jesus purchased for us and has given to us is a reminder that God makes all things new-that every day with Jesus is an adventure-that God can take us where we have never been before with Him!
Jesus wanted to do a new thing in Mary’s life. He had a job for Mary to do. She needed to go and preach the Gospel. She needed to go tell others what she had FINALLY witnessed and received. Will you allow God to send you to someone who needs to hear the Good News today?
Why are you crying, and who are you looking for? Today, maybe as you process those questions you need to realize that death, in some way, has a hold on you. Maybe you are dead in your sins and transgressions. The Bible says that we are born sinners. Sin causes spiritual death. The whole reason we are celebrating this morning isn’t because we think Jesus beat the odds, but it is because He paid the price for our sin. We can trust His sacrifice to cover us. The Cross tells us that God has us covered. The Resurrection tells us we can live as conquerors.
Maybe grief has gripped your life, and you cannot live with joy the way you once did. Perhaps an addiction or broken relationship has stolen life from you and all you seem to be focused on is the pain or destruction. Maybe it is a feeling of personal failure or shame that keeps your soul weeping. Can you listen for Jesus this morning to call your name? Maybe He wants to call YOU out of some kind of stupor, out of some kind of false reality, out of some kind of grave. Maybe He wants to resurrect something in you—a calling or a dream.
Mary knew that she no longer had to fear any demon. Whatever had come after her before she met Jesus could no longer overtake her because the power of Jesus can never die. If Mary hadn’t embraced the Resurrected Jesus she would have still lived in fear. She would have still allowed death to have the final word instead of Jesus. That is NO WAY to live.
Don’t stand on the outside looking in!
Don’t weep when you can rejoice!
Don’t turn away from the One who can make all things new!
Don’t live in the realm of spiritual death. Let the blood of Jesus cover you!
Don’t live in the realm of death and defeat. Follow the Resurrected King and live as a conqueror!
Give up death and walk in the power of the Resurrection this morning!