Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
One thing that you cannot get from written words on a page is tone of voice. So I don’t know about you, but when I am reading, I start to develop different voices for the different characters in the story. And depending on where the story is set, I will even read it in my mind with the accent of that country and region, and if the person is shouting I will raise the volume of what they say in my mind, and if they are whispering I will whisper their words in my mind. So I guess that either makes me quite weird, or perhaps some of you try and read words with a tone of voice too? Yes? Phew!
Well, with most dialogue, the tone of voice is not important. But every now and then a word or a sentence is so important to what is unfolding that you just wish you could hear it spoken. And we have one of those occasions in this passage; it is in v16 where Jesus said, “Mary.” It is clear that Him speaking her name and how He said it are what made her recognize Him. And I just wish I could hear how Jesus said, “Mary”! Don’t you? It must have been said with so much love that it penetrated Mary’s grief-stricken heart like a warm fire lights up a dark room!
Well, we will come to that moment a bit later in the sermon. Today’s passage is the second part of John’s resurrection account. We noted last week that John is giving us the evidence for the resurrection in ch’s 20-21. And he is giving us this so that we can believe that Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing in Him we may have life in His name. So last time we saw that when John saw the empty tomb and the linen cloths lying just where they fell, he believed that Jesus had come back to life. He didn’t yet understand what it all meant in relation to Jesus, but He believed that Jesus was alive.
So now we come to Mary’s meeting with the risen Jesus. And congregation, there is a beautiful gospel richness in this encounter that says a lot about how we should seek Jesus and live with Him from day to day.
So let’s look at this record of the moment that Mary Met the Lord of Life in the Place of Death. And we will explore this moment together as we consider Mary’s life, Mary’s love, and Mary’s living Lord.
- So first of all, Mary’s Life – Who is Mary Magdalene?
- Well, in terms of her past, in Luke 8 we read, “Soon afterward [Jesus] went on
through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the
kingdom of God. And the twelve were with
him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities:
Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and [some other
women], who provided for [Jesus and the disciples] out of their means.”
- So, Magdalene means she was from Magdala, which was a town in the area of Naphtali – in the north of Israel.
- And she had been rescued by Jesus from a terrible demon possession; seven demons had been driven out of her.
- She was also a wealthy woman, given that she used her means to provide for Jesus and the disciples.
- But of course, the most obvious thing
about Mary is that she is a she – a woman! Society and culture in Bible times was very
much dominated by men. But once again, as
is the case with many Bible stories, a place of honour is given to a woman; the
first person to meet the risen Lord Jesus will be a woman.
- And this is an important point. A couple of weeks ago I preached from 1 Timothy 2 where Paul speaks very plainly about the roles of men and women in church. It is men only who are to be the office-bearers and the ones who lead in public worship. But that is not about value or worth; it’s about roles. It’s kind of like how whether you are a goalkeeper or striker or midfielder or defender in a football team is not about being better or worse, it is about your role in the team. And stories like this one remind us that in God’s eyes, men and women are equal in worth and dignity and salvation.
- So Mary was a dedicated follower of Jesus. Matthew tells us that Mary was among the group of women who followed Jesus down from Galilee in the North all the way to Jerusalem for this Passover feast.
- And John mentions Mary by name as standing by the cross when Jesus was crucified.
- She even followed Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus when they took Jesus’ body to the tomb and wrapped it in linen and spices and left it there. Matthew says, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.”
- And now that the Sabbath had past, Mary returned to the tomb. And we noted last week that Mark tells us that she actually came with other women so they could anoint Jesus’ dead body with spices.
- So those are the historical facts about Mary Magdalene. What we want to think about now is the first part of this account as it is recorded in v1, when Mary first arrived at the tomb, and v11 as she returned to the tomb. And our heading here is Mary’s LOve.
- So let’s look at the scene that John
- In v1 we see that Mary came to the tomb on the first day of the week, which is Sunday. And we noted last week from the other Gospel accounts that she was actually with other women, but John’s focus is just on Mary. And we are told that Mary arrived early, “while it was still dark.” And just hold that thought for a moment.
- What they found when they got there was that the stone had been taken away from the front of the tomb and the tomb was empty. So Mary left the other women there and ran back to the city to tell Peter and John.
- And then we get what can only be described as a ‘typical males’ sort of account. They run off to the tomb leaving Mary to follow along behind. And then, having inspected the tomb, what do they do? Verse 10, they go back to their homes. So John has seen the cloths and he believes that Jesus is alive. And he knows that Mary thinks that someone has stolen Jesus’ body away. But does he wait for Mary or search her out to tell her what he believes has happened? No. He and Peter just go back to the city. There doesn’t seem to be even an ounce of compassion for Mary in Peter and John.
- And putting the other Gospel accounts alongside each other, it seems that while Mary was running back to the city to tell Peter and John, the other women saw the two angels and they also headed back to the city to tell the disciples, as the angels had told them to do. And since then Peter and John have come and left so Mary is now quite alone here.
- And she just cannot keep it together anymore. It is just too much. She is sobbing, weeping, crying; a deep sadness grips her.
- And that is
why I think the note that “it was still
dark” is important here as a kind of symbolic description of where Mary is
- We have seen that Mary has been a devoted follower of Jesus. She has travelled all around Palestine with Him.
- She had been rescued from the darkness of demon possession.
- And we can safely assume that she knew about the resurrection of Lazarus. And Jesus said then, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
- And she also likely knows what Jesus said just a few days ago, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” … “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. “”
- So to Mary, Jesus is the Lord
of life! She has enjoyed and been
blessed by His living presence. She has
heard Him teach about life and eternal life.
But now He is
dead! And yet, still she goes to the
tomb. She cannot understand what has happened,
she has no idea how it can be so, but even His death must somehow be good, so
she wants to be with Him in the tomb. In
her confusion and grief, nothing else will do for Mary but to be with Jesus,
even if He is dead. That is why I have described
this moment as Mary seeking the Lord of life in the place of death.
- And there is lots more for us to learn this morning but there is already enough here for me to ask you if you know something of Mary’s passion for the personal presence of Jesus? I am not talking about going to church or reading your Bible or enjoying fellowship with Christians; is the heart of your faith relationship with Jesus?
- There is a hymn in our
hymnbooks called How Sweet the name of Jesus Sounds in a believer’s ear. We won’t sing it after but it goes like this:
- Jesus, my shepherd, guardian, friend, my prophet, priest, and king; my Lord, my life, my Way, my End, accept the praise I bring. (When you sing in church, are you praising Jesus? The point I am making here is not about singing louder, but nothing makes people sing louder than when they know that they are meeting Jesus here and they want to praise Him!)
- The hymn continues: Weak is the effort of my heart, and cold my warmest thought; but when I see Thee as Thou art, I’ll praise Thee as I ought. People often speak about heaven as where they will see so and so again. And that’s true. But your chief desire about heaven should be seeing and being with Jesus. But that will only be the case if you seek His personal presence now.
- But of course, Mary still needed to learn what Jesus as the Lord of life truly means. And so, with the rest of this passage our focus turns to Mary’s Living Lord.
- And He begins to bring Mary to Himself in v12 as the
weeping Mary stoops to look into the tomb.
We read that she “saw two angels
in white, sitting where the body of Jesus’ had lain, one at the head and one at
- And before we come to what the angels said, think for a moment about the scene that John has just described for us in the light of our earlier reading from Exod. 25. Exodus 25 described the construction of the Ark of the Covenant that sat in the Most Holy Place in the Temple. And on the lid of the golden Ark there were to be two cherubim angels that faced each other. And then God said, “There I will meet with you, and from … between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.” And later in Exodus we read about the glory cloud of God’s presence coming down to settle between the cherubim and filling the Temple. So two angels with the presence of the Lord between them. And here we read about two angels with the signs of the risen and living Lord between them!
- And you need to think back here to something Jesus said in John 2. He had just cleared the temple of the money-changers and the Jewish leaders asked Him what sign He would show them for doing these things? And His reply was: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” And John tells us that “He was speaking about the temple of His body.”
- So even before a word has been spoken, these angels are preaching a message – Jesus is the new temple of God’s dwelling among men – Jesus is God with us – Jesus is how God speaks with us best. Isn’t it incredible?!
- Now, all of this was lost on
Mary. And we see this in her conversation with the angels in v13.
- They are identified as two angels but it is likely that Mary did not recognize that they were angels then but that it became evident later. The darkness of the early morning, her tears, her state of mind, and her spiritual blindness, are keeping her from recognizing who she is talking to, as we shall see also when Jesus appears.
- But these angels knew that Jesus had risen. This would have been a moment of pure excitement and triumph for them. But angels, though they are heavenly beings, are like us in that they do not know everything. So they can’t understand why Mary is weeping? So they ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” As they see it, it obviously can’t be that she is weeping about Jesus, because He is risen, so perhaps she is looking for someone else?
- And in her continued grief and despair, because there was just no room in her mind for the possibility of resurrection, she said, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”
- And then, in v14, she turns around and “sees Jesus standing, but she did not know
that it was Jesus.” Boys and girls,
have you ever had that experience when you are talking to someone and their
eyes flick up and they stare beyond you and you just know that they are looking
at someone else who has arrived? Well, maybe
that is what happened here; maybe the angels looked up to Jesus as He arrived,
which led Mary to turn around. Remember
though that Mary had stooped to look into the tomb and seen the angels
inside. And notice also that in v16, we
read that Mary “turned and said to
Him … “Rabboni.” So the best
explanation is that she was in the doorway of the tomb or in the tomb, looking
at the place where Jesus’ body had lain, and she turned and saw who she thought
was the gardener, then she turned back toward the tomb and asked this man behind
her if he knew where they had taken Jesus’ body, and then, when she heard Him
say, “Mary,” she turned toward Him
again and approached Him.
- Just a few months ago, perhaps even in Mary’s hearing as she followed Jesus around, Jesus had said those words recorded in John 10, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me– My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” So Mary responded to the voice of her Shepherd as He called her name.
- And that is how it always is with Jesus’ sheep. We might think that Mary’s tears kept her from recognizing Jesus, but later that same day Luke tells us about Cleopas and his friend meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus. And they were not weeping but we they too did not recognize Jesus. Later on though, we read, “Their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.” And that is the work of the Holy Spirit. That is how the Holy Spirit creates faith. He accompanies the Word of Christ so that God’s sheep hear the voice of their shepherd and turn to Him in faith. It was so with Cleopas and his friend, it was so with Mary, and it is the same with all whom the Lord calls to Himself.
- It is happening right now! By His word and Spirit, Jesus is calling His sheep by name!
- But in terms of Mary, as one commentator says, “In that moment, Mary experienced her own resurrection, for she had been reborn. Faith had died, but now it came leaping from its tomb. Hope had evaporated, but now it gathered again around the person of the Lord.” And it did so as Mary cried, “Rabboni! (which means teacher).” And Mary used that term as a term of loving affection, of course, but also because she instantly realized that meeting Him as the resurrected one, which she never expected, made it plain to her that there was still so much about Him that she needed to learn!
- And Jesus
obliged by immediately giving her her first post-resurrection lesson! He said, “Do
not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go to my
brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my
God and your God.”
- So let’s think about Jesus’ words here. Was it somehow not OK for Mary to touch Him? Well, that is not the case because Jesus soon met the other women who had come to the tomb and we read, they “took hold of His feet and worshipped Him,” and He did not rebuke them. And you boys and girls will remember that Jesus even invited Thomas to physically touch Him. So it is not that it was wrong to touch Jesus. We can imagine though that because Mary had only expected to see Jesus’ dead body, her clinging to Him now would have been a I am not letting you go again sort of clinging, right J ! So at a very human level, very tenderly and affectionately, this is Jesus , Jesus is saying, Mary, it’s OK! I’m not going anywhere for a while. You can let go of me. We will have further times to be together and to talk.
- But there is a spiritual truth that Jesus is teaching Mary also. Earlier I read Jesus’ words from John 14:1-6, where He said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. “”
- You see, the risen Jesus is not the end of the story! He now had to ascend, and pour out His Holy Spirit on His people, and prepare a place for them to be with Him in eternity. Ultimately, what Mary needed was not a few more minutes with Jesus on earth but to be born again by the Spirit and then to spend the rest of her life living in fellowship with the Father, through the Son, being prepared by the Spirit for heaven, and then, at the Second Coming, to be raised herself and brought to the place that the Lord Jesus has prepared for her.
- And that is what you and I need the most also. And that is the message that our world needs to hear so badly! Our greatest threat is not coronavirus or climate change, it is an eternity in hell. We can produce less carbon and we can develop a vaccine but we all gonna die! But Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms … I go and prepare a place for you, [and] I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also … “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. “” Do you believe this?
- And given that the risen and ascended Lord Jesus is humanity’s only hope of heaven, are you telling others about Jesus, like Mary did? Jesus told her to go and tell His brothers about what she had seen and heard. And as a side note, this is the first time in John’s Gospels that Jesus speaks about God’s children as His brothers! No longer are they just His disciples, or His followers, or even His friends, now, they are His “brothers”! And Mary obeyed her Lord, as we see in v18, she “went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord – and that He had said these things to her.’”
So we have yet more evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. And through Him we can become children of God, brothers of Jesus, and those who He will receive into the joy of heaven, if we believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God, who died and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins. Do you believe this?
And are you telling others about Jesus? Jesus doesn’t stand in front of people like He did with Mary and call out their name. He speaks to them now through the reading and preaching and sharing of the gospel. When you tell people about Jesus is when He will call out to those who are His sheep. And they will hear His voice and come to Him. So tell people that they are sinners and that Jesus is the Saviour. Amen.