Text: Now 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 He asked her, “Woman, 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 ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending 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.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
If you’ve ever watched the movie The Passion of the Christ, you’ll understand why I say that it’s almost too much for me. It leaves me feeling like a washcloth that’s gone through the ringer. The movie shows in a very graphic way the suffering that Jesus went through, especially on Good Friday. It can be very overwhelming. It may be hard to grasp the power and comfort of the very last scene in the film.
The scene is dramatic, purposefully understated compared to everything we’ve endured in the film up to that point. The camera places us within Christ’s black tomb and slowly pans toward the massive stone that closes the entrance. That stone is grinding its way up and back in its channel. You see a finger of the bright sun of that first Easter morning piercing the blackness of the tomb. All the while, the camera continues its slow pan, and the grinding of the massive stone continues until our gaze is focused on the slab where our Savior’s lifeless body had been laid. But the body is gone! The linen wrappings slowly collapse! Captivating music is now building. The camera pans a bit further. And then we see his face — no longer bloodied and bruised and battered but whole again! New and fresh again. Jesus, the risen Lord!
He sits for a moment, his eyes closed as if drinking in the warmth of the sun he once set in the sky. Then he opens his eyes and closes them again — as if pondering for a moment everything that had been accomplished. The music builds. The beat of drums is added. Voices — as if from a choir of angels — are laid over the top of the music score. Then our Lord stands. He takes one step forward, and the movie comes to a close. Powerful! Memorable! But the record of Scripture is even better.
His First Steps Led Outside His Tomb. Jesus’ work to save us was done, but now was the time to announce his victory by appearing to those who still thought him to be dead. So his first steps led 1. To Mary, who didn’t seem to notice two angels. 2. To Mary, who thought Jesus was a gardener. 3. To Mary, who witnessed to us all, “I have seen the Lord!”
If merely watching the movie The Passion of the Christ is enough to leave you and me feeling exhausted and emotionally drained, imagine what it was like for Jesus’ first disciples who actually lived through the nightmare of Good Friday! Was that day even more horrific for the women, like Mary Magdalene, who followed Jesus? After all, the gospel writer John makes sure we know that “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” (John 19:25). What was that like? What a nightmare that must have been!
These women who loved their Lord so much were also the first to visit his tomb on Easter morning. They carried “the spices they had prepared” (Luke 24:1). They came to pay their final respects to their dead teacher. As they drew closer to the tomb, they worried about how they would move that massive stone out of the way. But there were also other concerns, weren’t there? How were they going to talk their way past the Roman guards and break the seal Pilate had placed on the tomb? They didn’t know! They were still in shock!
And that certainly included Mary Magdalene, who went to the tomb at the crack of dawn. The first time Mary arrived there, she “saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 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 20:1,2). After sharing this report, Mary followed Peter and John back to the tomb. Once those two arrived, they went inside and checked everything out. Yes, the tomb was empty. Yes, Jesus’ body was gone. So back home they went. Why stay? There was nothing else to do there. John even adds this unflattering editorial comment to his record: “(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead)” (John 20:9). At times, can we also be a little slow in grasping the height, depth, length, power, and certainty of all our Savior’s promises?
“Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
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’” (John 20:11-13). Because her heart was broken, because she was in shock, she couldn’t see what was right in front of her: “two angels in white clothes.” Mary couldn’t concentrate on the angels. All she could think of was this: “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him” (John 20:13b). She was stuck in the nightmare of Good Friday. Christ’s body hanging on the center cross, Christ’s lifeless body later laying in the new tomb Joseph of Arimathea had cut into the rock — those were the images seared into her heart and mind.
That’s why she was weeping, sobbing. The kind of grief that wells up from deep inside you and comes crashing out like breaker waves, and you can’t hold it back. As far as Mary knew, her master was dead. And along with him died all those promises, all those hopes, and all those dreams she had tucked away in her heart from all those times she had heard him “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God” as she and some other women followed Jesus as he “traveled about from one town and village to another” (Luke 8:1).
Any of us who has experienced trauma may understand at least a little of what Mary was going through that first Easter morning. It’s why she seemed oblivious to the angels, frozen to the spot, struggling to think through her next move. But our Savior is a caring Savior who understands each one of us better than we ourselves do! He knew exactly what Mary needed. That’s why his first steps led outside his tomb to Mary, who thought Jesus was a gardener.
The apostle John’s account is poignant and personal. It’s amazing the little details that he includes here, amazing because John penned this record close to 60 years after Jesus’ resurrection, somewhere around A.D. 90. Sometimes we can’t even remember what we had for breakfast yesterday. How could John, the “elder” (2 John 1), remember? Because the Holy Spirit, by inspiration, made every detail sharp and clear in John’s mind, heart, and soul.
“He asked her, ‘Woman, 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.’” (John 20:14,15).
People have come up with all kinds of reasons why Mary didn’t recognize Jesus: (1) Mary’s eyes were blurred, so she didn’t recognize Jesus. Well, duh! She was weeping, sobbing. This was gut-wrenching sorrow; of course, her eyes were blurred! (2) Jesus may have looked different than he did before his resurrection. (3) Our Savior kept her from recognizing him at first. Perhaps, that one might have some merit. On Easter Sunday afternoon, Cleopas and his companion, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, didn’t recognize Jesus when he joined them and walked along the road with them. It says that “they were kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16). Of course, there’s this too: Jesus would also be the very last person they’d expect to see because of the nightmare of Good Friday.
So I guess if seeing “two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been” (John 20:12) doesn’t make you stop and go, “Say what?” then you aren’t going to recognize Jesus, who rescued you from the hell on earth of being possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9)! You won’t recognize the soothing voice of the teacher whom you followed for three years (Luke 8:2,3). You won’t recognize the Lord who only a few weeks earlier had told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25,26). You won’t recognize the Lord of life who stood outside the tomb of Lazarus and “When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go’” (John 11:43,44).
How can you recognize the living Lord when all you can remember are the horrors you witnessed on Golgotha’s hill, when you stood beside “his mother, his mother’s sister, [and]Mary the wife of Clopas” (John 19:25)? You can’t! Not when you’re doubled over weeping, not when you are stuck in Good Friday.
Do you and I ever get stuck in the hopelessness of Good Friday? Stuck grieving over the spouse, parent, or child the Lord took home and maybe we still feel it was far too soon? Stuck worrying about how we’re going to pay our bills if we’re out of a job because our company downsized? And what about our retirement savings? And what about our health?
There are so many concerns and so many fears that threaten to keep you and me mired in the bleakness of Good Friday! But there is only one way to roll back our massive stones of fear, sorrow, worry, and weeping! Only Easter can do that! The risen Savior, who knew exactly what Mary needed that first Easter Sunday, knows exactly what we need this Easter Sunday! We need to rivet our attention on Jesus. We need to see how his first steps led outside his tomb to Mary, who witnessed to us all, “I have seen the Lord!”
Just one word was all it took for Jesus to lift the fog, the fear, and the darkness from Mary’s heart and mind. Just one word to free her feet that had been frozen to the ground just outside our Savior’s tomb. “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means “Teacher”)
Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’
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” (John 20:16-18). The King of kings and the Lord of lords who had finished his work to pay in full for the sins of the human race; the one who had chained Satan and his minions in the dungeons of hell and had already descended there to declare his eternal triumph; the one whom the Father would exalt and give “him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11); that risen and glorious Christ who is our Good Shepherd. He cares about us. And he knows all of his sheep, every last one of us, by name.
So, Jesus simply said, “Mary.” And the darkness of Good Friday began to be pierced by the sun that is Easter. “Rabboni!” (Teacher!) Mary replied. I suspect her tears continued — that’s the way human emotions work; you can’t just turn them off like a faucet — but now they became tears of surprise. Of wonder! Of relief that began to sweep through Mary in waves. So, she hugged her Lord! She held him tight! She didn’t want to ever let him go again!
But that wouldn’t work. Jesus had other places to go, other people to see, more names, like Thomas, for example, to speak to. For our Savior intended to have hundreds of witnesses ready to witness to us in the pages of Scripture (1 Corinthians 15:1-8), “I have seen the Lord!”
His first steps led outside his tomb, and Jesus made sure he met Mary, because he knew she needed him. Then our Lord sent Mary to his “brothers” to share the Easter news with them, because he knew they needed him. And through the pages of Scripture, Mary and so many others stand together, shoulder to shoulder, shouting to us as one: “We have seen the Lord!”
There’s Peter with his hand in the Bible: “we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).
There’s John, an old man who could never forget: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3).
Together the witnesses shout to us, “Easter is real! The Lord’s gracious forgiveness of sins is real!” Jesus made that crystal clear when he sent Mary with a message for his “brothers.” Even that greeting was pure grace for those who had scattered like scared rabbits into the night outside Gethsemane only days before. There is the same pure grace for us too who sometimes get stuck in our Good Friday nightmares. Because, you see, the writer to the Hebrews assures us that the risen Lord is not ashamed to call us his “brothers and sisters” either (Hebrews 2:11).
That is why he came. That’s why he took every one of his final steps to the center cross on Calvary. And that’s why his first steps led outside his tomb! Amen
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