John 20:11 – 18
"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.' At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, 'Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?' Thinking it was the gardener, she said, 'Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.' 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."
At the beginning of this narrative Mary is weeping in sorrow and confusion by an empty tomb. At the end she is joyfully running to tell good news. This illustrates what a difference a meeting with Jesus can make! We will make nine other observations about the events and conversations in this narrative.
1. Mary was emotionally involved in her relationship with her Lord. Vs. 11, 13, and 15
"crying" vs. 11; "wept" vs. 11, "crying" vs. 13, "crying" vs. 15. Laughter and crying are both physiological reactions that go beyond intellect. Both are emotional releases. Mary Magdalene loved Jesus who had done so much for her. Jesus had wept for the other Mary's brother, Lazarus, at his place of burial and now Mary Magdalene wept for Jesus at His tomb. Our relationship with Jesus has many facets: intellectual, reverence, awe, thanksgiving, obedience/submission and one of them should be deep and strong emotion. We may express it in a variety of ways. Mary cried at Jesus' tomb and we will have emotional reactions too to Jesus' dealings in our lives if He is important to us.
Mary is a picture of the sad plight of people who do not know where Jesus is. Like Mary they are crying.
The experience of love enriches us. It is better to have loved something or someone and lost it, him, or her than not to have loved at all. Nevertheless, love lost is a loss and there is a way to avoid the sorrow of loss; don't love. But that is too dear a price to pay. Mary's tears are evidence of the depth of her love for Jesus. What evidence can you show of your love for Him?
2. Heaven repairs broken dreams and resurrects dead hopes. Vs. 12
Two angels, one at the head and one at the foot of the place where Jesus' body had been laid, were sitting there. From head to foot—the entire spectrum of human experience—heaven is interested in the affairs of men and women. What we think with our heads and where we go with our feet, and everything in between, what we see, hear, eat, say, keep in our hearts, how we use our private parts, what we put in our stomachs, lungs, and hearts, the use of our knees in prayer, and where we go with our feet are all known to Him, interesting to Him, rewarded or punished by Him, and of great concern to Him. Our thoughts and our paths—every human experience from head to feet—matter to God.
God can resurrect the dead body of Jesus and He can also resurrect your dreams, hopes, aspiration, and visions. God allows our dreams to die so that we know that we ourselves cannot bring them to fulfillment. But He also resurrects those dreams and hopes and gives new life to them so we can learn that He who gives life can restore life. He is still the resurrection and the life. He still gives abundant life. He still wins victories over the devil who has come to steal, kill, and destroy. Today can be your resurrection day.
3. Seeing is not as important as recognizing. Vs. 14
Mary saw Jesus but did not know that it was He. He was the One she wanted to see. He was the One she came to see. He was the One she did see, but she did not recognize Him. How many times do we see the handiwork of God in our lives and circumstances but do not recognize that it is He that is behind them. Later she would run to the disciples with the news that she had seen the Lord, but that was after Jesus revealed Himself to her. At this point in the story she did not know it was He. It is not enough just to see Him; we must recognize Him. Seeing Him but not recognizing Him is not really very helpful at all. Recognizing that it is He, that He is involved, that He is orchestrating developments makes all the difference in the world. It makes the difference between continuing our search for Him or beginning to rest in Him. Seeing the works of God is good, but merely seeing is not nearly as valuable as being given the ability to recognize the meanings of those works. Seek the ability to recognize what God is doing.
4. She thought He was the Gardener. Vs. 15
Maybe she was right. In a sense, she was right and we too should recognize that He is the Gardener. God prunes us and tills the soil of our hearts as He nourishes good fruit in our lives so that our fruit brings honor to Him. He removes thorns, weeds, poisonous plants, and fruitless branches. He removes stones of resistance. He softens our hearts. He waters our souls with the water of the Word. He ploughs up debris and trash hidden beneath the surface. He makes our character beautiful. And He makes us fruitful. He is a good, patient, and thorough Gardener.
5. Jesus knows each of us personally. Vs 16
Our relationship with Him is individual and personal. Jesus called her name. And He knows your name. "He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out" (John 10:3). Wonderful the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Adoption, whereby we know that we are sons and daughters of God and through Whom we know we have His individual, personal, full attention when we pray. Whether to comfort us or to caution us, Jesus knows our name and is willing to call it. God is especially fond of you! Say that to someone sometime.
6. Mary's spontaneous reaction to recognizing Jesus was to call Him "Teacher." Vs. 16
A teacher shares lessons, ideas, facts, knowledge, concepts, and truths. What does it say about Mary that her spontaneous reaction to recognizing Jesus was to address Him as Rabboni" (Teacher")? Earlier we observed that Mary was emotionally involved in her relationship with her Lord. Now we see that that heart-felt aspect was balanced by the head knowledge aspect to a whole and complete relationship. She called Him Teacher. We are to love the Lord our God with all our "heart, strength, soul, and mind." How do we love God with our minds? We accept His teaching authority in our lives. We think of Him as our Teacher. We accept the truth He gives to us as valid. And we recognize that, as His students/disciples we are under the authority of the ideas He teaches us. We are in a discipline and He is our Teacher. Some affectionately call Him Lord, but others show that He is Lord by doing what He says to do. He is our Friend, but He is more than just our Friend; He is also our teacher. Mary Magdelene evidently understood this.
7. Jesus was resurrected, then ascended. Vs. 17
Evidently Jesus' eventual ascension on "Ascension Day" many days later when a cloud above the Mount of Olives removed Him from their sight was merely a public repeat of many continuing unknown or unobserved ascensions. Jesus was just resurrected and here He tells Mary not to hold on to Him. The reason he gives is that He has not yet ascended. This would indicate that He had already ascended by a few days later when He instructs Thomas to touch the scar in His hand and the wound in His side. By then Jesus had ascended. Yet what we refer to as "Ascension Day" did not occur until 40 days later. The appearance and disappearance of Jesus during this interim period gradually taught them to believe in Him and trust Him even though He was not visible. The plan worked. They were weaned away from dependence on His physical presence. So when it was time for Him to be removed altogether from their sight in a public "ascension," they were ready to continue to serve, believe, trust, and live with an awareness of His presence even though He was no longer visible. Jesus had prepared them.
Another aspect of the ascension is that Jesus went somewhere and began to do something. He did not cease to exist or to function in an important role. He took up his new role as intercessor and now daily makes intercession for us. We are well represented in Heaven by our Savior. He lives forever to intercede for us. He is not untouched with the feelings of our weaknesses, but having been tempted in all points just like we are, now empathetically, sympathetically, compassionately and, understandingly pleads our case to the Father.
8. The humble Jesus is a "Brother" to His followers. Vs. 17
Jesus is King, Lord, Creator, Savior, Shepherd, Sacrifice, Lamb, Lion, and Master. But here He tells Mary Magdalene to tell His disciples that He has gone to "My Father and your Father." He says God is "My God and your God." He is not ceasing to be all that He is, but in a rich combination of greatness and humility, He lifts His followers in status to "Brothers." Africans know well the difference between paternalism and fraternalism, hierarchy and brotherhood. It is my delight to join hands with fine African brothers and sisters and enjoy equal partnership, mutual respect, and shared complementary tasks as we serve together on this continent. "Brother" has a much different sound, nuance, and meaning than "boss," "master," or "superior." Jesus called his disciples brothers.
9. Mary told what she knew. Vs. 17
Mary's news item was not very thorough; not complete. It may have raised more questions than it answered. But she told what she knew. Mary went to the disciples with the message, "I have seen the Lord." Can you and I go with that message? Can we go and tell what we know? Mary was the first evangelist. She was the first to tell the news. Even though in position and potential for leadership development she was less than the disciples to whom she carried her message, still she went. Mary did not know or understand the whole story. Mary did not know how to explain that Jesus, the Messiah, fulfilled the prophesy of Moses, or the many other Old Testament prophesies. This would come later as the scholar, Paul the student of Gamaliel, studied and re-thought his way through the Torah, Hebrew poetry, and Prophets. Mary told what she knew. An evangelist only needs to be one step ahead of his or her hearers. What you learn, share. Then do it again. And again.
Last at the cross and first at the grave (John 20:1), godly women show their courage, faith, and love. They were the last to see the Lamb as he died and they were the first to meet the risen Lion.