The Difference is Jesus


We are often so reluctant to speak to others about Jesus. I suppose I could focus on the reasons for that. Fear of rejection being one. Not knowing how to breach the subject is another. A feeling of inferiority being another. It breaks cultural mores for us to talk about religion – that is one that has been successfully and unfortunately rammed into our heads. And there are always related issues of personal sin or general unbelief in our life. But what if I could find a person in scripture who was transformed against all of these odds and more? Would you like to know what makes the difference?

This morning is Easter morning 2007! Jesus Is Risen! If I shout “Christ is Risen!” You respond loudly with “He is risen indeed!” But that response takes place within the comfort of the church building. As much as I want to share with you that the resurrection of Jesus is real. I have a greater desire for us to share the transformation of one woman in scripture. Look at what makes the difference.

In John chapter twenty (John 20:1-18) we are introduced for the second time to a woman named Mary Magdalene. Her name identifies her as coming from Magdala a small town on the northwest corner of the sea of Galilee. It was more deeply influenced by Rome than other towns in the area. Both Mark (Mark 16:9) and Luke (Luke 8:2) tell us Jesus had delivered Mary from the demonic possession of seven demons.

Mary came to the tomb with some of the other women in order to properly complete the burial process which was hastily accomplished on the evening of the crucifixion. She comes on the first day of the week. The first day of the week is Sunday and the fact that the resurrection occurs on Sunday is often cited as the chief reason that Christians began worshipping on this day as opposed to the Judaic sabbath on Saturday.

Seeking

As we are introduced, Mary is a broken woman. In the first two verses she sees that the stone has been taken away from the tomb and immediately turns and runs back into town and informs Peter and John.1 Her only words are simple. “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

Notice that to Mary Magdalene he is still the Lord. His Death has not diminished his deity in her eyes. What she had experienced in deliverance has had a permanent effect. She may be reeling, she may be confused but she wasn’t questioning what she knew to be true. Jesus was the Lord, he was HER Lord. But she isn’t prepared for a resurrection, that is too much to ask. People just don’t rise from the dead every day.

Peter and John get the news and they themselves go running through town to the grave site. Being the younger of the two, John reaches the tomb first and he bends over to peek in there. He glances at the burial linens and maintains his post. He is cautious and worried. Is there some danger waiting in there? After all it was still dark, the sun hadn’t risen yet according to the first verses. Would you have gone into the tomb?

Peter would, and Peter did. Brave or impulsive, whatever the reason Peter charges right into the tomb. He looks carefully a the linen sheet which had been wrapped around Jesus’ body. Certainly he took note of the fact that they were “lying there” they weren’t tossed around in disarray they were orderly. In fact looking at the burial cloths it was as if Jesus’ body had just passed through them leaving them in place. And on the side the cloth which had been wrapped around Jesus’ head wasn’t just cast to the side it was carefully rolled up as if to declare that whatever happened in this tomb did not happen in a rush of fear. The changing from the burial cloths took place in an orderly manner and dare I say it, victoriously as if to say “I do not fear death for I am death’s conqueror!”

Finally John enters the tomb and he also saw the cloths and he believed. But in verses 9-10 they go away marveling at what they’d seen but they still didn’t get it. They saw evidence of Jesus’ resurrection in front of them but they still didn’t recognize it as being promised in the Bible.

Weeping

Since Mary is slower she makes it to the tomb after the guys are leaving. They probably went a different way. Or else they didn’t bother to speak to her as they passed. Either way when Mary from Magdala returns to the tomb she is weeping.

The term weeping is the same used of Jesus crying out over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). This is a loud mournful crying meant to be heard by others. This is no mere stifled cry, or silent tears running down the cheek. This is the heaving sobs of a woman who has lost everything – she had been delivered from seven demons by this man Jesus; and he had pulled her out of the cesspool of sin. She had nothing but Jesus. She had been forgiven much and she therefore loved much. Her heart was broken beyond the point of consolation. Her beloved master had been suddenly and cruelly murdered as a common criminal and hastily buried in a borrowed tomb.

Even those who have lost a loved one usually have the hope of returning to a grave in order to seek some consolation in visiting the final resting spot of those whom they love. But now even this has been taken away from Mary. She doesn’t see yet. She does not yet understand or believe that Jesus has been raised from the grave.

This is the case of so many today. They do not comprehend it. They do not believe or know that Jesus has been raised – and many of them do not even mourn. What would you do if suddenly you believed that God was dead? You wouldn’t shrug your shoulders and go on – not if you loved him.

As Mary sobs loud tears of disconsolation she also bends over to peer again into the tomb. Maybe she’s hoping against hope that Jesus is still in there and she just didn’t see him earlier. But instead she sees angels. They ask her “Woman, why are you weeping?” Don’t mistake the word “woman” as being derogatory, it is just like saying “ma’am”.

She doesn’t even care that it’s unusual for angels to sit in tombs. She doesn’t even care that people don’t sit in tombs. The only thing she cares for is the location of Jesus’ body. “They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they put Him.”
I don’t care about anything else, I want to know where Jesus is!

Accusing

For some reason she turns around and there she sees a man. Perhaps he’s shrouded by the darkness or the first rays of morning light are behind him blocking his appearance. Mary’s eyes are blurry with crying. Or maybe God was veiling her eyes from the truth. Whatever the case she does not recognize her Lord yet. He also asks her the question, “Why are you weeping?”

She considers that he might be the gardener in charge of the area. She begins to accuse this man. “Sir, tell me what you did with Jesus.” If you have carried Him away, tell me where you laid Him, and I will take Him away.” In her distress Mary turns away from the “gardener”. Maybe she doesn’t want the gardener to see her tears so she turns and angrily wipes her eyes.

Rejoicing

Then she hears something she did not expect to hear. She hears her name “Miriam”. But how does this gardener know my name? And how does this gardener know to speak it in Aramaic? How does this gardener recognize me? But there’s something in the voice? I know that voice! I have heard that voice call to me before! Miriam turns around and her eyes now clear are able to see the face of the one who owns that voice who spoke that tender word.

He has said before in a parable, “…he calls his own sheep by name…” (John 10:3). He has spoken to her in Aramaic and she replies in return – running to grab hold of Jesus. RABBONI, “My Teacher!”

He is not dead! Jesus is Alive and standing in front of me! She grabs him and nearly knocks him over in her exuberance. It is as if she will never let him go. He left her once and he will not leave her again – she is determined of that.

Finally Jesus must tell her “stop clinging to me.” He does not say, “Don’t touch me.” As if she might taint him. He says please let go of me. I’m not going anywhere just yet I still must return to the Father. But you must go and tell my disciples.

Telling

And so Mary runs. She breaks breathlessly into the room and announces at first a single phrase:

“I  have seen the Lord!”

What made the difference in Mary? She was convinced that Jesus had died. She was convinced three times that the tomb was empty. But the empty tomb without a living savior is nothing to rejoice about. It wasn’t until Jesus revealed himself to her that she rejoiced. It wasn’t until Jesus sent her that she ran with the message.

Some have called Mary Magdalene “The apostle to the apostles.” She was the very first sent with the message of the resurrection to the apostles. I don’t doubt that her devotion to Jesus is what set her apart for this task. Mary loved Jesus intensely and even when the apostles went away she remained at the tomb offering the only thing she had to mourn him: herself.

The transformation in Mary comes from one source only. She had a face to face encounter with the Almighty, resurrected Lord of all Creation. She had encountered Jesus!

She wasn’t reluctant to speak about it because she had experienced it. In that society the testimony of a woman wasn’t worth a hill of beans. But Jesus sent the most unlikely. In that society those marked by sin were often ignored but Jesus sent the one he had cleansed. She was not afraid of rejection, she was not worried about breaking the cultural barriers. So what if she was a woman, so what if she was once a sinner, so what if she once had been demon possessed. She had encountered the Living Lord Jesus!

She broke through all of the reasons that hold us back and she did it for one reason only: She had a living encounter with the Living Jesus.

When Jesus reveals himself to us we worship. When Jesus reveals himself to us we cannot hold it in, and we must share it. But we don’t have to wait for a voice from heaven, we already have it in his word. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given me, therefore Go…!”

Nothing happens until we ourselves accept the resurrection of Jesus Christ as fact.

What’s it going to take to get us out of here and OUT THERE with the message of Jesus Christ? We desperately need a vivid encounter with the resurrected Jesus Christ.

Have you encountered Him?

1John is often identified as the one called “the disciple whom Jesus loved”