Life. It is a word filled with hope, joy and opportunity. As long as there is life there is always a chance that no matter how difficult your circumstance it may get better after all. For Mary Magdalene the struggle of life had been enormous. We do not know everything about her, but those things we do know are significant.
We’re first introduced to Mary Magdalene in Luke 8:2 as one of the women who followed Jesus and (as they were able) contributed to the support of His ministry out of their private means. But the most striking comment about her is the nature of her encounter with Jesus. Jesus had delivered her from the horrifying torture of being possessed by seven demons. Her name means that she came from the town of Magdala, “a town on the western shore of the Lake of Tiberias.”1 She had followed him with utmost devotion all the way to the foot of the cross where she stood together with Jesus’ mother and some of the other women. There at the foot of the cross she witnessed the full and incomprehensible HORROR of the cross: Splinters, Nails, a Crown of Thorns, Mocking, Shame and darkness. The Father turning his face away, a final cry and then: Death.
She followed Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus as they took Jesus’ body down from the cross and wrapped it in linens and spices. And then, obedient to the Sabbath she stayed home no doubt devastated. But very early on the first day before the sun had even risen she, along with certain other women journeyed to the tomb so that they also might anoint his body and say their final goodbyes. Yet when they turned the corner the stone was moved, the body was gone and she ran to tell the disciples. John and Peter came and left wondering over the event.
Now, bereft of the hope she had discovered at the hands of Jesus she faces a future uncertain in it’s certain horrors. The one man who had treated her like a princess instead of like a pawn was dead. For all of the wonder wrapped up in the word “life”, the horrors of the word “death” are no
Having been forgiven much, having been delivered from much: she loved much. And so she stood there, by the empty tomb with loud wailing. 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 weeping tears of inconsolable grief. Not only was her beloved teacher dead but even this final dignity of a suitable burial was spoiled. This is where we find her in John’s Gospel.
John 20:11-13, The Angels
It’s almost incomprehensible to me that she could see these two angels and respond as she did. Perhaps they didn’t really look like angels? Mark 16:5 tells us they saw "a young man". So likely excepting the white clothing the angels didn’t look majestic, just human. Plus she was still crying. Still I would think it a bit of a surprise to see two men sitting in the tomb. But before she could ask them a question they ask her one, “Why are you crying?” It’s the same question we see in the other gospels. “Why do you seek the living One among the dead?” (Luke 24:5)
How many of you have ever watched a quiz show on TV and you know the answer to the question but the contestant just sits there? Now how many of you are willing to confess that you yell at the TV as if the guy can hear your answer? I think this is what the angels were up to. They knew that Jesus was alive, but even though they had already been told the women didn’t seem to get the answer. It certainly explains their question, “Why are you crying?” They couldn’t conceive of why this woman would cry when Jesus was alive.
Their question highlights that her quest was for Jesus’ body, not for Jesus. She just didn’t expect him to be alive. So she responds with what to her was an obvious (but wrong) answer; someone had taken Jesus’ body and she didn’t know where it was. At that moment, something made her turn around.
John 20:14-15, Jesus Concealed
Why did she turn? We’re not told, but perhaps she heard a sound behind her. Whatever the reason she turns but does not recognize Jesus.
This always intrigues me. Why might she not recognize him? I don’t really know but let me give you some potential answers.
- He concealed himself from her as he did the men on the Emmaus road.
- She simply didn’t expect to see him alive – she had watched him die and seen his burial.
- Perhaps it was early morning still, it was still dark when the women first came, perhaps the early morning light was still too weak for her to see clearly.
- On the other hand perhaps the sun was behind Jesus and thus he was shadowed. (contrary to the early morning light)
- She had been weeping quite a bit, perhaps her vision was blurred from that.
Whatever the case, it’s not until Jesus says her name that her blindness turns to sight and she recognizes Him.
John 20:16, Jesus Revealed
The common name Mary is here changed to the Aramaic name "Miriam" the name that Mary surely heard only from her closest friends and in her own native language.2 She responds to him with a similar term of both endearment and honor.
In John 10:3 it says “…the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name…” When Jesus calls your name, you must hear Him. I cannot help but believe that there is significance in Jesus calling to Mary and opening her eyes here. She responds to him with complete adoration.
In some manner Mary launched herself towards Jesus and hugged on to him as if she might never let Him go. In fact it was this I think that begins to explain what Jesus says next.
John 20:17, Relationship Transformed
Matthew 28:9 describes other from among the women grabbing Jesus’ feet and worshiping Him. Jesus apparently permitted that. And later on, Thomas is encouraged to thrust his hand into the wounds of Jesus.3 And all of this happens before the ascension, so what is
The reason Jesus told her to stop clinging to Him wasn’t because he was unwilling for her to touch him. It wasn’t because he was rejecting her – he clearly states the reason is that he hasn’t yet ascended to the Father.
What is it that happens at the ascension? Last week we uncovered two events that are tied to the ascension. The first is his glorification at the Father’s right hand. The second is that He has promised to send the Holy Spirit (John 7:39), but God’s Spirit cannot come to indwell his people until the ascension.
There is a difference in the intent of Mary and the intent of Thomas as well as the other women who clung to his feet and worshiped Him. Mary intended to keep the Physical Jesus with her, Thomas needed to confirm the life of the risen Jesus, the women who clung to his feet and worshiped Him were acknowledging His Lordship. Mary and Thomas both needed to know the new nature of Jesus – Mary needed faith to release him, Thomas needed to embrace him for faith. Jesus met them both where they were at.
The reason Jesus told Mary to stop clinging to Him is because she intended to keep the physical Jesus with her forever. But Jesus gently corrects her because the fullness of the presence of Jesus Christ is different now for believers. If she merely clung to Jesus as He was, their relationship could never be more than external. But when Jesus ascends he will send the Holy Spirit, and He will “reveal Jesus to your heart in a way you have never known [Him] before. I will be nearer and dearer to you than was possible during My life here.”4
This is the message that Jesus sent Mary to proclaim to the disciples.
And so this morning I share with you, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ this self-same message: Jesus Christ is no longer dead he is alive! He has ascended to his Father and our Father, to his God and our God!
Christ is risen! (He is Risen indeed!)
Go and tell them all,
outside these doors are many more who must know. Tell them Christ is
risen and teach them to know that He is risen indeed!
Easton, Easton’s Bible Dictionary (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research
Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897).
Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, vol. 1-2, New Testament
Commentary : Exposition of the Gospel According to John,
Accompanying Biblical Text Is Author’s Translation., New Testament
Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-2001), 2:455.
George R. Vol. 36, Word Biblical Commentary : John. Word Biblical
Commentary, 376. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002.
MacDonald and Arthur Farstad, Believer’s Bible Commentary : Old and
New Testaments (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1995), Jn 20:17.”