What is interesting about the gospels, and in this case -- the Gospel of John, particularly -- is that there would be no chapter 20 if Jesus’ story was a normal biography…the story would end with the death of the individual. If the story ends in chapter 19, then it is truly the end of the story…for Jesus and for all of humanity. But, the account of this miracle (John 20:1-18) is proof that Jesus is unlike any other human being ever to live. The Resurrection is an essential part of the Gospel message (1 Corinthians 15:1-8) and a key doctrine in the Christian faith. From the very beginning, the enemies of the Lord try to deny the historic fact of the Resurrection. The Jewish leaders claim that the Lord’s body has been stolen from the tomb. But, this is absurd…because if the body was stolen, then how on earth would they have done it? The tomb is guarded by Roman soldiers and the tomb sealed with an official Roman seal. Also, the disciples have not believed that He is to be raised from the dead; it is His enemies who remember His words. (Matthew 27:62-66) The opponents certainly would not have taken the body. The last thing they want is anyone believing that Jesus actually has risen from the dead. As the women approach the tomb, they are worried about who would roll back such a heavy stone (Mark 16:1-3). And this brings us to Mary Magdalene, the first of the women to arrive at the tomb on the first day of the week. As we consider her experience that Lord’s Day morning, we can see her comprehension of the truth of the Resurrection.
Mary Magdalene and several other women agree to go to the tomb of Jesus following His death on the cross and His burial. These women, desiring to show their love for Christ, want to complete the burial preparations. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had been forced by the circumstances to prepare the body quickly, but now the ladies are going to finish the task. What they are not aware of is that an earthquake has taken place and the stone guarding Jesus’ tomb has been rolled back by an angel. It is apparent that Mary Magdalene goes on ahead of the other women and gets to the tomb first. When she sees that the stone has been rolled away, she believes that someone has broken into the tomb and stolen the body of her Lord. Given all that we know, and have already discussed concerning the circumstances surrounding what has happened to Jesus, it is not difficult to believe that Mary thinks this way. Mary runs to break the news to Peter and John at an unknown location. The other women arrive at the tomb, then leave and carry the angels’ message to the other disciples.
Meanwhile, Peter and John start off for the tomb. It is John who follows initially, but being fleeter of foot, he gets there first. When he arrives, he cautiously remains outside but looks in. What does he see? Grave clothes lying on the stone shelf. Peter also arrives and…true to form…impulsively heads on into the tomb. There, he also sees the grave clothes. John then enters the tomb, looks at the evidence and is awestruck! It is as if the light goes on all of the sudden, because the text says, “He sees and believes” (v.8). Resurrection faith begins to take hold. It is amazing that Jesus’ followers did not expect Him to come out of the tomb alive…after all, He had told them on numerous occasions that He would be raised from the dead (John 2:19, etc.). Peter and John experience faith that is based on the evidence. They see grave clothes…they know that Jesus’ body is not there. After the resurrection, Jesus does not reveal Himself to everyone, but only to select witnesses who share the Good News with others (Acts 10:39-43). Peter and John see and believe – soon the Holy Spirit will confirm their faith.
Peter and John have returned home by the time Mary Magdalene decides to come back to the tomb. She has stayed in the garden, such is her love and devotion to her Lord. Mary has not reached the same conclusion as have Peter and John, for she believes that Jesus is still dead. Her weeping is the loud lament associated with how her people, the Jews, express sorrow. When she comes to the tomb and looks inside, she sees two men dressed in white. Their positions at either end of the shelf where Jesus had been lying, makes us think of the cherubim on the mercy seat. (Exodus 25:17-19) It is as though God is saying, “There is now a new mercy seat – my Son has paid the price for sin, and a new way is opened up to the presence of God.” Mary does not seem to be disturbed at seeing these two men, and there is no evidence that she knows that they are angels. But, her conversation with them does nothing to calm her, or dry up her tears.
Mary is determined to find Jesus, and at once, she turns around and sees Jesus, although she does not know that it is Him. It is interesting that she does not recognize Him…perhaps it is too early to see well, or her tears are blinding her somewhat, or perhaps Jesus is concealing His true identity from her for the moment, as He did with the Emmaus disciples. Jesus asks her why she is weeping…and who is it that she is seeking. Jesus recognizes her broken heart and tenderly reveals Himself to her, simply calling out her name – Mary. When He does this, she immediately recognizes Him. All she can say is “Rabboni!” (Which means “my Teacher”). She not only speaks to Him, but grabs onto His feet, and holds onto Him…sort of like we did when we were little kids and we didn’t want a parent to leave the house. Jesus tells her not to hold on to Him…which is curious. One reason is that she will see Him again, as He will be on the earth another forty days before ascending to the Father. Mary does not need to panic…as if this is her last opportunity to be with Jesus. A second reason is that she has a job to do – go tell people that Jesus is indeed alive. She does, indeed, get up from there and share the Good News, “I have seen the Lord!”
Every year, thousands of people climb a mountain in the Italian Alps, passing the "stations of the cross" to stand at an outdoor crucifix. One tourist noticed a little trail that led beyond the cross. He fought through the rough thicket and, to his surprise, came upon another shrine, a shrine that symbolized the empty tomb. It was neglected. The brush had grown up around it. Almost everyone had gone as far as the cross, but there they stopped. Far too many have gotten to the cross and have known the despair and the heart break. Far too few have moved beyond the cross to find the real message of Easter. That is the message of the empty tomb. (Lavonn Brown, "The Other Half of the Rainbow," submitted by Michael Adams, First Baptist Church, Union City, TN.)
This has long been one of my struggles with how people view the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Some have put so much emphasis on the cross that they nearly miss the most important event, and this is the Resurrection. We must not only recognize the power of the cross, but we have to live in the power of the resurrection of Jesus! The kicker with all of this, going back to the beginning of the message today -- as good as the evidence is to convince the mind, it cannot change the life. What do I mean? Those of us who live centuries later cannot examine that evidence, for it is no longer there for us to inspect. But, we do have the record of the evidence in God’s Word as it has stood the tests of time. It is faith in the message found in the Word that Jesus wants to cultivate in us through His Holy Spirit. And that message…the undeniable message of the Resurrection…is that – Jesus is alive! He is alive in order that you and I may be able to be alive forever…and this is Good News!