Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on May 21, 2017
Open your Bibles to John 20:1-18. Today we continue our study of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. A few weeks ago I watched a video that perhaps one of you shared on facebook of Paul Washer explaining how to share the Gospel. In that explanation, Paul says something to the effect, I have not shared the Gospel until I have shared the resurrection.
Why is this? It is because without the resurrection, there is no hope, no assurance that anything the Christ said or did was in fact true. J.C. Ryle wrote, ““The resurrection of Christ is one of the foundation-stones of Christianity. It was the seal of the great work that He came on earth to do. It was the crowning proof that the ransom He paid for sinners was accepted, the atonement for sin accomplished, the head of him who had the power of death bruised, and the victory won.”
The resurrection of Christ is the confirmation of the good news, for how can one argue with Christ if he lives! Which leads us to the question, how do you know he lives? Last week we began by examining some of the evidence. The evidence we saw last week included the unmistakable death of Christ, the binding of Jesus in linen clothes, the unlikely burying of Jesus is a rich man’s tomb, the great stone that was rolled in front of the tomb, the sealing of said stone, and the stationing of guards outside the tomb. Then on Sunday morning, everything changed; the guards are not guarding, the stone had been rolled away, the body of Christ was missing, and the linen clothes were still in the tomb along with a face cloth that was folded and lying separately, proving that this was no grave robbery.
On top of all this evidence, we know that Jesus has been telling his disciples for some time that he would be crucified, which he was, and that on the third day he would rise from the grave. And if that wasn’t enough, not only did Christ predict his resurrection, the Old Testament had also predicted his resurrection, Psalm 16:10, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.”
This is in and of itself very persuasive to support the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But, as I stated at the end of last week, there is more. So with that, let us read the Scripture for this morning.
Devoted to Christ
Last week, we were introduced to some unlikely characters, one of them being Mary Magdalene. As we stated, at one time in Mary’s life she had seven demons. How this manifested in her life, we are not sure, but make no mistake she was a wretched sinner. Somewhere along God’s sovereign path, Jesus delivered her from the domain of darkness and she committed her life to following Jesus. How did she serve her Savior? We are told In Luke 8:1, “And the twelve were with him, 2and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,3and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.” Mary used whatever she had and laid it at the feet of Christ. All that God had given to her, she returned by giving to Jesus. This was her love after Christ first loved her.
What is a lot or a little? Not sure, but God does not care about the amount, he cares about the faith behind it. Just think about the widow’s mite in Mark 12:41-44. That widow gave one measly penny and Christ stated, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.” Many of us could learn a lesson from Mary and the widow. Use whatever means that God has given you, do not bury it in the ground.
And as we look at Mary today, we see the same thing. What is she doing this early hour of Sunday morning, she is at the tomb, serving her Savior, even after his death, and because of that devotion to Christ, she was blessed with an amazing blessing.
Grief Upon Grief
Look with me at verse 11, “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.” First, why was Mary weeping? Simple, overwhelming grief. Jesus was her greatest treasure and she watched as his flesh was mutilated, he was crucified, and a spear pierced into his side. He was then laid in a tomb. Now, three days later, the body was missing. This was more that she could handle. Could you imagine how you would feel if a loved one died, and the day after the funeral you go to the plot and discover the plot dug up and your loved one was gone? This would be devastating to say the least. It would be grief upon grief.
But what happens next? Verse 11 again, “As she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
It is interesting, but it does not appear that Mary is fazed by the presence of two angels in the tomb. Commonly, Angles cause people to be afraid. We see nothing of this here. Perhaps it is another clue to the level of despair that Mary was feeling. Perhaps she was so shell shocked by the events, fear was just not possible at this point. And once again, why is she in despair? Because she does not believe in the resurrection. She believes that the body of Christ has been stolen.
Now, notice what the angles say to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Do they not know why she is weeping? Of course they do. There question is one of correction, not of information. If you recall, John, upon entering the tomb and seeing the linen clothes and face clothes believed. Not so for Mary. Her sorrow had not yet been turned to joy. But for Mary, even an angelic question was not enough to shake her out of her sorrow, Christ had to be the one. So she turned and there he was.
Immediately Jesus was not recognizable to Mary. We don't know if this was because she was looking down, or through the tears she could not recognize him. We do know, however, that on the road to Emmaus found in Luke 24:16, just a few hours after this event, Jesus was walking with two of his disciples and we are told, “there eyes were kept from recognizing him.” No matter the reason, she still lacked faith, so Jesus asked the same questions as the Angels, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”
Once again, Christ knows why she is crying. And he is not playing games with her. He is sanctifying her with his questions. Bringing the pain she feels to the surface so he can address it head on. First Christ uses the angels to draw it out, then he speaks directly, and it is not until Jesus says her name “Mary” that she finally snaps out of it and sets her eyes upon the risen Savior. I couldn't help but think of what Jesus said in John 10:2, “ The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” I would assume this was the sweetest sounds she had ever heard, the resurrected Jesus speaking her name.
An Unexpected Witness
And with that Mary is the first eye witness of the resurrected Christ. And she would be the first of over 500 people over the course of the next 40 days that would see Jesus face to face. Now, I don't know about you, but I would think that seeing Jesus alive would be pretty good evidence that he was alive. Not only did the Old Testament predict his resurrection, not only did Jesus predict his resurrection, not only was the stone rolled away, not only was the body missing and the linens remained, Jesus was now standing in the flesh before Mary.
As Christians, I believe we need to be confident and authoritative about the reality of the resurrection. As Charles Spurgeon said, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is one of the best attested facts on record. There were so many witnesses to behold it, that if we do in the least degree receive the credibility of men’s testimonies, we cannot and we dare not doubt that Jesus rose from the dead.” Let us not shrink from the facts, but proclaim them confidently that Jesus is alive!
And of all the people Christ could have first appeared to, he chose Mary Magdelene. This is not the expected choice. Why? First of all, Mary was a women. In first century Palestine, women were not considered of equal to men. If you recall, we spoke of this reality when we examined John 4 when Jesus spoke to the women at the well. Upon the disciples return from the local market, they were shocked that Jesus stood talking with a women. Speaking to a women in public was counter cultural. Jesus was breaking the norm. Likewise, women were not allow to testify in court. Why would Jesus first appear to a women, who the culture was predisposed to not believe?
Second, not only was Mary a women, she had a very sordid past. As we stated she was known for having seven demons. Prior to meeting Jesus, she would have been a in a very dark place leading her to do very wicked things. Therefore, Mary was not a Pharisee, she was not prophet, she was not one of the twelve, she was not well known business women. She was a wretched sinner saved by sovereign grace. If you were making up a story of the resurrection, would Mary be the one you would choose for Jesus to first appear to? Why would Jesus choose her?
I think the answer is found in what Jesus says to Mary. Look at verse 17, “Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Now, I want you to think about this exchange for a second and how odd it is. Jesus has just been crucified, buried in a sealed tomb, and now stands completely alive before Mary. And what does Jesus do? He commands. He commands Mary to do two things: 1) Don't cling to me and 2) Go and tell people. For Jesus, there is no catching up, no explanation, no small talk, he gets right down to business. There is work to do.
First, Jesus commands her not to cling to him. What is going on here? Most likely what is going on here is that he is encouraging Mary not to hold onto the lesser blessing. What do I mean by that? I mean that the resurrected Jesus is great, but the resurrected and ascended Jesus is better. Why? Because as we have already studied in John 14 and 16, when Jesus gets to the Father, what is he going to do? He is going to send the Holy Spirit. And what will the Holy Spirt do? Indwell every believer. At this point, Jesus is standing beside Mary. At Pentecost, Jesus will indwell Mary. What is better? Jesus beside or Jesus inside. The greater blessing for Mary is still to come.
Go and Tell
The second command, go and tell my brothers. How strange is this? Jesus has the power to lay down his life and take it up again, and he needs a women to go and tell the disciples. Really? Why not tell them himself? Because Jesus is wasting no time in setting up the game plan for his Kingdom. What is that game plan? Go and tell.
The way in which the good news of Jesus Christ spreads is not by Christ making a personal appearance to everyone. Instead the Kingdom of Christ spreads by the testimony from those who already believe. And who does that include? All believers, even the cultural outcast such as Mary Magdalene. And I believe this is exactly why Jesus chooses Mary out of everyone. He did not want to box in the sharing of the gospel. He wanted to make it explicitly clear that he wants all of his followers no matter who you are, or what your past is, to go and proclaim the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The proclamation of the gospel is not reserved to the twelve apostles, it is not reserved for pastors, it is not reserved to the theologically astute, it is not reserved to the men, it is not reserved to those with a squeaky clean past. The proclamation of the risen Christ is for all who believe in it. This is the way in which Christ will build his Church, through the testimony of his followers that Christ is alive.
And as I stated, Jesus does not waste any time in laying out the strategy. Unfortunately, not many of us are paying attention. We act more like Mary before she believed than after she believed. We are too caught up in our own problems to even see the risen Christ standing before our eyes. Instead of being about the Lord's work proclaiming his life, we are too consumed with out own lives. We wake up, go to work, make our money, come home, spend out time at our kids sports event, and waste our money on the weekends. Is this what fellow soldiers for Christ are called to do?
Imagine if Mary at this moment of being commanded to go and tell said, “They will never believe me” or “Who am I? I'm must a women.” or “I'm too busy” or “ I would rather just show my faith in your resurrection by being a good example.” or “Sorry, Jesus, my faith is personal.”
Sadly, these are the excuses we use all the time to keep us from telling those who Christ sends us to about the greatest reality in the Universe. We fail to obey our greatest calling and our greatest mission, to go and tell. And the reality is, If we do not tell them, who will. This is the pattern of the Kingdom that Christ sets up in the first hours of his regin.
The apostle Paul, perhaps understood this reality better than anyone. Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” We must be a people who speak. We have kept out mouths closed for too long, and we are seeing the consequences of it. So what are we to tell them? Jesus was dead and now he is alive, and someday we will also die, but the only way in which we will also live is by repenting of our sins, and believing in Jesus Christ the Son of God.
1 Peter 2:9, “9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” This is true for Mary Magdelene and this is true for us.