(11) But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.
(12) And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.
(13) They 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."
(14) Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
(15) Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."
(16) Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).
(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.'"
(18) Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"--and that he had said these things to her.
On Good Friday, Jesus was crucified. God was crucified. The incredible reality revealed on the cross is that God’s love does not cease in pain, not even in the pain of death. We often assert that God loves us in our pain. That is a source of comfort to us. Even though we may be suffering, God still loves us. But that is not primarily what the cross says to us about pain. The cross says that God loves us in God’s pain. Christ was the one on the cross not us. God suffered and died on the cross. Because God loved us, God would go to the depths of pain for us.
Let us talk about that for a moment. In every situation, in every moment of our lives, God offers us choices that will bring us closer to God. These are not theoretical choices. For example, we may have had a rough day. We are not feeling very happy about the way things are going. We go to the grocery to pick up a few things and we did not want to do that. Still, when it comes to greeting the cashier we have a choice. We can be grumpy and surly and take out on her all the frustrations of our day. But God’s choice may simply be for us to realize that she has nothing to do with our frustrations and that we should leave our frustrations for the moment and give her a good word. This good word may be just what she needs because she also may have had a rough day. That is a real possibility in a real situation. God offers us practical choices in every moment. How we react to these possibilities marks our progress in godliness.
But in order to offer us real possibilities in real situations, God must know us from top to bottom. God knows us inside out and outside in. God knows our pain and our sin and our folly, God knows what we are, and God’s response to what we are was to die on the cross for us.
The crucifixion was a dark tragedy, but God fashioned a joyful end to that tragedy. Resurrection answers crucifixion. Life answers death.
It is curious that the New Testament tells us about the results of the Resurrection not the resurrection itself. For example, consider John’s account of what happened on Easter.
In chapter 19, John relates the burial of Jesus. As the scene opens in chapter 20, we learn that it is before sunrise on Sunday morning. Mary Magdalene has gone to the tomb in the darkness, but she can see that the stone that had been used to seal the tomb is rolled away. Something has happened. Disturbed, she ran and found Peter and another disciple, and told them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." (2)
Naturally, the two disciples ran to the tomb. The other disciple is called the one whom Jesus loved. Some say it was John himself, others say it was Lazarus. In any case, the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He hesitated at the entrance. He looked in and saw the empty burial shroud. Then Simon Peter came up and, being Peter, went right into the tomb. He also saw the empty shroud.
Emboldened by Peter’s example, the beloved disciple followed Peter into the tomb, and v8 tells us, “He saw and believed.” Believed what? That Christ had actually risen from the dead. Until this time, as John notes in v9, no one had believed in an actual resurrection. Jesus had told them about it, but they did not believe. The first to believe, the first Christian, was the beloved disciple.
If the beloved disciple was Lazarus, his belief is more easily understood, because Lazarus had already encountered the resurrection power of Christ. Apparently, Peter did not yet believe. In any case, there seemed to be nothing for them to do at the tomb, so they went back to their lodgings in Jerusalem.
Mary Magdalene had come back to the tomb with the disciples and she was still trying to deal with this further trauma. Not only had Jesus been crucified and killed, but now there was this further indignity of having his body stolen. She was in tears, and she bent down to look into the tomb. But now the tomb was not empty. She saw two angels dressed in white. The angels were symbolically placed where the head and feet of Jesus had been. The angels said, "Woman, why are you weeping?" Mary’s reply is straight from the heart, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." We wonder who “they” are. Probably Mary does not know but she thinks that “they” have stolen the body of Jesus.
Mary must have sensed something then because she turned around. There was Jesus, but she did not recognize him. How could she? She thinks he is dead, and the resurrected Jesus probably did not look much like his old self.
Jesus said, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" (15). She thought he was a gardener come to do some work around the tomb. She asks, “Have you moved the body. Tell me where you took him, and I will take care of his body for you."
Then Jesus called her by name, and called her name in an old familiar way that brought instant recognition. We have to read between the lines a little here. She realized this was Jesus. Her first response was to rush to him and grab him and hug him. But Jesus says in v17, "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” We do not know exactly what Jesus meant by this. Perhaps he simply meant do not hug me right now for I have something else for you to do. He gives Mary a mission saying, “Go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" And she did that. We read in v18 “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’--and that he had said these things to her.”
Now these verses from John are not an account of the resurrection; rather, they describe the first appearance of Jesus after the resurrection. The actual resurrection is hidden from us; the results are not. Perhaps we should compare the resurrection to the sun in the sky. We cannot look directly at the sun for its brightness would blind us. Our eyes are not suited for the strength of its light. Yet the sun, which we cannot directly see, powers all life on this planet. Even so, the resurrection, which we cannot directly see, is the power of eternal life.
The resurrection is the high point of the New Testament. It is the confirmation of all that Jesus revealed in his life and ministry, It is the catalyst that transforms the disciples, it is the power that led to the foundation of the church.
The resurrection is founded upon what went before. The resurrected Jesus is to some extent the same Jesus who walked the roads of Galilee. He healed and taught. He entered Jerusalem triumphantly on Palm Sabbath. He was arrested on Thursday night, tried and crucified on Friday morning. This is that same Jesus, but not the same. As we saw in this first encounter with Mary, that same Jesus has been transformed into the resurrected Lord. Before the resurrection most of the disciples probably thought of Jesus as their rabbi. Now he is Lord and God.
Jesus’ life, crucifixion and resurrection is a progressive revelation of what God is like. In the life of Jesus, we see God’s love. Jesus was open and accepting to people from every walk of life, from Pharisees to tax collectors, from Roman centurions to prostitutes. Jesus offered forgiveness and salvation. He taught us about giving and receiving. In a word, he taught us about love. In the crucifixion, we encounter the enduring power, or staying power, of God’s love. Neither pain nor death can destroy the love of God.
And in the resurrection we again see the power of love. In the resurrection, God overcame death and the devil. More than that. The Jesus of the resurrection is not the same Jesus who was crucified. He has been transformed into more than he was. This says something else about the love of God. God’s loving power transforms what is into something better. The resurrection was the transformation of Jesus.
Therefore, we can say that, in a sense, God is resurrection. God transforms everything that happens by his love.
Well, what does that say to us? In this world, we are confronted by demonic powers that threaten to overwhelm us. I mean powers like fear and anxiety, revenge and cruelty, selfishness and indifference. God answers all these demonic powers with his resurrection power. Jesus is the counterforce to the demonic.
We see this, first of all, in the crucifixion. God’s love endures all pain without being overwhelmed by it. When we believe in Jesus, we tap into this power so that we cannot be overwhelmed by the evil powers that threaten us. God has experienced those powers. That is what the crucifixion says. God has overcome all our terrors.
The resurrection carries that thought even further. Not only has God overcome all the demonic powers that confront us, God is even now acting to transform us and transform our situation into something far more than we could ever have imagined.
Unfortunately, when it comes to dealing with the things of God, our imaginations are so limited that we only nibble at the edges of what this transformation might be. In thinking of the resurrection, most people think that this body will be resurrected into a situation that is similar to that which we live in today. The resurrection appearances of Jesus are hints at larger reality that we have trouble perceiving. Jesus was still Jesus and that would say that a resurrection reality will be somewhat like our present reality, but Jesus was not just Jesus, he was the transformed Lord of creation. God is even now moving the whole universe toward that same kind of resurrection transformation.
God is moving in our lives to make us part of that resurrection transformation. In everything that happened to him, Jesus showed us a loving God is who is bent on transforming our lives with the power of his love. In accepting the resurrected lord as our lord and our God, we immerse ourselves in his love and live and breathe and walk by that power. This is why we were born. This is the only reason to live. Believe on Jesus. Live in his resurrection power. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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