This morning we, along with Christians across the globe, gather to reflect upon our Lord’s victory over death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a crucial component of Christianity. It is the central topic of the preaching in Acts and each one of the apostles bear witness to the resurrection in their New Testament letters.
On the Sunday prior to the resurrection, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey to shouts of “Hosanna!” On Thursday night he was mocked and beaten. By Friday morning he was scourged and crucified. By the evening his body was placed into the tomb. But Sunday transitions from his humiliation to his exaltation.
Before we read this passage let us look to the Lord in prayer for his help in understanding it.
Heavenly Father, As we now give attention to Your word, open our eyes, that we might behold wonderful things from Your law through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen (Ps 119:18).
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.
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.
This is the Word of the LORD.
Jesus’ disciples are in fresh mourning over the death of their leader. They were still reeling from how quick it all went down. Their hope is gone. All the potential for political rebellion had been squelched at the cross. The enemy had won.
It’s possible, by now, the disciples are contemplating how they will move on. What would they do now? Where would they go? Who would protect them? Could they simply return to their old jobs? No one was able to provide any meaningful comfort. They might have shared empty platitudes, but beneath the surface remarks, there was a thick cloud of despair and loss.
The Gospels would be terribly depressing if they ended here. The death of Christ on the cross loses its power if it is not followed by the resurrection. Jesus must accomplish all that he said he would do, including rising from the dead on the third day.
Although there are many differences between the gospel accounts of the resurrection, all four emphasize the empty tomb, and none of them are necessarily contradictory. Even if we cannot explain every detail precisely, we know it is a vitally important fact that Jesus physically rose from the grave. Resurrection is the fact upon which our faith is based (1 Cor. 15:14-17). The fact of the resurrection demands a response of faith and provides the gift of comfort.
First, we will look at The Response of Faith (1-10). Second, we’ll see The Gift of Comfort (11-18).
The Response of Faith (1-10)
All four gospels specify that the resurrection occurred “on the first day of the week” (1). It is because of this fact that the early Christians began to gather for worship on that day. The resurrection is the basis for the Christian Sabbath (also referred to as “the Lord’s day” Rev. 1:10).
Mary was not the only woman at the tomb, but it is typical to identify a group by referring to one member and verse 2 indicates more women were present when she states “we do not know…” Mary runs to tell the disciples out of fear that Jesus’ body had been stolen. Grave robbing was apparently fairly common. Emperor Claudius (AD 41-54), a decade or so later, would make the crime a capital offense.
Then John informs us of a foot race to the tomb between he and the older Peter (3-4). Luke 24:12 only mentions the presence of Peter, but later on he states “some of our companions went to the tomb…” (Luke 24:24). Once again, an apparent discrepancy is removed by simply paying close attention to the text itself.
The presence of the linens (5) argues against the explanation that the body of Jesus was stolen. A group of thieves would have no reason to leave the linens behind.
The empty tomb is incredibly important. The rapid growth of Christianity is unexplainable apart from an empty tomb. But the climax of this section comes at the end, when John saw the empty tomb and believed. Hoskyns remarks, “The pre-eminence of the faith of the Beloved Disciple is the climax of the narrative.”
The beloved disciple believed Jesus because he rose from the dead even though he didn’t understand the Old Testament prophecies yet (9). John is accusing himself that he didn’t believe until he saw the proofs of the resurrection. Although this is a humble admission to their lack of complete understanding, we know that they believed based upon Christ’s personal testimony (John 14:25-26; 16:12-15).
What Scripture is John referencing here?
- He could possibly have Hosea 6:2 or Jonah 1:17 in mind, both of which refer to the “third day”.
- Or maybe he had Isaiah 53:10-12 in mind, which refers to the Messianic Servant as being alive after his death.
- Or, maybe John has Psalm 16:10 on his mind in reference to the Holy One who will not see corruption. Paul’s explanation in Acts 13:35-37 is helpful:
“Therefore he says also in another psalm, ‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’ For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption.”
One thing is clear: Belief in the resurrection came first. They did not manufacture a resurrection account in order to fit their unique interpretation of the Old Testament.
Skipping down to verse 29, after Thomas’ expression of faith, we see a blessing extended to those who believe without having seen. Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Do you see yourself in this chapter? Do you see yourself in the fearful state of the disciples? Do you find yourself like Thomas, doubting the claims of Christianity?
It is interesting that the gospel accounts never provide eyewitness testimony of the resurrection. No one actually witnessed Jesus rise from the dead. They saw the empty tomb. And they saw the risen Lord. But nobody saw His dead body come to life. Why didn’t Christ rise in the presence of a crowd? One reason could be that a secret resurrection places all of us on the same level. All of us must come to saving faith by trusting the word of another.
Iain Campbell states it like this, “The women must trust the angels; the disciples must trust the women; we must trust the disciples.” Will you believe even though you have not seen Jesus? Will you trust the testimony of these women? Will you trust the testimony of these disciples who gave up their lives in order to share it? This is the Word of God! You can either receive it or reject it. But you are not left with the option to be indifferent toward it.
The resurrection is a call to respond in faith. With the faith of the disciples stirred, the narrative shifts back to Mary where we focus on…
The Gift of Comfort (11-18)
The angels ask Mary why she’s weeping (11-13). Their question contains both rebuke and comfort. This is not an occasion for grief. Mary should not be weeping as one who is without hope.
Then she sees Jesus but doesn’t recognize him (14). DA Carson comments, “As grand as her devotion to him was, her estimate of him was still far too small.”1 She could not imagine that he would be alive even though she would have heard him say that he would rise again on several occasions.
Jesus asks, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” (15-16). When her response indicates she still doesn’t get it, Jesus says one word that changes everything. He calls her by her name; “Mary.” Mary responds to the voice of Jesus calling her by name.
He is the Good Shepherd (John 10:4). Calvin writes,
“That voice of the shepherd, therefore, enters into Mary’s heart, opens her eyes, arouses all her senses, and affects her in such a manner, that she immediately surrenders herself to Christ.”2
Jesus knows his sheep and invites them to come to him.
Immediately, her despair becomes delight, her anguish becomes joy, her pain and confusion is replaced with purpose and passion. Jesus appears to the woman who had been so far from the Lord originally. As a woman, her witness was disqualified in every courtroom. Her past was one of poor reputation. She had experienced being outcast by society. She had been ravaged by seven demons. Not only did Jesus heal her, but he used her to inform the disciples.
The last time Jesus saw his disciples was when they fled upon his arrest. But, here he tells Mary to “go to my brothers.” Although they had been ashamed of him, he did not hold it against them. Instead, the first message he brings them is a reminder of their adoption. He could’ve simply stated that he was ascending to His Father, but instead he wants to remind them of their entrance into that same family. “My Father is your Father. My God is your God.”
Heidelberg Catechism Q.45 “What does the “resurrection” of Christ profit us?” Answer: “First, by his resurrection he has overcome death, that he might make us partakers of the righteousness which he had purchased for us by his death; secondly, we are also by his power raised up to a new life; and lastly, the resurrection of Christ is a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.”
In other words, the first implication of the resurrection for the believer is the knowledge that, apart from the resurrection, the redemption purchased by Christ on the cross cannot be applied. Jesus accomplished redemption on the cross, but if he had remained dead, he could never apply that redemption by his Spirit to believers.
The second implication is that the believer has been “raised up to a new life” with Christ. This is what Paul states in Colossians 3:1 – “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Our affections according to the flesh must be replaced by a desire for his purposes.
Lastly, the resurrection of Christ is a pledge of our future resurrection.
Have you ever felt inadequate to pray “My Father”? Christ Himself taught us to pray in such a way, and here he affirms that mindset among his followers as a means of preparing them for his departure and bringing them great comfort.
What about you? Have you been ashamed of Christ? Ashamed to acknowledge him before others? Know that Christ is ready to receive you. Have you heard Christ calling your name? Will you come? “Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched, weak and wounded, sick and sore; Jesus, ready, stands to save you, full of pity, joined with power. He is able, He is able; He is willing; doubt no more.”3
With the example of Mary, we see that the Lord is near his redeemed, even when they are very unconscious of his presence.4
Christ’s command for Mary to go and tell the disciples carries obvious evangelistic implications for believers of all generations. The good news of the resurrection is meant to be shared, not just once a year, but all the time. Christ’s command is ongoing. Many of us are like Mary. We have found Christ and yet we’re still clinging to him as if we could lose him. Rather than being led by faith, we are led by fear. We fear rejection. We fear humiliation. We fear our own lack of consistency.
But what Jesus Christ has accomplished in his death and resurrection demands a response of faith and provides a gift of comfort.
Christ has risen just as he said he would. We see the compassion of our Lord in the way he provides comfort for his disciples. Who had been redeemed from the lowest of lows? Can anyone argue that they are lower than Mary was?
Certainly Jesus could have appeared to the disciples himself. But he would rather enlist the help of a woman whose own redemption was one of great transformation. After Jesus was arrested Matthew tells us the disciples fled (Matt. 26:56). Yet, at his first opportunity, Jesus calls them his brothers.
We have a God who not only offers to redeem us from the curse of the law, but he promises to restore us to usefulness. Jesus delights to redeem and restore. If you feel like you are at one of your lowest points in life, hear the message of Christ to you this morning! Place your faith in him and experience the comfort that is everlasting. Though you have betrayed him, you can know that he will never leave you nor forsake you (Deut. 31:6). Even at your lowest, Christ stands ready to receive you.
Do you imagine yourself to be past the opportunity for forgiveness and redemption? Hear the rejoicing of Mary Magdalene! See the restoration of the disciples! You are never beyond saving! You can be redeemed and restored even now! You are here for a reason. Maybe today is the day you return to the Lord.
1 Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991.
2 Calvin, John, and William Pringle. Commentary on the Gospel according to John. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010.
3 “Come Ye Sinners” by Joseph Hart
4 Hawker, Robert. Poor Man’s New Testament Commentary: Matthew–John. Vol. 1. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2013.