A family was driving home from church on Easter. Mom and Dad were in the front seat and their 3-year old boy was in the backseat. Partway home, little Timmy started sobbing. His mom turned around. “What’s wrong?!” Timmy gasped and sputtered and then said, ‘The pastor said he wanted us kids brought up in a Christian home!” “Right. What’s wrong with that?” “I want to stay with you guys!”
Today, we complete our current sermon series- In the Shadow of the Cross. We’ve spent five weeks in that exact spot- the shadow of the cross. We’ve looked at 5 events- 4 that preceded the cross and one…today…that follows it and focused on how Jesus orchestrated events to lead to both the ultimate sacrifice…and the ultimate victory. Four weeks ago, we started with a topic that hit at the very heart of Easter- Before Death…Life. Three weeks ago, we moved to The Plot. Two weeks ago, we looked at an odd and beautiful story about Extravagant Worship. Last week, we came to the very threshold of Easter as we looked at why Jesus would be Riding on a Donkey. Today, we bring it all to a close…AND celebrate the greatest day in history…as we ask the question, “Why are you crying?” Let’s take a few minutes and walk through today’s Scripture.
John 20:1-18 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put Him!”
One of the major differences between Jesus and other great religious leaders is that Jesus rose from the dead. And THAT’S what we celebrate today, because Jesus’ story is cause for joyous celebration.
Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early on Easter morning to anoint the body. She has NO idea how she’s going to GET to the body…but she just HAS to go. And when she gets there, the stone is rolled away. She’s convinced that Jesus’ body has been taken. So she runs to tell Peter and John. On a side note, notice that this is the Gospel written BY John. And in this story, he often refers to the disciple “that Jesus loved”. And that disciple is…John- HIM! He IS “the disciple Jesus loved”, the “other disciple”. Keep that in mind as we walk through this story.
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
They were as shocked and devastated as Mary was, so Peter and John- “the other disciple”- run for the tomb. Notice that John takes a moment to tell us that he outran Peter and got there first. It’s SUCH a “guy” thing, isn’t it?
He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but didn’t go in.
So John gets there first- he is CLEAR to tell us that- but he doesn’t go in the tomb. Why? There are several possible explanations. Perhaps he waited in deference to Peter as the true leader of the group- age before beauty and all that. Maybe. But I wonder- it tells us that he looked in and saw the grave clothes and didn’t go in. I think maybe he saw that and assumed that Jesus’ body was still there. “Nothing to see here- situation normal.”
Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.
Peter- who was “behind him”, let’s make sure we get that in- finally gets there. And Peter- headstrong, impetuous, a “shoot first and ask questions later” kind of guy- goes right in. He sees the grave clothes, too, but he also notices that the headcloth isn’t with the rest- it’s off to the side, folded.
Why would it be separated from the rest of the graveclothes…AND be folded…if someone had simply stolen the body? They either would have left the whole shooting match in a big heap or simply taken them as they took the body. Something…else…happened here.
Then John…the OTHER disciple…you know, the one Jesus LOVED?…comes in, sees what’s what about you know what…and believes.
Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying.
So the disciples return “home”, while Mary stays behind. I would LOVE to know what Peter and John thought as they headed back. So many possibilities…so little information. But we KNOW what Mary thought because she stays behind…standing outside the tomb, weeping.
As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
She looks into the tomb, I think to see for herself that the body is gone, and she sees two figures, all in white, sitting where Jesus’ lifeless body had been. Notice that Mary didn’t freak out at the presence of two angels. Either she was clouded by grief and tears or they didn’t look that different from you and me. Either way, they look right at her and ask, “Woman, why are you crying?” At that moment, the answer to that question must seem PAINFULLY obvious to Mary. “Duh! Why do you THINK I’m crying?!”
“They’ve taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they’ve put Him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t realize it was Jesus.
Mary’s answer makes it clear that she has NO expectation that Jesus is alive. And then, she turns…and there He stands. BUT…she doesn’t recognize Him. Is she so blinded by grief? Is she so convinced that He’s dead? Or is it possible that Jesus has intentionally kept her from recognizing Him…for the moment?
“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you’re looking for?”
Notice that Jesus asks her the EXACT same question the angels asked- “Why are you crying?” And then He adds, “Who are you looking for?” It’s important here that Jesus addresses her as “woman”- it’s a rather generic term that keeps her in the realm of talking to a stranger…for the moment.
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you’ve carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Mary completely ignores the question. Instead, she heads right to why she’s there. “Just tell me where He is. No questions asked. I just want to get Him.” She is so overcome by grief that she’s not thinking through this very well. She came to the tomb having no idea how she was going to get in. And now, she wants to know where the body is so that she can get in, not imagining how she’s going to move a grown man by herself. Mary is overwhelmed by this loss. Then Jesus reveals Himself.
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
It only took one simple thing for Mary to recognize Jesus- He spoke her name. It’s the most penetrating and personal word anyone can say. She…knows. And she turns back toward Him, now confident of SO many things, and calls Him Rabboni. John tells us that is means “teacher”. And he’s right. But interestingly, Rabboni has a more literal meaning- “my dear Lord”. The dual meaning is NOT lost on us.
Jesus said, “Don’t hold on to Me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to My brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’ ”
It’s interesting that Jesus’ immediate reaction to Mary’s adoration is “Don’t hold on to me.” That’s easily interpreted as, “Don’t touch me!” But that’s NOT what Jesus means. Instead, He’s saying, “Don’t detain Me. Don’t try and simply keep Me here for yourself. I still have things to do.”
It’s also important to note how Jesus refers to God here. He is “My Father”…but He is also “your Father”. He is “my God” and “your God”. Jesus is trying to point out to Mary that believers become members of the family of God when they receive Him into their lives…their hearts. WE ARE a family.
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that He had said these things to her.
Mary has had a unique experience with Jesus…and she will never be the same. Think about that for a moment- she had COUNTLESS encounters with Jesus over the three years of His adult ministry. And they were all meaningful…impactful. But this one was different…special. She didn’t simply have an encounter with Jesus. For the first time, she had a unique experience with the Risen Savior. And any doubt, any wondering about just how literal His claims were was gone. He was…IS…the only begotten Son of God and He died…and rose again…for her…for US! This truly IS the greatest day in history.
So, I just stopped by here this morning to ask YOU, “Why are you crying?” Maybe you lost a loved one. Maybe you or someone you love is struggling mightily with health issues. Maybe there’s a relationship that’s been broken..or is in danger of being broken. Maybe your relationship with your kids…or your parents…isn’t what you wish it were. Maybe you hate your job…or can’t find a job. Maybe life just hasn’t turned out the way you planned. Maybe…maybe…maybe.
If you found yourself in there somewhere, I want you to hear something very important this morning. You are NOT alone. No matter HOW you feel, no matter WHO has walked away…you are NOT alone. No matter how bad life seems, no matter how uncertain the future seems…you are NOT alone. There is One Who walks with you, always. Sometimes, He walks beside you, talking, teaching, sharing. Sometimes, He walks ahead of you, encouraging you to pick up the pace and keep pushing on. Sometimes, He walks behind you, gently nudging you forward when you’re finding it hard to put one foot in front of the other. And sometimes…when you simply can’t go on by yourself…He carries you.
And let me assure you- that isn’t just platitudes and lip-service from the preacher. I’ve been there- to be encouraged, prodded, even carried. And I would CERTAINLY not be HERE if He hadn’t been THERE…for me. Following Jesus doesn’t magically dissolve all of your problems. But it DOES give you an Advocate to lighten the load and help bear the burden. And it gives you hope- something to look forward to beyond this finite life. Think about that, whether you have 1 year or 100 years on this planet, it’s but the blink of an eye when compared to eternity with Him. We are not earthly beings on a spiritual journey. Instead, we are spiritual beings on a temporary earthly journey. “I knew you before you were knitted in your mother’s womb. And now, I go and prepare a place for you. And I will come for you so that where I am..you will be also.” Without Christmas, there is no Jesus. But without Easter, there is no Christ. This truly IS the GREATEST day in history! Christ is risen!