Reading Time: 8 Minutes
John 20.1-9 – 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.
Seven Observations about the Resurrection
It is helpful to root our belief in the resurrection in a foundation of the best understanding we can obtain from the study of the Bible. Westcott, a highly appreciated Bible scholar, has given the world seven observations about the record of Jesus’ resurrection.
(1) There is no description given of the moment when Jesus was raised from the dead. In our modern terminology, there was no cell phone video of the event or no TV account to see the stone rolled away.
(2) Jesus appeared in his resurrected form only to people who were already following him.
(3) Jesus showed himself to separate individuals, to small groups, and to large gatherings of people.
(4) Jesus showed himself on his own time-table. It was always his act of grace to appear to others.
(5) People were hesitant to receive and accept Jesus’ resurrection, until he showed himself to them. See the response of the disciples in John 20.25, Luke 24.22-24, and Matthew 28.17.
(6) No single report of seeing the resurrected Jesus was accepted, until it was examined fully.
(7) The revelation of Jesus’ resurrection brought about a conviction that Jesus was alive and with the disciples in bodily form.
This kind of analysis helps me confirm my faith, but the greatest confirmation is the reality of Jesus’ life in my own experience. When I opened my heart to Jesus in the summer of 1967, he made an immediate difference in my life. My experience is among that of millions who know the truth of Jesus’ words to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20.29).
For centuries people like us have heard the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Even though we were not visible witnesses to the resurrection, we placed our faith in Jesus and experienced the transforming power of our resurrected Lord. Like the bind man, we can say, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9.25).
I love being at Maywood Baptist Church, because we see miracles on a very regular basis. We are among the crowd, who have not visibly seen the resurrection, but believe and see God’s power in action.
Mary’s Experience of Jesus
John 20.11-18 – 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.
The witness of a woman was not accepted in the first century. One of the many ways that the New Testament demonstrates that it can be trusted is the accurate way it described the first witness to the resurrection. Not only was Mary a woman, but she was a woman with a troubled past (see Luke 8.2). Yet, the Bible recorded her as the first one to the empty tomb.
The only reason why the Bible said that Mary was the first to the tomb, instead of one of the later leaders of the church, was that it was true. Other ancient literature would have inflated the story and made a male leader, such as Peter or James, as the hero.
Over and over, we have seen in the Gospel of John that Jesus came to reveal exactly what God is like (John 1.18). As we read John’s Gospel we may ask, “What is God like with women?”
— John 4.1-42 – Jesus revealed to a Samaritan woman that he was the Messiah (verse 26).
— John 8.1-11 – Jesus stood on the side of a woman who was caught in adultery by the religious authorities.
— John 19.25-27 – It was women who stood by Jesus’ side, during his agony on the cross.
— John 20.11-18 – A woman was the first person to experience Jesus’ resurrection.
There is no question that Jesus elevated the status of women in his culture. He revealed God’s very high opinion of women by the way he trusted such pivotal moments in his ministry to them.
Here is an interesting thought to me. Even though Jesus had such a profound ministry to and with women, there is no recorded criticism of Jesus’ relationship with women. Jesus received criticism from the religious leaders for a variety of reasons on a number of occasions. In fact, their objections to Jesus were the major reason why he was executed on the cross.
However, both Jesus and the women in his life had such a pure relationship that there was no accusation leveled at him or the women. Even Jesus’ most vigorous critics did not accuse Jesus or his male and female disciples of any wrong behavior with one another.
The Beauty of Mary’s Encounter with Jesus
Let’s leave some of the academic issues aside and spend a few moments with Mary Magdalene at the tomb.
At the very first opportunity to come to the tomb, Mary was there. When she saw the stone rolled away from the tomb, she ran quickly back to the city to tell Peter and John what had happened.
Peter and John ran back to the tomb. Mary’s anxiety over the situation surely caused her to disregard any tiredness, and she ran, following some distance behind the men. Peter and John saw the empty tomb and the linen cloths. There was nothing more for them to do at the tomb, so they returned to their homes.
There was nothing for Mary to do either, but her grief wouldn’t allow her to leave her Savior’s tomb. She next had a conversation with two angels, but their words didn’t penetrate her grief or give her any comfort.
Mary was still so overcome with grief that she didn’t recognize Jesus until he spoke her name. Can you imagine what must have transpired in her heart, when she heard Jesus speak her name, “Mary”? Her first response was to embrace Jesus, but he discouraged it for reasons that I can’t explain.
Once again, Mary ran into the city. She probably had wings on her feet, full of abundant joy, because she had a message for the disciples – “I have seen the Lord!” (verse 18).
Mary is not Alone.
We, too, have seen the Lord. We know the resurrected Lord through the presence of the Holy Spirit. You will recall that everything Jesus was to his disciples, the Holy Spirit is to us. The Spirit reveals Jesus to us and confirms to us that we belong to the family of God.
Paul wrote, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1.13-14).
Here’s the way it works. We hear the story of Jesus, believe it and receive what Jesus has done for us. We receive Jesus into our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. The reality of the Spirit’s presence in our lives lets us know that everything about Jesus is true and we belong to God.
Truly, as Paul said, this is “to the praise of God’s glory!”
Dear God, we praise you for the resurrection of Jesus. We praise you for the gift of the Holy Spirit. We praise you for our salvation and the salvation of people throughout history. May you guide our lives, as we serve you this week.