Our passage this morning has such a very sad beginning and such a very joyous end. On the first day of the week—a Sunday that will turn out to be the very first Easter Sunday—one of Jesus’ disciples, Mary Magdalene—and, by the way, there isn’t a scrap of evidence in Scripture to suggest that she was ever the woman of ill repute many have purported her to be—Mary Magdalene whom Jesus had cured of evil spirits early in his ministry and who, along with some other women had helped support Jesus and his disciples from their own means, goes to Jesus’ tomb, “while it was still dark.” We know from other Gospel accounts that she had gone to the tomb to complete the burial preparations that had been left undone due to the observance of the beginning of the Sabbath. Luke states “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb” (Luke 24:1). So Mary Magdalene wasn’t alone, but the Gospel of Mark tells us further that Mary, the mother of James, and another woman, Salome, were also with her.
Now the type of tomb Jesus was buried in wasn’t what we typically think of when we think about a tomb. After dying on a cross and being taken down, Jesus’ body wasn’t placed in a coffin and then buried in the ground as we might do. Instead, he was buried in an enclosure made of cut stone. This particular tomb was provided by a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, who was also a disciple of Jesus. Joseph is the one who went to Pontius Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body after he had died on the cross. Upon receiving Pilate’s permission, Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of rock. And he rolled a huge stone— almost in the shape of a wheel and probably four and a half feet in diameter—at its entrance. Once this stone was snugly in place in pre-cut grooves, no one person would have been able to remove it without a lot of help from others. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that when Joseph of Arimathea did all of this, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting opposite the tomb watching him so they were witnesses to Jesus’ entombment and knew ahead of time exactly where Jesus’ body had been laid.
But when Mary returned to Jesus’ tomb, arriving in the dark of night, she sees that the massive stone covering the opening had been removed. So she runs to tell two of Jesus’ closest disciples, Peter and “and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved,” about what has taken place. We actually know that this other disciple is none other than John, the author of this Gospel, himself—five times in his Gospel he refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” It’s a beautiful epithet. Mary tells Peter and John, no doubt in great distress, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (verse 2b). Again, Mary hadn’t been alone when she went to prepare Jesus’ body with spices.
Upon hearing what Mary Magdalene has to say, Peter and John literally spring into action and run to Jesus’ tomb to see what has taken place. John outruns Peter and reaches the tomb first. Poking his head inside, he doesn’t go in. But he sees the strips of linen in which Jesus’ body had been wrapped lying on the ground (4–5). Peter, however, walks right into the tomb. He, too, sees the strips of linen that had wrapped Jesus’ body lying there along with “the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head” and the “cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.”—or another possible translation is that the head cloth was “folded up by itself” or was rolled up or wrapped together. Now though in popular imagination, some have supposed that Jesus’ body somehow mysteriously passed through the linens, there is no indication in this or any other text from the New Testament that this was the case. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was not only spiritual but also bodily—in the Apostles’ Creed we recite each week we affirm the resurrection of the body. So, in all likelihood, upon resurrecting from the dead, Jesus probably got up, removed the linens that had covered both his body and head, folded them, and left them behind.
Now we can’t know how long John waited outside the tomb while Peter went inside, but in verse 8 we’re told that “the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside.” And when he did, “He saw and believed.” What did John believe? Probably that Jesus had risen just as he said he would. Prior to his dying Jesus had promised his disciples, on various occasions, that he would rise on the third day after he died. For instance in the Gospel of Matthew we read “22 When [his disciples] came together in Galilee, [Jesus] said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. 23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief” (Matthew 17:22–23). They couldn’t possibly have understood what Jesus meant at the time he told them about these tragic events to come. But now, upon seeing the initial indication of Jesus’ resurrection, John believes. How else to explain the disappearance of Jesus’ body with the linens that had wrapped his body left behind? And the fact that we’re told in verse 9 that the disciples “still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead” indicates that they didn’t make up this account. Initially they hadn’t realized the significance of Jesus’ missing body—that everything that had taken place in Jesus’ life was in accord with God’s eternal plan as he had promised and prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures. But here, for the first time, they believed the evidence of their eyes. Only later were they able to connect the dots with what Scripture—their Hebrew Bible, or our Old Testament—taught about the promised Messiah, Jesus the Christ, who came, suffered, died, and rose again for us and our salvation. This part of our passage ends with both Peter and John eventually returning to where they were staying (10).
But not Mary Magdalene. She stays by the tomb, crying. And it’s likely that she is now alone—that the other women who had initially come with her to prepare Jesus’ body had left in the time Mary had gone to fetch Peter and John and returned. But why is Mary crying? Why doesn’t she, like John, believe? Well, Mary hadn’t been part of Jesus’ inner circle of twelve closest disciples so in all likelihood she had never been present the many times he had prophesied to them about his being killed and rising again on the third day. So Mary Magdalene is still grief-stricken and confused by what all of this means. What she knows at this point is that she had come with some other women to anoint Jesus’ body only to discover that his body was gone. And now, after Peter and John have left, she decides to take a closer look. We’re told that “[a]s she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb” (11). But unlike Peter and John, Mary saw far more than two sets of linen. As she peeked into the tomb, she “saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.” These messengers of God ask what, to her, must have seemed a ridiculous question. They want to know, “Woman, why are you crying?” (13).
Why is she crying??? Are they kidding? Why is she crying? Why wouldn’t she be crying?
Jesus, whom she had loved,
Jesus who had healed her,
Jesus, whom she had served,
Jesus whom she had seen crucified,
Jesus, whose body she had come to anoint, Jesus her wonderful Savior,
Of course she has reason to cry! Why wouldn’t she??? Jesus’ body was gone. And just as we, when someone we love dies, can derive comfort from seeing their body as we’re reminded that their essence—their spirit—their soul that at one time gave life to their bodies has now departed—so Mary desired to see and tend to the body of her friend and Lord. But Mary Magdalene, through her tears, answers the angels’ question, “They have taken my Lord away…and I don’t know where they have put him.”
But it’s at this point that the story takes a breath-taking twist. Turning from the white-robed angels in the tomb, Mary turns around and none other than the risen Jesus himself, no longer dead but alive, is standing there—though initially she doesn’t realize it’s he. Jesus, too, asks her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” and you can’t help but wonder if there might be a slight mischievous, albeit tender, gleam in his eye as he asks for Jesus knows full well why she is crying. He knows full well that she is looking for him. He knows full well that she is desolate and trying to figure out what has happened to his body which she came to care for and attend.
Mary, thinking that humble Jesus is but a gardener, politely asks, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him” (15). Now it’s unclear why Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus. It may be because it’s still dark. It may be because Jesus’ resurrected body looks so unlike the bloody, tortured body that had hung on the cross that she isn’t able to make the connection between the two. Or it may be because the primary way any of us can recognize Jesus is by the working of his Holy Spirit who enlightens our eyes and helps us to recognize that Jesus is indeed the Christ—that Jesus is indeed the Messiah—that Jesus is indeed our Lord and God. Whatever the case, we know that poor Mary Magdalene desperately wanted to see Jesus’ body and all she is receiving for her many efforts are senseless—at least from her perspective—questions by others wanting to know why she’s crying and whom she’s looking for.
But Jesus doesn’t allow Mary to suffer long. He meets her at her point of desperation with but a word, her name: “Mary.” When he was previously alive Jesus had taught how the sheep of the Shepherd know the Shepherd’s voice, and here we see a dramatic example of this teaching. Upon hearing Jesus say her name, Mary recognizes her Good Shepherd Jesus. The scales fall from Mary Magdalene’s eyes, the fog is lifted, recognition dawns upon her and, turning to Jesus, she cries out in Aramaic, the language spoken in that day, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”) (16b). But “Rabboni” doesn’t simply mean “Teacher,” it means my teacher. There are few, if any, examples of this use in ancient Judaism as a form of address other than that of calling on God in prayer. Mary now not only recognizes who Jesus is but she knows that he is her God, her Savior, her Lord, no longer dead, but alive.
Now before Mary has a chance to fall upon and hug Jesus in her sheer amazement and delight, he says to her “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Though prior to his crucifixion Jesus may not have told Mary Magdalene about his needing to die and rise from the dead on the third day, he is entrusting her now with a message of Good News to be shared with Jesus’ brothers, namely his disciples. She is to let them know that she has seen and spoken to Jesus, risen from the dead, and tell them that he will be ascending to his father and their father—the “you” is plural—to his God and their God. Over the next forty days, prior to his ascending to his Father and then sending his Holy Spirit—which we’ll be celebrating in a few weeks on Pentecost Sunday—the resurrected Jesus appeared numerous times to those around him. Though Mary Magdalene is the first person recorded to whom the resurrected Jesus appears, he also appears to many others:
He appears to Peter.
He appears to a man named Cleopas and another man on the road to Emmaus.
He appears to the eleven disciples—minus Thomas.
He appears again to the eleven disciples—including Thomas.
He appears to seven of the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.
He appears to the disciples and a large gathering at a mountain in Galilee.
He appears to James.
And he makes a final appearance to his disciples, on the 40th day after his resurrection, and then ascends to heaven right before their eyes.
And Jesus even appears to the Apostle Paul, formerly named Saul, after he had ascended to our Father in heaven.
Brothers and sisters, these many post-resurrection appearances by Jesus form the foundation of our faith. Prior to Jesus actually rising and appearing to so many disciples who had known, followed, served, and loved him throughout his life, these very followers of Jesus had, like Mary, been filled with grief.
They had borne witness to Jesus’ arrest;
they had borne witness to his trial;
they had borne witness to his flogging;
they had borne witness to his being hung on a cross between two criminals.
Prior to Jesus’ resurrection, all of his disciples, like Mary, were bereft and lost.
But, also like Mary, once he rises from the dead—and appears to them—and talks with them—and teaches them—and eats with them, they realize that everything he had taught them was true. Jesus really is the Christ. Jesus really is the promised Messiah. Jesus really is not only God incarnate—God in the flesh—but by his life, suffering, death, and rising from death, he has provided a way to God the Father in heaven—to his Father and their Father—so that they will never again experience separation him.
Brothers and sisters, this is the Gospel. This is the Good News! Jesus Christ is risen. Jesus Christ reigns today. He desires that each of us, we who like sheep have all gone astray, return to him, our Good Shepherd, that we might not ever be separated from him or his life, not in this life or the next.
It’s my prayer that if you’re here this morning and already know and love Jesus, our kind and compassionate Shepherd, that you will leave encouraged, joyous and confident in his eternal love for you.
And if you’re here this morning and don’t yet know Jesus but would like to, please know that I or one of the deacons or many others here would love to talk with you more about his sacrifice and love for you.
Brothers and sisters, please answer responsively now:
Christ is risen! (He is risen, indeed!)
Christ is risen! (He is risen, indeed!)
Christ is risen! (He is risen, indeed!)
Let us pray….
Benediction (2 Corinthians 2:13, 14):
Now may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
And the love of God,
And the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
Be with you all, now and forever.
 Luke 8:1–3: After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.; Mark 16:9 (not in earliest mss): When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. Mary Magdalene, along with Mary, Jesus and James’ mother, and Salome had purchased spices to anoint Jesus’ body
 Mark 16:1: When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.
 Matthew 27:57–61: 57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.
 John 13:23: One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him; 19:26: When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son”; 20:2: So she [Mary Magdalene] came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”; 21:7: Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.; 21:20: Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”).
 Matthew 28:1: After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. Mark 16:1: When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Luke 24:1: On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.
 E.g. Mark 8:31: He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again; Luke 9:22: And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
 Possible Scriptures John may have been thinking of include (Beale/Carson—Comm. Of OT on NT) Ps. 16:10: because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful[or holy] one see decay; Isaiah 53:10–12: 10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes[though you make] his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. 11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life[MT omits the light of life] and be satisfied[or w/MT He will see the fruit of his suffering/and will be satisfied]; by his knowledge[or by knowledge of him] my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,[many] and he will divide the spoils with the strong,[numerous] because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors; Hosea 6:2: After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. It is also possible that John is referring to Scripture in its entirety (ibid.), cf. Luke 24:25–27, 32, 44–47: [On the road to Emmaus] 25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself….32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”… 44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
 John 10:1–5: “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”
 Only other instance of this use (in the Greek) occurs in Mark 10:51 when Bartimaeus receives his sight: “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
 NIV study Bible note.
 Luke 24:35: [testimony of Cleopas and the other man] “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.”; I Corinthians 15:1–5: Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.
 Luke 24:13–35.
 Luke 24:36–49; John 20:19–25: 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” 24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
 John 20:26–29: 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
 John 21:1–23. Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way [Peter and the rest are fishing and there’s a miraculous catch of fish]
 Matthew 28:16–17: I Corinthians 15:6: After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
 I Corinthians 15:7: Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,
 Luke 24:49–53: Acts 1:3–11. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
 Acts 9:4–5: 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.