From Agony to EcstasyJohn 20:11-18 • Dr. Andy Woods • April 19, 2015 • JOHN - The Life and Light Revealed
From Agony to Ecstasy
4-19-15 John 20:11-18 Lesson 120
Good morning everybody. If we could take our Bibles and open them to John 20:11, and the title of our message this morning is From Agony to Ecstasy. As you’re turning there I want to thank Will for stepping in last week. His sermon that he gave last week will be part of his final grade at the school. Now I have a feeling Will is going to squeak by and graduate just fine. He might even do better than squeak by. I had a chance last Sunday to minister in Tampa and then this Friday and Saturday I was in Lubbock involved in a prophecy conference, and so the Lord keeps sending me different places and I’m always grateful for the opportunity and grateful for people like Will that can step in and fill the pulpit.
Here we are in John’s Gospel, as you well know John is writing this book about Jesus so that people might believe in Jesus and have the gift of life. We are, believe it or not, at the very end of John’s Gospel; it’s called that Passion Narratives, dealing with Christ’s death, chapters 18 and 19 which we have already covered. And then moving into the final stretch here, His resurrection, chapters 20-21, of course the bodily resurrection of Christ, these chapters revolve around the empty tomb in chapters 20:1-10; we had the privilege of covering that on Easter Sunday. And then the book sort of wraps up in the rest of chapter 20 and into chapter 21 with Christ’s post-resurrection appearances.
John is careful to record five encounters that Jesus had in His resurrected state with either individuals or different groups. And the one that we are looking at today is John 20:11-18 and this is Christ’s first resurrection appearance. And He makes an appearance to a woman named Mary Magdalene. So here’s sort of a rough outline and we’re going to start looking at this today, maybe finish it, God willing, but Mary is the center state in verse 11, and then the focus switches to two angels in the tomb, verses 12-13, and then finally is the appearance of Jesus, His first appearance in His resurrected body, verses 14-15. And we’re going to watch Mary Magdalene move from despair to joy, and we’re going to learn, I can promise you, as the Holy Spirit is here illuminating this passage to us, we’re going to learn a lot about our lives, what the Lord wants to do and so forth.
But notice, if you will, verse 11, we have the focus on Mary, and verse 11 says this, “But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb.” Now you might recall from verse 10 that Peter and John had come to the tomb second, after Mary Magdalene had announced to them the tomb is empty. And according to verse 10 Peter and John had left, [10, “So the disciples went away again to their own homes.”]
Mary, it seems to be, is lingering behind, this woman, Mary Magdalene. And she’s weeping. Why would she be weeping? Well, for one thing her Lord has been killed, crucified. You think of the agony that she went through watching this ordeal unfold. And if that weren’t bad enough, the body, or His corpse, isn’t there. She wants to come and pay proper respects and the body is not even there. So this is actually the second time that records her looking into the tomb, kind of inquisitive if you will, of this missing body. Now as we go down to verses 12-13 the two angels take center stage. This is what Mary sees in this tomb and the angels ask her a question, verses 12-13, and then Mary Magdalene gives an answer in verses 13.
But notice, if you will, these angels there in verse 12. It says, “And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying.” She’s in the tomb now and she sees these two angels; I don’t think she really recognizes them as angels but there is very clearly two of them here. Now immediately this creates a problem in the minds of people because they say wait a minute, the other gospel records say there was one angel. For example, in Matthew 28:2 it says, “And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone….” It doesn’t talk about two angels there, it talks about one angel.
Mark 16:5 says, “Entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed.” Now they are inside the tomb, there’s a record on one angel and not two.
But Luke’s account of this, in Luke 24:4, says, “While they were perplexed about this, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing.” So Luke 24:4 and John 20:12 both record two angels. So what was it, were there two angels or is there just one angel? And many people will use something like this to create a contradiction in the Bible. And the reason I bring these things up is as you’re watching Mysteries of the Bible, the history channel, A&E, or The Peter Jennings Easter Special, these are the kind of things that they like to bring up and they make it sound like oh no, I guess we should just fold our tents and to home, Christianity is not valid, as if the church in the last 2,000 years has never wrestled with a question like this.
And in reality it’s no contradiction at all because the other gospel accounts, whether it be Matthew or whether it be Mark, just focus on one angel; they don’t deny the existence of the other angel. It’s like saying, if you have two children and you refer to one of your children, “I really love so and so,” in that statement you’re not saying you don’t love the other or you don’t even have another child, you’re just focusing on one. Now if the other Gospel record said there was “only one” angel, then you’d have a bona fide contradiction but the fact of the matter is there is no real contradiction at all.
And actually one of the verses that people cite to try to prove that this is a so-called contradiction is Matthew 28:2, and there it’s not even talking about an angel inside the tomb, that’s an angel outside the tomb, that rolled away the stone.
So what I think you have going on here is you have three angels, one angel rolls away the tomb and that happened apparently before Mary Magdalene got there Sunday morning, and then she goes inside the tomb and she sees two angels, John tells us there were two but the other Gospel records, like Mark, just focuses on one without excluding the other. It’s not a contradiction at all.
And yet that raises an interesting question, why are people so eager to find these so-called contradictions? The answer has more to do with the human heart than it has to do with intellect. You have to understand something about the human heart, that it is diametrically in rebellion against God. We are told in Romans 8:7-8 that the sin nature is at war with God. It will not submit to God, nor can it do so. [Romans 8:7-8, “because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God’ for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,  and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”]
And so people naturally launch these attacks against the Bible because the Bible is different among all of the books of the earth; it is demanding moral accountability from people. The Bible tells us, and I know two things about the Bible, number 1, it tells me that there is a God; and number 2, I’m not Him. If you don’t learn anything else at this church learn those two things. And yet man, in his… going back to Eden, has always wanted to be like God. Was that not the original temptation? And so when you come across a book like the Bible it tells you that you’re not God, and dethrones you, you have a natural tendency within the human heart to try to attack the Scripture. And so people throughout the ages have been trying to find these so-called Bible contradictions.
One of the things that’s very interesting here is it describes these two angels in the tomb, it says one was sitting at the head, in other words, where Christ’s body had been laid, and the other at the feet of Christ. So sitting at either end of where the body had been laid are these two angels, on the top of where Christ’s body had been, one at the bottom; one at the head, one at the foot. I believe that this imagery is intentionally selected by John to remind us of the book of Exodus, chapter 25 and verse 18, you might recall what Exodus 25:18 says, it’s describing the tabernacle, it’s describing the ark of the covenant inside the tabernacle and this is what it says: “You shall make two cherubim,” now a cherub is an angelic being, “You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat.”
Now what is this mercy seat? The mercy seat is underneath those two created angels that were there to remind Israel that all of heaven was watching what was happening on the Day of Atonement as the blood was applied to the mercy seat. And as that blood was applied to the mercy seat it postponed the note of indebtedness to sin for one year. And this is why Israel practiced this over and over again, it’s described in Leviticus 16, only one man, the high priest, could enter the Holy of Holies after the appropriate animal sacrifices had been administered for his own sin and he would apply the blood of one of the animals that had been killed to the mercy seat and the moment that happened is the moment that the nation’s note of indebtedness was postponed for another year.
So those two angels inscribed there, as given in the tabernacle instructions, were a reminder that heaven itself was watching. And yet, what does the New Testament say? Colossians 2:17 says these “things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” What are these Old Testament pictures that we have of the mercy seat? It is a mere shadow of what is to come. The shadow is not the reality. I stand about 6’6” and sometimes when I enter a room my shadow enters the room long before I do, but the shadow is not me. In fact, when I go home today to give my wife a kiss I’m not planning on kissing her shadow, what would be the fun in that, because the shadow is not her, the shadow is a hint or a prefigurement of a coming reality. This, in essence, is what the mercy seat was; it was a prefigurement, if you will, of a coming reality. And now the ultimate reality that these things prefigured have arrived.
How many of you have a loan or have ever had a loan? You guys are not being honest… I see just a handful of hands that went up there… we talked about Will for a second, let’s talk about student loans. So Will graduates from the College of Biblical Studies and he’s got all these loans he has to pay back and the dream job that he had hoped for doesn’t open up right away, and that creates a problem because he’s got to pay back the loan so he goes back before the loaning institution and he says I can’t pay it back. And they say okay, we’ll give you grace for a year, you don’t have to pay it back for a year and by the time a year passes you will have the right job and you’ll be able to start making payments on it. So a year passes and we’re still stuck in this economy that we’re in, and the dream job just doesn’t open up so he has to go back to the same loaning institution and he has to get another grace period. Then the third year comes and goes, and the same scenario replicates itself and he gets another grace period. And every year he goes before the entity that lent him the money and there’s always fear in his heart because he thinks that maybe this is the year that the loan will be called in, maybe I won’t get a grace period.
Now if you can picture that, that is exactly what the tabernacle and the mercy seat was. This is why it had to happen year after year after year on a special day called the Day of Atonement. The mercy seat, the Day of Atonement never permanently dealt with the sin question. All it did is kick the can down the road because God was still angry at the nation because of their sins and this just postponed the day of reckoning. But then one day Will goes before the loaning institution and they say you know what? All that money that you borrowed from us not only are we going to extend you grace but why don’t we just pretend that you never borrowed it at all. Amen! Now that changes everything, doesn’t it? No longer does he have to go groveling and fearful but the debt has totally been cancelled.
And you see, what did Jesus say when He died on that cross? He didn’t postpone the note of indebtedness; He said it is what? “It is finished!” And this is what we have in Christ, we have a scenario where the note of indebtedness for our sin is not something kicked down the road for a little while to be dealt with later, it is perfectly abolished. And this is why it is so foolish, the author of Hebrews tells us, to leave the full revelation of Christ, to leave the full stature of Christ and to go back into this system, as wonderful as it was. The system wasn’t bad because God gave it, but God never gave it as a permanent reality, it was a mere prefigurement of things to come. It was a shadow if you will, but the ultimate reality has come in the person of Jesus Christ.
And so then Will is in this conversation with the loaning institution and they say not only do you not have to pay the money back but we had a really good year and we happen to have an extra million or two dollars in our ledger, we’re going to just go ahead and apply that to your account. Amen! So what has he received now? He has received grace. Under Christ he received mercy; you don’t have to pay the money back, now he’s received grace. And you see, this is what we have in Jesus Christ.
In the book of Ephesians, chapter 1:3 we not only have a scenario whereby all of our sins are accounted for but He “has blessed us with” watch this, “every spiritual blessing,” not 99% spiritual blessings, not a handful of spiritual blessings, not a couple of spiritual blessings, but “every spiritual blessing.” And this is why a knowledge of the Old Testament is so important to understand the riches that we have in Christ. We have things of a spiritual capacity ‘in Christ” that those in the Old Testament era could not even dream of nor contemplate. And God never intended all of that Old Testament system, as wonderful as it was, to be a permanent reality. It was a prefigurement of a shadow to come.
And I believe this is the reason why John is careful to talk about not just one of the angels but both of them. It is a reminder of the cherubim that were created there out of handiwork and inscribed over the mercy seat above the ark in the tabernacle, in the Holy of Holies, reminding us that what Jesus has done is brought to maturity, completion, or fulfillment, if you will, of that rich typology in the Old Testament.
You’ll notice also that these two angels are dressed in white apparel, that shouldn’t come as too great a shock because that’s how angels typically appear. Acts 1:10 talks about two angels that are going to observe Christ’s ascending and it says, “…they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, and behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them.” So “white clothing,” dazzling apparel, common descriptions of angels.
And yet what is Mary doing? She is essentially weeping. She apparently did not recognize these two entities as angels any more than she, at this time, has recognized that her Lord has bodily resurrected from the grave, just like He said. And she’s in a state of grief, no doubt; she’s in a state of shock, Christ is dead and someone ripped off the body, if that weren’t bad enough, and she just doesn’t understand what is happening in front of her. She’s going to understand as she moves from agony into ecstasy.
Now you’ll notice there in verse 13 these angels ask her a question. “And they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’” Why is she weeping? Well, the root of it is unbelief. Luke 24:25 says this: “And He said to them, ‘O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” What is the problem with her? What is the problem with these people that can’t really grasp what is happening right in front of their eyes? The problem is just a lack of faith. The problem is a heart of unbelief. The problems is a mindset that said well, yeah, I heard Jesus say something way back yonder in His earthly ministry to us that He was going to resurrect from the dead but they, for whatever reason, don’t believe it. And so she’s weeping and crying and mourning when she ought to be celebrating.
Now before we dogpile on Mary Magdalene here, does not that describe a lot of us? I mean, we live as if we’re the poorest people on planet earth and we kind of grovel and wander around in fear thinking God doesn’t hear us, God doesn’t listen to us, God has abandoned me. And we’ve forgotten everything that he’s told us about our riches, about our inheritance, about our destiny. And we just don’t… we may hear about it in the Sunday School class, we may read about it in the Bible, but for whatever reason we just don’t believe it like we should. And we spend our lives largely weeping when we ought to be living lives of victory and lives of joy. And this is what God wants for us; He wants us to walk in victory. I know circumstances in life can be hard but God is not hemmed in by circumstances. Because he rose the final victory is at hand, it’s just a matter of time before He wraps everything up.
It’s like those stories you read every once in a while of somebody that’s living under a bridge or they’re living in a cardboard box and unbeknownst to them some relative has made some kind of financial donation to them, it’s sitting in a bank account, they’re a multimillionaire several times over and they don’t even realize it. Why don’t they realize it? Because they haven’t taken time to look at the ledger; maybe they don’t even know how to access financial records. And a lot of us just never take time to look at the ledger, to look at what we have and so we’re weeping and mourning and crying, and heaven is saying why are you weeping?
Now you’ll notice Mary gives a little answer here in verse 13, she goes right back to unbelief, right back into naturalistic thinking, “She said to them, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” So “they” took Him away; who are “they?” Some humans? No Mary, nobody took Jesus away, Jesus took Himself out of that tomb. And she says here, “they have taken away My Lord,” well Mary, if He’s your Lord, why don’t you believe what He said? It reminds me very much of Peter who received, in Acts 10, around verse 14, the vision of the animals on the sheet and he was told to arise and eat. And he says in response to that vision, “Not so Lord.” Well, wait a minute Peter, if He’s your Lord why don’t you just tell Him no? I mean, you can’t tell your Lord no, can you? That’s what we call an oxymoron, isn’t it? Those are two self-contradicting statements. It’s like saying jumbo shrimp, government efficiency, postal service; my personal favorite, reasonable attorney’s fees.
And it is possible to tell Jesus no and we are strongly in the Scripture rebuked for that. Mary, if He is your Lord then you ought to be celebrating with the rest of us in heaven, and you’re so slow to believe what your Lord has promised you. So Mary’s foolishness, in a certain sense, is brought out to us. Unlike John, now John’s faith, you remember, goes back to John 20:8, John just got in there, remember Peter and John arrive, he walked in, he saw what had happened, and he just believed, John 20:8. [John 20::8, “So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed.”]
Mary, on the other hand, is sort of not in faith; she is developing naturalistic explanations for the empty tomb—someone came in here and took Him away. It’s the same explanation that she had all the way back up in verse 2. So this is her second time in the tomb and she still doesn’t believe exactly what Jesus said He would do. And Mary wanted to mourn over Christ’s body but could not find it because someone had taken it away and laid it somewhere.
So what you have in the text happening here is a juxtaposition, if you will, a comparison, if you will, between John’s faith and Mary’s lack of faith. And why does John set up these sort of parallels for us? Because the operative issue for John and the operative issue for God is faith. If you do not have faith you do not have a relationship with God. Doesn’t Hebrews 11:6 say, “Without faith it is” what? “impossible to please Him.” And you might recall all the way back in John 6:28-29, “Therefore they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’” Doesn’t that sound like a legalist and a religionist? The religionist, religion by definition is how man works his way into God’s presence. Religion is popular because it appeals to pride, because if I can bank my eternity on what I have done then I can boast about my relationship to God, can’t I? So people are always asking, “What shall we do that we work the works of God?
 Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”
You want to please God? Put aside your foolish religious enterprises and activities, which, according to the book of Isaiah, chapter 64, verse 6, are nothing but filthy rags in God’s sight.
[Isaiah 64:6, KJV, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”]
Put aside all that and believe what He said. That pleases God! That is the works of God which end up pleasing God. There is not a person in the Bible, there is not a person in human history that has ever entered into a relationship with God absent faith. Faith is the operative principle. That’s why the word “believe” is used in this book a hundred times. In fact, as we have said many times that’s the point of John’s Gospel, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed,” this is His purpose statement, “in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book but these have been written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” You all know John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Paul, the apostle loves to use the patriarch, Abraham, whose name at this time is Abram, as our ultimate example of somebody who enters into a relationship with God. This is why we are called the “seed,” spiritually speaking, or the descendants of Abraham. Genesis 15:6, of Abraham says, “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” What did Abram, who later became Abraham, believe? Well, God had made them a promise that there would come through his own body a descendant named Isaac, from Isaac would come Jacob and from Jacob would come the twelve tribes, and from the twelve tribes would come the nation of Israel and through the nation of Israel the Messiah would show up.
The problem with that is Abram was a bit beyond child bearing, or procreating capacity, wasn’t he? He was a hundred, something like that; his wife was about the same age, not exactly spring chickens, these two, Abraham and Sarah. [Genesis 17:17, “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” Genesis 21:5, “Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.”] And the whole promise no doubt just looked ridiculous. I mean, from the human point of view who could even believe such a ridiculous promise.
And you know the story, they tried to make it happen through their own power and that’s what gave us Ishmael and the Ishmaelites, and earlier on in that chapter he says well, it’s got to be Eliezer of Damascus that the child is going to come from and God told Abraham in that chapter NO, the child will come from your own body! It’s pretty clear. And so God took him outside and He said just look at the stars, can you count the stars? [Genesis 15:15, “And He took him outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.”]
That, in and of itself is a statement that is so far ahead of its time it’s hard to even describe, because everybody in the ancient world thought that the stars could be counted. It’s not until modern discoveries like the Hubble Telescope and things of that nature that we learn that this universe that we’re in is so big humans can’t even count the stars. And God is saying to Abraham, long before the Apollo 11 and the Hubble Telescope, the stars, you can’t count them, can you Abraham. You kind of get the idea that God made this universe and knew something about it.
But I want you to look at the stars and just as the stars themselves cannot be counted, so shall your offspring be. And beyond that, when you factor in the book of Galatians, chapter 3, verse 16 you learn that there is not just going to be seed in general, but “a seed,” because “seed” in the Scripture is what we call a collective singular noun, it can be used as a singular of a plural. So when you say “seed” are you talking about a bag of seed or an individual seed?
If you say to me Andy, you got your hair cut, I don’t say oh, which one, which hair are you talking about here because hair can be referring to a single strand of hair or plural hair. Sheep—are we talking about a sheep or multiple sheep. That’s how the word “seed” is used. And when you factor in Galatians 3:16 it says, “Abraham believed in seed,” singular not just “seed” plural. [Galatians 3:16, “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ.”]
And somehow he connected it with the promise of Genesis 3:15, the first Messianic promise in the whole Bible, that there would come one from the seed of the woman, Eve, who would crush the serpent’s head. [Genesis 3:15, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.”]
And somehow he had this promise from God, that no doubt looked absurd because he was so old, and he just believed it! He quit rationalizing, he quit philosophizing, he quit strategizing, and he just believed it. He put his confidence in that promise. He, at that point, trusted in the character of God who cannot lie, and he trusted in the power of God who will do everything that He says he will do. And he just believed it. And what does the Bible say? “The Lord reckoned it to Him as righteousness.” [Genesis 15:6, “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.”] In fact, some of your versions will say this: the Lord “credited it to him as righteousness.” [“Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” NIV]
You say what does that mean, credit? Well, how many of you all have used credit cards? You guys are still fibbing out there… Why do we like credit cards? We love credit cards because we get goodies first and payment later. What did Abraham get? A goodie first, a payment later. Payment wouldn’t come for another two thousand years, with the death of Jesus Christ. But the Lord gave him the righteousness of God on credit, knowing that that day would come where the bill would be paid through the death of Jesus Christ. And so that’s how he entered into a relationship with God, by faith. Acts 16:30-31 says, “…Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’  They said” what? one verb, “‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, [you and your household].”
So the question becomes, who are you like? Are you like Abraham, who believed right away or like Sarah, who laughed at the promise because it seemed so absurd. Are you like John, who believed right away, or are you like Mary who is weeping as if she is some sort of poverty stricken person when in reality she is rich beyond her wildest dreams? That’s the point of parallels like this in the Biblical text. But what is going to happen is the grace of God. And one of the things that I love about God is that He doesn’t write people off. We write people off, don’t we? But what we discover in the Bible is God is a lot more loving than most Christians are. God is a lot more patient than most Christians. God is a lot more engaged in forbearance and longsuffering than most Christians. And we should not evaluate the character of God based on its display in the presence of His people because His people can fail dramatically, can’t they? We ought to be looking at God, not the people of God; we ought to be looking at God who cannot lie and who can never fail.
And what is about to happen is Mary is about to be transformed from agony into ecstasy as she is going to receive yet another opportunity here in just a moment. Probably some of my favorite verses in the whole Bible is at the beginning of Jonah, chapter 3, it says, “Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time,” I love it! I mean, this guy that fled in chapters 1 and 2, this guy that was told to go to Nineveh which would be there east of the Tigris River and he went the exact opposite way, he went west, he went to Spain. He went 1,500 miles out of his way to disobey God and God dealt with him dramatically, as you know the story, with Jonah and the whale and so forth, and Jonah is vomited out on the shore in the direction he’s supposed to be moving in and you would think that the book of Jonah would end there. But what does it say, “the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time.”
Maybe that describes your life; maybe you can look back at some mistake you’ve made and you mentally disqualified yourself and you’re forgetting the grace of God, that the Word of God can come back to you a second time; it can come back to you a third time, it can come back to you a fourth time because that’s the nature of God. God is far more gracious than most Christians.
And so you’ll notice there, as we move into the discussion there of Jesus Himself we see Mary’s agony, as she is still in unbelief, Mary Magdalene, notice if you will verse 14, “When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.” God incarnate makes an appearance right in front of you and you don’t even recognize it’s God in the flesh; isn’t that something!
So she turned around and she saw Jesus, not perceiving who it was. You talk about dense, she couldn’t even figure out these were two angels that were talking to her; she couldn’t even contemplate that Jesus, her Lord (so-called) had just appeared to her, not figuring it out, not perceiving who He was. What causes us to be that way? It’s not a lack of IQ, it’s not a lack of intelligence, it is a lack of faith. If you have a heart of unbelief you just can’t see things. But you may say I thought seeing was believing. No, believing is seeing; once you believe you’ll see, but as long as you’re holding up intellect as some kind of barometer without a heart of faith you’re just stumbling around in the dark, as we often do.
And so now Jesus, God incarnate, her Lord who she hasn’t even recognized as Lord, speaks to her in verse 15, and it says there in verse 15, “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’” That’s the same question the angels asked her, “whom are you seeking?” Going back to verse 14, it says, “When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’” Now when He calls her “Woman” in 21st century vernacular we think He’s being disrespectful; you know, you don’t call your wife, “hey, woman!” But that’s the 21st century, right? I mean, you can, you just have to make an appointment for marital counselling and your marriage dissolves. But you see, in this time period, back in the first century, there was this title “Woman,” it was a sign of respect.
In fact, you might remember in John 2:4 Jesus Himself applied the same term to His own mother, this time the virgin Mary. John 2:4 says, “And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.’” And so Jesus, not speaking disrespectfully to her, simply asks her a question, why are you weeping? The same question that the angels, one of the angels asked in verse 13. And notice again Mary’s response, still in spiritual darkness. This is Mary’s reaction, “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.’” So she mistakes Him to be the gardener, mistakenly thought He was the gardener and He had somehow moved the body for some reason, denying Mary Magdalene the opportunity to pay proper respects.
One of the things that’s quite interesting as you study these post resurrection accounts if Jesus looked a little different than how they remembered Him. John 21:4 says, “But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.” Mark 16:12 says, “After that, He appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking along on their way to the country.” Luke 24:16 says, “But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.”
And I don’t want to push this parallel too far but there is in a certain sense a parallel for us because when we are resurrected we will look different. You’ll still be you and I’ll still be me and I’ll be able to recognize you and you’ll be able to recognize me but we’ll look different. Now unlike Jesus, why will we look different? We will look just a little bit different because the bodies that we are in are contaminated by the curse of sin. Jesus’ body never was but ours are. Philippians 3:21 says, “who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory….” 1 John 3:2 says, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”
In other words, as His body seemed to change in a minor way our bodies are going to change in a major way. You say well, I work very hard on my body; I mean, I spent hours in the weight room and I run and do track and I watch my diet and I take my vitamins and I do all of that stuff. And I say good job for you, good stewardship but you’re fighting a losing battle. And I’m pro diet, pro exercise, let’s be good stewards of this tent while we’re in it but the fact of the matter is we’re fighting a losing battle because the curse of sin is causing our very bodies to decay as we speak.
And this was something that began the day that Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, Genesis 3:19 says, “By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” They might have heard that prophecy and looked at themselves and say we look fine, we feel fine. Well, just give it enough time. For Adam it took about 930 years, and he returned right back to the ground from which he came. You, myself, it’s going to take about 70 years, 80 years, if we get beyond 80 we’re fortunate, but we’re going to go right back into the ground from which we came.
2 Corinthians 4:16 says, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying,” just look at your high school yearbook picture if you don’t believe me, “though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”
My dad, a few years back, got inducted into his high school hall of fame, Tampa High School, and I think the cooks, if I remember right, have a connection to Tampa High School, West Texas, and my dad was inducted into the hall of fame there because in 1950 something or other they won the national basketball state championship. So they brought everybody back and they put them into the hall of fame and my dad spoke a little bit there and it was kind of a neat time and I said what do you think dad, isn’t this great? He says yeah, the only thing that bothers me is where did all these old people come from; I just don’t remember everybody like this. Because the body is decaying, that is the biblical position on the body; the body is not evil, we can use the body for good or evil, depending on what I yield it to, but the body is in a state of decay. Romans 8:23 says this, “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves,” any groaning going on out there? “…waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.”
How wonderful it is to know that we, in Christ, as He rose we will rise. I’ll see you, you’ll see me, but I’ll say man, you look a lot better. The earthly body is perishable, the heavenly body is imperishable. This is right out of 1 Corinthians 15:35-49. This body is lowly, the heavenly body is honorable. This body is weak, the heavenly body is powerful. This body is natural; the heavenly body will be physical and spiritual. The current body is physical, earthly body proceeding from Adam, but the future body is a spiritual heavenly body proceeding from Christ. Christ looked different although He was recognizable, not because sin or any issue of that nature, but in the say way, not wanting to push the analogy too far, we will be recognizable although we will look quite different because we will be in the body as God intended it to be.
And notice the transition as Mary grasped some of these truths for the first time. Notice her transition from agony into ecstasy. Notice verse 16, “Jesus said to her, “Mary!’ She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’” Parenthetical comment, “(which means, Teacher).” Notice that Mary Magdalene, who prior to this point in time had developed naturalistic interpretations of the empty tomb to accommodate her unbelief, for the first time she moves into faith; she recognizes Jesus for who he is. She recognized Him when she heard His voice. She recognized Him when He called her name.
Isn’t that what He said in John 10 would happen? Remember John 10:3, “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” What led Mary Magdalene out of unbelief? It was the name that Jesus called her, the shepherd’s voice, hearing her name.
One of the most fascinating lessons I ever got on this was in Bethlehem, in 1998, as my wife and I for our honeymoon went to the land of Israel and there we were listening to our tour guide speak and there happened to be scattered sheep all over Bethlehem, this little area where we were. Not far away, maybe 50, 40 feet away, something like that, and we watched this shepherd just do one distinctive call with his voice, and we watched those sheep, like magnets, gather around that shepherd. And I thought to myself, wow, that’s John 10. This is why I hope and pray that you can go to Israel because you’ll see things like this that will make the Bible that you’ve been studying all of these years come to life.
And sometimes with the death of Christ and the provision of Christ we get very generic about it. Jesus died for the world: yes He did. Jesus died for the human race: yes He did. But He doesn’t say generically “humanity” here, He says, “Mary,” the personal nature of the shepherd, that He knows us as individuals, not as categories. You know, we lump people into categories, this is the rich, this is the middle class, these are the poor; these are Americans, these are not Americans, all these categories we put people in. Jesus doesn’t look at people that way. He looks at people as individuals. It specifically says He called her name, the personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The fact that He is not the shepherd of Sugar Land Bible Church only, but He is your personal shepherd. He knows you personally by name, He knows your strengths, he knows your weaknesses. He knows your faults; He knows your good side. He knows when you’re in a bad mood; He knows when you’re in a good mood. He knows what will make you laugh; He knows what will make you cry. Everybody has a different temperament.
Isn’t it interesting that God has designed the universe that way where we have what… seven billion people, something like that in this world, no two fingerprints are alike of seven billion people. That is the personal touch of God. And this is the personal touch of this shepherd who calls out this personal name to Mary and she recognizes Him for who He is.
[John 20:17] “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means, Teacher.)” You’ll notice how John, and I’ve made issues of this before so I won’t belabor it, how John is careful to translate Hebrew phrases, that parenthetical mark there, “Rabboni” means “Teacher.” John does this in John 5:2, John 19:13, 17.
[John 5:2, “Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes.” John 19:13, “Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha.”  “They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.”]
And the reason I bring this up is the Gospel of John was written to the person with the least amount of knowledge of Judeo-Christian happenings, the least amount of knowledge to Hebrew culture. That’s why He has to translate these phrases; a Gentile audience. It’s funny, the Jews in their arrogance in the first century would refer to the Gentiles as dogs and yet this whole book is written by a Jew, John, to the Gentile world, primarily not knowing the culture of Israel, for the purpose of seeing them come to Christ by way of faith.
As we mentioned before, that is the purpose statement of John’s Gospel, to present Jesus to people so that they may believe that Jesus is the Son of God and have the gift of life. John is given them, by the Holy Spirit, for the purpose of evangelism. That’s why I’ve recommended many times that when you’re in a conversation with an unbeliever, as much as you can, as God enables you, to direct them back to John and you’re right within the vein of why God wrote this book. And you’ll discover a new potency and power in your evangelism. Certainly all Scripture is blessed by God and profitable, no doubt. But John’s Gospel is special; it’s unique, it is designed by God for the purpose of giving people an opportunity to respond by faith.
And in this nanosecond, as Dr. Constable says in his notes, “Mary swung from the depths of despair in her emotions, to the height of joy in one second.” I can’t help but thinking of Psalm 30:5, which says this: “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”
Have you ever studied the turnarounds in the Bible? How things look bleak but in an instant things are turned around? I started thinking about this this week as I was preparing for this passage and I just thought of example after example after example in the Bible where this happens.
One of the examples is Joseph, who from age 17 to about early 30’s, about 30, had one setback after another, one misfortune after another, including being betrayed by his very own brothers and sold as a slave into Egypt and he was a steward no matter where he was. And somehow things just kept not working out for him. The more he tried to live for god the more he got falsely accused, by Potiphar’s wife, and found himself in jail and forgotten there. And then in one nanosecond his whole fortune is changed and he was elevated, through a series of events, in an instant into second in command in all of Egypt. Talk about a stunning turnaround.
The Bible is filled with these examples. Mary Magdalene is going through this kind of thing; where is He? Where’s the body? I’m crying, I’m weeping, I’m in unbelief and in a second everything changes, from agony to ecstasy. And the reason I bring that up is because I know that many of you are going through valleys, and the great deception that enters our minds when we are going through valleys is the satanic whisper, things will never change, things will never get better. And we need to be reminded of God; we need to be reminded of His track record. And in His timing and in His providence He can just move His little finger and your whole circumstances can dramatically change.
If I had three hours I could talk about turnarounds even in my own life. I have no corner on God; God is the same yesterday, today and forever. If He can turn around things so quickly can He not do that for you? As the Bible says, “Oh you of little faith.” [Matthew 8:26,” And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?”]
And so Jesus, in His resurrected state reveals Himself to Mary Magdalene. Now Mary Magdalene, with all of her faults, was a seeker. How do I know that? Because in John 19:25 there she is, at the foot of the cross. [John 19:25, “Therefore the soldiers did these things. But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”] Who’s the first person to the tomb on Sunday morning? John 20:1, Mary Magdalene. [John 20:1, “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.”] She was, with all of her faults and shortcomings and shortsightedness, the best she knew how, she was seeking God.
Now why would Jesus reveal Himself to her first? Because God rewards the diligent seeker. That’s why. The other part of Hebrews 11:6, that we haven’t quoted, it says, “for he who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” Are you seeking God? Matthew 7:7 and following says: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.  Or what man among is there among you who, if their son asks for bread would you give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, would you give him a snake?  If you then, being evil, now how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”
Do you know the way that translates in the original language? It translates this way: “Ask and keep on asking.” “Seek and keep on seeking.” “Knock and keep on knocking.” And if that’s you, you’re going to have some major breakthroughs in your life; I’m convinced, because the nature of God is to reward the diligent seeker.
No, Mary Magdalene did not have all of the answers, and no, she didn’t even have the best past, since multiple demons were inside of her before Christ found her. And no, she didn’t respond right away in faith the way John did. But I’ll say this much for her, she was where God was. If Jesus was on the cross, she was right there, watching. If Jesus went into a tomb she wanted to know where He was in that tomb. She’s following Him. And consequently I believe the Lord rewards her by being the first person that He appears to in His resurrected state.
Ed Bloom, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, says this: “Jesus may have introduced Himself to Mary first because she had honestly sought Him. She was at the cross while He was dying; she went into the tomb early on Sunday morning.”
Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” Are you seeking God? Or have you grown fatigued of asking, and knocking, and desiring. That determines to a very large extent what and how God chooses to work in our lives.
And then you’ll notice what she does here, verse 17, she gives Jesus a big bear hug, so much so that he had to tell her to stop it. “Jesus said to her, ‘Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father;” now that seems like a retort there, doesn’t it. Barrett in his commentary, says, “She was trying to recapture the past, because what did Jesus say in John 16:6-7? He says, “But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.  I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I go away the Helper will come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”
Mary, there’s something far better on the horizon than you simply clinging to My body. I’m going to live inside of you through the Holy Spirit, and I’ll be in you forever. That way Jesus is saying I’m not going to be intimate with just a handful of people; I’ll be intimate with all of My children because I’ll be living inside of them. And this won’t happen until I ascend. The ascension is the trigger point, in Acts 1, whereby the Holy Spirit comes.
Mary Magdalene is clinging to an old paradigm, and you run into people and they say oh, I just wish I was there when Jesus walked the earth, I would have loved to have walked with the Lord, I would have loved to hear His teaching, watch His miracles, and I say to that, count me out! I am much more happy with my position now as a New Testament church age believer than I would be walking with the Lord because now it’s not just me interacting with somebody on the outside, it’s Him living inside me. And he’s inside of me forever and He’s not just interacting with twelve or three but he is interacting in great intimacy with all of us, to such a degree that we can cry out to the Lord, “Abba, Father,” because of the Spirit of God that is within us. So I’ve got to ascend so that this new relationship can start.
But Mary, before I depart I want to give your assignment. “But go to My brethren and say to them, I ascend.” Mary’s message to the brethren was not that Jesus resurrected, that would be enough, wouldn’t it? But that He is about to ascend. The resurrection proves who He is; the resurrection, as Paul calls it, is the firstfruits which is the guarantee of our glorified bodies one day; as He rose so will we. The resurrection is wonderful but the ascension is wonderful as well because once the ascension happens and Jesus takes His seat at the Father’s right hand, then the Holy Spirit comes. That’s the trigger point. And this is why Jesus, many times, spoke of not just His crucifixion, not just of His resurrection, but His ascension. All the way back in John 7:33 He says, “For a little while longer I am with you, then I go to Him who sent Me.”
Going back to My Father, Jesus says in verse 17, and He’s your Father. Notice He doesn’t say “our” Father. “My Father and your Father.” Why is that? Well, He is all of our Fathers, no doubt, we’re children of God, are we not, when we’re born of the Spirit, but with Jesus it’s different; He is in a Trinitarian special relationship with the Father that we as mere created beings don’t enjoy although the enjoyment that we have in intimacy with the Father is immeasurable. Jesus is unique in a certain sense, as an eternal member of the Triune Godhead.
And as we sort of wrap things up, looking there at verse 18, one more verse here, it simply says this: Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord,” and that he had said these things to her.” Isn’t it interesting that God just doesn’t want to save us, He wants to use us. I think that is something that completely blew the mind of the Apostle Paul, this murderer, because he says in 1 Timothy 1:12-13, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he considered me faithful, putting me into service,  even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief.”
Paul getting saved would be enough, wouldn’t it? But it was beyond just getting saved. You’re not saved from something you’re saved to something; I now want to use your life. Mary Magdalene, this woman with all of these demons inside of her, that would have been enough to have the demons removed; it would have been enough for her to have been saved; it would have been enough for her to recognize the resurrected Christ, but now she has so much more than that because Jesus wants to use her and she went, it says it right there in the text, “announcing,” that’s proclamation, preaching.
Did you know God wants to use women? You say where do you see that in the Bible? Right here! Now wait a minute, pastor, you’re going liberal on us, 1 Timothy 2:11-15 says a woman is not to teach nor assert authority over a man. [1 Timothy 2:11-15, “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness.  But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.  For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.  And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.  But woman will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.”]
I agree with that; that’s a different setting. That’s talking about reigning over a congregation, that’s in a pastoral letter. There are multiple opportunities for women outside of the mere restrictions that Paul places on women. Think of all the other ministries that can be done. And so she goes forth teaching, and it doesn’t say teaching, but “announcing.”
You know God does not call the qualified but He qualifies the called. If you want to talk about unqualified, a demon possessed lady, a woman for that matter, and you say to yourself, well, how do we know that this Bible was really written by God? How do we know that God actually wrote this? Do you know how I know God inspired this book? Because if this book was written by a mere human being with no divine enablement whatsoever, the closing chapter in a society that devalued women would never have a woman as the first person who receives the understanding of the resurrected Christ. It would never have her as the first preacher of the resurrected Christ, would it? Because this culture despised women, hated women in a certain sense.
In fact, here’s how the Jews used to pray: Thank God I am not a dog, I’m not a Gentile, I’m not a woman. You think if one of those guys had written this without God’s help the story would conclude with a woman as the key person that receives grace in a post resurrection appearance of Christ, and announcing His resurrection? John 4:27 says this, “At this point His disciples came,” this is Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman, “At this point the disciples came, and they were amazed that he had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, ‘What do you Seek?’ or Why do You speak with her?” Jesus, what are You doing talking to her? That’s the culture of the day and yet the Bible concludes towards the end with this marvelous appearance to a former demon possessed woman, the first announcer of the post resurrected Christ.
You want to tell me that this book was created by man in the first century? Come on, God wrote this! Jesus came into the world to restore women to the place that they were supposed to have. I’m not going liberal on you, believe me. If we ever get to 1 Timothy before the rapture happens you’ll see that side of the argument. I just think we need to look at the whole Scripture every once in a while and not camp on certain passages, because when we go through the whole Bible and let the Bible say what it wants to say it’s somewhat astonishing, isn’t it, the things that we discover.
I’m out of time, I ran out of time ten minutes ago actually, but it’s highly likely that someone could be here and not have any relationship with Christ whatsoever; this business of Jesus living in you, that’s never happened. All you know is religiosity and outward conformity. And what the gospel is is Jesus died on the cross, He paid the full penalty for our sins, He rose from the dead, He ascended to heaven, and if we will simply trust in His provision, in a split second there could be a turnaround in your whole eternal destiny, as your sins are forgiven, past, present and future, and Jesus Christ Himself starts living inside of you, it’s called the new birth. And even as I am speaking this is something that can happen to you, right now, in the quietness of your own heart and mind as you simply exert volition and confidence in the promises of Jesus. Stop trusting in all of these other things that we’ve been trusting in and trust exclusively in this man, Jesus Christ. It’s not something you have to walk an aisle to do, raise a hand to do, join a church to do, vow to work harder to do, if you want to feel bad and weep and mourn you can do that but that’s not required either. The only New Testament requirement is belief or faith which implies confidence, reliance and trust. Trust in His promises, even though like Abram you may not understand everything, trust in His character and His power. And if you have done that or are doing that as I am speaking, then your whole eternal destiny has changed. If it’s something that you need more information on I’m available after the service. Shall we pray.
Father, we’re grateful for this truth and the things it has taught us this morning. Help us, Father, to walk out from this place and live as people of victory because You rose from the dead. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory, and God’s people said, Amen.