Mary Magdalene came to the tomb while it was still dark.
On the day Jesus was crucified, darkness is a good description of the feelings of Jesus’s followers. They spent the weekend with the knowledge that Jesus was dead.
Mary came looking for a corpse, a dead body. We are all familiar with the story, and it is easy to forget how hopeless these people were. They thought this one was the Savior of Israel. They argued among themselves who would sit on His right and who would sit on His left when He established His kingdom. Now they were going to a tomb to find a dead body.
Have you faced days like this? Maybe not days, maybe you have faced months or years like this. Perhaps you have faced a hopeless marriage, for years. Maybe you have hoped for change in the life of a loved one, for years. Maybe what you feared most in life has actually happened.
Jesus invites us to come. He says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
May I remind you, that it is darkest just before dawn? When darkness has overwhelmed us, we need hope. We need light. We need a resurrection.
Mary came to the tomb and found it empty. She ran and found Peter and John and said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2)
She had no hope… yet. The only explanation that she found was the certainty that “They” (whoever they were) had taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb. He was still dead in her mind. She had seen Him die. The only place she had to turn to was the leaders of the Apostles, Peter and John.
Peter and John ran to the tomb and looked. Then they went home. The text tells us that John believed when he saw the grave clothes lying there, but this apparently did not help Mary. Mary stayed at the tomb. She stood there crying, weeping. How brokenhearted she was! She had been forgiven much, so she loved much. She, of all people, had put her hope in Jesus. Now, she was abandoned.
Luke 8:2 tells us that Jesus cast seven demons from Mary Magdalene, freeing her from horrible oppression. Luke records this and tells us that Mary had faithfully followed and supported Jesus throughout His itinerant ministry. After following Jesus for what could have been two years, He died leaving her without hope. She stood before the tomb weeping and lost.
God sent angels and they asked her, “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Why didn’t Peter and John see the angels? Mary needed help. God cared about Mary and saw that she needed help.
Do you ever feel like God does not care? Have you ever felt abandoned? Have you ever come to the point you just want to stand there and weep? God cares. What an example He gives us with Mary! He takes time to ask, “Why are you crying?”
Jesus taught us, “29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31, NIV)[ii]
God cares about you, the individual. He took time to notice Mary outside the tomb. She had run and told the leaders, Peter and John. However, God’s messengers spoke to her, not Peter and John. Maybe you feel like someone else is more important or more deserving, but Acts 10:34 says very clearly that “God shows no favoritism.”
To the question of “Why are you crying?” Mary answers, “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him.” (John 20:13)
Her answer says nothing of the dashed hopes and pain of loss that she was experiencing. She was not lying, but how could she express all that was going on in her heart? In the tragedies and problems we face in life, the presenting problem is not the whole story. Only One truly knows. Psalm 139 tells us that He knows our thoughts before we speak them.
Knowing Mary’s broken heart and desperate need, Jesus appeared to her. He appeared to her before He appeared to any of the other disciples, and He gave her a message for the others. John 20:14-15 says:
14She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15“Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”
Here, for a second time, Mary is asked, “Why are you crying?” Again, I think it is a demonstration of the fact that God cares. Hebrews 4:15 tells us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (ESV)[iii] Jesus is able to sympathize with our weakness.
Jesus also probes deeper than the question, “Why are you crying?” He adds the question, “Who are you looking for?” This is at the heart of Mary’s grief. She was crying because of whom she had lost.
Mary did not recognize Jesus. Perhaps she was not looking at Him, because the text does say she turned toward Him when He said her name. Perhaps, because of her grief it did not register with her that this was Jesus.
When we lose hope and are lost, we often do not know where to turn for help, and we do not recognize help when we see it.
People without Christ are in darkness. They are without hope, and do not recognize even that they need help. People without Christ are different from Mary because they are not grieving their loss, but they come to my mind because they do not recognize the source of life.
It took Jesus saying her name for Mary to realize it was Jesus. Then she turned to Him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).
Mary had found her answer. Like the sun rising on a brand new day, hope sprang up in her heart. The darkness was dispelled and in an instant grief was gone.
If you are in darkness or are facing dark days, look to Jesus and the resurrection.
You may not be able to see hope. You may not be able to see how Jesus can make a difference, but you need a resurrection, a resurrection of hope, a resurrection of light and of happiness.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) Whatever way you are on, if it is not Jesus, it will not lead to life.
Jesus used an illustration to show how important it is to build our lives on the right foundation. It goes like this:
24“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
Mary had chosen the right foundation to build on. Jesus overcame death and the grave. The storm came in the form of a trial and a crucifixion, and Mary thought she had lost it all until the moment Jesus said her name.
2 Corinthians 4:4 tells us, “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.”
This reminds me of Mary before Jesus spoke her name. She was blind to the truth and the hope that was standing right beside her.
If the resurrection teaches us one thing it is that there is hope, hope in Jesus. If your life is in darkness, turn to Jesus for hope.
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii]Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
[iii] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.