April 9, 2023
His First Steps Led Outside His Tomb!
1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2So she 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!”
3So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10Then the disciples went back to their homes.
11But Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13“They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”
18Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. (NIV1984)
Dear fellow worshipers of our living Lord and Savior,
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
If you’ve ever watched the movie The Passion of the Christ then you’ll understand why I say that it is a powerful poignant depiction of what the Son of God willingly endured to save us from our sins. The very last scene of that movie is dramatic. The camera places us in the darkness of Jesus’ tomb. It slowly pans toward the massive stone that was rolled in front of the entrance to the tomb. The stone starts grinding its way up and back into its channel. Soon you see the finger of the bright sun of that first Easter morning piercing the darkness of the tomb. As the camera continues panning slowly our gaze is focused on the slab where our Savior’s lifeless body had been placed. But the body is gone! The linen wrappings slowly collapse! Captivating music is now building. The camera pans a bit further and then we see His face— no longer blooded and bruised and battered but whole again! Jesus sits for a moment, His eyes closed as if drinking in the warmth of the sun He once set in the sky. Then He opens His eyes and closes them again as if pondering for a moment everything He had successfully accomplished. The music builds. The beat of drums is added. Voices— as if from a choir of angels are heard. Then our Lord stands, and we see the gaping hole in His hand left by the spike. He takes one step forward— and the movie comes to a close! Powerful! Memorable! But the record of Scripture is even better!
Throughout the Wednesdays in Lent we have been following a sermon series entitled His Final Steps— steps that ultimately led to the cross on Calvary’s hill. As we gather together today to celebrate the glorious physical resurrection of our dear Lord and Savior we conclude that sermon series by focusing our attention on Jesus’ first steps. Using a portion of John’s account of Easter let’s see how: His First Steps Led Outside His Tomb!
If merely watching the movie The Passion of the Christ was enough to leave us feeling exhausted and emotionally drained, imagine what it was like for Jesus’ first disciples who actually lived through the nightmare of Good Friday! Was that day even more horrific for the women who followed Jesus, like Mary Magdalene here in our text? After all, the Holy Spirit made sure to have John write, “Jesus’ mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene were standing near the cross” (John 19:25). Have you ever wondered what that was like? Was it like a nightmare unfolding right before their very eyes?
These faithful women— who loved their Lord with all their heart, all their soul, all their mind and all their strength— these faithful women were also the first to visit His tomb on Easter morning. They carried “the spices they had prepared” (Luke 24:1). They came to pay their final respects to their dead Teacher. As they drew closer to the tomb, they worried about how they would move that massive stone out of the way. But there were also other concerns, weren’t there— such as how were they going to talk their way past the Roman guards? We don’t know! They didn’t know! They were still in shock!
And that certainly included Mary Magdalene who went to the tomb, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark.” The first time Mary arrived at the tomb John tells us that she “saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’” After sharing this tragic news, Mary followed Peter and John back to the tomb. Once these two men arrived at the tomb, they went inside and looked around. Yes, the tomb was empty. Yes, Jesus’ body was gone. So what did they do? They went back home. Why stay? There was nothing else to do there. John even adds this rather unflattering comment about Peter and John, “They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” Before we come down too hard on Peter and John let’s take a moment to recall all the times that we too have been a little slow in grasping the height and the depth, the power and the certainty of all the promises our Savior has made to us here in His holy Word.
And Mary? John tells us, “But Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’” Why was Mary crying? Because her heart was broken! Because she was in shock! Because she was so overwhelmed by sorrow that she couldn’t even see what was right in front of her— “Two angels in white”! All Mary could think about what this: “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him.” Mary was stuck in the nightmare of Good Friday— Christ’s body hanging on the center cross, His lifeless body lovingly place in the tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea. Those were the images that had been seared into Mary’s heart and mind.
That’s why Mary was weeping, my friends. She was experiencing the kind of grief that wells up from deep inside you and comes crashing down like breaker waves you can’t hold back. As far as Mary knew, Jesus was dead. And long with Him died all those promises, all those hopes, and all those dreams she had tucked away in her heart from all those times she had heard Jesus “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1).
Any of us who have experienced deep trauma in our lives may understand at least a little of what Mary was going through on that first Easter morning. It’s why she seemed oblivious to the angels, frozen in time, struggling to figure out what to do next. But our risen Savior is a caring Savior! He understands us even better than we understand ourselves! Jesus knew exactly what Mary needed. That’s why His first steps led outside His tomb— to Mary, who thought He was a gardener. John tells us, “At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize it was Jesus. ‘Woman,’ he said, ‘why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’ Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’”
Why didn’t Mary recognize her Lord? Did Jesus keep her from recognizing Him? Possibly. Were Mary’s eyes so blurred from crying that she couldn’t see straight? Possibly. Did Jesus look different now that He had risen from the dead and entered into His State of Exaltation? Possibly, after all when Jesus came up to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, they didn’t recognize Him at first either. And then there’s this: Jesus was the very last Person Mary expected to see on that Sunday morning— especially after what she had seen on Good Friday!
I guess if seeing “two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been” doesn’t make you stop and go, “Say what?” then you aren’t going to recognize Jesus, who rescued you from the hell on earth by casting seven demons out of you! (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2) You won’t recognize the soothing voice of the Teacher whom you had been following for three years. (Luke 8:23) You won’t recognize the Lord who only a few weeks earlier had told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25, 26). You won’t recognize the Lord of life who stood outside the tomb of Lazarus and called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”— and he did! (John 11:43) How can you recognize the living Lord when all you can remember are the horrors you witnessed on the hill called Calvary? (Pointing to the cross) You can’t! Not when you’re overwhelmed with weeping. Not when you’re stuck in the darkness of Good Friday!
Do we ever get stuck in the hopelessness of Good Friday? Do we ever get stuck grieving over the spouse or the parent or the child whom we think the Lore called Home “too soon”? Do we ever get stuck worrying about how we are going to pay our bills? Do we ever get stuck wondering whether or not our retirement savings will last? There are so many concerns and so many fears that threaten to keep us stuck in the bleakness of Good Friday! There is only one way to roll back our massive stones of fear and sorrow, worrying and weeping! Only Easter can do that! The risen Savior, who knew exactly what Mary needed on that first Easter Sunday knows exactly what we need on this Easter Sunday! We need to focus our attention on our risen Lord! We need to see how His first steps led outside His tomb— to Mary, who became the first Easter witness!
Just one word. That’s all that it took for Jesus to lift the fog and the fear and the darkness from Mary’s heart and mind! Just one word. That’s all that it took! John tells us, “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’ Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news, ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.”
“Mary” That one word spoken in love and concern pierced the darkness of Good Friday with the glorious light of Easter Sunday. In the warmth of that glorious ray of sunlight Mary humbly cried out, “Rabboni!” (Teacher!). I suspect that Mary’s tears continued to flow— only now they were tears of surprise and joy! We can only imagine the relief that swept over Mary. She was so overjoyed that she couldn’t help but clasp Jesus’ feet in humble worship. (Matthew 28:9). But Jesus told her, “Do not hold on to me.” Jesus still had more to do on that first Easter Sunday. He had more people to see. More names to speak. Jesus intended to have hundreds of witnesses who with their voices and their writings would step out into all the world and proclaim the wonderful news of Easter— “I have seen the Lord!”
These witnesses include you and me, my friends. Through the power of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts we have the privilege of joyfully proclaiming, “Easter is real! Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead guarantees that our sins are forgiven! Easter joyfully proclaims to the world that we have been ‘Declared: Not Guilty!’ by the living God Himself!” That’s the message that we now have the privilege of sharing with others!
If you have ever seen the movie The Passion of the Christ then you know just how powerful that movie is. And yet, the inspired accounts of Easter that are recorded for us here in God’s holy Word— they are the most powerful of all! The Sonshine of Easter Sunday has the power to break through the despair of Good Friday. The Sonshine of Easter Sunday has the power to fill us with so much joy and so much confidence that we can’t help but say:
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
To God be the glory!