Many historical events have come down to us from a single source. One person who recorded what they witnessed. But the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not founded on the testimony of any one person.
Crowds of people witnessed Jesus' crucifixion and death. Some were His friends. Some His enemies. Some merely Roman soldiers doing their job.
But, while there were many witnesses of Christ's death, there were even MORE witnesses of His resurrection. The apostle Paul wrote...
" 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me" (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 ESV).When Paul wrote these words, you could actually go and interview these witnesses for yourself. They were still alive and could tell you what they had seen. And these witnesses WERE interviewed. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John contain information drawn from these witnesses.
This has led some historians to say that the death and resurrection of Jesus is the most testified to event in all of human history.
For our meditation today we're going to hear from just one of the many witnesses of Christ's resurrection. One of the very first to see the risen Christ. Mary Magdalene.
Just who was this Mary? What was her relationship to Jesus? And what do we learn from her testimony? Today we find out. May the Holy Spirit bless our hearts and minds as we turn to the sure testimony of God's Word.
John 20:11-18 (NKJV)
11 But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 13 Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”
14 Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”
She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher).
17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ ”
18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.
When a witness testifies in a court of law, the court is mainly concerned with testimony connected to the case, not with knowing that person's whole life story.
In the same way, the Bible doesn't record the whole life story of Mary Magdalene. But it does give us some information concerning her life and character.
Mary came from the city of Magdala in Galilee. She had once been possessed by seven demons. But during His ministry in Galilee, Jesus had met Mary, and had cast these demons out of her. For this, Mary was ever grateful.
She showed her thankfulness to Jesus by following along with His disciples. She, and other women whom Jesus had helped, supported Him throughout His ministry. They even followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem in the last week of His earthly life.
While Jesus' other friends abandoned Him when He was arrested, Mary and a handful of other women followed Him all the way to the cross. Mary Magdalene was there when Jesus was crucified. And after His death, she followed on, witnessing from a distance when His body was laid in the garden tomb.
On that Friday afternoon when Jesus died, there wasn't much time to prepare His body for burial. At nightfall the Sabbath would begin, and working on the Sabbath was forbidden for a Jew. Mary knew the men who buried Jesus had worked quickly to finish their task before the Sabbath began. And so, she made up her mind up to go to His tomb the day after the Sabbath. She and the other women would make sure that the job had been done right. They would perform this one last act of kindness for the Teacher who had been so kind to them. For the friend they had come to love.
But when Mary and the others approached the tomb early on the first Easter the morning, they found that it had already been opened, and the body of Jesus was missing.
This confused and distressed Mary. She had not expected this at all. Her preparations had been made with the assumption that she would find the Lord's body laying there, cold on the slab. But now, He was nowhere to be found.
She lingered there outside the tomb, not knowing what to do. Crying and struggling to make sense of it all. Or perhaps just struggling to stay afloat amid the flood of her emotions.
She was so distraught that when she stooped to look through the low doorway that led down into the tomb, she didn't even question the presence of two angels that sat there, looking like men dressed in white.
When they asked her why she was weeping, she didn't even bother to ask them why THEY were even there. She just numbly answered their question. Someone had taken her Lord away, and she didn't know where they had put Him.
And it was then, that the risen Jesus stepped into the dark whirlwind of Mary's distress. She turned and saw Him, but didn't recognize this new visitor.
"Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Jesus said.
Here I can't help but imagine John's interview with Mary as he was gathering information for His Gospel. Mary says, "And you know what? When I saw Him, I thought He was the gardener! Of all people! And I told Him that if He was the one who had taken Jesus away that He should just tell me where He had put Him and I would take Him back!"
And then the moment of recognition came. The same powerful Savior who had cast out her demons so long before spoke another powerful word to her. Her own name. "Mary!" He said. And her eyes were opened. It was HIM. It was REALLY Him!
"Teacher!", she had cried as she rushed to hug Him. She had hoped to wrap His lifeless form with burial spices. She had even contemplated hefting His body away from whatever place He had been stolen away to. But NEVER had she held out the hope that she would hug His living, breathing form again.
Moments before she had been overwhelmed with sadness and confusion. Now, she was overwhelmed with wonder and with joy.
And then He spoke again. This time His words connected the physical reality of His resurrection to the spiritual significance of it. Jesus said, "Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, "I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God."
My Father and your Father. My God and your God.
Through His suffering and death in Mary's place, Jesus had once and for all wiped out the record of her sins. Through His sacrifice Mary Magdalene was made a daughter of the Heavenly Father. A sinner made saint through faith in God's Son.
Mary had come seeking the dead Jesus. But in the end it was the living Lord who had done the finding.
And Jesus is still reenacting this scene today.
When Mary had first met Jesus she was in a hopeless condition. Possessed against her will by seven demons. But Jesus had cast out those demons with His mighty power.
Today, Jesus comes to sinners like us, through the Gospel message. And he declares us free from what we could never have escaped on our own. He declares our sins forgiven through His cross.
When Mary stood outside the tomb on that first Easter Sunday, she felt confused and utterly alone. Jesus was nowhere to be found and she didn't know what to do.
Today, Jesus comes to His people in distress. When we feel weighed down by sin and guilt. When we feel confused and utterly alone. When we feel like God is nowhere to be found, then He comes to us in Word and sacrament and reminds us that He has not abandoned us. He died to save us from Hell, and He lives to guide us home to Heaven.
When Mary first saw Her resurrected friend and Savior, she was overwhelmed and sought to hold onto Him. But with His words, Jesus directed her to the greater gift He had risen to give her. He wasn't just there to comfort a friend who was grieving a lost loved one. He was there to tell her that He was going to her future home. To the Father's side. Her Father by faith. To God's side. The God she trusted in, and was now connected to.
There are many passages in the Bible that tell us that Jesus died to take away the sins of the world. But this little account of Mary's experience outside the empty tomb reminds us that Jesus died - for me, the individual. For you, the individual.
The message of sins forgiven through the sacrifice of God's son has brought masses of people to trust the God of the Bible. But Mary's account reminds us that God comes to each sinner personally. Because, foul sinners though we are, God somehow values us. Loves us. Wants to rescue us from our broken selves and from this broken world. HE seeks US. We stumble through life, seeking and grasping, sinning and searching. Looking for meaning and purpose, peace and happiness. Through this messy storm of our sinful lives - He comes to us. And the lost become found - in Christ Jesus.
When we approach the tomb on Easter morning, we see what Mary saw. That we have been found.
Our sins erased. Born into God's family. Lost, but through the crucified and then risen Christ, FOUND.