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Sermon / Homily on John 20:1

Mary Magdalene at the Sepulchre

by Ralph Bouma

Scripture: John 20:1

The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre (John 20:1).

God's wisdom puts to silence all the crafty designs of man. We read in 1 Corinthians 1:25: "Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men." The light was their condemnation, and they wanted to put out the light. They wanted to crucify the Light that it would no longer shine in their hearts. Their action though caused the Light to shine eternally. God allowed them to accomplish their design in hanging our Saviour on the cross to fulfill His decrees. They in their foolishness thought they had gained the victory.

Our God raised up the very One whom the Jews had not only rejected, but as Peter told them, "Ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts 2:23). It was this despised Jesus of Nazareth, "whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it" (verse 24). The apostles were now ministering to those very people who crucified Christ.

It was this truth that Peter preached that burned in the hearts of the people as he spoke unto them in Acts 2:34-36: "For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ." Not only is He Christ, the Anointed, He is Lord. The reward that the Father had in store for Him is now being proclaimed to His enemies. He has now been given all power in heaven and in earth.

It was this crucified Christ to whom Mary Magdalene came to show her gratitude for the love He had shown her. We read this in Luke 7:44-47: "And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman" I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little." The result was that she was willing to come and take the reproach of Christ. Her love brought her to the tomb. She saw the grievousness of her sin and the pardoning love of Christ.

She did not want to desecrate the Jewish Sabbath, so she went to the tomb on the first day of the week. Here we see the beginning of the New Testament Sabbath. The first day of the week was now set aside to worship Christ.

The other Gospels reveal that she was not alone. Mark 16:1 says: "And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him." It is characteristic of the Gospel of John that he brings individuals to our notice more than the other Gospels.

This draws more attention to our need of a personal relationship with Christ as in the case of John 3:1-2: "There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him." This incident is not mentioned in the other Gospels.

In the previous chapter the Lord had been speaking to them as a group. In John 2:23-25 we read: "Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man." He knew they did not believe with a saving faith. He did not commit Himself to that multitude because He knew that the hearts of many among them were not with Him. One friend whose heart is with you is better than many friends whose hearts are not with you.

We are not going to go to heaven as a body of people. We will not be saved as a group or a family or a denomination. Salvation is personal. We must have a personal relationship with Christ.

The blessed truths recorded in John 3:1-21 were reaped from what our blessed Lord told Nicodemus as he sought out the Saviour alone in the night. Sometimes when we are seeking our Saviour alone at night is when we come up with some of the most blessed revelations of Christ. We need a personal relationship with Christ. Knowing that Christ came to save the world (verse 16) does not save me. I need my own personal salvation from my own personal Saviour. The Holy Spirit recorded what Jesus spoke to Nicodemus alone that night.

Another communication between Christ and an individual recorded only by the Gospel of John is that of the woman at the well. We read in John 4:4-7: "And he must needs go through Samaria. Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour. There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink." The Gospel of John points out the heart of the Saviour to individuals. He went to Samaria to meet this woman at the well.

This conversation, which is so rich with instruction, is again between Christ and a lone individual, yet it is so rich with instruction for the bride of Christ as He points unto the unspeakable gift of the Father. We read in John 4:9-10: "Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria" for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans. Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water."

The affections of the heart and finding the Object of their love is what the Gospel of John seems to reveal so much more than the other Gospels. We read in John 1:37-39: "And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou? He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour."

Jesus said that Mary's sins, which were many, were forgiven because she loved much. Jesus tells us that if we love Him we will keep His commandments. Our love to Christ will reflect to others the love we have received. If we show little love for others, this means that we have little love for God.

Mary Magdalene came to the tomb when it was yet dark. She was not lazy. Mary came to the sepulchre expecting to see the Roman soldiers standing guard with a great stone closing the entrance, but all of these obstacles did not hinder her. The Lord removes obstacles in His own way.

We read in Matthew 27:65-66: "Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch."

Even though they came at the rising of the sun, an angel of the Lord arrived there before them as we see in Matthew 28:1-2: "In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it."

Even though the other Gospels reveal that there were others with Mary Magdalene - and even though they all loved Jesus most dearly - it seems that the Apostle John centers his attention on the one who loved most, because she was forgiven the most. That individual heart religion, not group or denominational religion, is so necessary to understand the resurrection of Christ. Some think that to be part of a certain organization gives them a certain protection as if under an umbrella, and that it is safer to be under that umbrella than out. Yet, Christ is the only umbrella that has any value. Anything we seek security in short of Christ is an idol. We have no security. Christ alone can be our security.

It is the Apostle John who draws such blessedly simple logic to the fruit of our spiritual resurrection. Until we are in the likeness of the resurrection of Christ, the resurrection of Christ means nothing to us. We read in 1 John 2:3-6: "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked." John is pointing to the fruit of walking in the resurrection. We cannot emphasize enough how many people today think they love the Lord, how many people today think they are saved, but He will say, "Depart from me. I know you not, you who work iniquity." However, John says that we may know that we know Him by keeping His commandments. Our love for Christ is our evidence that He loves us. We love Him because He first loved us. If we have our affections set on anything but the Person of Christ, we must be careful because the first commandment is to love Him with our heart, soul and mind. If the Holy Spirit has not given us those new desires and affections then we have no basis to claim that we know Him.

Our text says Mary Magdalene saw the stone was rolled away. Christ Himself could have done it, but the Father sent a messenger to do so, thereby declaring that His Divine justice had been satisfied. This showed that Christ was vindicated and released from the grave by the Father, and that we have salvation in Christ because our sins are fully paid for. The demonstration of the almighty power of God in rolling away the stone exemplifies the voluntary nature of our Saviour in giving Himself a sacrifice for our sin.

The Lord's enemies quite clearly remembered that the Lord Jesus had said He would rise again the third day as we read in Matthew 27:62- 64: "Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first."

Even though His enemies seemed to remember so well that they demanded a watch, even seeing the empty grave did not remind Mary or His disciples what He had told them. Mark 8:31 says, "And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again."

When Mary and the disciples saw the stone rolled away they thought someone had stolen the body of Jesus. We read in John 20:6-9: "Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead." It is important that we base our knowledge on the Scriptures. Jesus had not yet unfolded the Scriptures to them.

The enemies had remembered what Jesus' friends had forgotten, but see the remarks - Fear ye not - and then he tells them the greatest news ever - Jesus is risen -they received in Matthew 28:5-6: "And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay."

These words of Jesus had not only fallen on unheeding ears, they were reasoning according to their human logic. Therefore they refused to believe what Jesus had said. This is a common trick of Satan today. We have preconceived notions of what salvation is and we do not accept the salvation He gives us.

We read in Matthew 16:21-23: "From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men." They were so determined to believe what they wanted to believe that they did not want to hear what Christ said. When they came to the empty tomb they still reasoned with human logic.

They had not yet understood those Scriptures, which prophesied the resurrection of Christ. Psalm 16:9-11 says: "Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore."

All the evidence we may see with our natural eye is not by itself a foundation for our faith. The authority of the Word of God is the only Solid Rock.

In their ignorance they were seeking the living among the dead because they were not willing to hear what Jesus told them. We read in John 20:10-13: "Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him." She was still convinced in her mind that someone had stolen Him away.

The Holy Spirit contrasts faith, which rests on the Word of God, with an intellectual assurance, which proceeds from external evidence. He contrasts that which is founded on the Word with that which is founded on human intelligence. We read in Romans 10:16-17: "But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." We can have much faith built on our human intellect, but that is not saving faith because it is not built on the Word of God.

The old saying that seeing is believing is humanistic. What more could Peter see at the empty tomb that was believing? He was still believing his own human logic. His heart was still not right. He was not willing to accept what Jesus had said. Traditional faith or human knowledge not only puffs up, it leaves the soul polluted and the heart void of any relationship with the person of Christ.

After His resurrection the Lord Jesus opened their understanding of the Scriptures and then they also remembered what He had said unto them. We read in John 2:22: "When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said."

The very armor of the strong man (Satan) was made a show of in the empty grave of the Captain of our Salvation. John 20:3-7 says: "Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself."

In the resurrection of the last day, sin and all the armor of Satan will remain in the grave. It will haunt us and bother us no more.

See Also:

Sermons and Bible Analyses for Easter

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