Mary Magdalene – From Darkness to Light

John 20:11-18


One of the unique things about human nature is that while we all share so much, we are also so very different. I mean there are a lot of characteristics that we have in common. We have the same basic needs: food, clothing, and shelter. We all have the same basic senses: hearing, taste, sight, smell, and touch. And we all have the ability to feel a wide variety of feelings: happy, mad, sad, or glad.  

But when we are faced with the same situation, a lot of times we will usually act differently. The words “I’m pregnant” causes the feelings of joy in some, despair in others, and then anxiety in the heart of every man. When Trista first told me that we were going to have a baby, she joyfully focused on names, colors, and patterns. I felt the anxiety as I focused on the money to pay for diapers, and the fact that I was going to have to change a few.

Usually once we get into the situation then our perspective and our attitude changes. Once I got the opportunity to see those little boys, to count the fingers and toes my attitude changed. My perspective changed, sure I was still a little worried about changing those diapers, but I got a better perspective.  

From the very beginning of His ministry Jesus was upfront about the fact that there was going to come a time where He was going to lay down His life, and die. From the very beginning Jesus talked about the fact that His death was necessary, but it was not the end. Jesus taught, preached, and had conversations with His disciples that not only would He lay down His life, but that He would take it up again.

That conversation caused a lot of mixed feelings among the people. They weren’t really sure what Jesus meant; they weren’t really sure how that would affect them, and how their lives would change. It’s a common problem, and one that only can be comprehended when you are in the middle of the situation.

I want to spend the next few weeks leading up to Easter Sunday looking at how different people had different reactions to the resurrection of Christ. All of the people we will look at had heard what Jesus had to say about His death and resurrection. But each of them had a different reaction to Jesus’ ability to do what He claimed.

This morning we start with the story of Mary Magdalene, a woman who had every reason to be filled with hope and joy. After all she and Jesus had a long history with one another. She is the first-named woman among Christ’s followers in Luke 8:1-2: “After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out;

I think that it’s interesting that Luke let’s us know that her last name was not “Magdalene” rather it was her home and the way that she was distinguished from other “Mary’s”. It would be like saying us saying Betty from Pleasure Island and Betty from Groves.  

Also we know that she is not the woman caught in adultery in John 8, and she is not the woman in Luke 7 who anointed Jesus’ feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Rather Mary apparently traveled with Jesus, He had healed her from demon possession, and she had a history with Him. That’s why she is at the tomb early Sunday morning. Look with me at our text for this morning found in John 20:1-18. (Read Text)

Don’t miss what John is saying in our text this morning. He writes “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark.” I love the fact that John tells us that it is still dark when Mary comes to the tomb. I imagine that John is talking about much more than the fact that the sun hadn’t risen yet. John is talking about the condition of their hearts. You see it’s not only physically dark; it is emotionally dark as well. This was the darkest time of their lives.

Darkness is a pretty remarkable thing. God uses the image of darkness and light all throughout His story. We read that there was darkness on the face of the deep, the formless beginning, the chaos and then God said “Let there be light!” It was the first day.

When Jesus died darkness covered the earth and chaos started all over again. For two long days emotional darkness filled the hearts and lives of the little weeping group of disciples. And now three days later they are still in darkness.

According to the other 3 gospels, there had actually been several women who had gone to the tomb that morning. There was Mary the mother of James, Joanna, Salome and maybe a few others. But John focuses on Mary Magdalene. I believe that John chose to focus on Mary because she was living in her darkness and she refused to believe.

It’s not that she had never seen or heard about someone coming back from the grave. I am sure that she knew about Lazarus, she knew about the Widow of Nain’s son, and she knew about the daughter of Jarius. Still in the darkness she thought when a person died they were dead. It was a permanent position. Even though she knew different, in the darkness she would tell you that people didn’t raise from the dead, so Jesus couldn’t have risen from the grave. So that morning when Mary returns to the tomb she went there looking for a dead Jesus, not for a living one.

That’s why she had come to the tomb, perhaps to bring spices to anoint the body of Christ so that He could have a proper burial. Or perhaps she was there just to cry, or maybe she had nowhere else to go. On this morning, in the darkness nothing else mattered and she believed that nothing else would ever matter.

The darkness Mary was feeling became darker when she discovered that the body of Jesus was missing. When she arrived, the stone to cover up the entrance had been moved. The soldiers were gone. And the body of Jesus was missing. Mary had lost the most valuable thing and relationship in her life; she had lost Jesus.

Through Jesus she had found release. When she had met Jesus, she was enslaved by 7 demons. Jesus had cast the demons out. Jesus had freed her.

Through Jesus she had found peace. Ask any parent what it’s like to have several little kids pulling on you at the same time all trying to get your attention to do something for them. Now magnify that by imagining  having seven demons living inside your head constantly steering you in directions that you do not want to go. When Jesus had released her, she had found a peace that she had never known.

Through Jesus she had found forgiveness. You see not only had Jesus released her from her demons, He had released her from her sin. He had forgiven her from every decision she had made that separated her from God. 

Through Jesus she found someone to believe in. Luke tells us that Mary had been a part of a group of women who financially supported Jesus’ ministry. She had believed in what He was doing, and she was willing to follow Him to encourage Him, and support Him.

Now she was lost without Jesus. She had given her life to Him. His life had given her life meaning. Now that He was gone, she was like a lost puppy not knowing what to do or what to believe in.

Standing in the darkness she thought that all that was gone. As the darkness overwhelmed her she cried. As she found the stone rolled away the darkness got even darker. As she looks at the empty tomb, and the stone that had been rolled away for her it is simply another twist of the knife.

Then even more chaos. Someone has added to her pain, to her darkness, by taking the body of her Savior. Some gardener, some solider, some grave robber has come and just added to the darkness. Not knowing what to do, she runs away. She runs to find someone who will understand, she runs to find someone who will empathize with her darkness. Someone who knows the pain and the loss that she feels.  And interestingly someone who heard the same promises, and who should have shared her hope instead of her grief.

Skip ahead a few verses to verse 11 and you will see that something amazing happens.  Just like at the creation, light appears, and order comes out of chaos. There in the garden we have a new beginning, a new start, a new day dawns and once again we have hope.

When Peter and John left, Mary stays. She stood outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb, and she saw two angels dressed in white. The angel asked her “Why are you crying?” Once again John does a great job conveying the hopelessness in Mary’s words, "They’ve taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they put Him."

Mary is still overcome with grief, still living in her darkness. It is an indescribable anguish that she is feeling. She is so upset, she talks to angels, and doesn’t know it. It is like there is a cloud about her. She can’t see clearly. She is still looking for a body.

And it’s there that Jesus appears to her; Mary was the first one to see the resurrected Jesus. You know There were all kinds of people Jesus could have appeared to, He could have appeared to His mother Mary, the woman who’d given birth to Him. Or He could have appeared to the other women who’d gotten the message right! Or He could simply have gone first to His Apostles. But He doesn’t do that. He appears to Mary Magdalene.

I think this is important, because Jesus still cared for and loved His followers. He appeared to Mary first because she needed Him. As she stood outside that tomb crying, Jesus approached her. Remember that Mary didn’t oppose the idea of Jesus rising from the dead, but in her darkness she didn’t think it would ever happen. She stood there and she believed that when people die, they don’t come back.  The grave was an empty hole in the ground. It was a place of hopelessness and futility. Death was the end of all existence. 

Jesus could have appeared to anyone He wanted to. But He chose Mary because she didn’t believe He’d risen from the grave. He chose her because she needed His message right then. She needed to be refilled with the hope of Christ’s victory over the grave. She needed to move from the darkness into the new dawn.

When she first turns around and sees Jesus, she doesn’t recognize that it’s Him. I don’t believe that she was expecting to see Jesus. When you go to a gravesite, you don’t expect to see the dead guy standing out there in front of his grave. Things just don’t work that way!

But that’s exactly who she sees, Jesus is looking for Mary whether she is looking for Him or not. Jesus is interested in meeting her needs. He already knew the answer to His question when He asked her “Woman, why are you crying?” He knew why she was sad, and He knows us well enough this morning to know about those things that make you sad. He understands your fear and anxiety. Think of all the tears that have been shed throughout history. Jesus doesn’t always take away our tears but He brings us to a new dawn as the answer to our agony.

Jesus not only asks about her sorrow but He tenderly prods with a second question, “Who is it that you are looking for?” He doesn’t ask her “what” she is looking for but “whom.” Until we find Jesus, each of us are looking for someone as well. Sadly, some of us are on a search for something, when we should be looking for Someone.

Jesus knows us personally. It’s kind of funny what takes place in the second part of verse 15: “
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.’” The sun is rising, the darkness is lifting but Mary is not there yet.

Then in verse 16, the sun finally breaks through the clouds as Jesus calls her name. All Jesus had to do was speak her name she immediately turned toward Him and cried out Rabboni. This was a title of highest respect. She was calling Jesus her master, teacher, and Lord.

In the light of this new day Mary, the disciples, and we were all welcomed into a new world.  You see just as the first day, was a new beginning, the start of something wonderful, that morning in the garden something extraordinary took place. There was a new beginning, a new relationship, one that God would not only call good, but better that the first beginning.

In verse 17 we see that we were ushered into a new beginning and a new hope through the new relationship we have with God.  Up to this point Jesus has talked about God as the Father. God is my Father, or the Father that sent me. Jesus referred to His followers as servants, or friends, or disciples. But here by this tomb, Jesus gives Mary a different message.

In verse 17 Jesus says, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” With the new dawn comes a new relationship. Don’t miss the importance of what Jesus is introducing here. Finally, we the creation, have hope in the fact that we can know God the way that Jesus knew Him. No longer are we separated from God through the darkness of this world. For the first time at that tomb, we were ushered into a new day, a better relationship where we can claim God as our Father.

This morning listen, listen as God calls your name as well. For many of us this morning, we are living in grief. We grieve relationships that have been lost, we grieve opportunities that were missed, and we grieve bad choices that we made. That’s where Jesus meets you this morning, and He calls your name. He calls you into a better relationship, a place where you can find the peace that passes all understanding.

Listen this morning as our risen Savior calls your name. Listen for Him to give you what your heart and soul really long for, and that is an intimate relationship with Him. And once you hear His call, accept the relationship that He is calling you to.



Questions To Consider

Who do you turn to when you are upset?

What is it about them that gives you comfort?

Imagine being in Mary’s shoes, what are some of the emotions that you are feeling?

Have you ever struggled with those feelings?

How did you cope?

The missing body of Jesus should have brought joy, instead it brought pain. Why is that?

Would you have responded more like Mary (doubt and grief) or the Apostles (hope and belief)?

What is it about Jesus speaking her name that caused Mary to break into the new day?

What is the greatest proof you have that Jesus has risen from the dead?

What does verse 17 mean to you? 

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