Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 31, 2013

Sermon for the Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord (2013)

MARY MAGDALENE—FROM DOUBT TO FAITH

 Lent/Easter Sermon Series: The Minor Characters of the Cross

 Text: John 20:10-18

This brief Easter sermon was preached at the Easter Dawn (7:00 a.m.) communion service at St. Mark’s. Another sermon was delivered at the later Easter Day (9:00 & 10:45 a.m.) services.

Exposition

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

But Mary Magdalene wasn’t so sure. After a chaotic first trip to the Jesus’ tomb, Mary discovered no stone in front of the entrance, and no body of Jesus in the grave. She reported this to the disciples, and in the Easter Dawn Gospel we heard how Peter and John ran to the tomb to see things for themselves. But Mary returned to the tomb, struck with more grief, because in her mind not only was Jesus dead, but she couldn’t even finish the burial process that they were not able to adequately complete on Good Friday before the Sabbath began. She stood outside the tomb after her return trip, crying and weeping from her emotional devastation and grief.

When we are filled with grief, we often cannot see reality before our eyes. Mary could not see reality before her eyes. Literally. She quickly looks into the tomb on this return trip, and sees two angels—not exactly your run-of-the-mill sight on an average Sunday morning. And instead of coming to her senses, she stays in her grief. “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?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.”

Here comes Easter morning reality check number two. But as we already mentioned, people filled with grief often cannot see reality. Everything she wanted was standing right before her—a risen and glorified Jesus, not a dead body. Were the tears in her eyes literally too much for her to see reality? Was the expectation of the dead body of Jesus so strong that her mind did not register the resurrected and glorified Jesus who stood before her? Was her mind so set on what she expected to find on Easter that Jesus’ gentle leading question didn’t register with her? ‘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.’” 

Whatever it was, it took another word from Jesus, a gentle and loving repetition of her name, to snap her out of grief. “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). The familiar voice of her beloved teacher and of the Son of God who had healed her of demon possession and given Mary her life back now gave Mary her joy back!

I don’t think there could be an emotionally equivalent experience to describe the turn-around Mary experienced. Any example I give will come up short. But in a moment Mary went from serious grief to grief seriously dispelled. But notice the most important turn around here. Yes, her grief is gone. Yes, her demeanor has changed. But what is more important is that the resurrected Jesus dispels her doubts and replaces them with a sure and certain faith, a faith that ran to the disciples and said essentially the same thing we will say to one another throughout this season: He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Application

But like Mary, we’re not always so sure. It’s not that we don’t believe the words of Scripture, but the griefs and problems life throws at us often cloud our perspective so that we cannot see the obvious work of the risen Lord in our own lives.

How can I see the resurrected Jesus clearly when my life is filled with so much instability? How can I believe the promises in God’s Word when I can’t see any good coming out of these problems? How can I trust that God holds the future in his hands when my present seems so out of control? And there is a real voice inside us, called our sinful nature, that is not so sure the resurrection has any real ramifications for my life.

The only way Mary broke out of her grief was to have a direct encounter with the risen Lord. Perhaps you think to yourself that that’s just not possible today. But then ask yourself: What happens when we hear the Easter Gospel account from the most reliably preserved book that has come down to us from the ancient world? What happens when we revisit the account of the empty tomb that Jesus’ previously cowardly disciples gave their lives for rather than deny it as fact and spare themselves from martyrdom? Is the Easter account in the New Testament just some inspiring religious work from the ancient world, or have we not encountered the risen Lord this morning through his holy and perfect Word?

Hasn’t Jesus come to you in his Easter Gospel and given you something tangible to base your faith on? Didn’t the risen Jesus keep his often-repeated promise to pay for the sins of the world by his crucifixion and defeat the grave for his believers by his resurrection? Of course he has! In Scripture you have a record that is so solidly preserved that you and I can have the exact same certainty about the risen Lord Jesus as Mary had on that first Easter dawn. And in his holy Supper you will receive another personal and vivid assurance of the risen Jesus’ unconditional love and mercy and forgiveness for you and your struggles with doubt and fear.

Did not Jesus keep his promise to die for you and to remove the guilt of your sin by his shed blood? Did not Jesus keep his promise to rise to life again for you to remove hell from your future and replace it with eternal life in heaven? Of course he has! And if the risen Lord has given you that kind of assurance, then doesn’t he give us cause to dispel the doubts of our sinful nature? Maybe, just maybe, the Lord’s good purpose will be accomplished through the chaos of my life! Maybe, just maybe, the Lord has forgiven me for all my faults and failings and doubts and despair! Maybe, just maybe, Jesus’ resurrection has given me reason to trust his promise to direct my life in a way that will keep me on the path to eternal life. Maybe, just maybe, the risen Jesus gives me assurance that my grave has been defeated and my death is just the door to eternal life with him in heaven!

Actually, those aren’t maybes. Those are absolute certainties. Those statements as certain as this: He is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.

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