Christ's Resurrection Assures Us of Ours
A sermon based on John 20:10-18
Sunday, April 8, 2012 — Easter Day
When Napoleon had escaped from Elba and entered Paris in 1815 he quickly met a European coalition led by the Duke of Wellington. Just south of Waterloo village, Napoleon and Wellington fought for the future of Europe. While the Battle of Waterloo was being fought, all of England waited breathlessly for the news.
At last the message came slowly across the channel. "Wellington defeated" had just been spelled out when a sudden blanket of fog obscured the signals. News of the disaster spread quickly, and the deepest gloom settled on the land.
Later, the fog lifted, and like Paul Harvey with the rest of the story, the message was completed. "Wellington defeated… the enemy!" Sorrow was turned into great rejoicing!
In the gloom of Good Friday, Mary Magdalene, a disciple of Jesus out of whom he had driven seven demons, could only read, "Jesus defeated!" But in the new light of Easter morning the glorious truth broke in on her sorrow: "Jesus defeated the enemy!" Listen now as Jesus lifts the fog for Mary and for us in John 20:10-18…
10 Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and 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." 14 At 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." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher). 17 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.'" 18 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.
I. He Would Return to the Father
Mary was overwhelmed with grief. And who wouldn't be? She saw her beloved Lord crucified—tortured to death on the cross. The men who took Christ down from the cross did a hurried job to bury him before the Sabbath came Friday at dusk. So early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary went to finish the embalming. When she saw the empty tomb, while the other Mary and the ladies with her ran to tell most of the disciples, she ran back to tell Peter and John, "Someone took the body!"
Peter and John immediately ran ahead to the tomb to see for themselves. But Mary on the other hand was in no hurry. She thought that Christ was still dead. The disciples saw the strips of cloth neatly folded in the tomb. Though still confused, they believed, and they went home to share the news. But they missed Mary on the way and she was left without any hope, without any joy. The crucifixion was still locked in her mind. Her grief consumed her so much that she hardly took notice of two angels dressed in white!
10 Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and 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."
In her grief she hardly realized who she was talking to. She simply answered their question. "I'm crying because Jesus is dead. I'm crying because I can't find him. Someone thought that torturing him and killing him wasn't enough. They had to steal the body too."
Perhaps the angels stood up and focused their attention beyond Mary. At this she turned to see what they were looking at…
14 At 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."
Perhaps because it was early morning and still somewhat dark out, or perhaps because she had just been crying and her eyes were still blurred with tears, perhaps because in his resurrected, glorified body he looked different, or perhaps just because the Lord kept her from it, Mary didn't recognize Jesus at all. She thought he was the gardener. Maybe he knew where they took the body!
16 Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).
His answer was short—only one word—but it was enough to answer Mary's question of where Christ's body was. To hear his familiar voice call her by name freed Mary's mind and cleared the fog so she could see the rest of the story. It was not the gardener. It was Jesus himself, risen from the dead! His greeting called her out of her prison of despair. She blurted out, "Rabboni!" What a surprise! Jesus! Alive! Here! Her grief was now overcome with joy!
You know, that's exactly what Jesus does for us too. So often we are overcome with the everyday events of this life. We are bound in our thoughts of family troubles, professional ups and downs, and financial setbacks. We are caught up in our own sins and fears. The thought of our own death can be a disturbing one—and rightly so! We deserve death and more—we deserve punishment in hell for disobeying our just and holy God. At times it's easy to become overcome with grief and despair.
But, our resurrected Lord calls us by name. He assures us that he is alive. That the crucifixion on Good Friday does not mean "Jesus defeated," but "Jesus defeated sin, the devil, and even death itself for us." Our resurrected Lord comes to us to assure us that every promise he's ever made is true. He promised he would suffer and die to take away our sins. And he did! He promised that he would rise again from the dead. And he did! He promises that he will make every event in our lives work out for our eternal good! And he does! He promises that he will come again to take us to be with him forever in heaven because he has removed our sin and guilt forever. And he will! What peace fills our lives as we turn from grief and despair to such joy!
That joy filled Mary's heart. She wanted to hug Jesus and never let go! But it wasn't to be. Her relationship with Jesus had to change. She couldn't cling to him as she had before so Jesus gently rebuked her.
17 Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father…"
In 40 days he would return to the Father. He would ascend into heaven to rule all things as Savior, Lord and Victor over death. But now their relationship had to change—it would be a better relationship…
II. We Will Return to the Father
Before Mary got discouraged at his rebuke that she should no longer hold on to him, Jesus told her she had work to do. He said, "Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"
Jesus' work of paying for the sins of the world was done. The work of spreading that news was all that remained to be done. Jesus gave Mary the assignment to tell the disciples that he would be returning to heaven soon. But did you notice what Jesus called them? On Thursday night, as they celebrated the Passover meal, Jesus told them, "You are my friends… I no longer call you servants… Instead, I have called you friends." Their status had changed.
Now to Mary he no longer called them friends. Their status had changed again. Now he calls them "my brothers." He said that his Father was also their Father. His God was their God. They had forsaken Jesus in his greatest need and so they might expect to have him call them "those cowards," "those sissies," or "those ingrates," But, because he died for them and took their sin away, God now viewed them no longer as his enemies, but just as he viewed Christ, as his dearly loved sons with whom he was well-pleased.
By his death and resurrection Jesus brings all who believe into God's family, so that when God sees us he sees perfect and sinless saints. We are Jesus' brothers and sisters. God is our God. He is our loving Father. Now we can be assured that we too will rise again to be with Christ (either when we die, or when he comes again in glory)!
Are you tired of all the problems in your life? Tired of the aches and pain you feel in your body? Tired of being sick? Tired of being lonely? Tired of paying bills? Tired of work? Just sick and tired of being sick and tired? When you look around do just see signs that read, "You—defeated"? If you do, then relax. Let me tell you the rest of the story. Soon all your problems will be gone. You'll soon be dead… and problem free.
You see, no matter how big your problems may seem, they don't compare to your biggest problem of sin and the damnation that those sins deserve. But God has already taken care of that problem! He died on the cross to pay for your sins. He came back to life Easter morning to assure you that you too will rise to be with him in heaven. And there you will have no more problems at all; no more suffering, no sorrow, no pain. You will have an eternal life of happiness with your Savior. That's what matters most! And in light of that assurance, the problems we face in this life really don't matter. What joy is ours!
When Mary heard these things, she left right away to share this exciting message with the disciples…
18 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.
With her grief and despair removed, Mary became an obedient ambassador of life in Christ.
Sometimes it's easy for us to think, "Sure, easy for Mary. I would be just as excited about the resurrection if I got to see the resurrected Lord with my own eyes, face to face." But, look at Mary. She saw Jesus in the flesh and blood and she didn't believe at first. And when she did, Jesus told her that their relationship would change; it would be a better relationship; it would be like the one we have with him today.
We no longer have Jesus walking the earth in flesh and blood among us. But we do still cling to him. We hold on to him in his Word where he comes to us with that comfort and assurance that everything will be alright. We receive him in the Sacrament where he gives us that very body and blood that Mary saw for the forgiveness of our sins as he gives us peace. For he's already taken care of our biggest problem: he's rescued us from an eternity in hell and he promises to be with us always, loving us, caring for us, working all things for our good until he takes us to be with him in a perfect relationship for the rest of eternity. Nothing else matters.
Dear friends, continue to cling to Jesus in the Word and in the Sacrament. Remember your resurrected Lord and listen to his voice. Then by that Word, let him clear the fog so you can see the rest of God's story for your lives. Jesus is alive! He's risen from the dead! Let that bring you a real and lasting peace, that the message is not, "Jesus defeated," but "Jesus defeated sin and death and hell for you!" Amen.