- Psalm 116:1-19
- Mark 16:1-11
We find comfort in knowing a good doctor, more so in years gone by when we actually referred to them as family doctors. In some cases all siblings in the family were deliver by the same “family doctor”. They know everything about us; and we trust them with our secrets. We trust him or her with our health. They become our preferred health provider. They become a some sort of anchoring point, because they were there when we came into the world and might be there when we breathe our last. They might receive a telephone call in the middle of the night, because do that see them as trusted friends. And when the doctor retires or moves away, or when we move elsewhere, we go through the agony of finding a new one.
Mary Magdalene – living in a dark world
We don’t know much about Mary Magdalene’s life before she became a follower of Christ. Was she dumb and deaf? Was she blind? Was she recognisable by her bodily deformity? Did she suffer from mental illness? Did the evil spirits cause her to rant and rave, leaving her with mental disorders? Were there times that she had uncontrolled fits – maybe in public? Did she behave in an antisocial manner? We don’t read about the husband of this Mary, which means that he could have divorced her because or the state she was in.
We don’t know, but these things were common to those riddled by evil spirits. Mary, the woman from Magdalene, had seven evil spirits. She lived in a dark world. She lived on the edge.
But Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who grew up in Nazareth, not too far away from Magdala in Galilee, was sent by his Father to destroy the power Satan and the evil spirits under his control. He preached that the Kingdom of God has come.
There was the day in Magdala on which He preached. The sermon was about the Kingdom of God.
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.
The evil spirits were no mach for Him. They submitted and were cast out of those who suffered. They even admitted that Jesus came to destroy them.
And Jesus healed Mary. She is named with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. From her seven demons had come out:
…also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. (Luke 8:1–3, NIV)
The new Mary – living under the wings of Life
Her life changed. She met new friends: Joanna, the wife of Chuza – Chuza was the person in charge of the finances of Herod; and Susanna, another woman cured and healed by Christ.
Together they formed a group who would support the Messiah with their possessions. They were apparently from high social standing, well-off or very industrious. The Apostles also benefited from this service of love. These women were disciples of Jesus, and followed Him wherever they could.
Their lives changed and more and more did they learn about the Kingdom and about God. As they looked back, the existence in darkness, possessed by the evil spirits, faded on the horizon. The days shone brighter and brighter.
But every now and then, as they were listening to the teachings of their Redeemer, they heard about an immanent catastrophe. We read in Luke 9:22, only a chapter after we meet Mary for the first time:
And he [Jesus] said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22)
As the light shone brighter for them each day, the shadow of the cross gradually rose up over the group as they followed the One who healed them. He would eventually die the cruel death on the cross. His death would be the result of the fact that every person is in some way responsible for the cross of Jesus.
In the shadow of the cross
When Jesus was arrested that night in Gethsemane, all his friends left Him. One betrayed Him, the other denied Him. The women were not allowed anywhere near Him.
When He carried the cross through the streets of Jerusalem on the way to Golgotha, his followers looked on from afar. As the plan of God’s redemption was unfolding, there was nothing they could do to prevent it from happening.
Overcome by fear and disappointment, they just looked on. Hear the words of Matthew 27:55
Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. (Matthew 27:55-56)
They were there when Jesus was buried. Joseph of Arimathea, the rich man who also had become a disciple of Jesus, took the body of Jesus and put it in a grave and sealed the entrance with a heavy stone. And we read:
Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:59-61)
The pain of unbelief
The next day was a long day. It was a Sabbath, the day of the Passover. On this holy day they devoted themselves to the feast of deliverance out of Egypt. They ate the Passover lamb and the unleavened bread. It was a solemn day and a solemn atmosphere.
Most of all, Mary lost her doctor. The man who gave here back her life, the man who healed her from her infirmities is dead. Cruelly they nailed Him to a cross, together with criminals. The man who became a dear friend, the man she and the other supported even with their own possessions, is dead.
Some in Jerusalem celebrated. They were too pleased that this Jesus was out of the way. But Mary’s attention was divided: she could not wait till the sunrise of the Sunday morning. The agony of waiting. Surely, it was a Passover that she will never forget – not because of rejoicing, but because of the great personal loss. On Sunday morning, she would go to take care of the body of this Jesus of Nazareth.
Life out of death
She probably didn’t sleep well that Saturday night after the Passover and the ensuing Sabbath. Her mind was at the grave. She remembered the sight of Joseph as he laid Jesus in the tomb and rolled the stone in front of it.
Early Sunday morning, the first day of the week, she and the other women, rushed to the grave. What a disappointment: the body of Jesus was not there. They concluded that He must have been stolen.
Then there was the voice of the angel:
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. (Mark 16:6)
They were looking for Jesus of Nazareth. That was their problem! If they knew the man whom they served out of gratitude for the new meaning of life given to them, and if they understood that He was not only the son of the carpenter of Nazareth, named Jesus, they would have believed. But their eyes were still shut to the fact that Jesus was also the Christ, the Son of God. And even if they knew it, they didn’t believe it.
They were looking for a dead body; what they should have been looking for, was the risen Christ. Listen again to the teaching of the Christ:
And he [Jesus] said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22)
He has risen! He is not dead. His body may be precious to you, but not a dead body! He has risen! Now they had a task as commanded by the angel: Go, tell the others! Jesus will see them in Galilee – in the region where cast the evil spirits from them. There He would finally show his power over the forces of darkness.
From unbelief to faith
A few things happened then.
Mary wept: she was so disappointed. Her faith in Jesus was still not the faith she would later have in Him as the Christ. If only she could touch Him for the last time! If only she could her gratitude towards Him by tending to his body in the grave. This privilege was taken from her.
They fled from the tomb – they were afraid and scared. They trembled and were amazed. They stopped speaking.
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:8, NIV)
The risen Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene, and she clung to Him, never to let go of Him again. This act was more than only reserving the Christ to themselves, it also turned into an act of worship!
Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” He said. They came to Him, clasped his feet and worshipped Him. (Matthew 28:9, NIV)
But Jesus gave her the command to go and tell the others. There must have been disappointment with the women when the disciples regarded their words as “idle talk” (Luke 24:11). They did not believe the message of the women.
But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. (Luke 24:11, NIV)
Much later, when the risen Christ appeared in person to them their fear was replaced with willingness to become witnesses of the resurrection of the Messiah. Then they were filled with joy. The bewilderment was replaced with joy and worship.
Then there was the haste to get to the others. It was important for them to tell them the good news: because He was resurrected, because what happened to Him was exactly as He had said would happen, they understood that He was more than the carpenter of Nazareth: He was the promised Messiah and Christ.
There is a distinct difference between acknowledging and believing. We need to understand the difference between knowing and believing. Or let’s put it better: there is a huge difference between having faith in general and having saving faith. Faith is an instrument by which we receive and apply Christ and his righteousness. It is far more than just an acknowledgement of who He is was and what He did.
Many people find themselves where Mary found herself whilst following Christ on earth, but it was only after she saw the open grave and spoke to the risen Lord that she worshipped Him as Lord and God. First He was Jesus of Nazareth; but the risen Lord was Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.
Sunday school knowledge and Scripture in school knowledge of Christ does not mean we live in this saving faith relationship with Him. Worse even is that He is just the babe of Bethlehem! It is only when we can see past the crib and cross into the open grave that our spiritual life actually begins. Sometimes this acknowledgement of Christ as Lord happens over time; but this is surely the direction of the journey of knowing Christ. And that, like in the life of Mary and the others, makes us disciples of the Lord in the Kingdom of God: then the disciples became mouthpieces of Christ’s Lordship.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 1 April 2018 (Resurrection Sunday)