Sunday, July 30, 2017
"Gardener" Sermon: John 20:11-18
July 30, 2017 Second Reformed Church
Mary and the women go to the tomb where Jesus was buried to finish the embalming of His body, but when they arrive, they find the tomb open, the guards fainted, and the tomb is empty. So, the women run back to Peter and John and tell them that Jesus’ body has been stolen – they think their enemies may have taken Him thinking they would try to fake the Resurrection.
Peter and John run to the tomb and find it just as the women said. And when they enter the tomb, God lifts the veils from their eyes and they understand the Scriptures that say Jesus must rise from the dead on the third day – Jesus is alive!
When a loved one dies, we experience a painful hole in our selves. We want that person back – that’s why we mourn – not only that they have died, but because we do not have them any more – they are not in our presence any more.
Yet, as Christians, even with our hearts broken and our souls wrenched and our bodies writhing in pain in the loss of a loved one – we have hope. Death is not the end. Just because we do not have that person with us in the flesh right now does not mean that they don’t exist anymore or that we will never be with them again.
No, as Paul writes:
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (I Thessalonians 4:13-14, ESV).
In addition, this is not merely a New Testament thing – in one of the oldest books of the Bible, we hear Job’s confession – his hope – that he will have a physical body after death: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And, after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27, ESV).
Peter and John run from the grave with their eyes opened and their understanding filled, and they run back to where there other disciples are to tell them that Jesus has physically risen from the dead.
Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb. She is exhausted. Confused. Heart-broken.
We see that Mary doesn’t understand what has happened.
“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’”
Mary is weeping outside of the tomb, wringing her hands, looking up to Heaven for answers, and she turns and looks into the tomb again. This time the tomb is not empty: there are two angels – one at the head and one at the feet of where Jesus lay.
Something to notice: as we read through the Resurrection accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – in every one – angels appear to the women, but they never appear to the men.
Why is that?
We’re not told.
But what a wonderful honor that the women – and only the women – received that day – to be addressed by heavenly beings who also believed and rejoiced in the Resurrection of the Savior of humans.
And the angels ask Mary why she is crying – and the angels aren’t being sarcastic – the angels don’t get it – they don’t understand that Mary has not had the veil lifted from her understanding so she could understand what happened here – that this is the fulfillment of Scripture. Mary is still confused.
The angels know what is happening – and from their standpoint, the believers among humans ought to be rejoicing, not crying – so they don’t understand. But then Mary tells them that Jesus has been taken – she doesn’t understand that He has risen.
Because we are born sinners with a sin nature, we don’t understand – or want to understand – the things of God unless and until God causes us to understand and desire them.
We’ve all had friends and family members that have been to church – that have heard the Gospel – that we have told them and explained to them and reached out to them – and they have come to worship and heard the preaching – they can even tell us what was said, but they don’t believe. They don’t understand. They don’t get the point. Because salvation is a gift of God.
Without the God-given grace and faith to believe, we stand outside the tomb and cry out – in true sorrow and pain, “Where is He?”
Second, Mary does not recognize Jesus.
“Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher).”
Something causes Mary to turn from the angels, and she sees a man she supposes to be the gardener in the garden in which the tomb was located. She doesn’t recognize that it is Jesus.
And we immediately wonder, “Why didn’t she recognize Him?”
Did He look different?
Was it something like in a TV show when an actor gets fired, but they want to keep the same character, so they pretend the character was in an accident or had plastic surgery and came out looking completely different?
No, when we look at the other Resurrection appearances of Jesus, there is only one other time that Jesus is not recognized immediately. All the other times that Jesus appears to over five hundred of His disciples – they all recognize Him at once. And we know from Jesus’ appearance before Thomas, Jesus still had the wounds of the crucifixion. That being the case, it was not a matter of Jesus looking different.
Most likely, God did not allow her to recognize Jesus at first. God kept her from recognizing Jesus at first.
So we as, “Why?” Was God toying with her? Didn’t He want her to see and believe?
Why was Mary at the tomb?
To embalm a dead body. She was looking for a dead body – not a living Savior. She was looking for the flesh and blood Man that she had known and seen die. God wanted her to know more.
Jesus asks Mary the same question the angels do – “Why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?”
Mary is crying because Jesus is dead. Mary is looking for the dead body of Jesus.
And so she asks Jesus, Whom she supposes is the gardener, what He has done with the body – and she says she will take the body quietly and hid it away – she won’t rat on the gardener – she just wants that body – the precious body of her beloved Jesus.
But that’s not enough, is it?
It’s not enough to believe in Jesus. It’s not enough to say He was a good man, a great teacher, a prophet of God – it is not enough to “live by the moral teaching of Jesus.”
I was talking with someone who said he is a Muslim Baptist – he explained he believes in the moral teachings of Islam and Jesus. No.
If you don’t believe that Jesus is the Almighty God incarnate in the person of Jesus who kept God’s Law perfectly, died for the sins of His people, physical rose from the dead, and ascended back to His throne – you don’t believe in Jesus. You might believe in someone who is like Jesus – or is inspired by Jesus – or is a caricature of Jesus – but that is not Jesus and there is no salvation in anyone other than Jesus – the Jesus Who says He is God in the flesh.
The good news is that God is merciful. According to the Law, we should all be smudges under God’s big thumb, but God gives us time – either to repent and believe – or to secure the case against us. And God sends us out in His Mercy to tell others the Gospel. As God promised Jesus – not one of those the Father gives to Jesus will be lost – we will all come to repentance and belief.
And Jesus shows great mercy and tenderness – kindness and love to Mary. He looks at her, and says, “Mary.” And as He speaks her name, the blinders fall off, she understands the Scripture, her heart is filled with joy that Jesus is alive in the flesh, and she cries out, “Rabboni!” Which is the Aramaic form of the title, “rabbi,” and it is also used to mean the “chief rabbi.”
“Teacher above all teachers – Wisdom of God – I believe!”
Third, Jesus sends Mary to witness to the disciples.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’—and that he had said these things to her.”
Much has been written about what it means that Jesus says not to cling to Him, but it should not be that confusing. We immediately read this and think Jesus is saying, “Don’t touch Me,” but that can’t be the case, because the record shows that the women group-hug Jesus – “And behold, Jesus met [the women] and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him” (Matthew 28:9, ESV), and Jesus invites Thomas to put his fingers into the very wounds of His body.
No, what Jesus is saying to her is that she should not expect His Resurrection to mean that things are returning to the way they were. Jesus cannot continue physically with her – and the others. Jesus is telling her not to base her joy and her belief in His physically being with her.
Jesus has yet to ascend back to the Father and send God the Holy Spirit. If Jesus remains on earth, the Holy Spirit will not come – the Gospel will not spread – the people given to Jesus will not be brought into His fold. It is best – it is necessary – that Jesus physically return to the throne of God the Son at the Right Hand of the Father.
Jesus does not want her merely to desire that He be physically present, but that He finish all that He was sent to do – including sending the Holy Spirit.
We use language like this when we say not to cling to our money, because we can’t take it with us.
Jesus stays for forty days to prove the Resurrection to His disciples, but He was not staying – He had to ascend back to the Father. And notice – Jesus does not merely say He is ascending to “the Father” or “My Father,” but “My Father and your Father, My God and your God.”
In the Resurrection, all we who believe now have God as our Father. Jesus is our brother. We have been adopted into the family of God. We have a new an everlasting status and an eternal inheritance with Jesus.
As Paul explains:
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:15-17, ESV).
And so, Jesus sends Mary to tells the disciples – His brothers and sisters – that He has physically risen from the dead, and He will soon ascend to our Father, the One Almighty God, and then They will send the promised Holy Spirit.
Mary is no longer confused and weeping – she is busting with joy! She came to the tomb for a dead body. She was greeted by the risen Jesus. And then she was called to spread the Gospel and to focus on the heavenly.
The day is coming when we will be with the risen Jesus forever, but, for now, He is seated at the Right Hand of the Father, and God the Holy Spirit indwells us. God has given us an amazing world to love and enjoy and to thank Him for – but it is a fallen world – this world is not at it was created, nor how it shall be when Jesus returns. So, we are called to balance enjoying the blessings that God has given us here with not clinging to them, because they will be changed – all sinful and evil things will be cast away. We are called to have our hearts focused on the heavenly – on Jesus, the Holy Trinity, and the glorious kingdom coming.
Jesus tells us to hold loosely to the things of this world – we ought not to cling to them:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21, ESV).
And, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, ESV).
And Paul writes, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4, ESV).
Mary ran to the brothers and sisters and exclaimed, “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them everything that had happened – all He had said. And her life was changed – their lives were changed.
Has your life changed?
May we go forth with love, faith, and hope that Mary had – proclaiming that Jesus is risen from the dead – and living lives turned towards the eternal that has broken through even now. Come, Lord Jesus!
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that sending Your Son was for more than giving us a moral code or a good example, but for giving us a Savior Who would live and die and rise that we would be eternally saved, made Your sons and daughters, co-heirs of the Kingdom with Jesus. We thank You that Your Son revealed Himself to Mary, and we thank You for sending the Holy Spirit that we would believe. Lead us in lives of faith and obedience that others would hear the Gospel from our lips and see us focused on the hope of the eternal – not worrying about the worries of the day. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.