John’s Gospel chapter 20 is an enthralling piece of writing describing as it does one of the greatest days the inhabitants of earth have ever seen. This quite remarkable day was of course ‘the third day’ – that day, long foreshadowed, when Christ would rise from the dead. The authorities in Jerusalem believed they were prepared for such an eventuality. The instruction from Pilate regarding the security of the tomb was ‘make it as sure as you can’! The disciples, on the other hand, were totally unprepared; they had no idea, in spite of previous indications, of the impending resurrection and its tremendous implications for them, for us and the world at large.
Among the disciples, the women seemed to be especially devoted to the Lord and Mary Magdalene had a particularly close relationship with Him. Apparently a woman of substance, she had the resources to arrange a proper burial for the Lord. ‘I will take him away’, she told ‘the gardener’, referring perhaps not to her doubtful physical ability to carry off a heavy dead body but rather to her willingness and capacity to arrange a proper burial for Him. In earlier days she had been demon-possessed but the Lord had resolved that. Now she was respectable, and resourceful. Disillusioned and tearful, Mary’s ‘sore eyes’ saw sights that day that were truly memorable. These were:
1 She saw the sun rise
On the first day of the week some of the women who had travelled up from Galilee, including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, set out for the sepulchre armed with sweet spices with which to ‘anoint him’, Mark 16. 1. The Gospel writers variously tell us that it was ‘early’, John 20. 1; ‘very early’, Luke 24. 1 and Mark 16. 2; ‘yet dark’, John 20. 1; ‘at the rising of the sun’, Mark 16. 2; and just before dawn, Matt. 28. 1.
Coming so early, and in the darkness suggest commitment and courage and these attributes the women possessed in abundance, unlike the men. As they travelled, dawn broke and the sun rose. To see the sun rise and day break is a experience well worth getting up in the morning to observe and enjoy. One remembers it for some time and it is a delight we love to share with others, who, perhaps still asleep, missed the glory of this daily event. This was a wonderful and memorable start to the day for Mary … up, and out and about in time to see the sun rise.
2 She saw the sepulchre
The avowed intent of the trip was ‘to see the sepulchre’, Matt. 28. 1. Their view of it on the evening of the hurried burial had been rather limited as everything had been happening so quickly. A couple of days later they set out to see it properly and perhaps to have the opportunity to grieve and to contemplate quietly what had happened. Even today people still travel thousands of miles and spend a great deal of money to ‘see the place where the Lord lay’, even though there is no guarantee that what they see in the Garden of Remembrance in Jerusalem, is the actual site of the tomb. If not the site it is still, however, an awe-inspiring thing to stand there and to see ‘the place’. It is ironic that remembrance services are conducted in the garden each Lord’s Day morning under a sign which announces ‘He is not here’! Where He can be found on Sunday mornings in the ancient city is at the house, where the New Testament assembly meets and where the Lord’s people on a visit should seek to gather and be warmly received by the local believers. So, Mary saw the sepulchre … and it was the right one … and it was an experience worth recounting.
3 She saw the stone taken away
One of the points of discussion on the walk to the tomb was as to how the stone might possibly be rolled away. This stone, now bearing the seal of the Roman authority, is described as being ‘great’, Matt. 27. 60, and ‘very great’, Mark 16. 4. It is accepted that the stone would be large, circular like a cart wheel, and probably could only be moved by up to twenty men rolling it, precariously, on its edge. How was such a stone to be rolled away now? Certainly, the women could not do it themselves and even the Roman guard of four soldiers could not achieve it. It is interesting to note that in spite of this perceived ‘impossibility’ their faith still took them there. And, what did they find? They discovered the stone not just rolled away but taken away, or as the latter phrase suggests ‘carried off’! We now know, as Mary did not at the time, that this was indeed the work of an angel. What a sight! Never to be forgotten – the impossible could be clearly seen to have happened.
4 She saw the linen clothes lying
When Peter and John arrived after their race to the sepulchre, they first looked in and then subsequently went in and saw both the linen clothes and the napkin. I believe that Mary, as she later looked into the sepulchre, would have seen these items as well … and so, what exactly did she see? She saw the linen clothes lying in such a way as to suggest that there was a body still inside them, except that in this unique case there wasn’t! The Lord Jesus appeared to have evaporated right out of them leaving them still wrapped up, thus indicative that He could not have unwrapped them, escaped, and re-wrapped them. Neither could others have helped Him to do so. This was truly incredible … a sight seen only by a few on that remarkable morning.
5 She saw the napkin
The napkin had been placed about His head for burial but now it was lying there, not with the linen clothes, but separately, wrapped together, or folded up in a place by itself. Clearly suggesting an orderly resurrection yet possibly it spelled out more. Etiquette dictates that at a dinner table, when one is finished eating, the napkin should never be folded up and left the way it was found before the meal. Such a thing would signal to the host that the meal and company were not appreciated and that one would wish not be back to dinner again. A napkin crushed up expresses an appreciation of the food and fellowship and a willingness to repeat the experience. What Mary saw in the gloom that morning was a folded napkin indicating that He whose it was would never be back in this situation again. What a sight! What a message! What a talking point!
6 She saw two angels
When the others had left the burial site, Mary approached the tomb to look in and to see whatever she could. As she peered in she saw two angels sitting one at the head and the other at the foot where the body of Jesus had lain. Not many people have seen an angel, never mind two at the same time in the same place. And she had a brief conversation with them as well! This was indeed a sight worth seeing and a story to tell for years to come.
7 She saw a ‘gardener’
After the amazing encounter with the angels Mary turns away from the tomb and sees a man she supposes to be the gardener of the place. She appeals to Him for information, supposing the Lord’s body to have been stolen. At His first word she recognizes Him for who He really is – the Risen Lord! Again, a brief but dramatic conversation ensues before she hastily returns to tell His disciples.
This, then, had been a tremendous day for Mary Magdalene. She had seen: i) the sun rise; ii) the tomb; iii) the stone taken away; iv) the linen clothes lying; v) the napkin folded; vi) the two angels; and vii) the Lord. With her mind and heart filled with these scenes, each truly remarkable in its own right, she goes and seeks out the disciples to share the day’s experiences. Does she tell them about the sunrise? No. Or about the tomb, the stone, the clothes, the napkin, or the angels? No, she does not. All of these stunning sights had been overshadowed by one thing … she had seen the Lord and He had spoken to her. John 20. 18 says, ‘Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her’.
Such, too, should be our witness. We often speak to others of where we have been, what we have seen, what we have achieved, or what our ambitions are. But, most importantly, we should speak of the fact of our relationship with the Lord, that we have seen Him and that He has spoken to us. If we have, this is compelling experience, worth recounting to saints and sinners alike. It will have the effect of creating curiosity and interest, and perhaps conversions! Let’s speak of Him!