Summary: What would it be like to face death without Jesus? Because Jesus lives, we won’t have to find out!
How do you cope with the idea of death without the resurrection? Walt Disney made a stab at it in the cartoon classic, “The Lion King.” The little lion’s father died. But you don’t have to be afraid. You don’t have to be sad. Because after all, it’s all about the “circle of life.” Life and death is just a marvelous process, and we live on through our children and in their memories. And isn’t this a wonderful thing? I suppose that if you have nothing else to hang on to, calling death a “natural process” might at least allow someone to accept it. But does it offer any comfort? Any hope?
Please don’t call death a natural process in my presence. There is nothing natural about death. When God created Adam and Eve, he created them to live forever – first on earth and then in heaven. Death wasn’t part of the plan. Death stole into God’s creation on the shirt tails of sin. Paul wrote, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” (Rom 5:12 NIV) The Bible also says that death is the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15. 25). If death is the final chapter in the “circle of life,” what hope is there in that? Or if death is just a natural process, what comfort do we find in that?
Our text this morning is a tender story of a woman who was close to Jesus and who deeply mourned his death. What joy she found in the resurrection! Do we want to struggle with death with or without Jesus?
Death – With Or Without Jesus?
I. It means the difference between living with hope or despair
Who was Mary Magdalene? We find Mary Magdalene at the tomb, and she was crying. She was shedding tears of hopelessness, tears of despair and frustration. For some time now, she had been following the Teacher, Jesus Christ. She had thought that perhaps he was the Messiah. He had healed her of demon possession, and more importantly, he had shown her how to have peace with God. He had made so many promises. He had said so many good things. He had even performed miracles. But now he was dead. And all the things he had said and done were dead with him. How can you hope in someone who is dead? For Mary Magdalene, the world had become a very cruel place – a place of broken promises, unfulfilled dreams, and big disappointments. And to top it off, it seemed that someone had stolen the body of Christ – could things get any worse? It’s no wonder that she’s crying.
What did she think would happen at the cross? Did she think that there would be a last minute reprieve, and the disciples would take him down, and she would bind up his wounds? When our loved ones are very ill, we always hope for that last minute miracle. Maybe the doctor’s diagnosis was wrong. Maybe they’ll find a miracle cure. Even after our loved ones have died, we sometimes imagine that they are going to walk right through the kitchen door and say, “What’s for supper?”
But the reality of death eventually sinks in. We stop hoping that our loved one is going to pull through this. We stop looking down the driveway to see if his car is pulling up. With every little bitter realization that death is real comes tremendous pain. That’s what Mary was experiencing on Easter Sunday. She had helped bury him. WHAM! She had seen them roll the stone into place. WHAM! She was going out this morning to finish making his body ready of the grave. WHAM! She looked at the stone rolled away from the entrance, and she imagined that they stole the body away. WHAM! Not even the angels could lift her out of her despair. Her eyes are so filled with tears, she did not even recognize Jesus when he came up behind her.
Friends, what Mary was experiencing was more than sorrow or sadness. Her heart was filled with despair. It was empty of hope. She believed that Jesus was the Messiah that God promised. She had even seen him raise people from the dead. But how can you believe in a Savior who himself died? I can honor Abraham Lincoln, but I don’t believe in him because he’s dead. I can honor George Washington, but I don’t believe in him because he’s dead. Mary loved Jesus and wanted to honor him now, but how could she believe in him, if he was dead?
And then Jesus spoke her name. “Mary.” Why was it that she was able to recognize the voice of the Savior when he called her name? I couldn’t help but think of what Jesus said about himself as the Good Shepherd. “The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:3,27 Jesus called her by name, and Mary recognized the voice of her Good Shepherd. He was alive! He had risen! Her faith was not misplaced! The despair in her heart flew away in an instant and was replace with hope!