Summary: Mary Magdalene was the first to see the risen Christ? Why? Why not Peter, why not one of the other disciples? What made Mary so special that she was the first? What can we take away from her life to apply to ours?

Mary Magdalene

John 20:1-18

Easter isn’t about bunnies and eggs and candy, it’s about the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to continue my series on the Lesser known People of the Bible, but as I sat down and started reading through the Scriptures on the last week of Jesus’ earthly life, I found lots of characters that we don’t know much about, but this morning since it is Resurrection Sunday, I had to narrow it down to two, and only one won out. This morning the character that we’re going to look at is a couple firsts for our series. First, it’s our first character in the New Testament, and second, it’s our first character that’s a woman. You’ve probably guessed who it is, but if not, we’re going to be looking at Mary Magdalene and what we can learn from her life and why she was the first one that Jesus revealed Himself to after He arose from the dead.

Legends about Mary Magdalene abound. In fact, Mary Magdalene is probably more well-known for false details and unproven facts in her life. Often she is identified as a former prostitute, but there is nothing in the Bible that backs up this rumor. Frequently, people identify her with the sinful woman from the city that washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. But there are no clues in the Bible text to the identity of that woman, and no reason to believe that it might be Mary Magdalene. At times, Mary Magdalene has been confused with Mary of Bethany, Lazarus’ and Martha’s sister, another woman who also anointed Jesus with costly perfume. But we know that Biblically Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene are two different people. Dan Brown wrote The Davinci Code in which he alleged that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were actually married and that they in fact had a daughter together. We know this of course to be legend and totally false.

So who was Mary Magdalene actually? Why was Mary the first that He appeared to? Jesus told Simon Peter that he was the rock that He was going to build His church on. So why wasn’t Peter the one the Lord appeared to first?

Just as at Jesus’ birth the angels announced it to the shepherds, who were the lowly and poor of their day, Jesus’ resurrection is announced to the lowly here also. Women were in that day considered second class citizens, if that. In some governments of the day a woman’s testimony in a court of law was not even permitted. Women were looked down upon, almost treated as property. Look at the mentality in our modern world of the way some Muslim women are treated. This is really a continuation of the way things were back in the days of Jesus.

Mary Magdalene loved Jesus deeply - maybe more deeply than anyone else. She held an important place in his life and ministry - she was present both at Jesus’ crucifixion and at his burial. She was one of the devoted women who came early in the morning to the empty tomb that first Easter Sunday morning. Mary Magdalene was the first one to actually see the resurrected Jesus.

1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him." 3 So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. 4 The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; 5 and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. 6 And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 10 So the disciples went away again to their own homes. 11 But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 And they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him." 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 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." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means, Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, `I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.' " 18 Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord," and that He had said these things to her.

Devotion, Discovery, Disappointment that turned into her Delight

1) Devotion (first part of verse 1)

Her devotion wasn’t just evident in the resurrection story this morning, but she was devoted to Jesus when He was ministering in Galilee.

Luke 8:1-3 Soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means.

Jesus had cast 7 demons out of her. In return she followed Him like a disciple, but not only did she just follow Him, her and other women supported Jesus’ ministry monetarily. They gave of their own substance to support the one that had healed them. Now the Bible never says whether she was married and had a wealthy husband or if she had inherited a large sum of money, but somehow she was able to support not only herself, but also give to the Lord’s ministry also. In her monetary support of His ministry we see her devotion to Him.

Her devotion didn’t stop there though. She didn’t just follow Jesus in Galilee; she went all the way to Jerusalem with Him, where she was there at His crucifixion and also His burial.

Mark 15:37-41 And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last. 38 And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" 40 There were also some women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome. 41 When He was in Galilee, they used to follow Him and minister to Him; and there were many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.

Mark 15:46-47Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were looking on to see where He was laid.

Her devotion didn’t stop at Jesus death and burial. As we see in our passage this morning, she was one of the first ones to the tomb on that resurrection morning. Her devotion continued even after the death of the Jesus. But when she and the other women arrived at the tomb that morning they made their----

2) Discovery (second part of verse 1)

When Mary and the other women were on the way to the tomb, we can only imagine what they were saying to each other or what they would’ve been thinking. I’m sure questions went through their heads about how they were going to get past the soldiers guarding the tomb. What could they do to convince them to let them pass? Would the soldiers help them open the tomb with this huge stone in front of it? What if these soldiers wouldn’t let them pass? Was this early morning trip to anoint the body of the man they had put their faith and trust in be all for naught?

But we know that when they got to the tomb, they made their discovery. The huge rock, which was supposed to seal the tomb, was gone. Immediately, Mary went to go get help, thinking that the body had been stolen. After the disciples came and saw it for themselves, they went back home. I think they knew what was going on. Only Mary Magdalene remained at the tomb, not wanting to leave the apparent "scene of the crime". Somehow, she could not give up. She didn’t expect to see Jesus, but her devotion to the man who cast 7 demons out of her wouldn’t let her pull herself away either.

This morning I want to point out one thing before we continue on with Mary’s discovery. Why was the stone rolled away? Did Jesus need that stone moved out of the way to come out of that tomb? The answer of course is no. Later that same night, Jesus appeared to His disciples in a room later that the doors were barred shut so no one could come in. He just appeared in their midst. Jesus didn’t need that stone rolled away to come out of that grave, but it was rolled away, and for one specific reason-not for Him to get out, but for us to go in. Jesus broke down the barrier between us and Him and made it possible for us to go in and see that He did what He said He would, He arose from the dead. And today you can go over to Jerusalem and see the place where the stone rolled away for us to see that He did exactly that.

So Mary’s discovery was that Jesus was gone, He was no longer there. The soldiers were gone, the stone was rolled away, and Jesus’ body was gone. So what was Mary’s reaction to this? Not the same one you and I have when we read this. But we have to remember, she was in the moment and we’re looking back at an event that happened 2000 years ago. We know what happened, she wasn’t so sure. So she reacted with-------

3) Disappointment (verses11-15)

She was disappointed, disappointed that the one whom she had followed and supported for many months had been killed, and now the soldiers had stolen His body and she had no idea what they did with it. The reality of the past week starts to set in. Like some of us who keep on trying to pour energy and time into things that just won't go anywhere, like some of us who wonder why we should keep on beating some old dead horse, Mary Magdalene weeps in the garden out of disappointment. Her persistence didn't seem to have paid off.

And then, in addition to being disappointed, Mary was troubled by her failure to understand. Things were happening around her that she could not grasp. She knew what she saw-- an empty tomb. She heard what the angels said, that Jesus was not there. But she felt out of it. She felt incapable of understanding it. Like some of us, she felt life was just passing her by, and she couldn't make sense of it.

All she could do was break down and cry. Her disappointment and lack of understanding had overwhelmed her and all she could do was cry. She felt so helpless. Have you ever felt so helpless in a situation when all you can do is break down and have a good cry? Well, that’s how Mary felt here. She was so distraught and overcome by her emotions that she didn’t realize that someone was right there with her. “Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” the voice asked her. Still overcome she just supposed it was the gardener and replied, “Just tell me where you’ve taken Him.” But her disappointment soon turned to----

4) Delight (16-18)

Once she realized to whom she was speaking, once she recognized the gardener as her precious teacher ("Rabboni"), once Jesus told her to go share the news of his resurrection, nothing could stop her from telling others. Bernard of Clairvaux called Mary Magdalene the "Apostle to the Apostles", because of her role in telling Jesus’ disciples about the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene brought the news to the disciples: "You’ll never believe it, but I have seen the Lord!" Then she told them what she had seen and experienced. She was the only one who stayed at the tomb, and she was the only one who saw Jesus. But Mary was so excited she could not keep her enthusiasm to herself. She was bursting at the seams to share the best news she had ever heard. Mary was enthusiastic.

How enthusiastic are we about our risen Lord? Are we like Mary? Do we run with excitement to tell people about the empty tomb?


So what does Mary teach us this morning?

Mary was kind of like Thomas. Even after the angels told her Jesus was risen, she didn’t really understand what was going on. It wasn’t until she saw Jesus that she fully understood what Jesus had been talking about all this time. But we’re given the promise in 1 Peter 1:8-9 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.

There’s a bumper sticker that says,” Gravity. Not just a good idea, it’s the law.” It doesn’t matter what you believe about gravity the fact is that gravity is real and it’s the law. Here on earth there’s no way you can get around gravity. The Resurrection is just like gravity, you can believe whatever you want to about it, even choose not to believe, but the facts don’t change. The resurrection isn’t just a good idea, it’s the law. It’s what our whole faith is built upon. If there were no resurrection, than we’d be just like many other religions of the world that can go to a tomb and visit the grave of their deities. We serve a Savior that is risen, the tomb is empty just as Mary found it that morning.

So this morning I ask you, what do you believe about the resurrection? Do you believe in gravity or do you deny its existence. The facts are there, the resurrection is real, no matter what you believe about it. This morning if you’re on the fence I have one verse to help you. Romans 10:9 tells us "If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved". There’s still time to believe in the resurrection and be saved if you haven’t already done so. And what better day to do it than on Resurrection Sunday?