Summary: Mary Magdalene was one of the eyewitnesses of the resurrection. She was the last one at the cross and the first one at the tomb. She had to answer three Easter questions that day, and these are the same three questions that each of us must answer today.
There’s something exciting about a countdown. As a boy growing up in LA, lower Alabama, I can remember my family crowded around a small black-and-white television set as the camera was focused on a launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The year was 1962 and Astronaut John Glenn was strapped in a tiny Mercury capsule on top of a huge rocket. He was poised to become the first American to orbit the earth. The NASA engineer said, “We are T-minus ten seconds and counting. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1- zero. Ignition, liftoff.” Then as the rocket began to climb, a normally reserved Walter Cronkite said, “Go baby!”
Over the past six weeks, we’ve been studying the most important countdown of history—the final 94 hours that led to the empty tomb. These are 94 hours that changed the world. Our countdown started at R-minus 94 hours. We followed Jesus through the Last Supper to the Garden of Gethsemane, and then we examined His trial and torture. He hung on the cross six hours, and then He died. His body was lovingly removed from the cross and placed in a tomb. He was there for three days and three nights. Then on the first Easter Sunday morning, the countdown continued: R-minus five seconds and counting. 4-3-2-1-zero. Ignition! Lift off! He is risen! He is risen, indeed!
Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God. In Matthew 12, the Jewish leaders asked Him to give them some kind of sign that He was the Son of God. They wanted a miracle on the spot to prove His divinity. He said, “Okay, you want a sign? Here’s your sign. It’s the sign of Jonah. He said, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign. But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:39-40)
The rebellious prophet, Jonah, was practically dead in the belly of that fish. But then he got right with God and God directed the fish to spit Jonah out on the shore. I can imagine that Jonah hit the ground running to Nineveh. Jesus predicted that after His death, He would spend the same amount of time in the grave. But then God would blast Him out of the tomb – alive! But He would be more alive than Jonah – Jonah eventually died, but Jesus came forth alive forevermore.
All four Gospel writers describe the resurrection morning, and each one provides different details. Let’s read John’s account starting in John 20:1, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (Notice, she didn’t yet believe Jesus had risen from the dead, she thought His body had been taken. Then John and Peter ran to the tomb and looked inside, and they were confused as well.) Let’s pick up the text at John 20:10, Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ “ Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
I’m going to name four characters from a television show and then I’m going to ask you to name the show. Ready? Bert and Ernie; The Cookie Monster; and Kermit the Frog. (Sesame Street, right!) Those were Muppets, but one of the earliest human characters on the show was a man named Mr. Hooper. Do any of you remember him? His name was Will Lee and he was on Sesame Street for thirteen years before he died of a heart attack in 1982. The producers were faced with a dilemma. How were they going to explain death to the 10 million children who watched the show? They could have just concocted a story about Mr. Hooper retiring to Florida, but instead they decided to tell the children he died. But because this was public television, they didn’t want to mention anything religious or spiritual.