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Apr 12, 2020

A Most Disappointing...& Glorious Day!

Passage: John 20:1-18

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Miracles in John

Keywords: jesus, easter, resurrection, joy, sorrow, grief, despair, john 20, mary magdalene


Disappointment can be the freeway of life to the most transforming encounters with Jesus Christ. On this Easter 2020, when our world is gripped by grief, fear and disappointment from COVID-19, Jesus' first post-resurrection encounter holds some powerful truth for every one of us no matter what the 'death' you are or will experience in life.


A Most Disappointing…& Glorious Day!

John 20:1-18

Easter, April 12, 2020

Welcome to Resurrection Morning!  If you are celebrating today with us, chances are you know pretty well the reason for Easter:  it’s all about the first truly immortal resurrection of anyone in the history this world, but specifically the Savior of the world—Jesus Christ. 

It’s not about being upbeat or hopeful in some temporary world crisis, good though that may be.  Easter is about Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, Savior of mankind.  As such, we want Him to be the CENTER of all we do in this celebration. 

We all expect Easter to be a celebration, don’t we?  Why? 

  • We “know” the story. We know this dark weekend in history ended on a bright note—the death of Jesus beat death itself.
  • If you know what the Bible is really talking about in the resurrection of Jesus, you know that Easter marks a one-of-a-kind victory over death. It’s the only historically verifiable, lasting, eternal victory over death ever in human history. 

NOTE:  (The biblical resurrection is not the same as a biblical resuscitation (like Lazarus in Jn. 11); it’s a resurrection!  Numerous of people have been resuscitated throughout history.  But only ONE has been resurrected—brought from mortal death to immortal life… transformed from having a physical body that gets sick, hurt and dies to experiencing a very different yet very physical body that will never get sick, never degrade, never be injured, maimed or die.  But as we’ll see today, biblical resurrection doesn’t stop there.  It presents to us a number of other amazing, virtually other-world properties and qualities that come with the Easter resurrection.  We’ll see more of this in a few minutes.)

But in order to feel more of the power of what we are celebrating today, we need to feel some of the pain of what that day actually involved for some of its participants.  Let me begin by asking a rather personal question: What have been some of the darkest, most disappointing days of your life?  

For most of us, our darkest days revolve around death.  Death comes in varied forms:

  • If you are a child when your parent or sibling died, those were very dark days.
  • If you are a parent who’s had a child die, those were truly dark days.
  • If you were ever married and your spouse died whether after 5 or 50 years of life together, those are dark days (assuming, of course, that you really loved and enjoyed them).
  • If you’ve had a good friend die in a car accident or from a disease, that was a dark day and you still feel that loss when you think about them.

But death may also take many lesser forms than robbing us of more time with people we love.  The death of good health…or mental soundness…the death of a job or even an activity you enjoy…the death of a dream or life desire…those lesser ‘deaths’ still leave a darkness in our souls that we may wrestle with for years. 

APP:  One of the difficult things about the coronavirus lock-down is that it has unexpectedly created for a lot of young people the death of dreams they had for things like their senior year, for a graduation they’ve work so hard for, for a summer trip they were promised, for a senior year of sports they will never have. 

            Furthermore, the greater the joy someone or something has brought to your life, the deeper the darkness when it/they are taken away. 

            Today’s resurrection story from the Gospel of John chapter 20 is really the conclusion of our series in The Miracles of Jesus in this Gospel.  It’s actually the last great miracle Jesus performed—His own resurrection.  As with the other 7 miracles Jesus performed, there were a host of swirling and conflicting emotions around this event.  So, let’s jump into the story in verse 1 of chapter 20. 

1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

            John, who focuses on Mary Magdalene in his account of the resurrection, leaves a lot out which the other three Gospels fill in about that mornings as well as about this woman.  Before we see what they tell us, just know that there is no indication in Scripture that this Mary is the sinful woman who anointed Jesus feet with perfume (Luke 7). 

  • Luke 8 tells us that Mary Magdalene was a woman whom Jesus had delivered from demons and disease, “7 demons”, to be specific.

7 = the Jewish number of completeness or fullness.  In other words, this woman had been utterly and completely afflicted by the worst beings in existence—fallen angels of the demonic realm. 

Q:  Ever met someone dominated by demons?  What’s their life like?  Their body?  Their eyes, speech, persona?  It’s a living hell!  They are often physically disfigured, marred and contorted by the destructive effects of the demons. They are mentally and psychologically tormented and tortured.  No one wants to be around them or live with them.  They seem to destroy every relationship they touch.  They may be a raving maniac or a despondent recluse.  You can’t reason with them. 

How does a person get to the place of being so thoroughly dominated by darkness?  Sometimes a person’s demonic afflictions may seem to have nothing to do with their own past actions.  It may be the result of what others have done to them through abuse or curses or family sins.  But many times there is a direct link to the dark realm through things like drug use, dark alliances and allegiances, profane music, the occult, sexual perversion, acts of violence or continued family sins.    

Demonically afflicted people are not nice people to be around. 

That was Mary Magdalene.  We don’t know for how long her life had been dominated by demons.  But we are given an amazing picture of what Jesus’ involvement in her life had done:

  • Jesus saw her as she could be, not as she was.
  • He confronted the darkness and evil powers that tormented her, bound them by His divine authority and commanded them to leave. The demons had fled and with them all their ugly and revolting behaviors of Mary’s past. 
  • But Jesus is clear that you can’t just empty the human soul of demons and not fill it with the light of God. (Mt. 12; Lk. 11) Just cleansing the house makes it more attractive for even more demons unless you change the dominant spiritual power in the house.  And the only spiritual authority on this earth greater than Satan’s is Jesus’.  Jesus undoubtedly cleansed the soul of Mary Magdalene from demons; Mary just as clearly filled that cleansed soul with submission to a new spiritual authority—Jesus. 

Mary Magdalene’s life-change is one of the most dramatic transformations of the entire ministry of Jesus and of the New Testament record.

  • Mary became one of the closest female followers of Jesus. Luke tells us that she often traveled with the Apostles and the other women who accompanied the Teacher’s group around Galilee. Luke 8:1ff--And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.
  • That last statement tells us that she was a woman with some substantial financial means for her day. She may have either become a prosperous business woman or inherited some wealth from her family.

But it was not her financial situation that was remarkable; it was the social, relational, spiritual, psychological and physical transformation that sets this woman apart as a life profoundly changed by her encounter with Jesus. 

This woman who was from the little commercial and fishing village of Magdala some 3 miles north of the city of Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee, had stopped being a roving disaster and had begun to be one of the foremost female followers of Jesus.  In fact, Mary Magdalene’s name occurs some 13 or 14 times in the Gospels, far more than many of the 12 Apostles.  And when she is named, her name usually occurs first in the lists of women indicating that she had some sort of significant role among the women disciples of Jesus and perhaps among even the Apostles. 

  • Mary Magdalene was one of the few women mentioned as being at the crucifixion of Jesus.
  • She was there when his body was taken off the cross.
  • She followed the men as they prepared Jesus’ body and placed it in the tomb.
  • And she remained at the tomb until it was sealed and a guard was posted. Only then does she seem to go home for the night.
  • She knew the location of the tomb so well that she could find it in the dark of early morning hours.
  • While the Apostles locked themselves in the Upper Room for fear of the Jewish leaders and further persecution as followers of Jesus, she was public, open and apparently fearless about her allegiance to Jesus.

As the anonymous poet has written:

Not she with traitorous kiss her Master stung,

Not she denied Him with unfaithful tongue;

She, when Apostles fled, could dangers brave,

Last at the Cross, and earliest at the grave.

  • Mary Magdalene formed part of the small group of 3 women who carried by themselves to the tomb that Sunday morning before daybreak more embalming spices for the corpse of Jesus.
  • She knew there would be guards She knew being identified with the murdered ‘King of the Jews’ could cost her dearly.  Yet she stumbled forward, grief in her heart and spices in her hands. 

APP:  Have you known that kind of grief—the kind that throws caution to the wind and doesn’t care what people think, what may happen to you?  When the very object of life itself has been stolen from you in death, nothing else matters.  Life itself holds little attraction.  Mary’s deep sense of grief overwhelmed any feelings of fear as she ran headlong into the greatest miracle of human history. 

But that cold, dark, early morning, she was not expecting a miracle.  She was lost in her grief.  While all-consuming, it was not a paralyzing grief. It was a grief that drove her to action—heartfelt, loving, compassionate, tear-blurred action that must have cost her both financially, physically and emotionally. What Jesus had done to rescue her entire life could not be erased by even overwhelming sorrow. 

  • So she became one of three women to be the first to discover that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance to that tomb and that the body of Jesus was no longer inside that tomb.  
  • She was probably the first woman to run to the upper room where the Apostles were still staying, securely locked inside because of fearing for their lives.
  • She became the first person to tell the Apostles that Jesus’ body had gone missing from the tomb.
  • And she becomes, as we will see, THE first person to actually see and touch the resurrected Jesus.

John goes on to tell us in verses 3-8 how Peter and John, upon hearing the news of the disappearance of Jesus’ body, both sprinted to the tomb in what was now early morning light.  John got there first and just stood at the opening, staring at the grave clothes lying there on the stone slab.  Peter, true to his bombastic form, plowed past John and went right in. 

John notes that the strips of linen that had been used to wrap Jesus for burial were not helter-skelter strewn all over the tomb.  They were lying as they would have been, in the form of a human corpse, like some candy bar removed from its wrapper without mutilating the wrapper.  Only the cloth that had covered Jesus’ pummeled and bloodied head lay to one side. 

            Yet still none of Jesus’ followers understood that this was a resurrection.  Peter and John returned to their place of lodging believing very much in the disappearance of Jesus’ body but understanding nothing yet of the nature of that great Resurrection Day. 

            Neither did Mary Magdalene.  By this time she had returned with John and Peter to the tomb.  So we pick it up in vs. 11 of chapter 20 of John.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

            One commentator has noted that both angels and men apparently have one thing in common:  neither can figure out why women cry.