Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early. . . . But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, . . . . - John 20:1 and 11
Have you ever found yourself caught up in the rapids of life? Do you catch yourself wondering where did the day go? Or where did the week go? Or Where did the month. . . . year . . . decade go? Or where did my life go? Caught up in the rushing currents of life’s activity it dawns on you one day that you’re feeling a bit out of control. You feel robbed by a pace that doesn’t allow for peace. Ever feel like a rodent in a worldly rat race? Feel like you’re swirling around and around in a circle of swirling water that’s sucking you moving closer and closer to the engulfing garbage disposal? Life can be like that.
Christians are not immune to such entrapping life currents. Ever wake up one morning to remember you haven’t picked up your Bible today, or in days, weeks, months? If that’s the case then you need to press the pause button and consider your walk with Jesus. W.C. Fields once comically commented, “Remember, a dead fish can float down stream, but it takes a live one to swim upstream.”  A lifeless or spiritually lethargic Christian will float along on worldly currents, but a living vibrant born again Spirit-filled believer will swim against that flow. Which are you?
Many Christians and much of the church have allowed themselves to be caught up in a worldly pace. We may refrain from worldly types of things but we are caught up in a worldly pace. When Jesus wrote His letter to the church in Ephesus He noted they had a lot going on and were effective apologists for the faith. But even though they were busy He said there was something very wrong with them. “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent” (Revelation 2:4-5). Ministry busy-ness is no excuse for neglecting your relationship with Jesus; your first love.
An unknown saint wrote, “Seven days without God’s word makes one weak.” How’s your devotional life? Do you have one? Do you know what a devotional life is? A devotional life is the quiet time you spend alone with Jesus and His word. It’s the time you devote to Him; just Him. Do you spend any time with Jesus; just with Jesus? We hopefully set aside time to spend with those we love: our spouse; our children; family; and friends. But we shouldn’t sacrifice our time with Jesus to spend time with others or to do other things. When we sacrifice or neglect our time with Jesus it reflects negatively on our other relationships. The better more intimate and quality devotional time with spend with Jesus, the better more quality time we will have with others. The blessing and quality of all other relationships flow from the quality of our relationship with Jesus. And our devotional time with Jesus is foundational to that.
If we want a quality relationship with Jesus it begins with our attitude toward our relationship with Jesus. Our devotional time is one indicator that reflects our relationship with Jesus. But our attitude toward church attendance, ministry activities, and things relating to Jesus are also indicative of our relationship with Jesus. Let me ask you something, honestly, are you one of those people who chronically arrives late and chronically rushes out at the end of a Jesus related activity? Do you rush to do your devotions? When you are physically in your devotional time are you mentally elsewhere? When you’re physically in church are you mentally on to the next activity? I want to make an argument that rather than coming late and leaving early to Jesus related activities we should be willing to come early and stay late to things related to Jesus.
My case study to base my argument for coming early and staying late in things relating to Jesus is resurrection morning. In the Gospel accounts and John’s account in particular it states: “Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb” (John 20:1). It’s not accidental that the account of the Resurrection begins “early” in the morning “while it was still dark.” It was early in the morning before the break of day that Mary “saw” (Greek blepo) or perceived and beheld that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb. If you want the stone rolled away so you can see more of Jesus, if you want the stone rolled away so you can know more of Jesus and see His miraculous power and revelation, coming early in the morning into His presence devotionally is a good way to start.
The Lord honors those who put Him first in their day. Early morning devotions are a trade secret of those who have been mightily used by the Lord. If you look at the great people of God who He mightily used almost without exception they practiced the habit of rising early to meet devotionally with the Lord.
We see meeting early with the Lord throughout the Bible. Abraham rose early to meet with God (Genesis 19:27; 22:3). Jacob rose early to ponder what God had given him in a dream (Genesis 28:16-18). Moses rose early to meet with God (Exodus 24:4; 34:4). Joshua rose early to meet with God (Joshua 3:1). Gideon rose early in the morning to meet with God (Judges 6:38). Hannah rose early to worship the Lord (1 Samuel 1:19). Job rose early in the morning to worship the Lord (Job 1:5). King Hezekiah rose early to go to the house of the Lord (2 Chronicles 29:20). David said, “Early will I seek You” (Psalm 63:1; cf. also Psalm 5:3; 57:8; 119:147). The ideal godly woman rises early to start her day (Proverbs 31:15).
When we look beyond the Bible into history we see that nearly all of the Church Fathers practiced early morning devotions. Later in history we see this pattern of early morning meetings with Jesus in people like John Calvin, Martin Luther, George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley, Francis Asbury, David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, William Wilberforce, William Carrey, Hudson Taylor, C.H. Spurgeon, D.L. Moody, William and Catherine Booth, Hannah Whitehall Smith, R.A. Torrey, A.W. Tozer, Corrie Ten Boom, Billy Graham, Chuck Smith and the list could go on and on. There is something about rising early in the morning to meet with God that He honors and blesses. Are you starting your day with the Lord? Are you rising early to meet with Jesus? He’s waiting to meet with you. Hear Christ’s call to rise and shine and meet Him in His presence.
But most importantly, Jesus rose early to meet with His Father. “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed” (Mark 1:35). If Jesus rose early for His devotional time, so should we. God’s predestined plan and purpose for us is to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus. Rising early and meeting with the Father in Jesus’ name as led by the Holy Spirit is a part of that conformity to Christ-likeness (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6; cf. also John 13:15). How’s your morning devotions?
The Lord reveals Himself to those who start their day with Him. Mary loved Jesus. Jesus had delivered Mary Magdalene from seven demons (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). She was probably up all night waiting to go to the tomb of Jesus. She didn’t know He would be risen. Maybe she hoped He might be risen; just like He said He would be. But Mary loved her Lord Jesus. She just wanted to be close to Jesus as much as she could, as soon as she could, even if it was just outside the tomb that held His dead body. Mary Magdalene models that hunger and passion for Jesus that we should all have. And the beginning of that hunger and passion begins with seeking to be close to Him early in the day.
The account continues: “Then 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” (John 20:2). Because Mary Magdalene was the first to the tomb she was the first to receive and be able to bring news related to the resurrection of Jesus to the other disciples. She had been rewarded for her diligence and was now acting on what she had perceived.
Unless we act on what God reveals to us it serves no purpose and profits us nothing. Can you imagine the opportunity Mary Magdalene would have missed out on if she had just kind of shrugged her shoulders and turned away telling no one of the empty tomb she had seen? It would not have deterred the fact of the resurrection, but it would have eliminated her from the story and delayed the news that Jesus had risen from the dead.
We don’t only see in Mary an example of early eager seeking of Jesus. In Mary we see she “ran” to tell others about Jesus. This was not running to do peripheral things about Jesus. This was a running to tell others directly about Jesus. There is a time to run. There’s a time to run ahead of the worldly flow. Mary had forsaken sleep and been rewarded with the position of the first to see and know that Jesus wasn’t in the tomb. Mary was running against the dead water of laziness, lackadaisicalness, and lethargy. Mary had a passion to be with Jesus? And now she ran to tell the others what she had seen.
We need to receive revelation from the Lord. But we also need to act on it. If we don’t act on what God reveals to us when we study His word and hear from Him, it will be useless. If we don’t add acts of faith in implementing God’s revelation we’ve received we will be stunted in our spiritual growth and fruitless. When you rise early and receive something from the Lord make sure to share it with others.
Now we see the contagiousness of Mary’s excitement and urgency: “Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. 4 So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first” (Jon 20:3-4). As Peter and John received word of the empty tomb from Mary they both immediately responded. John adds that he outran Peter. It was a race of first responders. They’re sense of immediacy, urgency, eagerness, and priority is something we should follow. When was the last time you received word about the Lord and dropped all you were doing to check into it more? When was the last time you put Jesus related things at the TOP of your priority list and acted like they were? Are you interested in the things of the Lord? Are Jesus and the things of Jesus your top priority? Do you act like it?
If Peter and John would have shrugged off Mary’s news they would have lagged behind in the account of the greatest event of all time. So often we miss out on what God is doing because of our lackadaisical spirit or lack of interest. We miss out on so much because the things of God aren’t a priority for us. What if Peter and John had said to Mary, “Well isn’t that interesting. Humph. We’re going fishing now but for sure we’ll check this out later”? No, Peter and John immediately put the empty tomb at the TOP of their to do list. What’s on your “to do” list? Are Jesus and the things of God TOP priority for you? If not, you’re probably missing out on some of the greatest life changing experiences of your life.
“And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed.” (John 20:5-8). Now notice an important pattern here. John was first to the tomb. Once there he stooped down and “saw” (Greek blepo) meaning he simply observed the empty linen cloths (20:5). John arrived first at the tomb but it was Peter that entered the tomb first. Peter entered the tomb and “saw” (Greek theoreo) meaning as a spectator viewing an event; studying the evidence and thinking about it (20:6). We get the word theory from this Greek term used in verse 6 that is translated “saw.” But in verse 8 it says when John comes into the tomb after Peter “he saw and believed.” “Saw” (Greek eido) here means to experience, to put together facts and get an idea. We get the English word idea from the Greek term translated “saw” in this verse. As John looked at the evidence an idea formed in his mind and the result was he “believed” (Greek pisteou) or was convinced, came to confidence in, trusted, put his faith in, became willing to rely on what the evidence meant.
There is a natural progression seen here of those who come to faith in Christ. First a person is given some information, data or evidence to observe or hear. Second, the person thinks about what they’ve seen and gathers the evidence; they process the evidence of what they’ve seen or heard. And as the observed facts or heard information percolates within finally you come to personally understand and accept and trust in what you’ve heard or seen; you believe what you have heard, read or seen about Jesus.
This is often how we learn and grow in our walk with the Lord too. At first we may only see words on a page. But as we prayerfully take in God’s word it begins to establish a place in us. As we let God’s word ruminate within the Spirit brings the pieces together and helps us make sense of what God’s word is saying. If at first you don’t understand what you are reading or studying in God’s word, be patient, pray, let it ruminate within. Meditate on God’s word; think about it; ponder God’s word. The Spirit will help you understand. And then act in faith on what you come to know.
Notice also that those who saw the evidence and formed a belief had to “stoop” down to look in. this is an image of humility. We come to Jesus on His terms not our own. We come humbly before the Lord to receive from Him. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). The Holy Spirit has a way of convicting and humbling the sinner (e.g. John 16:8-11). Come on your knees to Jesus and He will reveal Himself to you.
But you don’t have to be a theologian to be saved from your sins. “For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went away again to their own homes” (John 20:9-10). The disciples didn’t fully know the scriptures. They didn’t fully know the scriptures that Jesus “must rise again from the dead.” That’s pretty important stuff. Later Paul will be inspired to write salvation is rooted in believing Jesus has risen from the dead (Romans 10:9-10). The disciples did know this, yet. But they knew enough to believe in Jesus.
You don’t have to know everything about Jesus to trust in Him as your Savior and Lord. You don’t have to be a theologian to know Jesus personally as your Savior and Lord. You will grow in your faith. You will eventually come to know scripture more and more. The Spirit will help you with that (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:9-14). But trust the Lord based on what He has revealed to you. When you come to something you don’t understand lean on what you do understand. You don’t have to know everything to believe in Jesus. You don’t have to know it all; you just need to know enough to believe in Jesus. Once you put your trust in Jesus you will grow in your understanding and knowledge of Him. It worked for these disciples. It will work for you.
This is a word for those of you reading this teaching who have yet to be born again through faith in Jesus. Jesus said a person has to be spiritually born. We are physically born into this world but with that birth comes a sinful nature. We need a second birth. Because of our sinful nature we are prone to sin. And we do sin and live in rebellion toward God. If we persist in this way of living and die in our sins we will spend an eternity separate from God in a dark tormenting place called hell. The person who dies in their sins is locked away eternally from God and His people because they have refused to allow God to treat the damnable infection of sin. God allows no sin in heaven. Sin causes pain and sorrow and He has purposed heaven to be a place of eternal bliss and joy with Him. The Holy Spirit reveals all of this to the sinner as well as the good news of a God ordained solution.
The Holy Spirit convicts the sinner of their sin and points them to Jesus as the Savior and solution to the sin problem. The person who has been physically born into the world must be spiritually born if they want to spend eternity with God. Sin kills us spiritually (Ephesians 2:1-3). But God provides a way for us to receive His eternal life in exchange for our deadness in sin (Romans 6:23). God, freely, as a gift of His grace, had Jesus come and pay the penalty for humanities’ sin on the cross. That the Father accepted this atoning work of Jesus on the cross is proved by the resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15).
Anyone who turns from their sins and puts their faith in Jesus as Savior asking the Father to forgive them will receive forgiveness from God and eternal life through their relationship with Jesus. “For he made Him who know no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Have you done this? It’s the only way to escape the peace-robbing pace of this world and find peace with God and the peace of God (cf. Romans 5:1; Philippians 4:6-9).
All of these circumstances began with the early morning seeking of Mary. But there is another character trait of Mary that led to even more revelation for her. The disciples went away “to their own homes.” They separated from each other but they were united in what they had seen at the tomb. They went home no doubt pondering, meditating on what they had seen. And they were no doubt processing all they remembered from Jesus’ teaching and what they had now seen in the empty tomb.
But Mary stayed behind: “But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain” (John 20:11-12). Mary had come early and she stayed late. Mary just couldn’t leave. Not only had she seen her Savior Jesus crucified the day before but now His body was gone. She didn’t understand. All she did know was her heart was broken in grief for Jesus. But when she stooped down into the tomb she saw something amazing.
As Mary Magdalene stooped down and looked into the tomb, looking through her teary eyes, she saw “two angels.” The angels were “in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.” Now for a Gentile unaware of the Old Testament the imagery might be missed. But for a Jew familiar with the Temple, Holy of Holies and Ark of the Covenant the imagery of the two angels sitting on either end of where Jesus had been laid would be unmistakable. You see, the lid of the Ark of the Covenant was called the “Mercy Seat” (Exodus 25:17-22, 34; 37:6-9). The Mercy Seat was made of pure gold and had two angels on each end of the cover, facing each other with wings outstretched. The Mercy Seat was where the High Priest once a year made atonement for the nation of Israel on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). The empty tomb, with two angels “one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain” is a visual confirmation that what the Mercy Seat of old had typified was now fulfilled in Jesus (cf. Hebrews 9). What a blessing!
Now don’t miss this. Mary saw more and was blessed more completely because she stayed later than the other disciples. Because she stayed a little longer she looked in and saw the imagery of the fulfillment of God’s mercy in Jesus. And in just a moment more Mary will see Jesus Himself. “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’She turned and said to Him, ‘Rabboni!’ (which is to say, Teacher)” (John 20:16). Oh what a glorious and joyful meeting that must have been. The grieving Mary meeting the resurrected Jesus; wonderful. And all of this because she just stayed a little longer.
The disciples left. They would see Jesus later. But Mary met her Savior Jesus. She had early sought to be close to her Lord Jesus. She had cared enough to stay longer. And she had met “my Lord” (John 20:13). And that really is the key to all of this; Mary personally, passionately, powerfully sought “my Lord.” She just had to be close to “my Lord.” Because Jesus to her was “my Lord,” she was driven to come to seek Him early and stay later than the others. And Jesus rewarded her for that. How about you, is Jesus to you, “my Lord”? Do you have a personal passion that powerfully impacts your life, enough to seek Him early and stay late until He makes His presence known to you? If your “walk” with Jesus is come late and leave early you’ll most likely miss out on meeting Jesus. But if you come early and stay late, if you follow His pace, you’ll be blessed with His presence and His peace and He’ll reveal wonderful things to you. The choice is yours.