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?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she 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 Aramaic,[b] “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. (John 20:11-18)
The portion of Holy Scripture which we have just read is not a work of fiction, not in the slightest. We live in a world in which angels of God have appeared to people on this earth. The world in which we live is one in which two angels truly and really appeared to Mary Magdalene in the empty tomb of Jesus Christ, give or take 2,000 years ago in a garden just outside of Jerusalem. And when this happened her reaction was basically to say, “Yeah, but where’s Jesus my Lord?”
There’s two extremes which present themselves to us today. One is from the materialistic Darwinists who would mock us for the fact that we believe there are beings called angels that are active in our world. They think we are foolish. Our response to them is to say, “Of course we believe angels are active in our world, we believe that Jesus Christ physically came back to life and rose from the dead on this earth in history.” The same planet we are walking on, Jesus Christ came out of, not really that long ago.
The second is from a branch of modern evangelicals who are sinfully fascinated over angels so much so that angels are their practical objects of worship. Their houses are full of pictures of angels and they trust in angels to look out for them and protect them instead of crying out to Jesus Christ to be their shield and trust. To these, when they are going on about their angels, we say, “So what, where have you taken my Lord? What have you done with Christ?”
The way that John communicates the resurrection events to us is absolutely beautiful. John 20 is filled with many culminations of biblical theological themes, and Christ is made to be seen as all-precious to the believer.
Our text of Scripture begins today with Mary repeating the actions of the disciple whom Jesus loved in our previous passage. She is at the tomb and she stoops down to look in. But unlike John, who only sees the linen cloths lying there where Jesus used to be, she looks in and sees two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.
What do we make of this sight that Mary sees? What do we make of these two angles sitting where the body of Jesus had once lain? There are several things for us to see in this. The first is simply that they are sitting where both the dead body of Jesus was lain and where Jesus resurrected. They are sitting on the very spot Jesus resurrected. As A. W. Pink says, “The fact that they were sitting in the place where the body of Jesus had lain was God’s witness unto the rest which was secured by and proceeds from the finished work of the Lord Jesus.” In other words, God is showing us the spiritual rest that was procured for us by the death and resurrection of Christ. Since Jesus died and rose again there is no more working to earn salvation or striving to merit eternal life. Jesus has accomplished it for us. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Chris is the place for weary sins to rest. It is His work that we rest upon. Are you tired today? Are you weary from striving to make excuses and to justify yourself before God? The empty tomb of Jesus calls us to come and rest in The One who died and rose again. He did what we could never do so that we could rest in Him.
Second, we ought to notice the pattern of two. There are two angels here, just as there were two disciples who first entered the empty tomb, Peter and John. Just as Peter and John were the two legal witnesses of the empty tomb, so the two angelic beings are the two divine witnesses of the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ. This shows us the cosmic reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It shows us that the resurrection was not something which had no effect in the earth and in the heavens, but it fundamentally changed both.
That leads to my third point, which is that the two angels sitting where Jesus had been lain shows us that there has been a transition of power, so to speak. The two angels are guarding the tomb where previously it was Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb. This plot twist symbolically shows us that Christ is in charge now. Jesus is in charge, just as John has been showing us the whole passion narrative. The empty tomb is not Roman territory, it is Christian territory. But the resurrection was a shift of power, not just out of man’s hands so to speak, but as the angels are heavenly beings, it is a cosmic, heavenly shift of power. The powers of darkness, hell, and death – the evil powers of the prince of the air, the rule of the satanic kingdom in the heavens has been dethroned and cast down and cast out. The powers of sin, death, and hell have been defeated. The powers of the grave have been destroyed. Jesus Christ could not be kept by these false powers, the grave could not hold him, death could not keep him, the sins placed upon him could not condemn him – No, Jesus Christ made short work of them, putting them to open shame rising from the dead in just 3 short days, and placing His heavenly guards at the spot which He came out of death to show that He has conquered. He has won. This is His land now. This is His world now. It is His rule now. As Matthew Henry says, “These angelic guards, keeping possession of the sepulchre, when they had frightened away the guards, represents Christ’s victory over the powers of darkness.” And Matthew Henry again, “These angels went into the grave to teach us not to be afraid of it.” The grave is no longer the domain of darkness. When a Christian dies, he remains untouched by the evil one. He remains untouched by the fiends of hell, and no darkness enwraps him. He is immediately with Jesus.
Fourth, I would have you remember that we are in a garden. Jesus was buried and resurrected in a garden. So here we have two angels guarding a tomb in a garden. Does that sound familiar? When Adam sin and he and Eve were kicked out of the garden there was Cherubim with flaming sword to guard the garden and prevent man from ever entering it again. But essentially, what we have here is a reversal of that first garden scene. When the Last Adam rose from the dead, defeating sin and death, two angels are posted as witness, but these angels are not cherubim with flaming swords to keep us out, rather they are welcome messengers to direct us into the way of Life, to direct us to the Tree of Life which is Jesus Christ, and to direct us to rest, not to banish us to toil. The way back to the garden has been reopened so to speak. In other words the way to eternal life is open with welcome messengers pointing us to Jesus Christ.
Fifth, not only is this a garden scene, but as we discussed last week, the empty tomb is the scene of the tabernacle. When Mary stoops down to look into the tomb, she sees the Mercy Seat. The Mercy Seat which was on top of the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies in the tabernacle had two hand-crafted cherubim on each side on the top. And there are two angels, one at the head and one at the foot where Jesus’ body was placed. In fact, I want to read a passage of Scripture that gives instruction for the Mercy Seat in Exodus. Read Exodus 25:17-22.
So what did we just read there? God says to Moses, that there, at the Mercy seat, “I will meet with you…” This was the meeting place between God and man. But more than that, God gets more specific in Exodus 25 as to where He will meet with Moses, saying, “from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people…” So it is from between the two Cherubim that God meets with Moses and speaks. John tells us the two angels were one at the head, and the other at the foot of where Jesus was laid. In this scene, what was in between the two angels? He’s resurrected, but it was Jesus. John is showing us His big huge biblical theology, that it is Jesus Christ who is the meeting place of God and man. It is in and through His Son, the Christ, that God speaks and reveals Himself to men.
So just as man was banished from meeting with God in the garden, most people were then prohibited from entering the holy of holies in the tabernacle to meet personally with God, but now, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus all men are invited and welcomed in by angels to meet with God face to face in the face of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is now our meeting place where God speaks to us. And the call is for all men to come unto Jesus Christ and meet with God, be reconciled to God in Christ!
Mary of course does not realize all these realities at this moment. She still isn’t even thinking that Jesus has risen from the dead. She is still thinking that someone has taken the body of her Lord. Because of this, Mary is weeping. She sad and brokenhearted because she does not know where her Lord is. But how little sometimes we know when our minds are clouded with sorrows. For would it not have been more sad and more disheartening had her Lord been laying there dead in the tomb? Indeed it would have been. Such brings the question from the angel, “Why are you weeping?” “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” John 20:14, “Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.” She saw Jesus, but did not know that it was Him. Not yet anyway. Let us pause on this thought for just a moment.
Here Mary is, conversing with two angels sitting where Jesus’ body used to lay. She is weeping without cause, as she turns to see Jesus and doesn’t even recognize Him. How often is it that we weep and bring sorrow upon ourselves without cause, simply because we are not exercising faith and we simply fail to remember and believe the promises of God that would cure our tears and heartache? Yet, despite that, how tender is Christ to Mary? And how tender is Christ to His people in similar times? Christ is always quite near to His people, even though we may not even know it, or may not even recognize Him. Christ is always nearer to us than we think Him to be.
It is true that sometimes Christ may disguise Himself to His people at times for the purpose of testing and strengthening our faith, but faith would believe that though He may disguise Himself, He is yet near. Always closer than a brother born for adversity. We are to believe the Word we hear, not the sight we see, or don’t see.
Notice in verse 15, Jesus asks Mary the same question that the angels did, adding, “whom are you seeking?” But then Mary supposes Him to be the gardener. Now why would she do that? Why would she suppose Jesus to be the gardener? I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: because they were in a garden. Now I’ve heard some preachers say the reason she thought is because Jesus was literally doing some gardening. Now that’s a really cool and fun thought to me and I’d like to think it was true, like maybe as Mary enters the garden she sees Jesus down on his hands and knees doing some gardening and then He gets up and goes to speak to her as she is at the tomb – that’s a fun thought to think of Jesus literally being the gardener Adam was supposed to be. But frankly, that is nothing more than speculation, nothing in the text would indicate that to us. But simply, what John is showing us is that she supposed He was the gardener because they were in a garden. And that is the point. That Jesus rose from the dead in a garden.
The first Adam died in a garden. He failed in his commission to protect, tend, keep, and make the world a fruitful place. But here is Jesus Christ, the Last Adam, not dead, but risen from the dead in a garden, beginning His work of protecting, tending, keeping, and making the world a fruitful place. The first Adam sinned and thorn and thistles began to invade the ground, as the ground was cursed. Sin began to work itself out and infect everything. But the Last Adam is here, He resurrected in a garden to begin to undo the curse and its effects, to prune away the thorns and thistles and begin to work righteousness out throughout the world, to undo and reverse the curse. The Last Adam sets right, undoes, and reverses, the failure of the first Adam. And it starts in a garden. Just as creation began with a garden, so the new creation began in a garden.
Jesus resurrected in the garden because He makes life out of death. Though death and decay are laid in a tomb in the garden, it is not the death that brings death to everything, life overcomes the death, and flowers bloom and vegetation sprouts, as it overcomes death. The resurrection life of Christ is more powerful than death. The fruit of Christ’s victory over death is more powerful than the wages of sin.
So whatever sins you have committed, whatever evil you have done, there is none of it that cannot be forgiven because Jesus has risen from the dead. There is no wickedness in you that cannot be overcome and forgiven since Jesus came out of the dirt. Jesus’ heart stopped beating, and his lungs stopped breathing. Then three days later, without any outside help, His heart started beating again and His lungs filled with breath once more – there is nothing that He cannot forgive. If you stay away from Christ because you think you have sinned too much or gone too far then you don’t know Christ – you don’t know the power of His resurrection. Because He was a dead man who now lives, He lives to make dead men live. If you know Christ, it is because He raised you from the dead, as you were once dead in your trespasses and sins in which you once walked, but God being rich in mercy made you alive in Christ Jesus.
And this is because, though Mary assumed it in the wrong sense, the truth is, that Jesus really is the gardener. Jesus IS the gardener. Not that gardener Mary thought, but The Gardener. Jesus was brought to life in a garden because He is the gardener who plants, waters, sows, and brings forth the harvest. Jesus is busy at work in His people, pruning them, working them over, making them to do good works and be fruitful. Jesus is busy bringing forth fruit in His people because He is a gardener, that’s what He does. And if you are a Christian, He is working on you. He a gardener, pruning away the weeds of sin and destruction in your life. Maybe you have felt that in your life recently. Maybe you have felt Christ’s garden tools digging and clipping and pruning away at your life, and it hurts, it is uncomfortable. But it is good. And if you are His, you know the garden clippers are God’s grace, that they are a blessed tool of happiness. Jesus is working on you as The Gardener, not to hurt you ultimately. Not to kill you ultimately. But to bring forth fruit, to bring forth life. It is what He does. Jesus is the Gardener.
Faith Comes by Hearing
So Mary supposes Jesus to be the gardener. Then, verse 16, “Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).” So Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus until Jesus calls her name. This is a beautiful picture of the spiritual reality that faith comes by hearing and not by sight. As Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of Christ.” At first all Mary saw was the absence of Jesus. Then He appears and she does not recognize Him. Then finally upon hearing Him call her name, her eyes are opened to behold her Lord.
This reminds us of what Jesus said in John 10 about the Good Shepherd, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” And His sheep “follow Him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” And, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me…” Jesus is not only The Gardener, He is also the Good Shepherd, and He has risen from the dead to bring in His sheep into His fold, to go and call unto each one of His elect that they may hear His voice and come unto Him.
As our Good Shepherd who has risen from the dead, we are shown that He has gone through the valley of the shadow of death of the 23rd Psalm. He has gone through the valley of the shadow of death as our Good Shepherd and has come out the other side to lead us through without fear.
As Mary hears the voice of her Lord she clings to Him in worship, likely falling at His feet. Jesus tells her not to do that but to go to His brothers, meaning His disciples, and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”” So that is what Mary does. In other words, Jesus tasked Mary with bringing news of the resurrection to the disciples. Certainly this calls to mind Psalm 22:22 which says, “I will tell of your name to my brothers…” So Mary is given this great privilege and task to go and tell the disciples that Jesus is alive, and He will be ascending to His Father, who is their Father and God also. In other words, she had the privilege of bringing good news to Christ’s brothers. Mary brought good news to the disciples – news of Jesus’ resurrection – news that Jesus was alive – this is good news! This reminds us of Romans 10:15 which is quoting from Isaiah 52, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!”
What’s interesting is that it is traditionally believed by many that it was Mary Magdalene who was the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil earlier in the gospels, a woman who had lived a sinful lifestyle and was forgiven of much by Jesus. What a beautiful twist of the story it is that this woman who poured out herself at Jesus’ feet, and was scorned for it, now in a sense has her feet anointed with the task of bringing the good news to the disciples – she now has beautiful feet. This is a great work of redemption. And this is a redemption that you can have today. It is a redemption that many of us have been given. Whatever the sins and sinful past or present that haunts your life, God’s Word calls you today to bring those sins to the feet of Jesus Christ, repent of your sin, for He is alive today and lives to forgive your sin and redeem His people and totally change sinners into preachers.
But I want you to notice the beautiful effects of the Work of Christ that we see in these words that Jesus gives to Mary to tell His brothers. First is just in the fact that Jesus calls the disciples His brothers. Though in fear they scattered and ran at Jesus’ arrest, it is precisely the death and resurrection of Jesus that makes them His brothers, not their strength or fearlessness, but the work of Jesus applied to them. Jesus died and rose for His disciples to redeem them, and you and I also, where we too have ran and denied Jesus, we can still be called His brothers.
And secondly, Jesus wants them to know that He is ascending to “my Father and your Father.” Because of the work of Jesus, when we are brought into union with Christ by faith, His Father is our Father also. In union with Christ we are so identified with Christ that what is His is ours. We are made no longer to be enemies with God and under His wrath, but in Christ God is made to be our Father. There’s that small beautiful phrase at the end of 1 Corinthians 3 that says “…all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”
So no matter how we may be ridiculed for believing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ by the materialistic Darwinists, or the secular humanists, or the Ph.D’s, or the mainstream media, or your neighbor, or your estranged child, we ought not to be surprised. Why? Because they thought the cross of Christ was foolishness and folly, so of course they will think that about the resurrection of Christ. As 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us how are being saved it is the power of God…” So we don’t change are message or remove the supernatural aspects of the gospel and Scripture to make it more palatable to an unbelieving world, rather, we lean into it and preach it all the more, for what is foolish to them, is that which God will humble them by, and eventually it may just be the Word they hear by which faith comes. Praise be to the Risen Christ. Amen.
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