Flashback Episode — A Message through Mary: John 20:11-18


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Near the end of John’s gospel, on the morning Jesus was resurrected, we read an amazing dialog between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. What makes this conversation amazing is that it is likely the first conversation Jesus has with someone (aside from perhaps the angel who awakened Him), and in this discussion we discover some key details about what happened and didn’t happen over the time Jesus was in the grave.

But even before we get to the conversation, we must set the stage. Several women and disciples had already been to the tomb and seen it empty. They all had left confused to return to the others to describe what they saw. But Mary stayed behind at the tomb, and because she did this, she gets the honor of being the first witness of a resurrected Jesus.

Our passage is found in John’s gospel, chapter 20, and we will be reading from the Good News Translation. Starting in verse 11, we read:

11 Mary stood crying outside the tomb. While she was still crying, she bent over and looked in the tomb 12 and saw two angels there dressed in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 “Woman, why are you crying?” they asked her.

She answered, “They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!”

14 Then she turned around and saw Jesus standing there; but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 “Woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who is it that you are looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener, so she said to him, “If you took him away, sir, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

Let’s pause briefly at this point in the passage. To the angels who know Jesus was resurrected, and to Jesus Himself who is now alive, the idea of crying over the loss of Someone who has returned doesn’t make any sense. However, John tells us that Mary didn’t recognize Jesus.

I wonder if Jesus simply hadn’t taken a shower or combed His hair, or maybe He simply looked different. If Jesus only had one wardrobe, and that is all the clothing Mary had ever seen Him wear, then perhaps if Jesus was wearing something different as His resurrected self, this would be enough to confuse a troubled mind with crying eyes. Whatever the reason for Mary not recognizing Jesus, we can only logically speculate.

However Jesus’ appearance isn’t completely different, because of what we read next. Continuing in verse 16 we read:

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

She turned toward him and said in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (This means “Teacher.”)

In verse 16, Jesus says Mary’s name, and this is just enough to break her out of her tears to realize that this stranger actually knows her.

Maybe Mary was so teary-eyed that she simply didn’t look up and only saw the clothing of a person she didn’t recognize, but once she heard her name, she then looked up and saw the face of Her Savior.

While John doesn’t state this, my imagination has Mary’s tears of sadness turning into tears of joy and wonder. As her face changes, she runs towards Jesus and embraces Him in a hug that she never wants to end.

What was probably longer than 30 seconds, and perhaps even a few minutes, my imagination then brings us back to where John picks up in verse 17. John continues by telling us that Jesus then said to Mary:

17 “Do not hold on to me,” Jesus told her, “because I have not yet gone back up to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them that I am returning to him who is my Father and their Father, my God and their God.”

18 So Mary Magdalene went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and related to them what he had told her.

In my mind, it would be unlike Jesus to keep someone He loves at arm’s length. In my mind, Jesus was more than willing to embrace Mary, but eventually there must be a time for the hug to end. When Jesus knew the time was right, He then commissions Mary to go and tell the other disciples what she had experienced, and specifically what Jesus had told her.

What had Jesus told Mary?

After asking Mary to not hold onto Him, Jesus told her the reason. He said this was because “I have not yet gone back up to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them that I am returning to him who is my Father and their Father, my God and their God.

I find this detail powerful.

For the whole time Jesus was in the grave, He never once returned to the Father. While most people agree with this, the message Jesus tells Mary clashes with what many people believe Jesus promised a thief on the cross in Luke’s gospel. Luke tells us that Jesus told one of the criminals who was crucified with Him that they both would be together in paradise. Most people believe Jesus to have given that promise with the time constraint of that day.

But Jesus clearly stated that He never returned to the Father while He was “gone”, and several days had passed. With this supposed contradiction, we must start analyzing the details to help us uncover how both places are sharing truth.

While some people might call the grave paradise, I doubt that is what Jesus had in mind here. While the grave is a place where we might “rest in peace”, it is a big stretch in my mind to think of it as paradise.

Perhaps Jesus’ message to the thief about being saved relates to each of us who have the assurance of salvation. From the moment we place our faith, hope, trust, and belief in Jesus, we can know we are saved. This isn’t because we have done any great or not-so-great thing for God. It’s because we know we cannot do anything, or give anything greater than what God has given for us – and there is no way we can truly repay the sin debt that our lives owe.

Through Jesus, God created another option, and this secondary option is by accepting Jesus’ life as a substitute for ours. When we accept this, we begin to see the world differently, and we should begin to live differently as well. Our obedience is the way we say thank you to God. Obedience is never enough to earn our own way.

From the moment we accept Jesus as our substitute, we have the assurance of salvation, and this was as true for the thief on the cross as it is for each of us today. Eternity starts when we step towards God through Jesus. However, eternal life is a reward that is saved for the New Heaven and New Earth.

Jesus’ message through Mary helps us understand how salvation works. There is an immediate reward, but there is also a future reward as well.

With all this said, here are the challenges I want to leave you with at the end of this podcast episode:

Continue living with Jesus as your substitute. Choose to live your life in a way that says “thank you” to God for what He has done for each of us. Know that your obedient life is not because you are trying to earn salvation, but instead it is the best way of saying thank you for salvation.

Also, continue growing towards Jesus by reading and studying your Bible personally. While group study is valuable, personal study is just as important. We need both a personal connection with God as well as a community connection with Him as well. The challenge here is to strengthen whichever connection needs to be strengthened.

And, as I always end each set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 2 – Episode 49: Cam looks closer at Jesus’ conversation with Mary on resurrection morning and he touches on a powerful idea related to how we are saved and when we are rewarded with eternal life.

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