The Day Jesus Arose From the Dead
(This is a sermon of David Roper with a modified ending)
By Paul Robison

As the group of women made their way along the deserted road, Mary Magdalene’s mind went back to her life before she had met Jesus.  She had grown up in Magdale, a small village on the southwest coast of the Sea of Galilee.  Her life had been much like that of any other Jewish girl, until one fateful day while she was working in her father’s shop.  Without warning, she had felt an alien presence enter her mind.  Something dark and evil had wormed its way into her brain.  Shrill voices had begun screaming inside her head.  She had attempted to call out to her father, but she could not.  She had tried to reach out to him for help, but the demons had taken control of her limbs.  She had gone crazy, tearing precious fabrics and throwing fragile pottery to the ground.  Finally she had fallen, screaming and writhing, to the floor.  [In the following decades, the demons continued to harm her.] . . .  Then, one day—glorious day!—she had heard a voice, a voice calling her name: “Mary . . .Mary.”   She would never forget how He had spoken her name.
. . . A mind-numbing screech had filled her head, and then—as suddenly as they had come—the demons were gone! She was free! 
That day she had learned that her Deliverer’s name was Jesus, and that day she had decided to devote the rest of her life to Him.  She never saw him as a husband but as a kindly uncle.  She had found other women who had been healed by Him, and they had ministered to Jesus and His disciples while they were in Galilee.  “Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God.  And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities—Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife if Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance” (Luke 8:1-3).  When the Teacher had come to Jerusalem, they “had followed Jesus” to help however they could (Matthew 27:55). Now, they walked to a distant tomb to serve Him one last time—by giving His body a proper burial.  For the interment, they carried “spices and perfumes. . . . which they had prepared” (Luke 23:56; 24:1).  When they came upon a merchant opening his shop, they “bought [still more] spices, that they might come and anoint Him” (Mark 16:1).  As it began to “dawn toward the first day of the week” (Matthew 28:1), Mary set a faster pace.  In the distance, she could see the place of execution.  The tomb was not far from that spot. . . . A sword had also pierced Mary Magdalene’s soul as she had watched Jesus die.  She had been aware of His every labored breath, every spasm of pain, and every precious drop of blood shed.  She had longed to hear Him speak her name once more.  At noon, an eerie blackness had come over the land.  Most at the cross had left, but Mary Magdalene and one other—Mary, the mother of James and Joseph—had stayed, huddled together like children in the darkness.  After three hours, the sky had cleared. She had heard Jesus cry, “It is finished!” (John 19:30); then, a little later, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). His head had slumped, and she had known He was dead.  As she remembered that moment, her vision became blurred.  She brushed at her eyes and urged the other women: “Hurry! We are almost there.”
Mary had been concerned about what would happen to His body. No calamity that could befall a Jew was worse than improper burial.  The Romans normally did not allow an honorable burial of the bodies of those executed by crucifixion.  Rather, they carried the bodies away and dumped them in some unknown ditch to be eaten by dogs or vultures.  Family members could ask the governor for the body, but the request was seldom granted.  She had wondered what would become of the body of Jesus.  While she was pondering, an important-looking man had arrived. “That’s Joseph of Arimathea,” someone had whispered, “a member of the Sanhedrin and one of the richest men in Jerusalem!”  The man had spoken to the officer in charge, and then had pointed to the body of Jesus.  “After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission.  So he came and took the body of Jesus” (John 19:38).  The soldiers had lowered the cross to the ground.  As the nails were being pulled out, another distinguished-looking man had arrived, followed by servants bringing a litter to carry the body.  “That’s Nicodemus,” an amazed bystander had informed Mary. “He’s also a member of the Council!”  “And Nicodemus came also, who had first come to Him by night; bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight” (John 19:39).  As Mary had watched, the two men had picked up the body of Jesus with their own hands and had gently laid it on the litter.  Mary had been startled because, according to the Law, when Joseph and Nicodemus touched His body, they defiled themselves for a week—during the most important religious celebration of the year!
The sun had been near the horizon when Joseph and Nicodemus “took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury” (John 19:40).  They had first put a thick layer of spices under Jesus’ body.  Then they had spread spices on eight-foot strips of linen cloth and wound the strips around the body.  The fragrance of the sweet-smelling gum called myrrh and the powdered aromatic wood of aloes had drifted to where the two Marys stood.  As Mary Magdalene had watched, words from the prophet Isaiah had come to her mind, words she had heard in the synagogue: “And they made His grave with the wicked—but with a rich man at His death because He had done no violence nor was any deceit in His mouth” (Isaiah 53:9).  Joseph and Nicodemus had done the best they could in the time they had, but Mary Magdalene had cringed at the men’s awkwardness.  “We must return and do the job right,” she had whispered to her companion, and the other woman had nodded.  Finally, when the evening star appeared, Joseph and Nicodemus laid a handkerchief across the face of Jesus and had come out of the tomb.  “Joseph . . . rolled a stone against the entrance” and wedged it in place (Mark 15:46).  The two men stood for a moment in silence; then they “went away” (Mt. 27:60). 
Later, as the women drew near, Salome asked Mary, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:3; emphasis mine).  Don’t worry,” she answered.  “We’ll get the stone moved.”  Actually, she had a greater concern: she was afraid that the body might be gone—that Joseph might have moved it, or that Jesus’ enemies might have stolen it to profane His memory, or even that the tomb might have been invaded by grave robbers.  There were men in Palestine whose ghoulish business was robbing tombs.  When the women finally reached the garden, Mary Magdalene’s worst fears were realized, for she “saw the stone already taken away from the tomb” (John 20:1)!  If she had looked more closely, she would have seen sealing clay on each side of the tomb with bits of frayed cord embedded in the clay.  She would have seen signs that Roman soldiers had been there.  However, she saw only the open grave.  “Stay here for awhile,” she said to the other women, and she lifted her robes and sped off to find Peter and John.  “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).  Peter was horrified. “We must go to the tomb at once!” he said.  “You two go on,” said Mary, panting.  “I’ll follow as soon as I can catch my breath.”
Peter and John headed north, racing through the crowds of pilgrims, who were now pouring into the city for the feast.  Those they passed gave them puzzled looks. “So they both ran together; and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first” (John 20:4).  As soon as Mary Magdalene recovered, she started after them.  When at last she reached the garden, it was quiet.  She had expected the excited voices of the women and the deeper voices of Peter and John, but there was only silence.  The tomb was still open, but no one was in sight.  She was suddenly very tired.  She had eaten little and slept less since Friday.  She not only mourned Jesus’ death; she also mourned her helplessness.  She could not save Him from death; now she could not even grieve over His body.  Frustration and fatigue washed over her—and tears began to flow.  “But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept, she stooped down and looked into the tomb” (John 20:11).  . . . Her eyes were fixed on two men in the tomb—two men clothed all “in white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying” (v. 12).  The men spoke to Mary gently: “Woman, why are you weeping?” (v. 13a).  The men were heavenly messengers, but that fact did not register with Mary.  She was obsessed with a single thought: she must find the body of Jesus.  She replied, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him” (v. 13b).  As she spoke, she had a compelling urge to turn.  Did she hear another sound?  Did the men in the tomb shift their gaze from her to someone behind her?  Did she simply become aware of another Presence?  She was never sure why, but she turned—and standing in the garden, in the swirling mists of early morning, was a Man.  The Man asked the same question asked by those in the tomb: “Woman, why are you weeping?”(v. 15a).  Then He added: “Whom are you seeking?” (v. 15b).  Emotion stirred within her as He spoke, but she thought it was her only hope.  Maybe this Man could help her find the body of the One she loved more than life itself.  She turned around, and beheld Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Him. “She, 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'” (John 20:14-15).  She really did not know how she would move the corpse, but she was determined to find the dead Rabbi.  Later, she would marvel that she had not known immediately who had spoken to her.  Perhaps she had not looked at Him closely.  Perhaps her eyes had been blinded by tears.  Perhaps He had been standing with His back to the morning sun.  Perhaps her attention had been so fastened on the tomb that she was unable to see the One who had left it forever.  Or, perhaps Jesus Himself had prevented her from recognizing Him at once, to sort of lessen the shock.
Whatever the reason, she did not know Him; the Man, however, did not leave her long in doubt as to who He was. “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’” (John 20:16).  A thrill ran through her when she heard her name spoken as only Jesus could speak it.  She turned and looked into His eyes—and she knew.  “Rabboni” she exclaimed (Rabboni is a Hebrew for “my Teacher”)!  She fell at His feet.  When Jesus tried to raise Mary to her feet, she clung tenaciously to Him.  Gently, He loosened her fingers.  “Stop clinging to Me,” He said (v.17a).  A smile took any sting out of the words.  He gently brushed a bit of ash from her face, and added, “For I have not yet ascended to the Father” (v. 17b).  She was not sure what He meant, but she was certain of this: her Teacher was alive!  She wanted to rush through the streets, shouting, “Jesus did not stay in the tomb.  He has arisen from the dead!”  However, Jesus, had a more pressing task for her. “Go to My brethren,” He said (John 20:17), and He told her what to say to them. 
When the frightened disciples unlocked the door for her, she could see that they had been “mourning and weeping” (Mark 16:10).  She thought about asking them, as she had been asked: “Why are you weeping?” (John 20:13, 15).  Jesus was alive!  It was a time for rejoicing, not crying!  Her face radiant, she exclaimed, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18), but they stared at her as if she were crazy.  She shared His message for them, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God” (John 20:17).  They looked at each other, shaking their heads.  “And these words appeared to them as nonsense” (Luke 24:11).  When Mary left the disciples, she smiled.  Wouldn’t they feel foolish when they discovered that she had told them the truth?  She smiled again as she thought how their despair would vanish as hers had when Jesus had spoken her name.  His voice still echoed in her mind: “Mary. . . Mary.”  She threw her arms wide and laughed.  “Who shall I tell next?” she wondered aloud. “I know!” she exclaimed, and she set off down the street.
When another preacher wrote of Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene, he said: “Mary had come prepared to weep—Now she could worship.  She had come expecting to see Him lying in the tomb—She had found Him walking in the newness of resurrected life” (Marshall).  No one expected Jesus to be raised, not even Mary Magdalene.  She and the other disciples were skeptics—but something happened, something so earthshaking that it changed Mary and the rest into dynamic proclaimers of the resurrection, ready to die for their faith.  That transformation can only be explained by acknowledging the truthfulness of the biblical account: “Now when He arose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons” (Mark 16:9).  And then . . . He appeared to Peter, then to the twelve.  After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time. . . ; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, . . . He appeared to [Paul] (1 Corinthians 15:5–8). 
The resurrection can change your life, as it changed the life of Mary Magdalene.  The risen Lord can turn your grief into gladness, your despair into delight, your frustration into faith.  It happened to Mary Magdalene in a garden long ago; it can happen to you now.  Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins, that He was buried, and that He came back to life again?  Then, show your faith by re-enacting His death, burial, and resurrection in the waters of baptism.  “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).  After you have been baptized, you will want to devote the rest of your life to telling others about the One who gave His life for you, who always lives to mediate before God on your behalf—the One who also has promised to raise you from the dead too at the last day!  When Jesus comes again, you can be as joyful as Mary was when she knew Jesus was alive!  Jesus is alive right now and invites you to become His disciple and a new citizen in His eternal kingdom.  Just as Jesus knew Mary's name, He knows your name and your heart as well!