Reading John 20
It’s a story that may bring tears to your eyes. It is a story that shows just how much love Christ has for those who follow him.
In order to understand exactly what happened, we need to back up a little and lay some ground work by looking at the atonement. It took place only once every year. There were very specific rules in how the atonement would be carried out. The High priest was the only person who could be involved, and was kept awake through the hours of darkness the night before. Normally he wore a very elaborate breastplate and robe with golden bells and pomegranates. But on this day he dressed in a simple white robe. He was required to wash his flesh in water. Not merely his hands and feet as he did ordinarily, but the entire body. Then near the Holy Place a bullock is brought to him. The bullock is for a sin offering for himself. Then near the people, 2 goats are brought. The goats are for a sin offering for the people of Israel. There was an urn called CALPI in which were 2 lots of the same shape size and material. One bearing the inscription “a-la-Jehovah” and the other “a-la-Azazel” (translated scapegoat). He faces the people, shakes the urn, puts both hands in it, and draws lots. He then lays a lot at head of each goat. Ties a tongue shaped piece of scarlet cloth to the horn of the scrape goat, and another piece of cloth around the throat of the other goat. Goes back to the bullock and kills the bullock, pours blood into a bowl. He then fills censer with burning coals from the altar of burnt offering. He also takes a handful of fine incense. No one is to be in the tabernacle until the high priest comes out. He then goes behind the veil and enters Holy place by himself. Sets down the censer, and pours the incense on it. Incense ignites; a great cloud of fragrance fills the chamber. He then sprinkles blood 7 times on the mercy seat.
Then he leaves the most holy place. He kills the goat that was set apart for Jehovah. Putting the goat’s blood into a bowl he then goes behind the veil, into the most holy place, the second time. He sprinkles the same way he did the first time. Then he mixes the two bowls of blood together. He then goes out, and makes an atonement for the altar by sprinkling each of the horns of the altar of incense. He will sprinkle the altar 7 times. He has now reconciled himself, his household, the people, the holy place, the tabernacle and the altar.
Finally the live goat is brought to him and he lays both hands on it. As he does so he Confesses “Ah Jehovah, they have committed iniquity, they have transgressed, they have sinned – thy people, the house of Israel. O though Jehovah cover over…
Then the scapegoat is led to wilderness by a man of opportunity (a stranger-non Israelite) to carry the sins of the people into a land not inhabited. The High Priest proceeds to cut up the bullock and the goat, and burn the inwards upon the altar and sends the skins, the flesh and the dung to the outside of the camp to be burned completely in fire.
Then he goes into tent of meeting, takes off linen garments and leaves them there. He then bathes himself with water in a holy place and puts on regular garments.
There are a lot of similarities between the atonement and the sacrifice of Christ. Just as the High priest was kept awake the night before. Jesus was up all night prior to his offering. Just as the High Priest did not wear his usual garments of identification; Jesus was dressed in humble attire, not reflective of a high priest at all. Just as the Scapegoat was led away into a land not inhabited, Jesus was put to death by the Romans into a land not inhabited (the grave). Just as the body of the bull and goat were burned outside the camp, Jesus was crucified outside the city. Just as a fragrance of incense cloud greeted the High Priest into the most holy place, Jesus was taken by a cloud into heaven. Just as the high priest appeared alone in the most holy place before God to atone for sins, Jesus appeared alone before God in Heaven to atone for sins. Just as the bull and goat submitted to death, Jesus himself submitted to the same.
Her name, Mary Magdalene, identifies her as being from the town of Magdala, a prosperous fishing village on the North West bank of the Sea of Galilee. The Hebrew word “Migdal” means “Tower” and the town was sometimes referred to as “the tower of fish”.
There are a lot of theories about who this Mary is. Some think that she is the same woman who poured ointment on the feet of Jesus, but that is not true. That was Mary the sister of Lazarus. Some feel that she was a prostitute, but there is nothing in the context to even suggest that. What we do know about Mary of Magdala is that she was healed of seven demons. Demon possession in the Gospels has reference to an affliction that someone is suffering from. It is probable therefore that this Mary was born severely handicap. However, Mary was not a person who was shunned and cast out to live on her own, but she probably had very loving parents who were distraught about her handicaps and just wanted the best for her. However, no man would want to marry her; she could not even care for herself. This is why she was unmarried at the time of her healing. Mary would have been referred to in a kind way as being “different” from the rest. Growing up, some children would befriend her and help her, but others would laugh at her making sure that she never forgot that she wasn’t like them and they treated her like a reject. Some parents didn’t even want their children playing with her for fear that they would become afflicted by the same demons. Mary would have required a lot of care and love, and her parents seem to have given her that love. They set aside some money for her and when she was healed she used this money to help support the ministry of Jesus
Mary was considered incurable. She was born with an affliction that the doctors just could not cure. So when Jesus healed her, she must have felt the most wonderful feeling that a person could ever feel. The incurable was cured, and a great load was lifted off her shoulders. She was a new person. All of a sudden she could do things that she never could before, all of a sudden she felt alive. She had so much gratitude that she committed her life to following the man who cured her; she gave everything from that point forward for her savior, her teacher, her friend.
She was a witness to all of the great power that God has to heal us. Those who grew up with her would have been left astonished and amazed at the change that took place in her instantly. Truly the man who healed her was a great prophet, God had visited his people! Mary was a living testimony to this.
The days that followed were wonderful. She would love to sit for hours and listen to this man who saved her. He was her Master, her teacher, and she learned so much. She would do anything for him and she gave all she had.
And then it happened. That dreadful day when Jesus was crucified. We don’t know when Mary found out what was happening, but she must have been in shock. As she approached the cross she looked up in disbelief, but then she had to look away. She could not bear to see her Lord in such pain. What were they doing killing her teacher, why were they hurting this man who had saved her?
As the crowd dwindled Mary was able to get closer to the cross. Now she could hear him struggling to breath. She could see the dried blood on his hands and feet. She knew he was in a lot of pain. Mary could not hold back the tears. She felt so helpless, but she felt she needed to be there for Jesus. Some people were laughing and mocking at the man on the cross. Just like they use to laugh and mock at her. She could not believe that people could be so cruel.
She watched as Jesus struggled to move his body up just to breath. She knew he was getting weaker. And then she could hear Jesus speak the words “it is finished”. He bowed his head and then she knew that he had died. Her heart stopped beating at that moment. She felt numb and could not think. This wasn’t supposed to have happen. Yesterday, she was talking and laughing with Jesus and now he was dead.
It was early when she woke up. Still feeling empty and lost, she knew that she needed to help bury Jesus. It was the least that she could do, and she wanted to do all that she could. It was still dark out, and no one else was up, but Mary rushed to the place where they had laid his body. Even though she knew he was dead, she still felt the need to see his body, to hold it again, to be there with her teacher. As she approached the tomb, she stopped and looked. Not believing what she saw. The stone covering the entrance was gone. She ran forward and into the tomb, but there was no body. She could not believe this was happening. How could anyone take away the body? She rushed from the tomb and ran and found Peter. Having trouble catching her breath and words just rushing out she told him that someone had taken the Lord out of the tomb. Now Peter runs and Mary follows, having trouble keeping up. When she arrived again at the tomb, Peter was already standing there with John wondering what was happening. She tried to find some answer in his eyes, but neither of them knew what was going on. Where were the guards? Why would anyone want to steal the body? But there was nothing they could do. And soon Peter and John left and Mary was left there. Not able to leave. She didn’t know where to go or what to do. She had woken up that day determined to do the little that she could do for her Lord, to anoint his body for burial and now there wasn’t even a body to anoint. She must have really felt empty. She just could not hold back the tears and just stood there weeping and crying not knowing what to do. It was a sad sound, one that would have just torn you heart apart if you had heard it. This once happy lady now was unable to stop crying and felt so much pain and sorrow. The events of the past couple days were now catching up with her. In her mind were the images of seeing the lifeless body of Jesus, and she just felt so lost. No one has ever wept as hard as Mary did that day, no one has ever felt the pain that tore her apart. She couldn’t even sit down, she was just so grief-stricken. Where have they taken him? Where is the man who saved her? Couldn’t anyone help her, couldn’t anyone comfort her.
She could not believe the body was gone. She had to look again. She stooped down and looked and saw two angels, but she so upset that it didn’t even occur to her that she was speaking to angels. Perhaps God felt that letting her see the angels would give her comfort, and the angels tried their best to comfort her; asking her why she was crying. But she couldn’t stop crying, and she wept as she told them “because they took away my Lord and I don’t know where they have taken him.”
And this is when it happened, the most amazing example of love in the scripture. Because now right in the middle of the most important event in history, the tears of this woman were heard by the man who saved her and he could not ignore them. He could not let her cry like that. He needed to give her some comfort when she needed it the most which was right now. And as Mary turned away from the tomb she saw a man that she thought was the gardener. She pleaded with him, please sir, please if you have taken my Lord, please let me know, show me where he is, I will take his body and I will put it back.
It was then that Mary heard the man say her name. It was then that Mary looked out through her tears and recognized the face. Before her was the Master, he was alive.
Jesus was about to enter the Most Holy Place, he had purified himself and in his state of purification, if anyone unclean touches him or his garments, he would then become unclean and not able to enter the Holiest of All. This was the day of his resurrection and presentation before his Father. But he cared so much for this woman, whose tears touched his heart, that he paused outside the Most Holy Place and took the time to give her some comfort in her hour of need. He only asked that she not touch him. This way he could give her some comfort but also remain purified to appear before the Father in heaven.
The bread and the wine set before us represent the body and blood of a very real man who is especially aware of how we feel. He is a high priest who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and if we trust in him, he will comfort us in our hour of need.
Mary was healed of 7 demons. The number 7 reflects a perfect healing. We too were born with what was once an incurable disease, but just as Mary was healed by Jesus, we have been healed perfectly from that terrible disease, the curse of Adam. Like Mary we belong to a fishing village, we are all children of great fishermen – who gave their lives to teaching others of this man we remember today. Like Mary we follow this man who saved us, giving of our own substance to serve him. Like Mary we also weep and cry, and our hearts ache for the day when we will see Christ once again.
And just like Mary one day we will hear our name called, and then turn around and look into the eyes of the man that we may not at first recognize, but after a moment as we look deeper into his eyes we will recognize him and confess that he is our Master.