1. Mary’s love is so challenging
We find Mary Magdalene outside of the tomb sobbing. This is an outpouring of grief – a mixture of the pain of seeing Jesus being crucified, along with the confusion and frustration of being unable to find and anoint his body.
Mary is so single-minded that even the sight of two angels doesn’t seem to distract her from her one desire, to anoint Jesus’ body, such is her devotion to Jesus – a Jesus she assumes is dead. All that seems to matter to her is finding him. She just wants to know where he is, so she can express her last act of love, devotion and respect.
In a highly moving encounter, Jesus reveals himself to Mary by saying her name ‘Miriam’. Once again, her love for the Lord is evident by the way she holds onto him.
Let’s challenge ourselves by asking the following questions: what has Jesus done for me? And what am I willing to do for Jesus? Do we have anything of Mary’s determination and single-mindedness to honour Jesus with what we have, and to be with him – which we can do today through his Word and by his Spirit. Are we doing the basics – fellowshipping with Jesus – spending time speaking and listening to him?
There is also a principle here that those who love Jesus and seek to honour him will themselves be honoured. (1 Samuel 2:30) It is striking that Mary Magdalene is the one chosen by Jesus to be the very first person to see him alive again. What a privilege! What a blessing! We will never be the poorer by spending the best of our love on the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. Jesus’ love is so personal
It’s moving to think that having conquered the power of sin and death, the first thing Jesus does is to go and comfort a broken-hearted woman. Isn’t that remarkable. This is our God! Even on this monumental day, he has time for Mary. He speaks to her very personally; ‘Miriam’. And Mary recognises his voice.
Jesus is the good shepherd! He says of himself: He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. (John 10)
Here, Jesus calls Mary by name, and she knows his voice. She is a true sheep of the flock.
In our individualistic culture, full of loneliness, we need to hear this teaching today – Jesus knows us individually. He knows you. He knows what you’re going through, and he knows what you need. Jesus was far closer to the broken-hearted Mary than she could possibly have realised; this is often the experience of God’s people in times of crisis. ‘The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.’ (Psalm 34:18)
3. Jesus’ love is so gracious
What a wonderful and what a gracious message Jesus relays to his disciples through Mary Magdalene here. ‘Go instead to my brothers and tell them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ (John 20:17)
Remember, as Jesus was being crucified, most of the disciples had fled. Peter has denied Jesus. As the disciples were beginning to take in the news that Jesus was alive, they must have had mixed emotions: what will the Lord say to us? What will he want from us? They must have felt guilty.
Jesus’ grace is astonishing. He doesn’t say, ‘Go to the disciples’ or ‘Go to those who left me’. No. He calls them his brothers. What’s going on here? Jesus is saying that the very relationship he has had with his Father eternally is being conveyed to us. This is the accomplishment of Jesus’ death on the cross, to bring us into this circle of divine love. ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ This is something which we do not deserve – gracious love.
And this is significant stuff! This is Jesus’ first message to the disciples after his resurrection. It’s a message even greater than forgiveness of sins – wonderful as that message is. It’s the message of adoption: if we trust in Christ, Jesus is now our elder brother, and God is our loving heavenly Father. This is our identity. Is that how you see yourself primarily today?
This is, after all, why Jesus left heaven and came to earth. ‘Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.’ (John 1:12-13)
If we are in the position the disciples often found themselves in, and we have let Jesus down, then we need to go and confess our sins to Jesus, but we should do so in the knowledge that in spite of our sins, he remains our elder brother. He knows the ways you have let him down even more than you do! But if we are trusting in him for eternal life, then nothing can sever the relationship we have with him. His love is so gracious.