LIVING THE RESURRECTION — WITH LOSS
In a garden, ages ago, paradise was lost. But as we’ll see in today’s passage, it is in a garden that paradise would be restored. He had changed her life. And she had followed him ever since. He had given her a reason to live, a place in the kingdom. He had given her worth and dignity and understanding and love. And when all the other disciples fled, love brought Mary Magdalene to the cross. Now that love brings her back to the tomb. John 20:11-18 says, "11Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13"Dear woman, why are you crying?" the angels asked her. "Because they have taken away my Lord," she replied, "and I don't know where they have put him." 14She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn't recognize him. 15"Dear woman, why are you crying?" Jesus asked her. "Who are you looking for?" She thought he was the gardener. "Sir," she said, "if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him." 16"Mary!" Jesus said. She turned to him and cried out, "Rabboni!" (which is Hebrew for "Teacher"). 17 "Don't cling to me," Jesus said, "for I haven't yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" 18Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, "I have seen the Lord!" Then she gave them his message."
As we read last time, Mary Magdalene’s initial report brings Peter and John breathless to the tomb. John 20:8 says John saw and believed but Luke 24:12 says Peter saw the empty linen wrappings and went home wondering what had happened. Crushed with grief and not coping well with the loss of her Savior and friend, Mary is also confused and hurt. So after Peter and John leaves, she wanders back into the tomb. And the woman Mark 16:9 says was once possessed with seven demons before Jesus cast them out suddenly finds herself, according to John 20:12, immersed in the presence of heavenly angels instead hovering over the most holy place where Jesus once was—one where they laid Jesus’ head and the other his feet. Which sounds an awful lot like the cherubim hovering over the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant in Exodus 25! Remember how that is described? God told Moses to “Have the people make an Ark of acacia wood [verse 10]. Then make two cherubim from hammered gold, and place them on the two ends of the atonement cover...The cherubim will face each other and look down on the atonement cover. With their wings spread above it, they will protect it. 1 Kings 6:24-27 adds, “The wingspan of each of the cherubim was 15 feet, each wing being 7½ feet long. Their outspread wings reached from wall to wall in the Most Holy Place, while their inner wings touched at the center of the room.”
Mary didn’t know when she was standing outside the tomb that there were two angels sitting inside but there were! And even after she wandered inside, in her grief and through her tears she still doesn’t see the significance of the literally living cherubim before her. So they ask her kindly in verse 12, “Dear woman, why are you crying?” And without missing a beat she replies, “They’ve taken away my Lord and I don't know where they have put him.” But Mary’s not the only one to miss the messengers from heaven. Many of us miss them too. Perhaps, if we really believed we had guardian angels like the ones hovering over Jesus we would be able to cope a little better in this broken world full of loneliness and loss. And the good news is we do!
Matthew 18:10-11 says, "Beware that you don't look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father." Jesus tells the disciples that every child on earth has a guardian angel like the ones sitting in the tomb. These angels apparently fly back and forth from heaven, where Jesus says they are in the presence of the Heavenly Father. Hebrews 1:14 & 13:2 adds, "Therefore, angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation. Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!" That is a reference to Genesis 18 where it says the Lord appeared to Abraham’s tent door in the heat of the day. The three "men" were provided with a meal, but two turned out to be angels and they had come on a double mission: firstly to tell Sarah that she would have a son, and secondly, to talk about the fate of the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. We know this is true because after the meal, Abraham left the tent to set "the men" on their way and the next thing you read about in Genesis 19:1 is that two angels came into the city at evening, while the other man, who is referred to as "the LORD", stayed to listen to Abraham's plea for mercy on the town where his nephew Lot lived.
In the days when the kingdoms of Syria and Israel were at war in the 8th century BC, 2 Kings 6:8-11 describes how the king of Syria was frustrated by the constant discovery of the whereabouts of his advancing forces. Being told that the informer was Elisha the prophet of God, his agents tracked down Elisha and his servant to a small hill town in northern Israel. He dispatched a large army to capture the prophet, and surrounded Dothan with chariots and horsemen under cover of night. When Elisha's young servant looked out the next morning and saw this great host, he was terrified. Totally outnumbered by a cruel and sadistic enemy who would show no mercy, he might be excused for being terrified. Yet his master's reaction was quite different! Calm and confident, Elisha's response in 2 Kings 6:16-17 is, “‘Don't be afraid! For there are more on our side than on theirs!’” Then Elisha prayed, ‘O LORD, open his eyes and let him see!’ The LORD opened the young man's eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.” This is a reference to the angelic hosts of heaven. Psalm 104:1-4 says, “"Bless the LORD...who makes the clouds his chariot: who walks upon the wings of the wind: who makes his angels spirits: his ministers a flaming fire.” Daniel 7 says there are ten thousand times then thousand of them before the throne which is a 100 million but that’s really a phrase to say they’re innumerable.
Job 38:7 says they sang during Creation and Luke 15:10 says they rejoice with God when one sinner repents. Genesis 3:24 says the cherubim were placed in the Garden of Eden after the fall. Psalm 34:7 says they encamp around those that love God. Daniel 9 says one named Gabriel flew swiftly, touched Daniel, and proceeded to prophesy the date of the first coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. That same angel appeared to Zacharias the priest while on duty in the temple, and then to Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph. Six months later, Luke 1:26-33 describes how Gabriel appeared to Mary and Joseph and when Jesus was born the angels sang again and the shepherds heard them. And one day, when Jesus comes again, Matthew 24:31 says, Jesus will send his angels and with the mighty blast of his trumpet, they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven. If you haven’t seen your angel yet, one day you will! If they were there when Jesus was born and when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry [cf. Matthew 4:11] and they took care of Jesus in Gethsemane at the end of it as well [cf. Luke 22:43] don’t you think they’ll be there for you too? Whether we literally see them the way Mary did or simply by faith as Elisha did?
Isn’t that encouraging? Does’t knowing we too have angels ministering to us help us cope with loss? I hope so. That’s point number one. Moving on, John 20:14-16 says, “She [Mary] turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn't recognize him.” Does anyone else have days when we feel so disconnected and sad that we don’t remember that Jesus is always with us? Even to the ends of the earth [cf. Matthew 28:19-20]? I do. And so did Mary. So Jesus asks her the same thing the angels did. “Dear woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” But she thought he was the gardener.
So to make sure she recognizes him, he simply calls her by name. When you remember that Jesus knows your name, everything changes! His word becomes as good as His touch. And this is point number two. How do we cope with a broken world full of heartache and loss? We ask God to open our eyes to the multitude of angels who are ministering to us. Point number one. Then we remember that God’s word is just as good as his presence. It was Christ’s words that comforted Mary here not his hugs. Now don’t get me wrong. I think hugging Jesus would be awesome as well amen? I mean who won’t want to do that? But to the second generation of believers that John was writing to at the turn of the first century, it wouldn’t be personal encounters with Jesus that they could fall back on. This next generation of believers wouldn’t have seen him walking and talking the flesh. For them, God’s word would have to be just as good as His presence. And the same holds true for us today! Which is why Sabbath School and church and midweek and small groups and personal Bible reading is so important. Because if you don’t spend time reading it, eventually you may not want to! I think that’s why Jesus said in Luke 24:25-27, “‘You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn't it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?’ Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." Rightly understood, the Bible is all about Jesus! His Word is as good as His presence. If we really believed that, perhaps we would spend more time reading it. It’s foolish not to!
But even when we don’t and doubt, God still loves us like crazy! And this is point number three. What does Jesus call the disciples who aren’t there in verse 17? Brothers! “Go find my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Whoa! This is the first and only time in John that Jesus ties Himself so closely to His disciples. Earlier in John 13:16 he called them “servants.” And then a couple chapters later in John 15:13 he called them “friends.” But now in spite of their incredible faithlessness and fear and doubt, Jesus calls them his brothers. He had not yet ascended. He put the whole plan of salvation on pause just to comfort one crying woman. Then he tells her to tell his disciples that even though they don’t believe in Him, He believes in them! We know this is true because the heavenly coronation scene described in Revelation 4 and 5 hadn’t taken place yet. Jesus had not yet been glorified and the Holy Spirit had not been poured out yet as John 7:39 said it would be. And Jesus is anxious to do that. But by His faith in God and His faith in the disciples, He calls them His brothers before He had heaven’s assurance to do so! And the coolest thing is He thinks of us the same way! Hebrews 2:11, “So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters.” Isaiah 49:16 says He has written ours names on the palms of my hands.
How do we live resurrected lives with loss? We ask God to open our eyes to the multitude of angels encamping around us who are ministering to us whether we see them or not. Point number one. We remember that God’s word is just as good as his touch. And then finally, especially on the days you doubt and are hurt and confused as all followers of Jesus are sometimes, we remember that God loves doubters like crazy! He believes in us even when we don’t believe in Him! He thinks of us as His family! We are His brothers! We are His sisters. Heirs to everything He rightfully won at the cross. That's why we sing how great thou art! How great thou art!