I do not know why these women decided to go to the tomb so early in the morning. For some reason they wanted to get to the tomb even before the sun began to bring a little light to the sky. However, one thing that is certain; they did not think that they were going to see a living Christ.
On the night that Jesus was crucified and according to their custom, they had prepared embalming spices to put on the dead body of Jesus (Luke 23:56). It was these spices that they had brought with them to put on his lifeless body. The women did not expect Jesus to have risen from the dead.
Of course, Jesus had told all of his disciples that he would come back to life after three days, but it all seemed just too incredible to them to think that it was actually true. These women were among those who followed Jesus, so they had also heard his words, but neither did they completely understand or truly believe what Jesus said about this. Like the rest, they thought that Jesus must have been speaking figuratively.
Perhaps it is understandable why they would not expect to see Jesus alive on that morning. They had seen the horrendous beating that Jesus received at his trial. The women had witnessed the appalling and atrocious flogging and torture that Jesus had endured three days earlier. So bloodied and mutilated was he, that it was astounding that he even stayed alive long enough to be lifted up on the cross of crucifixion.
Indeed, as he hung on that cross, he had died. They all saw his lifeless body hanging there. A Roman soldier had even driven a spear into his heart. No one could have expected him to come back to life.
Except of course, if they only would have understood his words, there was that fact that Jesus had told them that he would. For instance, on one occasion Jesus had told them, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).
However, it is probable that the disciples never did actually comprehend the full impact of what Jesus told them. Now, after such a horrendous death, if they did somehow hold out a hope that what Jesus said was true, it seems that they had no such hope now. They were now hiding in fear. At the arrest of Jesus, they had fled from him (Matthew 26:56), and after the death of Jesus, they were afraid and confused and wondering what to do.
An Early Morning Walk
The women were also wondering what to do, but they felt that they had to do something. They had prepared the embalming spices on the Friday before, but on the Sabbath (Saturday), they had not gone to the tomb. Now, early on the following day, on the first day of the week, they were fervent about getting there. Perhaps that is why they went so early in the morning.
However, in their haste, the women had neglected to think things through completely. They had not thought about how they would be able to get into the tomb to put the spices on the body of Jesus. There was a large stone that had been rolled in front of the entrance, a stone too large for them to move. The problem of how to enter the tomb only occurred to them as they walked to the place. They wondered aloud among themselves how could they remove this stone and who would do it (Mark 16:3).
Also, there were to be guards at the tomb, placed there to prevent anyone from moving the stone. This fact, the women did not know. These guards had been placed there on the day after Jesus had been crucified, on the Sabbath, or Saturday. This was done by the recommendation of the chief priests and the Pharisees to Pilate.
Apparently, on this occasion, the Pharisees were not so exacting about the Sabbath laws. They went to see Pilate and reminded the governor of the words of Jesus, when Jesus had declared that he would rise from the dead on the third day. These Jews wanted to make sure that the disciples would not come and steal the body and then assert that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead.
Pilate not only gave the Pharisees the guards that they wanted for the grave, but in addition to this, he also put a seal on the stone to secure it (Matthew 27:62-66).
The Women Arrive at the Tomb
Mary Magdalene and the other women were unaware of all of this as they walked to the tomb. They only knew of the stone and wondered how in the world they would get it removed. As they approached the tomb, the day was just beginning to dawn (Matthew 28:1).
Because of the darkness on the way to the tomb, the women had to keep their eyes down on the trail so that they would not stumble. However, as they neared the place, the day had just become light enough so that they were able to lift their eyes. As they did so, they saw that the stone had already been rolled away from the entrance (Mark 16:2-3).
Sometime very early that morning, there had been an earthquake. It was not a typical earthquake however, because it was accompanied by an angel of the Lord who had descended from heaven. He had come to roll away the stone. In fact, he was sitting on the stone when the women arrived.
The dawning of the day was not the only light that enabled the women to see the tomb at that early hour. The angel sitting on the stone had an appearance like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. So bright was he, that to the guards, he had a frightful appearance. When they saw him, they shook for fear and then collapsed, unconscious.
But the angel told the women not to be afraid. He told them that Jesus had risen and invited them to enter the tomb to see where he had once laid (Matthew 28:1-7). This they did, but despite what the angel had told them, they were still perplexed about what had happened. It seems that they still did not understand that Jesus had risen from the dead. Suddenly, two other men in dazzling clothing were standing near them. This time, the women were terrified at this sight and bowed their faces to the ground.
The men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again” (Luke 24:2-7).
Still, even with all of these words, the women did not realize the impact of what had occurred. At least Mary Magdalene did not. She ran off to find Peter and John (John 20:2).
It is a little unclear about all the things that were happening with each of the disciples and the followers of Jesus at this point, but it seems that the other women went to tell the other disciples, who received the news with a bit of skepticism. The words sounded nonsensical to the disciples (Luke 24:10-11).
Mary of Magdala (From John 20:1-18)
But today we will talk mostly of Mary of Magdala, since it is about her that we have the most complete information. She had come with the rest of the women to the grave of Jesus and saw that the stone had been removed. She apparently entered the tomb with the other women and heard what the angels had said, but their words somehow must not have really registered with her. This we know by what she did next. As I said, Mary Magdalene ran to find Peter and John (who called himself in his gospel, “the other disciple whom Jesus loved”).
Mary told the two men, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
By speaking of “they,” Mary had meant the Pharisees. The women who had gone to the grave did not know about how the chief priests and the Pharisees had gone to great lengths to actually prevent anyone from taking the body of Jesus. Consequently, seeing that the body was not in the grave, Mary Magdalene assumed that the priests had taken the body by stealth and done something with it. She was beside herself. What could those people have done?
Peter and John at the Grave
Upon hearing this news, Peter and John set off running to the tomb. Perhaps, as they ran, they recalled some of the words that Jesus had said about rising from the dead three days after he died. The two had started running at the same time. It was light by now, so they could run as fast as they could without fear of stumbling in the darkness. But Peter was old. He was no longer so fleet of foot. John was younger and began to pull away from Peter, and arrived at the gravesite first.
However, John did not immediately go into the grave. He merely stood at the entrance and stooped to look in. Inside of the tomb, he could see the linen wrappings, but there is no mention of angels at this point. The angels apparently did not reveal themselves to John.
Nor did they reveal themselves to Peter, who now arrives at the tomb, huffing and puffing. But Peter, being who he was, did not hesitate at the door as did John. Peter went right in. At this point John, who was emboldened because of what Peter did, also enters.
As the two men stood there, they saw only the linen grave wrappings that Joseph of Arimathea had put on the body of Jesus before it was brought to the tomb (Luke 23:50). Most of the wrappings were in one place together, but they noticed that the face-cloth that had been on his head was lying by itself, rolled up as if it were deliberately placed in the location where they saw it.
As Peter returned to his home, he marveled at all that had occurred (Luke 24:12). As the light of the day had dawned, it also dawned on Peter that Jesus really did rise from the dead. He was alive! John also, once he had entered the tomb and saw everything, suddenly believed all that Jesus had said.
Mary Meets Jesus
Mary Magdalene apparently was not with Peter and John when they were at the tomb. She probably did not return running as they had, and if she had been running, she had already made that trip running once before just a few minutes earlier, so no doubt was a little tired. By the time she arrived at the grave, Peter and John had already left. She had not met them when they were going back to their home. They must have taken another route, perhaps to tell some of the others.
Because Mary had not met them, she had not heard from them what they had come to believe about the disappearance of Jesus. They now knew that Jesus had risen from the dead. However, Mary was still thinking that someone had taken the body of Jesus away.
When Mary returned to the grave, this time she did not go in. She only stood outside and wept. However, like John did at first, she also stooped down to look inside. What she saw were two angels, one at the head of where the body of Jesus had been lying, and one at the feet.
“Why are you weeping?” they asked her.
“Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Upon answering the angels, Mary then turned away from the grave. When she did, she saw a man standing nearby. It was Jesus, but Mary did not recognize him. She assumed him to be the gardener.
Jesus asked her the same question as did the angels. “Woman, why are you weeping?” Then he added, “Whom are you seeking?”
Still believing this man to be the gardener, Mary said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
Jesus replied simply to her, “Mary.”
That was all. He merely said her name. He gave her no explanation of what happened, nor did he show her the nail prints in his hands, as he did later to some of the disciples. He did none of this. He said only her name. “Mary.”
When Mary heard Jesus speak her name, she suddenly recognized who he was. “Rabboni,” she said to him. It was a special form of the word for “teacher” in Hebrew and Aramaic. The writer John was specific in saying that she used this special word. It was not a word used in the everyday language that the people spoke, but the word, “Rabboni.” It was a strengthened form of the Hebrew word “Rabbi.”
The text does not say, but I think that Mary immediately fell to the feet of Jesus, where some months before she had been, anointing his feet with oil (Luke 7:36-37). This time however, it was in worship to her risen and living Lord. He had conquered death and was alive!*
Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I ascend to my father and to your father, and to my God and your God.”
As she did earlier that same morning, Mary Magdalene again left the grave to return to where the disciples were. This time however, she was not returning in aguish, but in great joy. “I have seen the Lord!” she told them.
That is the story, at least as closely as I could piece together from the four separate accounts of what happened that morning. Each of the writers included the aspects of the story that they wanted to, and left out what they thought unnecessary to what they were saying. That is why the stories differ. It is not that they disagree. It is only that the writers chose to emphasize different aspects of what happened that morning. Besides this, when one considers the very many events that were occurring on that morning, each account is very brief. There were very many things that had happened.
Something Magical Happens
But I would like to spend a moment or two talking about Mary of Magdala, Mary Magdalene. She had been told by an angel with an appearance like lighting that Jesus was alive (Matthew 28:6). The words and even the appearance of the angel apparently were not enough to convince her that it was true. She left the grave to go and find the disciples because she thought someone had taken the body of Jesus. When she returned, again there were angels present. Even with all of this, she still did not believe that Jesus could be alive.
Then she turned to see a man. The man was Jesus himself! She was still unconvinced. The man spoke to her, asking her why she wept. Mary did not recognize his voice, although she had heard it before many times. She dismissed the presence and identity of this man as the gardener.
“If you have carried him away, tell me where,” she said to him.
Then something magical happened.
Some might object to my use of the word magical, but that is exactly what it was. It was an enchanted event. It was, in some regards, like the kiss of the handsome prince on the cheek of the sleeping princess. It was an event that suddenly opened the eyes of Mary.
Jesus spoke her name. “Mary.”
That’s all. That is all he said. He did not tell her one more time that he was alive and try and convince her or to prove it to her. As I mentioned earlier, he did not show her the nail prints in his hands, as he later would to the disciples. He simply spoke her name and her eyes were opened.
She recognized Jesus. “Rabboni!” Mary said. “Teacher!”
Hearing Our Own Name
On a much earlier occasion, when Jesus was teaching some people, he said these words: “He who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3).
It is significant that Jesus says that he calls his own sheep by name.
There is a verse in the third chapter of Revelation where Jesus is speaking of the Book of Life. This is a book that the Bible refers to on only a few occasions. Actually, most of these references are in Revelation. Here is what Jesus says in that verse: “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels” (Revelation 3:5).
Jesus will speak our name.
In popular teaching of the Book of Life, it is said that when a person places his life in the hands of God and is saved by the sacrifice of Jesus, it is then that his name is written in this book. But the verse above seems to indicate that initially, all of us have had our names written in the book of life. It is only those who continue in their rebellion against the Lordship of Jesus to the end of their days whose names are finally erased from its pages.
But for those who overcome, they will always have their names written in its pages, unerased and unblemished. These are the names that Jesus will speak and confess before the Father and the angels in heaven.
The fact that all of our names are initially in the Book of Life shows that God desires that we all would live, every one of us. From that book, he calls us each by name to follow him. Alas, like his sheep who know his voice, it is only those who recognize his voice when he speaks their name who will follow. Those who do not recognize his name, will not.
Mary Magdalene heard Jesus talking in the garden, asking her questions. It was not these questions put to her that caused Mary to realize that she was speaking with Jesus. It was only when the risen Savior spoke her name that she recognized his voice.
Many today also hear the words of Jesus, but they do not recognize his voice. People spend their lives debating about the existence of Jesus, whether he was God or merely a man. They may have heard the words of Jesus for years, but still they do not recognize him. Any proof that Jesus would put forth, showing the nail scars in his hands or the whip marks on his back to convince them that it is he; these are not the things that help us to recognize him.
But when he speaks your name…well, that changes everything. We hear Jesus calling to us from the depths of our innermost being.
He calls us by name, and then he says, “Follow me.”
“Let me be to you ‘Teacher.’ ‘Rabboni.’ ‘Savior.’”
Perhaps Jesus is speaking your name right now, calling you to follow him. Do you hear his voice? His sheep follow him because they know his voice.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
He died so that we would not have to know an eternal death. He conquered the grave and lives again so that he might give us that life. Listen for him to call your name. Let him live in you today.
*These are both assumptions
*These are both assumptions