Unfolding God's Story For Parents
John’s Gospel records that only Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb early on that Resurrection morning. Some scholars feel this contradicts the other Gospels, which state that other women accompanied Mary. However, in John 20:2, Mary uses the word “we” as she tells Peter of what was seen at the tomb. Apparently John knew of the other women; he just didn’t feel it necessary to mention them since Mary was the central figure.
It is obvious from Mary’s response and from that of the disciples that no one expected Jesus to rise from the dead. Only after his resurrection were they able to remember things he had said and realize that his death was part of the plan all along.
The “other disciple” mentioned in verse 2 was John himself. Even though he arrived at the tomb first, he didn’t go in immediately. Bold, impetuous Peter arrived after John and burst into the tomb to see what had happened. The body was gone, but the grave clothes were still there. In fact, the wrap that had been on Jesus’ head was folded up, not tossed carelessly as a grave robber might have done.
We aren’t told of Peter’s response, but we see that when John followed him in and saw the position of the grave clothes, John believed.
Peter and John left the tomb, but Mary couldn’t. For her, the disappearance of Jesus’ body was still a mystery. As she stood outside sobbing, she peered into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there. In her grief, it didn’t register who or what they were. Her response to the angel’s inquiry indicates that she hadn’t grasped what had happened. She was sad because she thought Jesus’ body had been taken away. She had no comprehension that Jesus had risen.
Why did Mary not recognize the Lord she was looking for when she turned around and saw him? Several factors probably contributed to her lack of recognition: She knew he was dead and was not expecting him to be alive, she may not have raised her eyes to really look at him because she didn’t want to show her tears, she may not have seen clearly through her tears anyway, and Jesus was now in his glorified body—he may have looked very different from when she had last seen him.
It is interesting that Jesus repeated the same question the angels had asked Mary. The angels and Jesus were both trying to help Mary understand what had actually happened. But she just couldn’t comprehend it until Jesus called her name. She knew the voice of Jesus and recognized him. Why did Jesus not want Mary to hold on to him? Perhaps he wanted her to realize that his physical presence was no longer so important. He would always be spiritually present in the Holy Spirit.
We are like Mary in a lot of ways, and this instance is no exception. Just as she was failing to live in light of Jesus’ resurrection, we likewise in many cases fail to live as if Jesus has truly risen. We live instead as if Jesus is present in our lives but not present with the same power that raised Him from the dead (Ephesians 1:13-14,20-23; 2:6). Rather than look down in despair, we need to listen for the voice of our living Savior in Scripture.
“My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). This is how Jesus described believers’ capacity to hear His voice and obey it. In John 20:16, we see a concrete example of this dynamic. Mary, one of Jesus’ precious sheep, heard Jesus say her name, and she knew with certainty that the good shepherd was speaking to her. Though we today haven’t received the opportunity to see Jesus in His glorified flesh, those of us who have experienced the new birth from the Spirit have effectively heard His voice.
Since Jesus has called us by name, we have no excuse for failing to heed His commands and we have every reason to live with joy and hope.