We view the Passion narrative with hope, knowing the “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey would say. However, the women and disciples who went to the tomb that first resurrection Sunday were overwhelmed by grief and despair. Hear the deep disappointment in the words of the men on the road to Emmaus as they spoke concerning the crucified Jesus. “But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).
Each of us has experienced the ups and downs of life. Some days we are filled with hope for our future, and other days it seems despair will overwhelm us. Life can often feel like a roller coaster ride.
- We were hoping to get that promotion and raise at work—only to be passed over one more time.
- We were hoping to have our first child— only to miscarry again.
- We were hoping the medical test would be negative—only to discover the cancer had returned.
- We were hoping our kids would avoid the typical teenage rebellion and mistakes—only to be heartbroken when the police officer came to our home.
At times, our hope seems pretty certain. At other times, the roller coaster dips to the bottom of the hill or around a dark corner, and robs us of every ounce of expectation we ever had. Is there hope after the darkness?
What will we do while it is still dark? (John 20:1–3)
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb (John 20:1–3).
Near the close of the sixth day of the week, the crucified Christ was laid in a borrowed tomb. Because of Sabbath laws, the women had been prevented from doing the customary care for the body. Yet, they watched where Christ was laid then went home to prepare the spices and ointments for anointing His body later. After resting on the seventh day, they now were going to demonstrate their love and care for the Master. Matthew and Mark speak of it beginning to dawn or the sun rising, but Luke said, “very early in the morning,” which indicates it was probably before sunrise. How did she plan to roll the heavy stone away?
We sometimes tend to divorce or separate ourselves from the narrative of Scripture, but imagine this situation. Would you want to be wandering to the cemetery carrying an armload of spices and ointments in the dark? (Remember the demoniac Jesus had delivered in the tombs—not to mention the fact that Mary Magdalene had some experience dealing with demons herself.)
Imagine, how frightened or even angry Mary would have been to see the stone already rolled away! It was as if someone wanted to intensify her pain by robbing the grave. I would have been hotfooting it back to look for the guys, too! Hopefully, the sun was starting to peak over the horizon by now because this would have been some dangerous running ground. That didn’t hinder Peter and the other disciple (believed to be John) from running even faster to the tomb.
What do you do while you’re still in that dark place of hopelessness and despair? Do you focus on the obstacles to your deliverance and healing or do you trust that Jesus can roll any stone away? Are you carrying an armload of obligations and responsibilities or are you offering the sweet incense of intercessory prayer and ministry to the Lord? The Psalmist wrote: “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice” (141:2).
Sure, there’s light at the end of the tunnel and victory when the trial is passed, but will we continue to pursue Jesus even when it’s dark as hell in the hallway?
Will you keep looking for Jesus through the tears? (John 20:10–13)
The disciples didn’t bother to try looking for the missing body or the resurrected Lord. If they believed the empty grave clothes indicated He was risen, why didn’t they send out a search party to find Him. Instead, they went back home! Were they like the fellows on the road to Emmaus? Were they going back to have their own pity party?
Is that how we respond to seemingly hopeless situations in our lives? We could be out looking for another job, but instead, we sit home and pout over the one we lost. We could be going for a second medical opinion or, better yet, making some positive diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes to improve our health. Instead, we sit in the recliner with a big bowl of ice cream and sugar cookies, weeping salty tears. We could be seeking help from a qualified Christian counselor, pastor, or trusted friend. Yet, we stay home alone and nurse our wounds.
In His last sermon to the disciples (recorded by John just four chapters earlier), Jesus talked of leaving and going to prepare a place for them. He also spoke of persecutions they would face for His sake, but He didn’t say, go home and have a pity party. He said, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Mary might have been weeping, but she kept looking for Jesus through her tears. In fact, the word used by John for “weeping” means loud, uncontrollable wailing. Tears are not wrong. Scripture tells us Jesus wept, and He even cried out with a loud voice from the cross. Yet, there comes a time when we need to dry our tears and start looking for Jesus in the middle of our pain because He has promised that He works all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
The only time klaio (word describing Mary’s weeping) is used when speaking of Jesus’ crying is when Luke tells us that He experienced loud, uncontrollable wailing just before His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (19:41). As He looked over the city and wept, He said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace . . .” Knowing in a few days He would be betrayed and handed over by His own disciple to be crucified, He was weeping about their lack of peace.
When all seems dark and the difficulties of life seem to multiply, when the enemy tries to steal your joy and rob your peace, keep looking for Jesus through your tears. Keep believing in the power of the resurrection. Keep hoping for the Light of the world to penetrate your darkness! He died that you might have life and have it more abundantly.
Do you hear Him calling your name? (John 20:14–18)
Do you wonder how long Jesus must have been observing this scene with the disciples and Mary? Yet, He chose to reveal Himself at this very moment.
The first person to whom Jesus revealed Himself after His resurrection (Mark 16:9) was not a prominent Jewish official or temple priest. She wasn’t one of the 12 disciples He had mentored for the last three and one-half years. She was a woman! In that culture, women were not considered reliable witnesses in court. If He was going to pick a woman, why not Mary, His mother, or Mary of Bethany, who anointed Him with precious ointment just before His death.
After all, Mary Magdalene didn’t have the best reputation in town. She was the one out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons (Luke 8:2). Common belief is that she had been a prostitute. Regardless, someone under the dominion of demons would not have had a spotless past. In spite of who we are or where we’ve been, Jesus sees our pain and hears our cries of desperation—spoken or unspoken.
Jesus had rescued Mary from a horrible life of sin. If anyone ought to have hope, she should! One thing is certain, her passionate love for Him drove her to keep searching even after an encounter with two angels. So she asked this man she thought was the gardener—”Where’d you put Him? Just tell me, and I’ll go get Him!” How she planned to carry a lifeless man’s body, we do not know. Maybe it was her persistence that qualified her for His revealed presence!
He first asks her the same question the angels in the empty tomb had asked: “Woman why are you weeping?” He uses a title of respect similar to madam or ma’am. Her sinful, demonic past wasn’t His concern. Her tarnished history didn’t really matter anymore. She mattered to the Master. Her broken heart touched His heart. Her uncontrollable tears and loud cries reached His ears. Her despair and hopelessness were about to end because the answer to His second question, “Who are you looking for?” was getting ready to call her by name.
Jesus, speaking earlier to the Pharisees, had said: “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out (John 10:2–3). Satan is the thief and robber who comes into our lives to steal, kill, and destroy, but Christ has come to give us eternal and abundant life. He is the Shepherd, who calls His sheep by name.
Notice how Mary’s gloom turned to joy when the Lord spoke one word: “Mary!” The teary eyes of a downcast face may not have recognized Him, but her ears knew the voice of her Shepherd, her Deliverer, her risen Savior! She turned and addressed Him with a title of respect, “My great Teacher, Master!” I can only imagine how she must have fallen at His feet in worship and rejoicing. This prompted Jesus to give her a word of caution, instruction, and hope: “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'” (John 20:17).
Jesus called them “brothers” for the first time. The ones hidden away in pity and fear, still reeling from their failure and guilt, were now His brothers. He had paid the price for their sin and shame. He was now calling them by a new name! Imagine how His words must have stirred Mary’s heart. He was returning to His Father and her Father, His God and her God. The delivered demoniac is now a daughter of the King, a joint heir with Jesus Christ. She’s got to run and tell somebody!
If you are hungering and thirsting for a manifestation of His Spirit and power in your life, He delights in communing with you and granting the desires of your heart. The level of your desperation will determine the level of His manifestation—the manifestation of His presence, His power, His provision, His peace, His all-sufficient grace for your life—even in the darkness!