In the cold gray of the early morning three women wended their way through the darkened streets of Jerusalem. It was the dawn of the first day of the week, but their hearts were heavy. Their feet plodded slowly over the rough stones of the streets of Jerusalem. The day preceding the Sabbath they had seen their hope in Jesus of Nazareth crushed. They witnessed Him dying a cruel death by crucifixion. It had been their hope that He would redeem Israel and deliver them from their Roman oppressors; but now their dreams and hopes lay in the darkened tomb.
In their hands they carried spices. As their last measure of devotion they wanted to anoint the dead body of Jesus. Each of the women had her own peculiar regard for Christ. Salome was the wife of Zebedee (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40) and the mother of the apostles James and John. With her was Mary of Clopas, the mother of James the Less, another of the twelve disciples. Then there was Mary Magdalene, who had been delivered from a horrible life of demon possession by the power of Jesus. In another part of Jerusalem were other women having the same purpose and the same mission, likewise finding their way to the tomb in the dim light of the early morning.
Big Problem, No Apparent Solution
But they all had a problem. The tomb was sealed by a large stone. Could they get the heavy stone away from the door of the tomb and gain access in order to use the spices they were bringing? They did not know the solution to their problem, but nevertheless they continued on their way.
Unknown to the women, the garden where the tomb of Jesus was situated was in great commotion. The guards who had been watching the tomb of Jesus, as requested by the Jews to be sure that no one would steal the body, suddenly were startled in the darkness of the morning by a vision of angels descending to the tomb and rolling away the stone that had sealed the tomb. They fled in terror at this evidence of the supernatural power of God (Matt. 28:2-4).
When the women arrived at the tomb, all may have been quiet again, but the stone had been rolled away, the seal had been broken (Mark 16:4; Luke 24:2; John 20:1). What did this mean? For Mary Magdalene it could mean only one thing. Someone had stolen the body of Jesus.
Without waiting for further evidence, she fled the scene back to the disciples to tell them the tragic news. The other women, however, approached the tomb. There they saw an angel sitting at the right side of the tomb, clothed in a long, white garment. "'Don't be alarmed,' he said. 'You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him'" (*Mark 16:6). Shortly afterward other women including Joanna, the wife of Chuza, the steward of Herod, also arrived at the tomb and were apparently told the same good news (Luke 24:10).
But Mary had already reported to Peter and John that the tomb was empty and that the body was stolen. John and Peter hastened to the tomb. Upon arriving, Peter quickly entered the tomb and saw the evidence that the body was gone. The grave clothes were still in the form of a human body, and the napkin, which had been over the head, was neatly folded in a place by itself. The silent testimony that Jesus was risen from the dead did not seem to dawn upon him. He left believing that the body was gone, but not knowing that Jesus was risen from the grave.
A Second Look
By this time Mary Magdalene had come back to the tomb for the second time. She was
weeping. She was sure that someone had taken the body of her Lord. Then she, too, looked into the tomb and saw two angels sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where Jesus' body had been laid (John 20:12). They asked why she was weeping, and she told them that someone had taken away her Lord and she knew not where the body had been placed (John 20:13). She no sooner had said this than turning back she saw Jesus standing at the door of the tomb. But she did not recognize Him. Jesus addressed the same question to her. "'Woman,' he said, 'why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for? — (John 20:15).
Mary through her tears still did not comprehend and thought she was talking to one of the gardeners. She pled with Him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him" (John 20:15).
It's Jesus, and He's Alive!
Jesus said to her simply, "Mary." She turned immediately and said unto Him, Rabboni!' (which means Teacher)" (John 20:16). Through her tears she had not recognized Christ in His resurrection body, but it was the same familiar voice, the same person. In her ecstasy she literally embraced Him. Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them." He disappeared. Mary Magdalene lost no time in running back the second time to tell the good news to the disciples, confirming what the other women had also reported.
In these dramatic moments, never to be forgotten and preserved forever in the Scriptures, is the record of Mary Magdalene seeing Christ in His resurrection body. Embedded in the scriptural narratives of the appearance of Christ to Mary is overwhelming proof that Christ had risen from the grave. Appearances to the other women, to Peter, to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and to ten of the faithful disciples that evening all add their weight to the scriptural proof that Christ actually rose from the dead. In all, there were seventeen appearances of Christ before His Ascension into heaven. Six further appearances to Paul, Stephen, and John occurred at various times after His Ascension.
Why Mary Magdalene?
Why did Jesus appear first to Mary Magdalene? Would it not have been more fitting for Him to have appeared first to Peter or to John or to His mother, Mary? Why was this obscure woman chosen for such a high honor? The testimony of a woman wasn't even acceptable by the courts!
The answer is quite simple. Because that's the way it really happened. Mary Magdalene was the first at the tomb in the early light of that morning hour. She was the first to report that the body was missing. She was the first to return to the tomb. She was the first to seek eagerly where they had laid the body of Christ. It was only natural that she should be the first to see the Lord whom she loved more than life.
As Christians enter into the full significance of the resurrection story, many lessons can be learned from Mary Magdalene. She needed no proof that Christ was indeed the Son of God, for in her own body, in her own spiritual experience, she had seen the marvelous transformation from demonic control to the peace and rest of faith that she had found in Jesus Christ. No confirming evidence was necessary that He was indeed the Son of God.
What was important to her was that Jesus Christ had been delivered from death and from the tomb, that He was now released to enter into His glorious estate. Her sad heart was now glad. Her hope was now all the more real that some day after He had ascended to the Father she, too, would ascend at the coming of Christ for His own.
What about the Empty Tomb ... and You?
Years have passed since that cold, gray morn in Jerusalem. For many centuries students
of the doctrine of the Resurrection of Christ have pondered the abundant historical evidence that Jesus indeed rose from the grave. They had examined the empty tomb as the witness to the Resurrection of Christ. They have traced the evidence that the disciples were willing to die rather than renounce their faith in the Christ who died and rose again. The disciples experienced a dramatic change from the hopelessness of death to the triumph of resurrection. The Gospel which they proclaimed bears witness of that transformation.
The power of the Spirit of God repeatedly manifests itself in the book of Acts. It all stemmed from that resurrection power that raised Christ from the dead. Even the day of Pentecost, with its record of the descent of the Holy Spirit to indwell the church, was based upon the certainty of the Resurrection. On that glad day, three thousand Jews, having examined the empty tomb and listened to the evidence, took their stand for faith in this risen Lord.
The young church developed and grew. It worshiped in a special way on the first day of the week in recognition of the fact that this was the day on which Christ had risen. The power of the gospel spread throughout the world giving the final evidence that Christ was indeed risen from the grave and that the power of His Resurrection was the creative power of God transforming the lives of those who put their trust in the Savior who died and rose again.
The epistles build upon the certainty of the Resurrection of Christ. From this evidence we can be assured that if we as Christians die we will rise again. More important in our modern day is the assurance that if we believe that Christ died and rose again we also can believe that He might come before we die, that we might be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also who believe in Jesus will God bring with Him" ( 1 Thess. 4:14). When this occurs, the Lord will descend from heaven with a shout: the dead in Christ shall rise and those believers in Christ who are alive and remain will be raptured, caught up to be with the Lord forever.
The Power of the Empty Tomb
The transforming power of God that is manifest in the lives of those who have put their trust in Christ is seen in that empty tomb, the resurrected Christ Himself, and in the promises that are assured because of His Resurrection.
Some day, perhaps very soon, other tombs will be empty. The church will rise triumphantly to meet the Lord in the air, and those living and remaining in earth who have trusted in Christ will be caught up to meet Him and be forever with Him. The Resurrection to which the Scriptures bear witness first revealed in the soft light of that early resurrection morn, points to another resurrection which may be very near as we look for the coming of our Lord.
"He has given us new birth into a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
– 1 Peter 1:3
*Scripture quotations are from the Authorized (King James) Version.