Who Are You in the Dark?
April 21, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
John 20:1-18 Acts 10:34-43
What do you do when you are alone?
When Patti (my wife) is working, or out of the house, and I am home alone, I admit that I sometime don’t really do anything at all. But other times, I use her absence as an opportunity to do chores in the garage while her car is out of the way or, despite the fact that Patti doesn’t mind that I have hobbies, I sometimes take time, in her absence, to engage in hobbies, or work on my projects, without worrying about what other chores might need done around the house.
But what we do when no one is watching can be revealing.
C.S. Lewis once said, “Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching”
And 19th century evangelist D. L. Moody said that “Character is what you are in the dark.”
It is by that measure that we discover a revealing piece of the Easter story. In John 20:1-18, we meet Mary Magdalene…
…in the dark…
20:1 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. 2 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!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
On Sunday morning, the first day of the Jewish week, the earliest that it was permitted to do work after the sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene is up before the sun and already on her way to the tomb where Jesus had been buried on Friday. In an era thousands of years before the invention of the alarm clock, Mary is up and dressed and out of the house while the roosters are still asleep. It is almost certain that she has been awake for most of the night. And, while it is still dark, she discovers that the stone has been removed, the tomb is empty, and Jesus’ body is missing. In her despair, she runs to find Peter and John, and they return with her to investigate, only to find that everything is just as she had described.
After confirming what Mary had said in the first place, Peter and John go back to the places where they had been staying during Passover, but Mary did not. Mary could be in no other place than the place where she had last seen Jesus. She had followed him alongside the disciples for years, she had followed him and watched his trial, she had followed him and watched his crucifixion when almost everyone else had fled, and she had followed him that evening as he was buried in a rush before sundown.
But now, Jesus was gone.
And Mary could think of no place that she’d rather be than the last place that she had seen him. And so, she sat beside his grave… and she wept. But pausing to look inside the tomb again, perhaps for the twentieth or thirtieth time, each time hoping to see something different, but each time seeing the same empty tomb, and suddenly… there is something different. Angels. And the angels ask, “Why are you crying?” And as she turns away from the tomb she sees, but does not recognize, Jesus. Possibly because she was looking through her tears, and possibly because she simply didn’t expect to see a dead man to be standing upright and asking her questions. But everything changes with a single word.
Only Jesus spoke to her that way. Only Jesus had that voice. Only Jesus used that tone. It was a voice that she knew so well, and had heard so often, that it was utterly unmistakable. And she knew.
Mary may not have yet understood how, or why, but she knew that Jesus was alive.
And in the last moment that we see Mary Magdalene in all of scripture, she goes to tell the disciples what she had seen and what she had heard.
Think about that for a moment. After spending three years preaching, eating, sleeping, walking, and living with the disciples, Jesus appears first to Mary and not to any of the disciples. In a culture that was all about men, Jesus appears first to a woman. Surrounded by healthy people, Jesus announces his return to a woman who had been afflicted with, and whom he had cured from, demonic possession. This is one of the pieces of the story that help us to believe that it must be true, because it is completely counter-cultural. If you intended to write a fictional story in order to establish a new religion, this is clearly not how you would have written it. Unless it was true.
Jesus was alive, Mary becomes the first missionary of the Resurrection, and I think that it’s quite likely that it had everything to do with Mary’s faith. I suspect that these events may have been on Peter’s mind when he gave his great speech in Acts 10:34-43.
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
God does not show favoritism but accepts everyone who fears him and does what is right. We must go out into the world and tell everyone that we can find about the Gospel message, the Good News, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ because we are witnesses. We may not have been standing beside Mary or been in the room when she told the disciples, but we have surely seen the evidence of how Jesus has changed our lives and we know the miracles that he has done in our families and in the lives of the people around us.
We are witnesses.
Jesus has commanded us to preach, and to testify, that he is the one who God has appointed as judge, it is about him whom the prophets have written, and those that put their faith in him will be forgiven of their sins.
We know that Mary Magdalene probably came from a family that had money, but her life was anything but easy. When she came to Jesus she was described as having the worst case of demon possession of anyone that the disciples had met. She was said to have had seven demons, or allegorically speaking, a perfection of demon affliction. But unlike nine out of ten lepers that Jesus healed, unlike the thousands of others whom Jesus healed of various afflictions, and unlike even the disciples themselves, Mary Magdalene did the thing that Peter promised and couldn’t deliver. She stayed.
Mary. Never. Left.
Throughout his ministry, throughout his trial, throughout his crucifixion, Mary was there.
And in the dark of that Saturday evening, and the dawn of Sunday morning, Mary was there.
And so, if D. L. Moody was right, if “Character is what you are in the dark,” then on this Easter Sunday morning we know what kind of character that Mary Magdalene had but all of us are confronted with this question:
Who are you in the dark?
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