Sermon Series: Lord, I want to be better

John 20:1-18

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, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, 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 their homes, 11 but 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 “Woman,” he said, “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 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.’” 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.

Some believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ never happened. Others say it was a one-time event in the course of history. However, Mary Magdalene came to understand the resurrection did happen and was not an event, but an experience. Every time you and I encounter the risen Christ we experience the resurrection.

What do you believe regarding the resurrection? Do you believe it happened, or that it is a nice Bible story but highly unlikely. If you do not believe it happened, what would it take for you to believe? What physical or other type of evidence do you require to convince you of the validity and reality of the resurrection? If you were provided with sufficient proof would you then believe?

God does not always give us what we ask for or in the manner we request. God does give us what we need. While we would like all of the evidence up front, God displays that He is an all-wise God by providing pieces of information slowly and overtime so that we can digest what He has revealed.

Mary, Peter and John were among the first to arrive at the tomb. They went looking for a body, but what they found was an empty tomb. They went looking for someone whom they thought was dead and what God provided them with was signs of life. Before you and I declare something to be dead, we need to check for signs of life. Before we pronounce the last rites over a relationship, marriage, career, church, or any thing else we need to take a closer look to see if there are any signs of life. God gave them three signs, the stone had been rolled away, the grave clothes were folded up, and the body was not there. Each of these signs was an indicator that spoke to the fact something other than what they thought had taken place. The rolling away of the stone declared that God possesses the power to remove all obstacles from our path. While there are some impediments we struggle to move out of our path, God who is all-powerful clears the way for us by moving all hurdles great and small out of our way. The folded up grave clothes or linen signaled God could set free any B. O. D. Y that has been bound. The linen was wrapped around the body to keep it immobilized. Grave clothes are for the dead and that which has life needs to be free, not tied up. Therefore, God demonstrated that even though people, problems and life my try to tie us up – God is able to set us free. One of the most frustrating feelings is to go looking for something only to discover it is not where you thought it was. However, when things are out of place, God has to step in and put them where they belong. A principle of evolution is that all things change over time. Since this is true of all living things, why do we look for things to remain the same? Even in death things change from one state to another. It is called decomposition. Why then should we not also expect change to occur in life? As living organisms grow they move through different stages of development. Each stage takes us to a different place in life and in our journey. Problems in relationships occur when we look for people to stay in the same place as when we met them. The real problem is like Mary we are looking in the wrong place. We are looking for folks to stay the same when in fact God has moved them and taken them to a different place. All of these are signs that testify to God’s activity and are also signs confirming there is life.

Signs are like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle they need to be put together in order for us to fully comprehend the picture. Mary, Peter and John did not put the signs together, and therefore did not understand their meaning.

To facilitate our understanding it is necessary for the Lord to provide clarity. In other words, God provides additional information. Mary looked into the tomb and saw not one, but two angles sitting where Jesus’ body had been. The presence of angles in our life helps to clarify God’s love and caring for you and me. We are reminded in the Book of Hebrews that, “Angles are ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.” In our seasons of grief and distress God sends angles to minister to you and me. Life, and its accompanying suffering, problems, challenges and difficulties have the power to take us to some dark and desolate places. Before we can come back from where life has taken us we need to recover. Part of the recovery process involves God sending angles, people who care about our wellbeing, to minister to you and me. We will know they are angles because you and I did not call them, but rather they appeared. God sent them to us on a mission of mercy. We will know they are angles because they will take the time to help us process our feelings and work through our grief. We will know they are angles because they will inquire of us – “Why are you crying?” Angles don’t have to tell you they are there for you, their presence and ministry declare they are there for you and me. Angles hold the fort until Jesus comes.

What exactly did Mary hear? Twice she heard, “Why are you crying?” She heard it once from the angles and then again from Jesus, but Mary thought He was the gardener. Sometimes we can see Jesus and not recognize Him. How is this possible? Consider the songs we sing, Jesus is in our music but instead of seeing Jesus we see lyrics, notes and chords. Jesus is in our liturgy, but instead of seeing Jesus we see words, sentences, paragraphs and punctuation marks. Jesus is in the Scriptures we read and that are read into our hearing. Yet, we do not always see Jesus. There are times when we only see nice little Bible stories that speak of a time distant from our own. We see narratives about Jesus, and the things He did but you and I often fail to see the relevance, connection and meaning for our lives today. Yes, we see Jesus all the time, but we do not recognize Him. Therefore, Jesus, like He did for Mary, has to call and speak to you and me directly. How does Jesus speak to us directly? Jesus calls out to us and calls us by name. Have you ever felt a song, hymn or spiritual, word, line, stanza or phrase speak directly to you? Have you ever listened to a sermon and in that message received an answer to a problem you were facing, comfort and peace regarding a decision you made, or actions you needed to take relating to some matter became clarified? If you have experienced any or all of these things then Jesus was speaking directly to you. The primary reason Mary could recognize Jesus was because she had a pre-existing relationship with Him. Jesus said, “My sheep know my voice.” Perhaps one of the reasons you and I struggle to recognize Jesus is because we do not know Him personally.

Mary went looking for a dead man, however what she found and experienced was the resurrection. He whom she thought was dead Mary discovered He was alive and well. How about you have you experienced the resurrection?

If you have not experienced the resurrection, the text offers three steps to experiencing the resurrection personally:

1. Look for Jesus – wherever you and I go we should always look and watch for evidence of Jesus’ presence; if we look for Him, like Mary, we will eventually find Him

2. Listen for Jesus to speak directly to us – in every song that is sung, Scripture that is read and word that is proclaimed, Jesus has something to say in it to you and me; we just need to listen closely as Jesus is speaking

3. Live what we have heard – Jesus told Mary, “Don’t hold on to me,” instead Jesus instructed Mary to go and share the good news that she had just received; when we hear that Jesus said and it helps us we are not to keep it for ourselves, but rather we need to share it with others so they can experience the resurrection

Mary did not fully grasp what had just happened, she just reveled in her experience with the resurrection. It did not matter to her that she could not fully explain all the nuances; Mary was just happy and grateful that God allowed her to encounter and experience the resurrection. Prior to seeing Jesus Mary was in a dark place, but after she had saw and heard Him Mary experienced the resurrection. Resurrection by definition means to make a comeback. Life and life’s problems often carry us away and take us to some dark dreary places, but an encounter with Jesus Christ the Resurrection can bring us back. Have you experienced the resurrection?

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