Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed.
We can say that this morning because more than 2,000 years ago there were people who saw the risen Christ. They were witnesses of the resurrection and seeing Jesus alive forever changed them. The good news for us is that they weren’t just witnesses of the risen Jesus they were witnesses to the risen Jesus, meaning they told people about him and their testimony has changed the world. For the next several weeks we are going to look at some of those witnesses and how what they saw changed them and how what they said and how they lived changed the world. Today we are going to start with the very first witness. The first person to see Jesus alive was a woman named Mary Magdalene. Mary’s witness is not just recorded in the gospels but her witness has also been turned into one of the most loved hymns of the church.
I come to the garden alone, While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear, The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own, And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.
I must confess that while I grew up in the church and probably sang this song hundreds of times, I never knew it was written from the perspective of Mary until about 12 years ago. It was Mary who first went to the garden alone, but it was the garden tomb where Jesus had been buried and she went early in the morning and when she arrived she found that the stone had been rolled away and while she didn’t see Jesus then or even know what happened to him, she was quick to give a witness of what she saw to the disciples.
Mary ran back to the disciples and told them what she saw and they ran to the tomb to see for themselves. They found the tomb empty and the grave clothes there and it says that they saw and believed, but let’s be clear – they didn’t believe Jesus was alive, not yet, they just believed Mary’s witness that the tomb was empty. While the disciples left the garden, Mary stayed. It was Mary who lingered at the last place where Jesus had been because it was Mary who loved Jesus so much that she didn’t know where else to go or what else to do.
There has been a lot written about Mary Magdalene through the years and it’s helpful to separate some fact from fiction. There is no evidence that Mary and Jesus were married and had a family but it is clear that Mary was a follower of Jesus. If women had been allowed to be considered disciples in those days, Mary would certainly have been a disciple. We know that Mary was not married because women were always identified by the men in their lives. Mary Magdalene was not Mary the wife of… or daughter of… or mother of anyone, she was simply Mary Magdalene which means she was Mary from the city of Magdala.
Where we find the most information about Mary is in Luke 8:1-3. So we know that Mary travelled with Jesus and she and some other women helped finance the ministry of Jesus and we find out that the reason Mary loved and was committed to Jesus was because he had changed her life. At some point during her life Mary had been plagued by 7 demons. These demons may have been actual demonic spirits, but they could also have been some kind of disease or mental illness which were often thought of as demons in the days of Jesus. Whatever it was, Jesus had healed her and transformed her life and Mary was so grateful and so devoted to Jesus that she gave up everything and followed him. She gave her life to help him.
There are some who say that Mary Magdalene was also the prostitute Mary whom Jesus had forgiven and the one who had anointed Jesus with perfume and washed his feet with her hair. While she could have been, we don’t know this for sure, but if we she was, the love and devotion seen by Mary at the end of Jesus’ life would make sense because Jesus was one of the only religious leaders who showed concern and compassion for prostitutes and other sinners and the grace and mercy Jesus offered gave them new life. What is clear is that Mary Magdalene had a strong love for Jesus and was devoted to him. She travelled with him and the disciples and had made this journey to Jerusalem with them.
So we know that Mary was there when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem at the time of the Passover and was probably one of the people crying out Hosanna. Mary was probably around at the time of the last supper, maybe having helped cook and prepare the meal that the disciples ate. Mary certainly heard about the arrest and trial and may have been standing in the crowd brokenhearted and terrified when people started shouting Crucify Him. Mary may have even walked the streets with Jesus as he carried the cross because Luke’s gospel tells us that there were women who wept with Jesus as he made his way to Calvary. We do know that Mary was at the foot of the cross when Jesus died.
For Mary, the tomb of Jesus marked the end of her hopes and dreams. She had given her life to Jesus and her love for him was strong and now he was dead and to add to her pain, his body was gone. Mary is devastated and her world has become empty. In Mary’s heart and mind it seems like evil has won and the world has become a dark and desperate place. Mary is not thinking she will see Jesus alive, she is only thinking that he is dead and someone has stolen his body. Evil has triumphed over good – death over life.
Mary stands in the garden feeling what many of us feel at times. The world has become a dark and desperate place. What we see around us is that evil and hatred rule the day. The bombings in Brussels have driven that point home once again. We feel the weight of darkness that comes with the violence of terrorism but we also feel the hopeless division and anger we see in politics and the desperation we feel with the illness of a loved one or our own battle with cancer or heart disease. Like Mary we stand disappointed that our future seems dark because our family and our future have fallen apart. But then, in an instant everything changed.
He speaks, and the sound of His voice, Is so sweet the birds hush their singing, And the melody that He gave to me, Within my heart is ringing. And He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own, And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.
It was one word that turned Mary’s world back around – Mary. When Jesus called her by name there was recognition and in that recognition, in looking up and seeing the risen Christ and the living Jesus everything in Mary’s life changed. Good had triumph over evil. Life did triumph over death. Sin and hatred, sickness and disease did not have the final say because the love of God won.
That is the Easter story. That is what seeing Jesus alive suddenly revealed to Mary, that the power of God is greater than the forces of darkness and evil that we see in this world. The power of love and goodness are stronger than violence and hatred and even if we are walking though dark and difficult times today – there is still hope. There is always hope because Christ is risen and Jesus is alive.
Mary witnessing the risen Jesus tells us that all the forces of hatred, envy and evil that tried to keep Jesus down and destroy him did not win and they never win. It might seem like it at times – the world does seem dark these days and we all walk through some pretty dark valleys when our lives feel pretty hopeless, but the message of this day is that God wins. The Apostle Paul said, we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us.
I love that line – more than conquerors. We don’t just win – we more than win – we win today and tomorrow and every day that will come and the victory isn’t because we are good or strong but because Jesus is. The victory is ours through Jesus Christ who overcame sin and death. Therefore there is nothing that can keep us down forever. Sure problems come and we will struggle but there is no power, no disappointment, no disease or depression or despair that will be victorious if our hope and trust is in Christ Jesus because the fullness of darkness was destroyed with the risen Jesus. That is what Mary witnessed.
Even death itself was destroyed and part of the Easter story we need to remember and celebrate each year is the triumph of life over death. Sometimes this is really hard to grab hold of because since the first Easter – everyone has died. Death comes to everyone and we see death a common enemy that we work to fight off, but we can face death very differently if we know that death does not have the final victory. In 1 Corinthians 15:54b it says, Death has been swallowed up in victory and that victory comes through Jesus Christ our Lord. For those who trust and believe this – that death has been swallowed up in the risen Jesus then funerals are never the final good-bye but just a temporary farewell because there is a resurrection coming for us all.
This is the song and melody that is given to us by the risen Jesus and this is what needs to ring within our hearts and lives because this is the power that can change us. Seeing Jesus alive turned everything around for Mary. Seeing Jesus alive gave Mary hope that her life could continue to be filled with God’s grace and love. It gave her hope that her future could be bright and once again filled with meaning and purpose. She could see in Jesus the power of good over evil and life over death and that changed everything for Mary and it can change everything for us if we will open our eyes and the eyes of our hearts. When we are able to see the living Jesus in the words of her testimony and the witness of others who have also seen and experienced the living Jesus and when we are able to allow this vision to open us up to experiencing for ourselves the risen Jesus – our lives will change and we will then be sent out on a mission.
I’d stay in the garden with Him, Tho’ the night around me be falling, But He bids me go, thro’ the voice of woe, His voice to me is calling. And He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own, And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.
Mary would have stayed in the garden with Jesus. She would have clung to him with all she had and never let him go, but that was not what God called her to – God doesn’t call us to witness the living Christ and then hang on to him, he calls us to witness the living Christ and then share him, look at John 21:17-18.
Go and tell that you have seen the Lord is not just an Easter message it is the Easter mission. Mary wasn’t called to stay in the garden to witness the living Jesus she was called to go and be a witness to the living Jesus. Mary was to go and tell the disciples that Jesus was alive – but I don’t think her witness stopped there. Mary was a follower of Jesus and so we know she was a leader is some way and while it is not recorded, it seems likely that she continued to tell people that Jesus was alive.
Mary shows us that our mission as followers of Jesus is to be witnesses to his love and resurrection in the world. We are not called to stay in the garden, or in church or in Sunday school or in our homes clinging to what we believe, we are called to go out into the world and give witness to the living Christ. We are to share the news that Jesus defeated death and forgives sin and overcomes evil with good and we are to work to bring this hope and light into the darkness of our world and our dark world needs it.
Our mission as the church is to give witness to Jesus and bring hope and light into the world and so today I invite you to be that kind of witness. When we share the Easter story, when we share the love of God or reach out to help someone in need, we are being witnesses of the resurrection and showing the world that the power of Jesus is greater than the power of darkness. When we give of our time, energy and compassion to someone else we are breaking the power of sin in our lives and overcoming evil in our world. When we love and serve others we are shining forth the light of God’s love and offering much needed hope.
I want to invite you to be part of the Easter story and a witness to the living Jesus by sharing the love of God in both word and action. Find someone who might need your love or reach out to someone who might need your help and make a difference in their lives. If you are looking for a way to help someone, please think about being part of our Serving our Senior day on April 23 as we go out into the community as the church to give a witness to the living Jesus. It is just one way we at Faith Church seek to offer the hope and love and life of Jesus to our world.
Whatever we are able to do today and in the days to come, may we do it knowing that God will bless our efforts and give us the strength and courage we need to go into the world because we don’t go alone. The living Christ goes with us and we know this because Jesus is alive and..
He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
Would you sing this with me?
Witnesses ~ Mary
1. Read the eyewitness accounts of Christ’s resurrection from the four gospels.
• Matthew 28:1-20
• Mark 16:1-20
• Luke 24:1-53
• John 20:1-31
How did this witness survive through history?
2. Who witnessed to you (shared with you) the truth of Jesus? How did their witness change your life?
3. How can you now be a witness of Christ’s resurrection?
4. Mary was told to go and tell. Where is God sending you? What message of hope has God given you to share?
5. We give witness to the living Jesus by bringing light into darkness. How can you shine the light of Christ by helping someone this week?
6. Be a witness by signing up to help in Serving Our Seniors on April 23.
And now, may the God of peace,
who brought back again from the dead our Lord Jesus,
equip you with all you need for doing his will.
May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ,
all this is pleasing to him.
To him be glory forever and ever.