April 1, 2018
Last year Bill Conner biked 1,400 miles to listen to his daughter’s heartbeat. Twenty year old Abbey Conner had drowned and her heart was now beating in the chest of 21 year old, Loumonth Jack Jr. With tears in his eyes Bill Conner listened as his deceased daughter’s heart gave life.
After Jesus was crucified he was buried in a nearby tomb that was hewn out of rock. In that time, people were not embalmed. Expensive spices were spread onto strips of linen and then the linen was wrapped around the body to mask the odor of decomposition. A cloth was also placed beneath the chin and tied around the head to keep the mouth shut. A large stone was rolled over the entrance to keep animals and grave robbers out.
Of course today is Easter Sunday. We are celebrating the fact that Jesus has risen from the dead. He has conquered sin and death with an indestructible life. Because Jesus is alive we can have an ongoing, life-giving relationship with him.
I. LIFE WITHOUT JESUS IS INCOMPLETE. Jn.20:1-13
The first one to the tomb on Easter Sunday morning was Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Magdala. Magdala is a town located on the west side of the Sea of Galilee. In Lk.8:2 we learn that Mary had seven demons and Jesus healed her by casting those demons out of her life. In the spiritual realm, there are what the apostle Paul refers to as spiritual forces of evil and they seek to destroy the lives of people. I can tell you that such situations exist even today, and maybe you have personal experience along these lines.
Jesus healed Mary and Mary was eternally grateful. In fact, in Lk.8:2 we learn that she became part of a group of women who would travel with the disciples and Jesus and even provide for the ministry of Jesus out of their own financial means. Jesus was Mary’s Savior and Lord. She became a follower, a disciple of Jesus. Her life was being transformed as she was learning to walk in the way of Jesus.
Mary witnessed the crucifixion and death of Jesus. She watched as they laid Jesus in the tomb. The death of Jesus was a deep loss for Mary. Mary felt as if the bottom had dropped out of her life. What would happen to her life without Jesus?
If you have ever lost a loved one in death, you can appreciate Mary’s loss. Perhaps you lost a mom or dad early in your life and even today you feel the loss deeply. Perhaps your husband or wife died and the pain and loss is unrelenting. Perhaps it was a son or daughter, or a sibling. You feel as if you were robbed of a significant part of your life.
And of course there are other experiences of loss. Maybe you lost your innocence because of abuse or assault. Maybe you lost your sense of worth and identity because you were mistreated or abandoned. Maybe you have lost your way because of destructive choices and habits. When Mary was oppressed by those demons, she felt as if she had little control in her life and felt helpless in their grip. Maybe you feel that way. You wish you could go back and change things. Maybe in pursuing wealth and success you have lost your soul. Your life feels incomplete. And God? Well, God seems like he is long ago, in a galaxy far away.
On Easter Sunday Mary came to the tomb and was surprised to discover that the stone covering the entrance had been removed. Her immediate conclusion was that someone, “they,” had taken the body of Jesus. Now her loss was more keenly felt. How could she grieve knowing that someone had taken Jesus’ body? She immediately ran to tell Peter and John what she saw and then she made her way back to the tomb. She was all alone.
It is important to point out that no one was expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. Even though the disciples and others had watched Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead in Jn.11, they didn’t think Jesus could raise himself from the dead. Dead people can’t do anything. It is clear that Mary wasn’t thinking to herself, “Mmmmm, I wonder if Jesus has risen from the dead!” It never entered her mind.
In fact, look at v.11-13. It says, “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Really? What am I missing here? Was Mary so frequently in the company of angels that it seemed normal for her to be talking with them? In the Bible when people see angels they are usually very afraid. So deep was her grief and loss that even the presence of angels in the tomb of Jesus did nothing to give Mary pause.
Mary had enjoyed an ongoing, life-giving relationship with Jesus. She had never met anyone like Jesus. He changed her life. And that is why Jesus came to this earth. Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus is the clearest revelation of God to mankind. He was sent by God to become fully man for the purpose of bringing people into a loving, reconciled relationship with God. Jesus is the one who connects us with our Creator, God. Referring to himself, Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." Elsewhere in Mk.10:45 Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." In dying on the cross Jesus was providing the way for us to enter into a life-giving, sin forgiving relationship with God in the kingdom of God. Mary had experienced this renewed life with Jesus, but now Jesus was dead. How could he give life if he was dead?
Life without Jesus is incomplete because we were created by God to be in a loving relationship with him. But because of our self-will and self-filled lives, we have no room for God and we have all turned away from God. Jesus came to reconcile us, to restore a relationship with God.
II. LIFE WITH JESUS IS FILLED WITH ABIDING JOY. Jn.20:14-18
This is a beautiful moment. The resurrected Jesus reveals himself to Mary. She was so filled with grief she didn’t even recognize that it was Jesus. She thought Jesus was the gardener. She was still locked into thinking that Jesus was dead and someone had taken the body. But, obviously, Jesus had risen from the dead and was very much alive.
If Jesus had not risen from the dead the Christian faith would be null and void. In 1Cor.15:14, Paul writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” In v.17 Paul writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” It is because Jesus rose bodily from the dead that we can have life in and with Christ. And life with Christ is a life of abiding joy.
To say that Mary was filled with abiding joy is a bit of an understatement. Mary’s response was not just, “Great to see you, Lord.” Mary was overjoyed. She could not contain her joy. She just clung to Jesus in joy. Now Jesus had deep joy. And giving joy to his followers is what Jesus intended all along. In Jn.15:11, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” And even though followers of Christ face trouble in this world, Jesus says in Jn.16:22, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Jesus wants to give you his abiding joy. And his joy is given to us when we enter into an ongoing, life-giving relationship with Jesus
When Jesus revealed himself to Mary, Mary’s relationship with Jesus resumed. But it was different. Because Christ is alive he has eternal life to give. He gives us the very life that he has within himself. When Paul talks about being in a relationship with Jesus, he says in Col.3:4, that Christ is our very life.
When Jesus said, “Mary,” she recognized his voice. She clung to Jesus with deep joy. This was so great, so unexpected. She would never let go. But Jesus told her to let go because he was not going anywhere for the moment. He was not ascending to the Father yet. He was alive, never to die again. Because the eternal life that Jesus gives is his own life, everyone who has received his life is as secure as Jesus. His life is our life and so our life is indestructible, like his life. Think about this. The reality is that while Mary thought Jesus was dead, Jesus was standing right there in her presence. He was there and she didn’t know it.
Some 40 days after his resurrection, Jesus did ascend to the Father. He is not here on earth in the flesh anymore. Since that is the case, how can anyone today enter into life with Jesus? Like Mary we can’t see Jesus. But like Mary, Jesus is fully present. Today Jesus Christ is fully present through the Holy Spirit. We embrace Jesus by faith because we can’t see him. And yet, He is fully available to anyone who will have him. He has promised to give his eternal life to anyone who will embrace him as Savior, Lord, and King. Jesus has conquered sin, death, and the devil through his life, death and resurrection. He alone can give us life in the kingdom of God, and to receive his life is to enter into his abiding joy.
How do we receive his life? We must entrust our life into the hands of Jesus. Jesus transformed Mary’s life and brought abiding joy to her life. If you recognize that your life is incomplete, that your self-directed, self-filled life cannot bring you the fulfillment and meaning you desire, then I urge you to stop trying to gain your life by trusting in your own ingenuity and goodness. You are not smart enough or good enough to achieve eternal life with God. Let Jesus transform your life with his life. Let Jesus forgive your selfishness and sin. He died for you so that you can live with him in abiding joy beginning today.
The heart that Abbey Conner gave to Loumonth Jack Jr, is going to eventually give out and, like all of us, Loumonth is going to die. The life that Jesus gives to those who give themselves to him in faith will never die. This is why followers of Christ have abiding joy? Have you received the risen Savior, Christ the Lord? Amen