Risen and Living; Devotional Commentary for April 1-7
1Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.
2So she ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, whom Jesus loved. She told them, “They have removed the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” (GW)
In observance of the cultural conventions of the time, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early Sunday morning to perform the necessary burial rites. The other Gospels tell us that other women accompanied her and brought spices to fulfill the burial rites on Jesus’ body. But the writers of the Gospels give Mary Magdalene a position of prominence as the one who initiated this final service to the body of Jesus, her beloved Lord. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene and set her free from the bondage of the evil one.
On the way to the tomb, Mary and the women realized that there was a big challenge ahead. A large stone had been wedged into the mouth of the cave to seal the tomb. Mary and the women were wondering how they might move the stone from the mouth of the tomb. When they arrived however, they discovered that the stone had been moved. The mouth of the tomb lay open before them. Matthew’s Gospel says that a great earthquake had moved the stone from the opening of the grave.
The sight of the open tomb must have been a shocking surprise to Mary and her grieving friends. She went to the gravesite to perform the final rite of burial on the body of her Lord, but the tomb was empty. So devastated, she ran back to the disciples and found Simon Peter and the beloved disciple. She told them the terrible news that Jesus’ body was missing from the grave. Mary was probably hysterical, weeping uncontrollably and perhaps gasping for breath because she ran to the disciples to tell them that the tomb was empty and that Jesus' body was gone.
3So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb.
4The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first;
The disciples' initial reaction was to rush to the tomb and investigate the situation for themselves. They might have pondered as they proceeded to the tomb, perhaps Mary overlooked something that could explain what really happened. So they hastened to the tomb to check things and verify what actually took place.
Scholars tell us that the other disciple was probably john and that he was considerably younger than Peter. We might safely assume that there was likely some satisfaction on John’s part to report that he outran Peter. At any rate, they did not walk calmly to the tomb. Mary’s report had ignited their own fears. They felt the urgency of the moment. There must be some explanation, they probably thought as they rushed to the tomb. They must find out where the body of Jesus might have been taken, if that was indeed the case.
5and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in.
6And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there,
7and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.
Even though he got to the grave first, John did not enter the tomb right away. Perhaps a vestige of fear held him back. He did not know what he would find. He just looked into the cave and saw the grave-clothes lying in the tomb. He was likely present when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had laid the body in the tomb and might have recalled how they wrapped it in the linen sheets. But, Mary was correct. The body was gone.
When Peter caught up to John as he stood outside the tomb, he did not hesitate. He charged into the tomb to get a closer look at the situation. He also saw the burial wrappings lying there as did John just moments prior.
The first clue appeared as they surveyed the scene. Even though the scene was not terribly disturbed, the cloth that was wrapped around the head of Jesus was not lying with the burial clothes, but was neatly folded and put away some distance from the rest of the coverings. This was strange indeed.
If someone had taken the body of Jesus, they would not have removed the grave-clothes. This would be a gruesome task. To uncover the body and gaze at the bruised and bloody corpse would have been intolerable. For a Jew, touching a dead body would contaminate the individual and make him ritually unclean.
As Peter gazed at the evidence, there was no indication of violence. Rather, the head cloth was folded neatly and laid to the side. No body! Their expectation led them to the place where there was a body once before.
20:8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed.
Overcoming his apprehensions, John entered the tomb and stood beside Peter, viewing the same scene. After observing the evidence before him, he believed. But what did he believe? Did Jesus rise from the dead as He had told them He would? Or, did someone remove the body from the grave as Mary believed? What did he believe?
9For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.
10So the disciples went away again to their own homes.
The disciples did not understand the Scriptures. They did not grasp the truth spoken by the Prophets concerning Jesus Christ, the Son of God. They did not discern Jesus' own words which plainly declared to them that the Messiah must rise from the dead. They could not accept the truth even when the facts stared at them directly. The tomb was empty. So was their understanding.
Harboring their own doubts and hopes deep within the recesses of their hearts, the two disciples returned home with a grieving heart, a bewildered mind, and an empty understanding. They came to the tomb, not to Jesus. So they returned home with doubts even though Jesus Himself had told them everything before anything happened. The truth they knew was suffocated in their hearts by the doubt which overwhelmed their understanding, because they looked for answers in their own way instead of recalling the truth that Jesus had already told them. Their path of faith was paved with a debilitating chronic doubt. They returned home drowning in sadness and despair.
John’s Gospel is silent, as are all the Gospels, about events that occurred between the Burial and the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. One can only imagine the dismal grief that had settled over the small group of followers. Their hopes and dreams, so high during their years of ministry with Jesus, were now cloaked in grief, uncertainty, and utter despair.
Even today, as we look back in time and enter the tomb where Jesus’ body was buried, we share the emotions that surged through the hearts and minds of the disciples. This is incredible. Nothing like this has ever happened. This is contrary to the natural course of the life cycle. When death takes place, the dead is dead; not alive. So, dare we blame Mary for going to the grave expecting to see a dead Jesus? Dare we judge Peter and John for returning home in despair after a failed attempt at investigating the end of Jesus Who was dead and buried?
Unlike Mary, Peter, and John, dare we look at the evidence laid before us in that empty tomb, and hope? Or, like Mary, Peter, and John, have we been wrong in our observations about death? Has Jesus broken the cycle of life naturally followed only by death? Could it be possible that death is not the end after all?
Is this not the message of John’s entire Gospel account? Is this not the message that flows from the One sent by our Father in heaven? To these questions, all the faithful throughout the ages shout a glad AMEN!
Jesus’ message was not given in some veiled reference. It was declared openly in a simple statement of fact. Jesus' Word: the Truth lives on even after everything else passes. Jesus did not say this just once, but on many occasions in different yet consistent terms.
From the beginning of this Gospel, John has affirmed the unique personage of Jesus in revealing God's identity. Jesus is the only reliable source of revelation concerning the Will of the eternal God. Thus, the message of Jesus is conveyed to us from the very Heart of God. Jesus came to earth to reveal God, declare His Word, fulfill His Will, and make the Father known. Through His Righteousness, Sacrifice, and Resurrection, Jesus openly proclaimed God's gracious Redemption and His just Judgment. On this day, therefore, we realize that this astounding message is conveyed not merely in words, but in the indisputable fact that Jesus is no longer dead, but alive.
He is risen, therefore, we too shall rise in Him! Low in the grave He lay, but up from the grave He arose. Our LORD is risen. His Resurrection is our Hope. Indeed, He is risen!