The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.
Out of the different accounts which we have in the Gospels of the events connected with the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, this is one of the most graphic, one of the most interesting and one of the most compelling. When rightly understood, I do not see how anyone desiring to know the truth can meditate on this passage without being brought to saving faith in the risen Christ.
Our Lord had told His disciples on a number of occasions that He was to be crucified, but that the third day He would rise again. It is a singular fact that they had never seemed to grasp what He was saying. They were not looking for Him to rise again, so when they saw His head fall forward as He hung there on that cross after hearing Him pray, “Father, into Thy hands I [commit] my spirit” (Luke 23:46), their hopes were dashed in pieces. They felt that all His messianic claims were dissipated.
But there were those who still loved to linger about the tomb in which His body had been placed. A great stone fitted into a groove was rolled across the door of that tomb and then sealed. A Roman guard was set to watch that sepul-cher, for the enemies of our Lord remembered what His disciples had forgotten. They came to Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first” (Matt. 27:63-64). And Pilate said to them, a bit sarcastically, “Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can” (v. 65). And they did make it as sure as they could, but no human effort could hinder the working of omnipotent power when the hour came that God’s Son was to come back in triumph from the grave.
And so here we are told that on “the first day of the week [the new day of the dispensation of the grace of God] cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre” (John 20:1). Love drew her to that tomb. She and the other women hoped to go in and take care of the body in a way it had not been taken care of when it was hurriedly removed from the cross and placed in the crypt. So they were waiting for a time when they could perform this last sad office for Him whom they had loved so tenderly and whom they thought had been taken from them in death until the end of time.
But as Mary drew near, she was amazed to see that great stone rolled back, no one on guard, and the body of Jesus evidently removed. Apparently she did not go in and make a careful investigation, but ran immediately “and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved” (that is, the disciple John who wrote this book. John never speaks of himself as the disciple who loved Jesus—he did love Him, but felt his love was nothing of which to boast, but he could boast in the love of Jesus). So to Peter and John went Mary. She cried when she saw them and said, “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him” (v. 2).
Immediately Peter started for the tomb and with him John: “Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre” (v. 3). Peter had doubtless passed many an anxious hour since the death of his blessed Master. He could not forget that he had acted the part of the coward—he who had said, “Though all men forsake Thee, yet will I not forsake Thee.” Yet he had denied with oaths and cursing that he ever knew Jesus Christ. But deep in his heart he loved his Lord. He had been overcome by fear and cowardice and when this word came he hastened to see if it were really true.
We read that they both ran together, Peter, a man of mature years, John, a sturdy youth. “The other disciple [John] did outrun Peter” (v. 4). One would expect that. He soon outdistanced the older man and so reached the sepulcher before Peter did. We read that he stooped down and looked in, but did not go in.
Outside the city of Jerusalem near the Damascus Gate is that remarkable skull-shaped hill that most Protestant Christians believe to be the actual Calvary. Many, of course, still insist that the Calvary is found in the church of the Holy Sepulcher, which seems entirely inconsistent with this record. But this skull-shaped hill outside seems to be the very Calvary where Jesus died. “In the place where he was crucified was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre” (19:41). In that sepulcher they laid the body of the Lord Jesus. Today you can see this skull-shaped hill, and on one side of it there is a garden where a few years back they uncovered a sepulcher cut into the face of the cliff. It answers in every detail to the tomb described in the Word of God. As you draw near, it is natural to stoop down, as John did, and look in. The entrance, originally, was very low. Near this doorway there is a little window that throws the light upon an empty crypt, plainly visible as you peer through the entrance. The crypt is about twenty-four inches high cut out of the limestone rock, and in that crypt the body would have been easily seen, lying upon its bed of spices, if it were still there.
John drew near, stooped down, and looked into that entranceway, but he did not go any farther. Why? Because as he looked in he thought he saw that which proved that what Mary had told them was wrong. He evidently thought he saw the body lying there. So he did not go in. He doubtless said to himself, “Oh, poor Mary Magdalene, she made a mistake after all. They haven’t removed the body. There it is plainly visible in the early dawn.” But then came Peter, and he went into the sepulcher. He saw the linen cloths lying and the turban that was about His head not touching the linen cloths but wound together in a place by itself. The whole body had been swathed in these linen cloths. Peter did not stoop to look, like John, but rushed inside, and when he stood looking down upon that crypt he saw that which told a wonderful story. He saw the linen cloths just as they had been wrapped around the body, like the shell of the chrysalis after the butterfly has emerged. The cloths were there, but the body was gone! Between the turban and the linen cloths there was an empty space where the face should have been.
Peter looked on in wonder, “Oh,” he said, “My Lord is risen!” for he knew that no power on earth could have taken that body out of those linen cloths and left them in the condition in which they were, but the almighty God. Peter turned around and beckoned to John. And we read, “Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulcher, and he saw, and believed” (20:8). He could not do anything else! I think I can see Peter calling him in, and they stand there looking down upon those linen cloths, noticing that turban, the head no longer in its folds. Then they looked at one another and said, “He is risen!” “They saw and believed,” and we would have believed, if we had been there. We would have known that Jesus had been raised from the dead by the omnipotent power of God. They were compelled to believe, even though they did not understand. “For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead” (v. 9). But they had positive proof that He had risen, and we read, “Then the disciples went away again unto their own home” (v. 10). They were not concerned now about anyone stealing away the body. They knew that was an impossibility. The body of Jesus had been raised from the dead.
And then a few minutes later, Christ manifested Himself to Mary, who stood outside the sepulcher weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the sepulcher. The door itself was originally about three-and-a-half feet high. She looked in, and what did she see? She beheld two messengers from heaven who announced the resurrection to her. The two disciples had not heard these announcements, but Mary saw two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
When we stood in that tomb a few years back, I remember my wife turning to the friend who had taken us there, and she asked, “I wonder why they cut those little steps there at either end?” He answered, “Turn to your Bible and read.” And we read, “But Mary… seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain” (vv. 11-12). And the tomb itself tells the story perfectly.
And what did these angels have to say? They asked, “Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him” (v. 13). Her eyes, blinded by tears, had not been able to discern what had been so clear to those two men who had been there just before. But then she “turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away” (vv. 14-15). Notice the love of her heart. She did not even mention His name. She seemed to think all would know whom she meant when she said “Him.” I remember hearing a servant of Christ say once, “I often wish there were only one masculine pronoun in the world that it might always refer to Jesus.”
“Jesus saith unto her, Mary” (v. 16a). How I would love to have heard Him say it, would not you? It was the name of His own virgin mother. It was the name He had so often heard in the home in Nazareth, and it was the name now of a poor saved sinner, out of whom He had cast seven demons. “She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master” (v. 16b). She recognized Him. “Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not: for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (v. 17). What a wonderful story! How transparent it is, how clear! There is no effort to force things or to try to make people believe against their own better judgment. But it is so plain that it seems to me that any honest soul, reading it, must say, “Yes, there can be no question about it. He who died for our sins upon the cross has been raised again for our justification.” And now the message that we are to give to sinners everywhere is this, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9-10).
I am wondering if among my readers there are not numbers of people who perhaps have for years never definitely settled the matter of committing their souls to Christ. Will you not do so now?
Low in the grave He lay—
Jesus, my Saviour! Waiting the coming day—
Jesus, my Lord! Up from the grave
He arose With a mighty triumph o’er His foes;
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever with His saints to reign:
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!