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The Resurrection & Mary Magdalene

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JOHN 20:11-18  

There is something very moving about the first meeting of the risen Lord with any of his followers. There is, moreover, a wonderful condescension involved, for we have no reason to think of Mary as being a particularly important person. Yet it was to her and not to any of the outstanding leaders of the apostolic band that the Lord appeared first.


1.        Mary Magdalene

Everything in the narrative points to the specific ties that bound Mary Magdalene to Jesus:

a.        Magdala

Mary’s origins: “Mary Magdalene…” [20:1].

§         Μαγδαληνὴ - “Magdalene” [20:1], denotes an inhabitant of Magdala, modern Migdal, a town which lay about three miles from Tiberias on the west side of the Lake of Galilee.

b.        The Person

Mary’s personal history highlights how the Lord Jesus came to have a special place in her life.

§         She was the subject of demon-possession: “And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils” [Luk.8:2].

§         The number “seven” [8:2] points to the severity of the demonised state and the complete control the “evil spirits” [8:2] had over her life.

§         She had been miraculously healed by the Lord Jesus: “out of whom he had cast out devils” [Mar.16:9]. 

c.        The Prominence  

Mary Magdalene has a prominent role in the account of all the gospel writers with regard to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus:

§         At the cross: “There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome” [Mar.15:40].

§         At the death: “many women were beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him…” [Mat.27:55-56].

§         At the burial: “And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid” [Mar.15:47; Mat.27:61].


Love in the light of forgiveness: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little” [Luk.7:47].

2.        Mary at the Tomb

a.        The Early Arrival

The first person at the tomb: “came early, when it was still dark…” [20:1].

§         πρωῒ - “early” [20:1], ‘before’; ‘early in the morning’;

§         σκοτίας - “dark” [20:1], ‘absence of light’;

§         μνημεῖον - “sepulchre” [20:1], ‘grave, tomb’; ‘tomb built as a memorial’;

§         A woman would scarcely have ventured outside the city at such an hour with Jerusalem crowded with visitors for the feast.

b.        The Intention

The intention of Mary and the other women is clear from the evangelists:

§         The Matthew account: “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him” [Mar.16:1].

§         The Lukan account: “the women returned and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment” [Luk.23:56].


Mary comes to the sepulcher, obviously with the purpose stated by all the synoptics. She was bringing the spices which she, with others, had bought on the Friday evening.

§         It seems apparent that her presence at the tomb was to get close to the corpse as though in revering the tomb the presence of the dead person might seem close at hand.

§         In ministry one frequently encounters people who have lost their spouses, parents, or children, and the grieving person visits the tomb to “talk” to the person who is buried there. Or the bereaved person may sit at the kitchen table and “speak” with the person who used to sit there.

3.        Mary’s Grief

a.        The Discovery  

The discovery: “sees the stone taken away…” [20:1].

§         λίθον - “stone” [20:1], ‘stone, boulder’;

§         ἠρμένον - “taken away” [20:1], perfect passive participle, ‘to take up, lift up’; ‘to carry’;

§         The women had been concerned about the stone: “And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?” [Mar.16:3].

b.        The Conclusion

i.        The Invasion  

Mary Magdalene concludes that the body has been stolen: “they have taken away the Lord…” [20:2].

§         ἦραν - “taken away” [20:2], aorist active third person plural, ‘to take up, to carry’;

§         The third person plural – “they” [20:2] – is perhaps ‘a reference to the enemies of Jesus, perhaps especially the chief priests’ or the ‘crucifiers of Jesus’;

§         τὸν κύριον - “the Lord” [20:2],

§         ἐκ τοῦ - “out of” [20:2],

§         Mary’s concern is not that Jesus is dead but that his body has disappeared. Among the Jews of the near Orient at the time of Jesus the ‘grave robberies’ were not uncommon.

ii.      The Secret Action

The location of the body was unknown to Mary: “we know not where they have laid him” [20:2].

§         οὐκ οἴδαμεν - “know not” [20:2], ‘to have seen or perceived and hence know’;

§         The first person plural – “we” – indicates that other women were associated with her: “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices…” [Mar.16:1].

§         ποῦ - “where” [20:2],

§         ἔθηκαν αὐτόν - “laid him” [20:2], ‘to deposit’; ‘to place’;


The only display of love left for her to perform, she was now denied because the grave had been robbed.

§         The evidence of the open grave was provided as a trigger to point the way to the truth of the resurrection: “Simon Peter went into the sepulchre…” [20:6].

§         The evidence of the open grave plunged Mary Magdalene into a new depth of grief.

§         Mary’s love for the Lord Jesus had brought her to the grave “when it was yet dark” [20:1]; Mary’s lack of faith and her lack of knowledge plunges her into the depths of despair.

§         Mary shared her gloom and despair to others: “they have taken away the Lord…” [20:2].

§         Here was a loving heart crushed with grief, one groaning over irreparable wrong, without a spark of hope, that death was indeed vanquished.


1.        Mary Magdalene Returns

a.        Mary’s Inconsolable Grief

Mary returned to the tomb: “Mary stood outside the sepulchre…” [20:11].

§         εἱστήκει - “stood without” [20:11], ‘cause to be in a place’;

§         κλαίουσα - “weeping” [20:11], present active participle, ‘cry, wail’ possibly in the context of ‘ritual mourning’; ‘not a quiet, restrained shedding of tears, but the noisy lamentation typical of Easterners of that day’;

§         ‘the term is used for the anguished crying or wailing associated with mourning as at funerals and in times of bereavement’; “When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled” [11:33].  

b.        The New Evidence  

Mary peeps into the tomb: “as she wept, she stooped down…” [20:11].

§         παρέκυψεν - “stooped down” [20:11], ‘to bend over implying looking into’;

i.        The Angels

The heavenly messengers: “she sees two angels in white…” [20:12].

§         θεωρεῖ - “sees” [20:12], present active, portrays the idea of ‘silent contemplation’;

§         ἀγγέλους - “angels” [20:12], ‘messenger’;

§         λευκοῖς - “white” [20:12], ‘bright light’ so bright that it appears ‘white’; ‘bright, shining’;

ii.      The Markers

The position of the angels: “sitting, one at the head…” [20:12].

§         καθεζομένους - “sitting” [20:12], present middle or passive participle, ‘to be seated’;

§         σῶμα - “body” [20:12], ‘physical body’; ‘corpse’;

§         ἔκειτο - “lain” [20:12], imperfect middle or passive indicative, ‘to recline, to lay’;

§         The presence of the angels is a witness that the powers of heaven have been at work. The tomb was no longer in the hands of humans; it was at that stage enveloped in the mystery of God!

§         The angels are positioned in order to mark the emptiness of the space where the body of Jesus lay.


Mary may have returned hoping to find someone who would let her know where the body of Jesus was.

§         The angels are not merely interpretive angels but evidence that God himself has been at work.

§         The empty tomb cannot be explained by appealing to grave robbers; this is nothing other than the invasion of God’s power.

§         The position of the angels in the tomb is a witness that God, and not robbers, has taken Jesus.

2.        The Explanation  

a.        The Question

The angels do not play an important part in the narrative; their one function is to question Mary’s tears: “woman, why are you weeping…” [20:13].

§         τί - “why” [20:13], interrogative,

§         κλαίεις - “weeping” [20:13], , ‘cry, wail’ possibly in the context of ‘ritual mourning’;

§         The present active indicative pointing to her constant, unbroken, weeping.

b.        Mary’s Answer

Mary’s grief is so intense that even the presence of the angels in the tomb can spark no other answer than the same complaint: “she says unto them…” [20:13].

§         ἦραν - “taken away” [20:13], aorist active indicative, ‘to take up, lift up, carry away’;

§         τὸν κύριόν μου - “my Lord” [20:13], with personal pronoun, ‘the personal possession’; 

§         οὐκ οἶδα - “know not” [20:13], perfect active indicative, ‘to have seen and perceived and hence know’;

§         ἔθηκαν - “laid him” [20:13], ‘to put or place in a location’;

c.        The Variation

Mary repeats, with two significant variations, the words which she had addressed to the apostles [20:2].

§         She now says “My Lord” [20:13] and not “the Lord” [20:2], and “I know” [20:13] and not “we know” [20:2]; the relation and the loss are, in this case, regarded as personal, and not as general.


Mary’s answer to the angelic visitors was that her wailing was because she thought the burial tomb had been violated and the body had been removed.

§         The question may be in order to give Mary an opportunity to explain her grief.

§         Or, the question may be gentle reproof: by this time Mary should not have been crying.

§         The question, coupled with the position of the angels, was designed to point her to the possibility of a risen Saviour.

§         Here we witness angelic wonder at human incredulity. One crushing overmastering grief was still weighing heavily upon her, obscuring her vision, and breaking her heart.


1.        The Encounter with the Lord  

Mary suddenly becomes aware of the presence of another near the tomb.

a.        The About-Turn  

The vision of angels makes no impression upon her: “when she had thus said…” [20:14].

§         ἐστράφη - “turned herself” [20:14], aorist passive indicative, ‘to turn around’;

§         ὀπίσω – “back” [20:14], verb of motion, ‘behind, back’;

i.        The Cause?

Should we speculate as to what has made Mary turn around?

§         The angels may have made some motion at the sight of the Lord behind Mary?

§         Perhaps Mary heard movement behind her, or saw the shadow of someone behind her?

§         We can imagine also that she became conscious of another Presence, as we often feel the approach of a visitor without distinctly seeing or hearing him.

b.        The Appearance

The appearance: “saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus” [20:14].

§         θεωρεῖ - “saw” [20:14], present active indicative, ‘to look at, gaze’;

§         ἑστῶτα – “standing” [20:14], ‘standing up’; ‘cause to stand’;

§         οὐκ ᾔδει - “knew not” [20:14], pluperfect active indicative, ‘to have seen and perceived and hence know’;

c.        The Question

The first words of the Lord, His first recorded words after the Resurrection, are a repetition of the angel’s words, but with an important addition.

i.        The Gentle Rebuke

The first question is a gentle rebuke: “woman, why are you weeping…” [20:15].

§         γύναι - “woman” [20:15], vocative,

§         τί - “why” [20:15], interrogative,

§         κλαίεις - “weeping” [20:15], ‘cry, wail’ possibly in the context of ‘ritual mourning’;

ii.      The Invitation to Reflect

The second question is an invitation to reflect on the kind of Person she was seeking: “who are you seeking?” [20:15].

§         τίνα - “whom” [20:15], interrogative,

§         ζητεῖς - “seeking” [20:15], present active indicative, ‘search’; ‘try to find location of’;

§         He partly interprets the grief of the mourner by asking; she has lost some one.


There seems to have been something different about the resurrected Jesus so that he was not always recognised.

§         Mary makes no answer to the inquiry. Her heart is so full of the Person to whom it referred that she assumes that He is known to her questioner.

2.        The Subjective Control of Grief  

a.        Mary’s Reaction

i.        Mistaken Identity

Mary assumed that at so early an hour during the Feast only the gardener could be there: “she, supposing him to be the gardener…” [20:15].

§         δοκοῦσα - “supposing” [20:15], present active participle, ‘to be of the opinion’; ‘think’;

§         κηπουρός - “gardener” [20:15], ‘ground keeper of the tomb area which had a garden’;

ii.      The …. Question

The accusing enquiry: “Sir, if you have borne him hence…” [20:15].

§         κύριε - “sir” [20:15], ‘title of respect’; ‘master, owner’;

§         ἐβάστασας - “borne him hence” [20:15], ‘to bear an object’; ‘to carry away’;

b.        The Dead Body

Mary is still intent on anointing the dead body: “tell me, and I will take him away” [20:15].

§         εἰπέ - “tell me” [20:15], aorist active imperative, ‘to speak, say’;

§         ἀρῶ - “take him away” [20:15], ‘to carry’; ‘to take up’;


Why did she not recognise the Lord?

§         Was there something about the resurrection appearance of Jesus that caused the difficulty: “Jesus stood on the shore but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus” [21:4].

§         Is it this change lies behind the words of Mark: “he appeared in another form unto two of them” [Mar.16:12].

§         She was pre-occupied with her own reflections. We see that only which we have the inward power of seeing. Till Mary was placed in something of spiritual harmony with the Lord she could not recognise Him.

§         Mary’s answer presupposes quite a bit of knowledge of the circumstances. But that is quite understandable, given the depths of her grief. A thoroughly grief-stricken person does not make allowances and go into full explanations.

3.        The Re-union

The revelation made to adoring love, to personal love.

a.        The Lord’s Address

Jesus approaches her as one who knows her: “Jesus says unto her, Mary…” [20:16].

§         λέγει - “says” [20:16], ‘speak with a focus on the semantic content’;

§         Μαριάμ - “Mary” [20:16], ‘Mariam’;

i.        Personal Knowledge

Jesus has personal knowledge of Mary Magdalene:

§         He knows them: “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine” [10:14].

§         He calls them by name: “He calls his own sheep by name…” [10:3].

b.        Mary’s Response

i.        The Turning


Mary’s reaction is instant: “she turned herself…” [20:16].

§         στραφεῖσα - “turned herself” [20:16], aorist active participle, ‘to turn around’;

§         The further act of turning indicates that there is something in the way the name was spoken caught her attention: “the good shepherd calls his own sheep by name; the sheep follow him because they know his voice” [10:3-4].

ii.      Recognition

Mary addresses Jesus as she always has: “Rabboni…” [20:16].

§         ραββουνι - “Rabboni” [20:16], she calls out in Aramaic;

§         διδάσκαλε - “master” [20:16], ‘teacher, instructor’; the translation for the benefit of Greek readers;

§         The way that Mary addresses Jesus reflects her past association with him and also reflects a strong personal and affective component.


Anguish and despair are immediately swallowed up by astonishment and delight.

§         Jesus stirred the affection of the living, weeping person at his side by uttering her own name in tones that thrilled her to the heart, and created the now sublime conviction that he had risen

§         All the love and faith and joy of which her illuminated heart and mind were capable were poured into that word “Rabboni” [20:16].

§         Jesus thereby re-established the personal relationship that Mary thought she had forever lost.

§         Only now it was to be set on a deeper level than had been possible when Mary knew Jesus as “Rabboni”.

§         The promise: “I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me” [Pro.8:17];


1.        The Rebuke

Jesus’ word of rebuke: “Jesus says unto her…” [20:17].

a.        The Present Context

The present context uses a different verb to describe Mary’s action: “touch me not…” [20:17].

§         μή μου ἅπτου - “touch me not” [20:17], present middle imperative, ‘to handle an object so as to exert a modifying influence upon it, to fasten to’; ‘to hold onto, seize, grasp’;

§         The present imperative with the negative means ‘stop doing something’; ‘stop clinging to me’;

§         Equal to ‘do not hold on to me’; ‘the more natural use of a present imperative to indicate a prohibition against fastening oneself to the physical Jesus’; 

b.        The Synoptic Account

There is a clear similarity between Mary’s action and that of the scene in Matthew: “they came and held him by the feet and worshipped him” [Mat.28:9].

§         ἐκράτησαν - “held” [28:9], ‘to hold on to’; ‘to grab, seize’;

§         This was natural eastern custom and is an act of joyful adoration and, in this case, and act of “worship” [28:9].


She apparently fell in speechless, passionate affection at his feet; but with the idea that now the old relations between Teacher and loving disciples would be resumed.

§         The title, while it reveals her devotion, reveals also the imperfection of her faith (contrast v. 28).

§         It was the realization of love rather than the perception of intellect. She rushed hastily to a very limited conclusion; and she suffered an obvious correction

§         The interpretation “Master” (διδάσκαλε), which, is added by the Evangelist, fixes the meaning, and excludes the higher sense of “the divine Lord”.

§         The church’s love for the King: “The watchmen that go about the city found me, to whom I said, Saw ye whom my soul loves? I was but a little that I passed from them, but I found him whom my soul loves: I held him, and would not let him go, until I brought him to my mother’s house…” [SoS 3:3-5].

2.        The Reason

a.        The Ascension

The reason given: “for I am not yet ascended to my Father…” [20:17].

§         οὔπω - “not yet” [20:17], ‘still not’;

§         ἀναβέβηκα - “ascended” [20:17], perfect active indicative, ‘to go up’; ‘to rise from the depths to the heights’;

§         πρὸς τὸν πατέρα· - “my Father” [20:17], “if you loved me you would rejoice because I said, I go unto my Father…” [14:28].

§         The perfect tense points to the incomplete process of ascending to the Father which commenced with the resurrection.

i.        The Ascension

The final departure: “when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight” [Act 1:9].

§         The Mark account: “so then after the Lord had spoken to them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God” [Mar.16:19].

§         The Lukan account: “it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven” [Luk.24:51].

ii.      The Significance

Jesus has not yet arrived at his goal; His “ascent to the Father” has not yet been completed. While He is on that journey Mary must not hold him back or want to keep him with herself.

§         There is no reason why Mary should not touch him: “the women came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him” [Mat.28:9].

§         Mary must not assume that the appearance of Jesus means that He was simply returning to the old life.

§         The summary of Jesus’ entire coming and work: “no man has ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven” [3:13].


With the resurrection, a new era and another kind of relationship between Jesus and his own was inaugurated.

§         Meeting and contact with risen Jesus must take place on another plain, namely through faith, through the Word, or in the Spirit.

§         The purpose of this ascent statement must have been to indicate to Mary that the way of relating to the resurrected Lord would no longer be through the physical senses because the ascent would terminate such encounters. Accordingly, clinging to the physical patterns of the pre-resurrected Lord was no longer possible. Even her efforts at revering a body in a tomb were gone because the tomb was empty.

3.        Mary’s Mission

a.        The Command

The story concludes in a typical biblical fashion of a theophany in which the one who receives an experience of God or the angel of the Lord is usually also given some form of commission: “go to my brethren…” [20:17].

§         πορεύου - “go” [20:17], present middle imperative, ‘to go from one place to another’;

§         πρὸς τοὺς ἀδελφούς μου - “to my brethren” [20:17],

§         “I will declare thy name unto my brethren…” [Psa.22:22].

§         εἰπὲ - “say” [20:17], aorist active imperative,

b.        The Message

The message: “I ascend unto my Father and your Father…” [20:17].

§         ἀναβαίνω - “ascend” [20:17], present active, ‘to go or come up’;

§         πρὸς τὸν - “unto” [20:17], ‘motion towards, with movement breaking off at the boundary of an object’;

§         πατέρα μου καὶ πατέρα ὑμῶν - “my Father and your Father” [20:17], first person personal pronoun singular genitive and second person personal pronoun plural genitive;

§         θεόν μου καὶ θεὸν ὑμῶν - “my God and your God” [20:17], first person personal pronoun singular genitive and second person personal pronoun plural genitive;

i.        Theological Implications

Because of Jesus death, resurrection, and exaltation, his disciples come to share in His sonship to the Father.

§         The last step and the goal of his saving work: “if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart I will send him unto you” [16:7].

§         The expression assumes distance between Jesus and his followers: “my Father and your Father…” [20:17]

§         The unique features of His sonship are presupposed: “the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father…” [1:18].

§         The shared privilege: “to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren” [Rom.8:29].

§         The privilege through faith: “as many as received him, to them he gave authority to become the children of God…” [1:12].

ii.      The Intimate Relationship

This is a theological statement contrasting the passing nature of Jesus’ presence in his post-resurrectional appearances and the permanent nature of his presence in the Spirit: “as many as have received the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” [Rom.8:14].

§         Jesus’ departure is to the advantage of the disciples: “it is expedient for you that I go away…” [16:7].

§         It brings them into the closest possible relationship with the Father: “I say not that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father himself loves you…” [16:26-27].


The last thing the disciples have learned about Jesus is that his body is missing.

§         They are now to learn that He is on the way to the Father to complete his saving task.

§         The message is to believers who by virtue of the “lifting up” of Jesus and the impending bestowal of the Spirit are to become sharers in his sonship with the Father.

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