Easter Worship 2004 mary magdalene chronology
A Possible Chronology of Resurrection Morning
Though often overlooked, Mary Magdalene is a major figure in the gospel accounts of the death and resurrection of Christ. She’ll provide a good platform for trying to feel our way through the resurrection weekend. I should say at the beginning that I cannot promise that I have every detail correct about the order in which the events occurred. If you have not personally taken the resurrection accounts in the 4 gospels and harmonized them, let me encourage you to do that for yourself. It is a difficult challenge, and you may well come to different conclusions that I have.
Her home was the city of Magdala. There are many “Mary”s in the gospels, and this is the one from Magdala, so she is called Mary the Magdalene. We know nothing about her background. She shows up early in Jesus’ ministry, when (Luke 8:1-2) “He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out… and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means.” This group of women used to “follow Him and minister to Him” (Matt. 27:55-56).
Obviously He had done something absolutely dramatic for her. He freed her from being controlled by not one or two but seven demons. But don’t think that the demons were Mary’s only problem. As she listened to Christ it became obvious that sin was the real problem. And how much sin had dominated the life of a woman possessed by demons! Though the deliverance from the demons was a mighty act, she surely knew that she must have forgiveness of sins. Jesus claimed the power to forgive sins, and she believed him. She followed him. She wanted and claimed that forgiveness. And that forgiveness was ultimately the issue here. She did not follow just because the demons were driven out. She followed because she believed. She believed that He was the Messiah. She believed that forgiveness of sins could be hers in Jesus.
Apparently Mary Magdalene became the leader of the group of female disciples, because she is always named first, and sometimes named alone, and she is the spokeswoman after the resurrection. What a group of women this was! Unfortunately they have been too often overlooked. Not only did they travel with Jesus and the disciples, and serve them, and give for them, but they were there at the cross.
Matt. 27:55-56 (Mark 15:40-41) tell us that at the cross “many women were there, looking on from a distance, among them was Mary Magdalene.” But in John 19:25 we are told that Mary is “standing by the cross.” Maybe as the crowds gradually scattered, the women moved closer and closer until she was at the cross. The disciples, except for John, are apparently gone.
How did she get to the cross? We don’t know, but she may have heard rumor that Jesus had been arrested in the garden after eating with the disciples. She may have followed the trials from a distance, watching, wondering. She had seen opposition, but this was incredible. What did they have to accuse Jesus of? Had He done something wrong? Why the sudden arrest? Why is Herod involved, and Pilate? Imagine the heartbreak as the raging crowds demand the release of Barrabas. It must have seemed surreal and beyond understanding. She ends up at the cross and she watches him die. She sees his dead body hanging on that cross. She may have watched as the soldiers verified his death.
Surely the emotional trauma was incredible. You can imagine her thoughts tumbling one upon another, “Why is he dead? What does this mean? If he had power to raise the dead why couldn’t he stop his own death? If he is Messiah why was Pilate able to condemn him? How could he claim to forgive sins if he can’t even stop his own death by the mob? And what about my sins?” That last question was the real question. What about my sins? I Cor. 15:17, 19 “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” We don’t know whether these thoughts crossed Mary’s mind or not, but it is not unreasonable to guess that they might have. Her faith appears to be worthless because she is still in her sins; where else does she have to turn? We must remember here that with a dead Christ, you and I are in the same position: without a Savior, still in our sins, of all men most to be pitied.
She had nowhere else to turn, so she didn’t. She couldn’t leave. Probably she (and the rest of the women) stayed at the cross until Joseph returned from getting Pilate’s permission to take the body. Certainly they followed Joseph and Nicodemus as they took the body, wrapped it in spices, and laid it in the tomb. Maybe she was hopeful – hopeful that he wasn’t really dead – hopeful that something might happen. Matthew 27:60-61 says “Joseph rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave.” Apparently after Joseph and Nicodemus rolled the stone over the tomb entrance and were gone, Mary and the women were still there. Surely sitting and watching; probably weeping and confused. There must have been a great sense of finality as that stone scraped to a stop. Their hopes were over. He was sealed in the tomb. And sealed in that tomb was any hope of forgiveness. For her or for us.
Her hopes may have been dashed, but her love for Him was not. She and the rest of the women went home and prepared spices and perfumes. They loved God, so they obeyed the Sabbath regulations and rested despite their overwhelming desire to do one last act of service and love for Jesus. Surely they needed the rest, if they rested. Who knows how long it had been since they last slept?
Very early on the first day of the week – when dawn was just breaking, they headed to the tomb. They probably went early because they knew that what they were doing was risky. But they might have gone early because they were so eager to love Christ to the end. They were so eager that they failed to consider how they would move the stone. Their time with Jesus had taught them to pursue the things that are most important, and trust that God will take care of the details. So it is no surprise that they didn’t even think of the stone until they were nearly there.
They come around a corner, out of the brush, and the stone is already moved. They run into the tomb, but there is no body. Do not think that this was a moment of excitement, because they were not thinking of resurrection. This was a moment of confusion: When they entered they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this… (Luke 24:3-4). The word in Luke 24:4 means that they were entirely at a loss and confused. In that moment of confusion two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning suddenly appear. The women bow down to the ground, and one of the men says "Why do you look for the living among the dead? Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again’ (Then they remembered His words). Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: `He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'”
While those words are clear and make good sense to us, I think they were just a blur to them. At that point they hardly understand. They are excited because they know that whatever is happening, Jesus said it would happen. But they don’t know what it means that “He will be raised” on the third day. So the text says that as they ran away they were afraid, trembling and bewildered, like they were in a daze. Yet it says they were full of joy. Because they know now that whatever is happening things are OK because Jesus said it would happen.
I believe they fully expect the disciples to have an explanation. So they run back. They are not running on sidewalks. They are running out of a garden and across a valley and into Jerusalem. They find Peter and John, probably completely out of breath, and Mary says: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they put Him!” They didn’t get it yet that Jesus was alive! Peter and John say “No way” (Luke 24:11), but they know these women well enough not to ignore them. So Peter and John, with the women in pursuit, run to the tomb. Mary and the women follow because this is their hope for answers – surely Peter and John will know what is going on! The text says that when they got to the tomb, John saw and believed. But it doesn’t tell us what he believed, and it says that Peter and John left and they didn’t understand yet that Jesus had to rise from the dead. It says they went back to their homes.
Mary is left there at the tomb devastated. Jesus is dead and now his body is gone. The only men that she has to trust for answers have just left and gone home. And once again, she is left in her sins: left without a Savior. And maybe in a moment of final hope she bends over and looks into the tomb. And suddenly the men are back: this time the text clearly calls them angels. They say “Woman why are you crying?” She says “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put Him.” She obviously concluded that someone took the body. Maybe she thinks something is still going to happen. But that doesn’t help her because now the body is gone. So she is weeping, and her hope is basically gone. She is so devastated that it doesn’t even seem to startle her that two angels just appeared! As she starts to turn, she sees a man through her tears, and he asks her why she is crying. She think he is the gardener and says “If you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” And Jesus says “Mary.” She spins around and cries out “Rabboni!” The other women crowd around and Jesus says with all of the comfort you can imagine: “Greetings.” They fall at his feet and worship. And he says "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. [You don’t need to try to hold me here to get me to stay. I haven’t ascended yet, and I’m not going to for a little while.] Do not be afraid. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, `I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' Tell them to go to Galilee; there they will see me." Mary Magdalene surely runs to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" I’m not coming to you for an explanation this time – I have the explanation – “I’ve seen the Lord!” He’s alive!