John 20: 10-18

(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg

John 20: 10-18 NIV

10 Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

If ever there was a person who provoked religious jealousy and envy, it was Jesus. You might know what I am referring to. When you meet a person who claims to have a closer intimacy with God than you do. We read their claim as spiritual pride!  It grates out nerves, it irritates our sense of spiritual inadequacy, our feelings of failure.  Our fears that we are not performing well enough for God, they come to the surface. And there are two possible ways of responding:  a posture of openness, a silent prayer - Lord, draw me closer, still closer to they breast, Nearer still nearer to thee, or there is the response of anger, and envy, and rejection, a posture of defence, where we reject the person and their claim because we receive their claim as judgment on ourselves. That was the way Cain responded to Abel, with anger and envy.  That was the cause of the first murder recorded in scripture - religious envy.

Jesus was a master at exposing that envy in the hearts of those around him. He claimed he was the son of God, and repeatedly throughout the gospels, especially the gospel of John, he uses the term of endearment “My Father.” And so often when he said “My Father” he used the words in contexts which claimed or implied unity, identification, oneness, communication, intimacy, closeness, love, mutual respect, even equal status. And to Jesus there were two responses, the closed defensive response and the open receptive response.

The Pharisees, the religious leaders, when they heard Jesus claims burned with religious envy and hatred.  Their response was to question him, begrudge him, challenge his authority, reject his claims, falsely accuse him of being aligned with the devil, and in the end they crucified him because he claimed to be the Son of God and he used the words “My Father.”

The other response, the open response is seen in the actions of those who followed Jesus. Seeing his special intimacy with God, they became disciples and followers, a good variety of men and women and children who in their hunger for God chose to be close to the one that was so full of God that to be near him was to be near God. They hung on his words. They repeated what he said. They put into practice the very things that he did. If he cast out demons, they did to. If he prayed, they tried to learn from his model prayer. If he was in the middle of the trials of life, walking with God, they wanted to walk close to him because the challenge of life seemed to distract them from God. Though his intimacy with God was more radiant then all others, at least when they walked close to him, he included them. To be close to him was to be close to God. Yet, not once in all of the gospels do any of the followers of Jesus make the same claim. Not once in all of the gospels do they dare say of God - “My Father.”

So we can understand the intensity of their grief when Jesus died. Not only was Jesus their teacher, he was their connection, their experience, their intimacy with God. When he died on the cross, their grief was not only the personal lose of a beloved teacher, it was the lose of their experienced relationship with God. Mary wept bitter tears because she had lost both, without Jesus, all had been taken away from her. To at least take care of the body, it was the least that she could do.

But then the body was gone. She met the angels.  Her complaint was filled with endearment.  “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him.” My Lord, My Lord, My Lord to be close to him is to be close to God! These were words of intimacy, closeness, fellowship.  Others would have envied her for the intensity of her love for Jesus, now they pitied her, for the man who brought her close to God was dead, now even his body was gone.

She turned around and saw a man who she supposed was the gardener. “Woman,” he asked, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
“Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

This was common conversation, culturally expected language between a man and a women, Women - Sir...

And then he said “Mary!”

A man addressed a women by name. This was intimate conversation that brought instant recognition and what followed was a cascade of realization, emotion and worship.  Mary turned, cried out "Rabboni" - an endearing word for teacher, and she fell to the ground in worship clinging to Jesus feet. He had called her by name! This was the name spoken by the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, who calls his own by name, they recognize his voice and follow him.

What follows confuses, at least on the first reading.

“Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Why couldn’t she touch or hold onto Jesus? After all, just 10 verses later, Jesus invites Thomas, the doubting disciple, to touch his wounds and see his scars and that invitation was given to Thomas before Jesus physically ascended and returned to his Father.
Why this instruction:  "Do not hold on to me?"  Theologians have pointlessly speculated.  Some suggest that his body was less than real, his healing was not complete, the list goes on.

The answer is in the instruction to the brothers ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Jesus used terms of endearment to let her know what was about to happen.  Jesus was letting her know, and the disciples know, that he was establishing a new intimacy with God, an intimacy that was not just his own, but an intimacy that would be shared with all the children of God throughout the world - an intimacy accomplished through the baptism of the Spirit that would come on the day of Pentecost, an intimacy which would only be possible if he ascended to the right hand of the Father and from there he would send the Spirit of power and of Sonship.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus said “My Father,” “My God,” now through the power of the Spirit, he gave his disciples an equal relationship with the Father so that he could say for them “Your Father,” and “Your God.”

No longer did Mary have to cling to Christ to experience closeness with God, now because of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, like Jesus, she would be enviably close to God. When Jesus said ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ he was promising the Spirit of Pentecost that would come upon his people. Mary need no longer cling to his body!  The Spirit of God would come.

That new intimacy with God, that experience of his love and Christ’s Lordship is what lies at Pentecost. And the presence of God Spirit is for us the same way today. Throughout history, Christians have given testimony to the power of God's Spirit to reveal the depths of his love to us. John Calvin called it the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit witnessing to our hearts that we are children of God.  It forms in us an assurance that is not conditioned on ourselves, it is founded in the character and the faithfulness of God.  I will never forget the first time I was baptized with God’s Spirit in a powerful way. I was street witnessing in downtown Edmonton, by myself on a Friday night, none of my friends joined me because of the miserable blizzard conditions. While I was walking down the near vacant streets of downtown Edmonton, the Spirit of God came upon me and enveloped me with such an overwhelming sense of the love of God that it was as if everything else in my life counted for nothing. I spent that evening talking to a young man who had a long track record of drugs and alcohol.  I told him how wonderful knowing God was and his conclusion was “I don’t know what you are on, but I sure wouldn’t mind some of it myself.”  He saw the intoxication of the Spirit of God, the wonders of his love. To me, nothing else mattered. Scripture talks about that reality when it says God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Rom 5:5)

The testimony of scripture is abundantly clear that the Spirit of Pentecost enables a new level of intimacy with the living God.
For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Eph 2:17)

5 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. ... For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8)

Practical application:
Maybe you  wish this powerful experience of the love of God could be yours.  Remember, there are two possible responses: a closed response, theological defences, envy, anger, or there is the response of openness, longing, trusting God, crying out to God for the present revelation of his love.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

6 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
   Ephesians 3

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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