John 20:11-23 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 87)
But Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 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.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 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.’ ” 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. On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
“Paul’s insistence that we participate in the same resurrection as Jesus is congruent with Jesus’ actions and words to his assembled disciples on the evening of his resurrection when he ‘breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (John 20:22).’ ‘The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead’—that’s Paul’s phrase in Romans 8:11—is the same Spirit that Jesus breathed on them. Jesus’ followers live resurrection-formed lives, not by watching him or imitating him or being influenced by him, but by being raised with him. It’s formation-by-resurrection. There’s an interesting echo of the Creation story in this. The word John uses for Jesus’ action in breathing the Holy Spirit on them—emphusao—is the same verb used in Genesis 2 for God’s breathing the ‘breath of life’ into the human form he had just made, resulting in a ‘living being’ (verse 7). What God did in Genesis, Jesus did with the disciples—breathing the Spirit, bringing life, bringing resurrection life. The parallelism of the two texts—Creation and Resurrection—suggests that they are similarly basic. Resurrection is no more an add-on to human life than Creation is an add-on to that Adamic lump of clay. It’s life itself—the God-breathed, Jesus-breathed beginning of who we are and who we become by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Breathing.”—(Eugene Peterson, Living the Resurrection, 108-109)
It was evidently not a time to be crying. Twice Mary was asked, “Woman, why are you crying?” ‘They’ asked her and so did Jesus who was standing there, even though she did not recognize him at first. She thought he was a gardener and that if he had taken Jesus away she would go, get him, and carry him back to the tomb. She must have been a strong woman. (*Smile*)
Jesus didn’t do any tricks to awaken her senses to who he was. He simply spoke: “Mary.” I recall this: “The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:3-6) Seems to me that this is a perfect illustration of those words: “Mary.” All she heard was his voice saying her name and she knew exactly who she was speaking to.
I do not believe we will mistake his voice for another’s. But I also do not think that his appearance to her was simply to satisfy her longing or to assuage her fear or sorrow. He had work for her to do, and in order for her to do that work, she had to stop clinging. I like how Don Carson paraphrases verse 17 so that we might understand why Jesus told Mary to stop clinging: “Stop touching me for I have not yet ascended to my Father—i.e. I am not yet in the ascended state, so you do not have to hang on to me as if I were about to disappear permanently. This is a time for joy and sharing the good news, not for clutching me as if I were some jealously guarded private dream-come-true. Stop clinging to me, but go and tell my disciples that I am in the process of ascending to my Father and your Father.” (The Gospel According to John, 644)
And she obeyed: “I have seen the Lord!” No more tears for Mary. There was work to be done and she did not wait to do it later.
Then Jesus appeared to his disciples who were hunkered down behind closed and locked doors. He said to them, “Peace be with you.” They too were full of joy. Jesus shows them his wounds—his hands and side—indicating that this One standing in their midst was the Lord who had been crucified. The wounds are the unmistakable evidence that He was the One who had been crucified. And he was not just another Joe who had been hung on a tree: The wound in his side distinguished him from all others.
He repeats his blessing of peace. “I have told you these things, so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” “Our belief in God, historic as it is, is a belief in spite of history. Those who draw their belief from God’s treatment of them or their time must collapse in the black hour…What we must know is, which is destined to conquer, which is on its way to conquer, however unmarked, which has the reversion of the world, and has it on the guarantee of the Ruler of a world overcome already.” (PT Forsyth, The Justification of God, 192-193) Jesus stood among them as the One who conquered and He pronounced upon them the blessing of peace. If we have peace through the Resurrected Lord, then have we not peace indeed? This world was conquered before Christ ever set foot on it, before he ever felt the cold steel in his wrists, before the tomb was destroyed. History is against the Christian, but Christ pronounces peace in their midst, and in spite of history.
Jesus sent Mary to the disciples and now he tells his disciples that they too are being sent. And his commission here is this: “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not for them, they are not forgiven.” That is a lot of power, a lot of authority, and a terrible burden. But he gave it to them and they obeyed.
I have not unpacked a lot of the minutia concerning these verses. I’ll leave that to others. Allow me to consume a few more lines of space here to summarize and crystallize these thoughts:
First, he told Mary to go the disciples and tell them some things. Now whatever else we might say about all the minutia of these verses, this one thing is without question: Jesus Himself determined the content of Mary’s message (and, for that matter, the disciples’ message). Sadly, I think we miss this in the church today. I think we are far too content to think that we know perfectly well what we ought to preach or say or teach (probably because we think we know what others want to hear, or we haven’t listened to Jesus, or because we think his message weak and untrustworthy, etc.) when all along the content of our message is given us by Christ Himself. When Mary went to them, she told them, “I have seen the Lord” and she told them what Jesus had told her to say.
Jesus had a lot of confidence that Mary would do exactly what he told her to do, and it is a testimony to her that she was faithful in doing so. In the church today, we need to be obedient too. We need to make certain that the message we deliver is the message that Jesus told us to deliver. That message comes from His Word.
Second, John says that “Jesus stood among them” and declared to them “peace.” Well this sort of cinches it doesn’t it? There are many folks who are claiming a message of peace, but it seems to me that the only message of peace there will be is the one declared by Christ himself as He Himself is among us. We can simply dispense with the notion that there will be any sort of peace in this world apart from Jesus. It is Jesus who declares peace: The ultimate Shalom!
Third, Jesus gave the disciples an incredible amount of authority. Forgiveness of sins is no small thing and not something that we should mock. This responsibility, given to the disciples, is of immense importance to us. These disciples went out, armed in the authority of Christ to preach His message of forgiveness. That is, he told them the content of their message: Forgiveness.
They went out armed with a message that says this: There is forgiveness in no other place, from no other person, but Jesus. They had the message of forgiveness and if they didn’t forgive people then who could? Is Jesus then limiting where forgiveness can be had? I think He is. I think at this point he is laying a direct assault on all other forms of religious expression. Here Jesus is nullifying the message of any other ‘prophet’. Here Jesus is saying: Forgiveness can be had only through this message you will proclaim in my Name. (See Hebrews 1:1-4.)
But there is one final thing. This message of Resurrection, peace, and forgiveness begins with a simple premise and that is this: We are dead, we are at war, we are sinners. There is no need to proclaim “He is alive” if we are not dead. There is no need for “Peace” among us if we are not at war. There is no need for “Forgiveness” if we are not sinners. In this message, is a proclamation about humanity; a message we need to heed. There is no need for Jesus to send his disciples as the Father sent him if, in fact, all already belong to him or if, in fact, he doesn’t care about them. But they do not, and he does. So he sends his disciples out among the dead, out among the warring, out among the unforgiven. And we declare his message, only.
Soli Deo Gloria!