“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:11–18, ESV)
John went into the tomb and believed when he saw the linens that Jesus was buried in laying there and His face linen neatly folded. He knew that Jesus truly was who He had said He was, and he then went away with Peter. Mary Magdalene, on the other hand, stayed weeping outside the tomb. She was overcome with grief by the thought that someone had stolen Jesus’ body. It is not that she expected Him to rise again and that it was important that He be left untouched in order for this to happen, but it was quite possible that she found some level of comfort in knowing where His body was and that she could be there.
After Peter and John left we read that Mary went and stooped herself to look into the tomb, and when she did we read that she “saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.” We read that she saw two angels, and I can assume that she recognized them as such but I can’t really be certain. But the verse reads what she saw was two angels and they asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” As amazing as it would be to see two angels and to know in some way that God was present at that moment, she responded with her focus on what she thought man had done saying, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Mary was so focused on Jesus’ body not being there that she totally missed the possibility that maybe God had done something incredibly miraculous and that maybe Jesus had risen just as He had said. Mary was so stricken by His missing body that she saw only the hand of man to do something with it, and when they asked her why she was crying, her response evidenced her thinking by saying that “they” had taken away the body of her beloved Lord and she did not know where they had placed it. Clearly she loved Jesus. Clearly she followed Him as her Lord, but what she had expected after His death spoke to the fact that she still expected to see a slain body.
We read that it was then that she turned around to look behind her (outside the tomb) to spot another individual who in her grief she supposed to be the gardener who was watching her. When she spotted him, he asked her why she was weeping and what it was that she was looking for. As amazing as it is to think that Jesus knew exactly why she was weeping and Who she was looking for, He spoke to her and asked her those questions. But hearing His questions and even His voice Mary did not recognize Him to be her resurrected Lord. She did not expect Him to be alive, and she did not recognize Him as being alive. This was not one of the options she considered. What she knew was that Jesus’ body had been laid there on Friday and now on Sunday it was gone. Supposing him to be the gardener Mary asked him if he had possibly taken the body of her Lord. Knowing that it was late on Friday when He died, and in trying to deal with His body before sunset they wound up laying Him in a borrowed tomb for expediency sake. Maybe she thought the owner had changed his mind or that the tomb was made available on a temporary basis until something else could be arranged. For some reason Hos body was moved and she asked the man if he had taken it and where he might have laid it. She even offered to take Jesus’ body away herself so that she could properly tend to it and take it off the gardener’s hands.
There is obviously a great deal of emotion involved here, and we can only guess to a limited degree what was going through Mary’s heart and mind at that moment. Clearly she loved Jesus, and clearly she wanted to make sure that His body was safe. If they did not want it there she would take it away. It seems that after answering the man, Mary again turned toward the tomb. We read that the supposed gardener then spoke again, saying her name, Mary,” and Mary turned back toward Him. This man called her by her name and instantly everything changed. He was no longer the gardener who moved the body of her Lord, He was her Lord standing there right before her eyes. Mary immediately recognized Him and cried out “Rabboni” which we read means teacher, but to her it surely meant so much more. Jesus, whom she loved, was alive!! I can only imagine the excitement with which she leapt toward Him and grabbed onto Him. It must have been a full and enduring embrace as Jesus then spoke to her, saying, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father….”
Jesus had been telling them that His going to the cross would precede His resurrection which would be followed by His return to the Father. Surely He had risen, but He reminded her that it was not finished yet. He still had not returned to the Father. He had not returned to glory, and His doing so would have to occur before the rest of them could join Him. Having told her that He had not yet ascended He instructed Mary to leave Him and go tell the others. She was to tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” He was not just going back to His Father, but He was returning to their Father and their God. Jesus brought her and the rest of this disciples into the perfect plan of God which was to be brought into His presence where they would be with Him as their Father and their God forever.
Having received this instruction, Mary did exactly as she was told, announcing to the disciples, ““I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.”
There is so much in this, but the one that struck me the most today was that when Jesus spoke her name she immediately knew Jesus for who He is. As I thought on this I thought of other passages which tell us of how we are called by God, that He knows each one of us and He chooses us to be His. Earlier John wrote the words of Jesus in one of His many sheep/shepherd illustrations and parables, "…The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (4) When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” (John 10:3–4, ESV)
Jesus told Mary that He had to go before them, but having heard His voice they were to follow Him. Go and tell this to the rest of the disciples so that they might know as well.
“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:9–11, ESV)
No one took Jesus body. This is the way of the thief. No, He had laid down His life for His sheep and He took it back up again so we might be saved and live.
“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”” (John 10:17–18, ESV)
Jesus said this before He was crucified, and now Mary was an eyewitness of His truthfulness.