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Mary at the Tomb

A Soutar

Mary Magdalene was highly privileged. Hers was the distinction of being the first of Christ’s followers to see the risen Saviour and to bear witness to His glorious resurrection. Before any other of the redeemed, Mary laid her worship and adoration at her Redeemer’s pierced feet. We may be sure that this privilege came to Mary in no haphazard way. It was directly the result of her devotion. She loved the Lord, and her love had issued forth in unswerving devotedness to Him. True, Mary of Bethany came beforehand to anoint His body to the burying, and that bespeaks spiritual intelligence of the highest order; but whatever Mary Magdalene may have lacked, she certainly gave to her beloved Lord her whole heart’s loyalty and love. It is John who depicts the scene for us, and we may well view it under the following three heads.

Mary weeping

"But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping" (Jn 20.11). The word "But" connects this passage with what has gone before. Mary had visited the tomb in the darkness and had found the stone taken away (v.1). Hurriedly, she came and told Peter and John. They ran to the garden to see for themselves. But neither John’s believing (v.8) nor Peter’s wondering (Lk 24.12) was sufficient to keep them there beside the empty tomb. They "went away again unto their own home" (v.10). Not so Mary; she stood, and as she stood, she wept. No wonder she was so signally rewarded.

Three women in the Gospels are seen weeping. The other two are found in Luke 7. The widow of Nain wept on the way to the grave where they were to bury her son. Hers were tears of grief, for her only son was now gone and no human source of comfort remained. "And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not" (Lk 7.13). Then He dried her tears by removing the cause of her sorrow, for He raised the young man to life again. Blessed Saviour! He is both more tender and more mighty than the children of men. His tender compassion and His all-conquering power blend perfectly as He moves amongst His stricken people, healing all that are oppressed of the devil.

The "woman in the city" wept too in the presence of the Saviour. She "stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head" (Lk 7.38). Her tears were tears of gratitude. The Lord did not wipe her tears, for it was pleasing to Him that those tears of grateful love should flow on. Simon had not washed the feet of his guest. But this woman did it: she rained tears upon His feet and anointed them with ointment. And when Mary wept she shed tears of godly devotion. "Why weepest thou?", asked the angels. "Why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?", asked the Lord. And the answer she gave was but added evidence of the love she had for her Lord and Master. In the days of His flesh our Lord Jesus Christ was not unresponsive to the weeping of those women. He met them in their need. He commended them for their love. He used them in His service. The passing of the years has brought no change in His tender care for His own, inasmuch as no change can affect His character and His person. To-day He is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Heb 4.15).

Mary worshipping

She had thought He was the gardener, but when the good Shepherd called His sheep by name the scales quickly fell from her eyes. She knew Him. She worshipped Him. She said, "Rabboni". Her heart overflowed with joy as the truth of His resurrection flashed in upon her. Only one word – "Rabboni" - but what volumes of meaning it contained, what stores of fragrance it enshrined! Let us remember that the quality of our worship is not dependent on the multitude of our words. Indeed, by our much speaking we may easily lower the tone of our worship. Let us learn also from Mary’s example how precious to the Lord is the overflow of an adoring heart. We may worship tremblingly and with faltering lips. We may have but five words to offer. Mary had only one! But who can fathom its deepest significance? Brethren, when the assembly is gathered together to break bread, let us not withhold the fruit of our lips. Sisters, let us not withhold the fruit of our inaudible worship. How often our gatherings are impoverished by our withholding! How often we fail to draw near!

"Rabboni"! The Jews had three forms of the word. "Rab", meaning a great one, was an honorific term, so could be used by a Jew when addressing his teacher. If the teacher was worthy of greater honour, he could be called "Rabbi". "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God", said Nicodemus to Christ (Jn 3.2). But the superlative form of the word, "Rabboni", was seldom on Jewish lips, for few indeed were worthy to be so called. It might be rendered, "My Supreme Master", the One who is worthy of the highest and the best that I can give. Twice only is the word used in Scripture. The other mention is in Mark 10.51: "Lord (Rabboni), that I might receive my sight". Bartimaeus, in anticipation of the gift of sight, said, "Rabboni"; Mary, in the glad enjoyment of its spiritual counterpart called the Lord by the same name. And thus she worshipped.

Mary witnessing

"Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (v.17). Having worshipped the Lord Jesus, she is now sent by Him to witness for Him. The order is significant. It is God’s order. Worship precedes witness. Peter mentions the holy priesthood before the royal (1 Pet 2.5,9). The saved go in and out and find pasture (Jn 10.9). Moses and Aaron, having first gone in, then came out and blessed the people (Lev 9.23). If our worship were more fragrant, our witness would increase in fruitfulness and power.

"My brethren"; this precious relationship is first rooted in Old Testament Scripture. "I will declare thy name unto my brethren" (Ps 22.22). The dark hour of His sufferings is now past, and with the first gleam of resurrection light there is unfolded this new relationship. We are His brethren.

Thrice happy who in Him believe,
They soon will share His glory;
Born of His Spirit, they receive
His sacred pledge of glory;
Taught by His cross, for sin they grieve,
He calls them brethren, and they cleave
To Him, their hope of glory.

-R.C. Chapman

He, the Sanctifier, and we, the sanctified, are all of one, for which cause He is not ashamed to call us brethren (Heb 2.11). Such is the dignity of this high calling. But the measure of our privilege is the measure of our responsibility. As brethren we belong to Christ and to one another. "One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren" (Mt 23.8). "Love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous" (1 Pet 3.8). Elsewhere, Peter tells us that this "love of the brethren" is unfeigned, or unassuming (1 Pet 1.22). It is a love that comes, not with great show or lofty pretension, but with true humility. It is love that rejoices when our brethren are raised, and grieves when they are brought low.

Bearing this glad message, Mary went forth to deliver it at her Lord’s command. Hers was a unique honour as she was the first human witness to the resurrection. She told the disciples that she had seen the Lord. And the risen Saviour graciously confirmed her testimony, for it was on that same day at evening that He appeared to His own in the upper room and showed them His hands and His side.



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