I well remember my father telling me of a case of mistaken identity. He was attending a conference in a neighbouring village, and during the interval a certain brother pulled at his sleeve quite violently and addressed him using rather heated language: "Hey, Willie, you promised me bricks two weeks ago and I havent received them as yet". My father was rather startled and the other brother was extremely embarrassed. Yes, it was a case of mistaken identity!
After His resurrection the Lord was not recognized by some of those who were closest to Him. Mary Magdalene, who was near the cross and near the tomb of the Lord Jesus (Jn 19.25; 20.1-17), thought He was the horticulturist in charge of the garden.
Near the Cross
This position tells us of her:
Luke records that there were quite a number of acquaintances and women who had followed from Galilee, but they stood afar off. They watched but kept their distance. Mary was one of five who left the security of the larger group and identified herself with the crucified Saviour. There were three crosses on Calvary that day, but she stood near the cross of Jesus. There was absolutely no doubt as to where her loyalty lay. Do others know that we belong to Christ, or are we living at a distance from Him?
The decision to throw caution to the winds and draw near to the cross demanded courage. To show sympathy to One who had been crucified as a criminal was likely to be considered an act of protest and rebellion against the State. She and the other four could have suffered the same end. It still takes courage to remain near and loyal to the Lord Jesus.
Why would Mary Magdalene take such an enormous risk and expose herself to ridicule? How could she ever forget the change the Lord had made in her life? She had been delivered from not one demon, but seven. The Man of Calvary has won our hearts because He died to set us free.
The five who remained near to the cross were able to see more closely the pain and suffering and hear more clearly the words of the Saviour. We need to be led by the Spirit to dwell beneath the cross so that our love and devotion might be deepened.
Near the Tomb
The Holy Spirit paints a picture of Marys feelings and condition.
When Mary Magdalene left Calvary and the tomb, it seemed that all the lights of her life had been switched off. She had been a faithful follower of Christ, believed Him to be the Messiah, but now He was dead and buried. She left home early in the morning and John adds the words: "when it was yet dark". The sun still had not risen, and in the darkness she made her way to the tomb. The shadows of that morning reflected the deep spiritual shadows that had enveloped Marys life.
Mary went to the tomb in the company of the other women to embalm the Lords body. They went in fear and trepidation. To the women there was one outstanding problem looming ahead, a seeming insurmountable obstacle. Who would roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb? When they got there it was to find that the thing they most feared no longer existed.
Worry is an enemy and a thief. Anxiety is responsible for stress and heart attacks, as well as suicides. Anxious care robs people of peace and obliges them to carry tomorrows load. I well remember a small plaque that my mother had in a room in our home: "Today is the tomorrow you worried about and it didnt happen".
Many worry themselves greatly about tomorrow. Will I grow old and senile? Will my savings give me a comfortable retirement? What if my husband dies as a young man leaving me alone to bring up the family? Needless worry means that we have placed our cares in the wrong hands. Peter counsels, "Casting the whole of your care all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all on Him; for He cares for you affectionately, and cares for you watchfully" (1 Pet 5.7, Amplified).
Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty, but that in no way solved her problem. She was interested in finding the Lords body. We can attempt to rid and empty our lives of all that is ugly and sinful, and, even if we succeed, it will be nothing more than an empty tomb. We must have the Saviour with us and know His presence near.
Mary did not see one angel but two. Many of us would have been satisfied with a vision of angels, but not Mary. The heavenly messengers were courteous and concerned enough to ask why she was so upset. But the experience, marvellous thought it was, left her incomplete. The companionship of family and friends, brothers and sisters in Christ is of value and so sweet, but it is no substitute for the presence of the living Lord.
John, Peter, and the other women left the scene and returned home, but they returned without seeing the Lord. John had seen the linen clothes lying still in their folds, and the napkin still rolled up and in a place apart. The disciple whom Jesus loved understood the significance of these. The Lord had risen and left the clothes still in their folds. He believed in the resurrection, but still left without the Saviour.
No person can be a Christian who does not believe in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. All true children of God believe in His bodily resurrection. However, it is possible to believe the fact and yet not know in an experimental way the sweetness and comfort of the living Lord. Mary Magdalene refused to leave without the body. She received so much more. She had a personal encounter with her Lord. There is no one can satisfy the soul like the Saviour.
Saviour! Thou art enough
The mind and heart to fill;
Thy life, to calm the anxious soul,
Thy love, its fear dispel.
O fix our earnest gaze
So wholly, Lord, on Thee,
That with Thy beauty occupied
We elsewhere none may see.
-C. A. Bernstein
On turning round she saw someone she thought was the gardener. Was Mary so wrong? Was she so far out? Was she so terribly mistaken? Paul reminds us: "Ye are Gods husbandry (field)" (1 Cor 3.9). A few verses before, he tells us that it is only the Lord that can make it grow and become greater.
One of the first poems I learned when first entering school was, "Mary, Mary, quite contrary, How does your garden grow?". I wonder how Mary Magdalenes garden was growing? I wonder how is our garden growing? Do we have pleasure in inviting the Lord to inspect our lives? "Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out (in abundance for you in whom my soul delights). Let my beloved come into his garden and eat his pleasant fruits" (Song 4.16). Is the Lord pleased to call my garden His?
The Lord breathed Marys name and in that moment she recognized His tender voice. Her tears were dried, her fears allayed, and she went from the garden and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord (Jn 20.18).
Many of the Lords people are crying, but not for the same reason. Some are crying because of failure, the distance they have put between themselves and Him, or because of some unconfessed sin. Mary told the Lord what was causing her so many tears and found the solution in Him and by confessing Him to be her Master. Others are shedding bitter tears caused by loss, by loss of health, by problems faced by a loved one, or even over rebellious children. The Lord is risen and speaks your name in tenderness to calm your fears and dry your tears.
To be continued.