April 20, 2019
Why did Mary Magdalene go to Jesus’ tomb so early on that Sunday morning? Mary Magdalene is known as the first witness of the empty tomb and of the risen Christ, but why was she there? She went there, as the other Gospels tell us, in order to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. You see, when Jesus died, they were in a rush to bury him. It was only a few hours before sundown. The Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday night and runs until sundown Saturday evening. Jews are not permitted to do any work on the Sabbath. So, in just a few short hours Joseph of Arimathea got permission from Pilate to take Jesus’ dead body down from the cross, then they brought him to a nearby tomb in the garden, and he and Nicodemus hurriedly prepared Jesus’ body for burial, binding his body with a mixture of myrrh and aloes as was the burial custom of the Jews. But the women, including Mary Magdalene, did not have time to anoint Jesus with their spices before the men closed the tomb with a large stone and the sun went down. So, the women spent the Sabbath preparing spices to bring to Jesus’ body first thing Sunday morning.
But why? Why was it the burial custom of the Jews to wrap the body with spices? Why did Mary and the other women feel the need to put expensive smelling oils and rubs on a corpse? The answer: Because they believed in the resurrection of the body. Mary was at the tomb so early on Sunday morning, because she firmly believed in the resurrection of the dead.
Now, that might sound odd, because Mary was so surprised when she saw Jesus risen from the dead. She didn’t even recognize his voice or even his face through her teary eyes. If she believed in the resurrection, why was she so surprised? Well, because she didn’t expect the resurrection to happen that day!
Mary was a Bible-believing Jew. That’s why she believed in the resurrection. All faithful followers of the Lord believed in the resurrection of the dead. That is why it was the burial custom of the Jews to anoint a dead body with oils and spices. They treated the body with respect in order to confess their belief that God would raise that body from the dead. It is why we too treat our dead with respect and bury their bodies to await the resurrection.
The resurrection of the dead is taught throughout the Old Testament both implicitly and explicitly. In Job chapter 19 Job confesses, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (vss. 25-27) God speaks through the prophet, Isaiah in chapter 26, “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!” The prophet, Daniel sees in a vision, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (12:2)
The belief in the resurrection of the dead by the faithful is what caused Abraham to be so diligent in procuring a burial place for his wife, Sarah. It is why Jacob insisted that his children bury him in the promised land and Joseph’s last will was that his bones be carried out of Egypt and buried in Israel. The Psalmist confesses the resurrection of the dead in Psalm 6, “For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?”
Yes, there have been those who even claimed to worship the true God who have denied the resurrection of the body. Jesus himself shut down the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection when he said, “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22:32-32)
The resurrection of the dead has always been a firm belief of God’s people from Adam to Mary Magdalene. This is why when Jesus told Martha that her brother Lazarus would rise again, she faithfully answered, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” And there you see why Mary Magdalene was so surprised. She believed in the resurrection of the dead, but she was only thinking about the Last Day. She didn’t expect Jesus to rise on this day!
And that was the great lesson Mary learned on that day and which we learn today as well. Unless Jesus rises from the dead on this Easter Day, there will be no resurrection from the dead on the Last Day! When Martha so beautifully confessed the resurrection of the dead even as her brother laid dead in a tomb, Jesus answered her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)
When you think of it, it is quite remarkable that the Jews believed in the resurrection of the dead! God told Adam that on the day that he ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that he would surely die. And he did die; first spiritually, and then eventually physically. And all Adam’s children died with the exception of Enoch and Elijah. As St. Paul tells us, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). All people are sinners. So, all people will die. So, why on earth did the Jews believe in a resurrection of the dead? Well, because they believed in the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus came to forgive our sins. He is the sacrifice foretold by Isaiah, who would bear the iniquity of God’s people. Jesus bore the sins of the whole world on his body and soul and died for them. Jesus bore not only the punishment of Roman soldiers and the shame from the Jewish people on the cross. Jesus bore God’s divine punishment for all sins upon his soul. Jesus made atonement for us and appeased God’s wrath. Scripture teaches us in Colossians chapter 2, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (vss. 13-14)
All the sins of the whole world were put on Jesus; sins, which keep us in our graves. Yet, Jesus, who took ownership of our sins, rose from the dead. There is not a sin you have committed or ever will commit that was not placed upon Jesus. And Jesus rose from the dead. That means that Jesus indeed took care of your sins. That means that you too will rise from the dead.
Mary Magdalene believed in the resurrection of the dead, but until she saw Jesus alive after his death, she did not understand how it would come about. Now she does. And she awaits the resurrection of her body even as we look forward to the resurrection of ours. All who believe in Jesus Christ will not only rise from their graves, but will live forever with him. Rejoice, my fellow Christians. You are not dead in your sins. Christ is risen. He is risen in deed. Alleluia! Amen.