Monday, April 10, 2017

Transformation From Weeping To Rejoicing - A Study In The Life Of Mary Magdalene

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John 20:8-11  "So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 10 So the disciples went away again to their own homes. 11 But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb."

Meet the weeping disciple

Have you ever wept? I mean, convulsing, uncontrollable wailing. Inconsolable. Tears flowing like rivers. The sense of despair that overtakes you. Broken words in between gasps of breath. This is the type of sorrow we see Mary Magdalene expressing at the tomb of the Lord Jesus. The tomb is empty. The disciples had already arrived and left. No one is expecting resurrection. All have scattered - save the weeping disciple. Mary's grief hangs like a thick fog. 

A quick study of John's gospel will reveal at least seven places where we find the expressive sorrow of weeping. Of those seven or eight spots, four are found in John 20, all of them referring to Mary. Her weeping is inconsolable. The appearance of angelic emmisaries are of no avail. There is only One who can change this situation. He is not there - at least yet.

The theme of weeping transformed into mourning

Weeping is an interesting phenomena to study in both Old and New Testaments. One of the reasons weeping is so interesting is due to its coupling with its opposite expression - rejoicing. Jewish thought was often fond of jamming together two opposite thoughts to express the whole range of human emotion. Romans 12:15 is a prime example: "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." When we come to the coupling of weeping and rejoicing in the Old Testament, here is what we find:

Psalm 30:5 states - "For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning." Or again, Psalm 126:6 "He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him." One more example shows this powerful contrast of weeping and rejoicing, Ecclesiastes 3:4 "A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance."

The two ideas are used together in communicating the limits of human expression in the sight of God and in relationship with Him. However, what happens when we see God using these same two ideas to reveal His intent to change the one who weeps into one who rejoices? We could cite several examples, however, one that comes immediately to mind is Isaiah 61:1-3. Isaiah writes in Isaiah 61:1-3

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners;
2 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn,
3 To grant those who mourn in Zion,
Giving them a garland instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified."

Jesus quoted this very passage at the opening of His ministry in Luke 4:18 while teaching at the Synagogue in Nazareth. How would it be that Jesus would fulfill this passage. He indicates that His arrival at the Synagogue began this process. We know that in His 35 miracles and major sermons, Jesus delivered emotional and physical healing. No one who reads the New Testament can debate the incredible spiritual healing that would come as a result of His atoning work on the cross. However, how do we know that all of those aforementioned works would achieve their intended end? One word: resurrection.

Mary's change from the weeping disciple to the rejoicing disciple

As we return to John 20, we see this double theme of weeping and rejoicing epitomized in Mary Magdalene. She is recorded four times weeping in this text (John 20:11 (2x),13, 21). As Jesus begins to speak to her, Mary is at first unchanged. She presumes that Jesus is the gardener. However, Jesus speaks her name: "Mary". Suddenly, the veil of tears is parted. She recognizes the voice of her Master, her Lord, her Rabboni. It is at this juncture we see the change in Mary and these words in John 20:17-18  "Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her."

What was it exactly that transformed Mary from that of weeping to that of rejoicing? It wasn't the empty tomb - although that piece of evidence is valuable in that it demands an explanation. Nor was it the angels - although they are important in showing that whatever the explanation for the empty tomb. If anything, the presence of angels sets the stage for the only explanation that can make sense of these events: God raised Jesus from the dead!

So what changed Mary? Notice first, she "saw" the Lord. His post-mortem physical appearance to Mary was revelatory, real and life-altering. To "see" the Lord is described in Old Testament terms as "tasting and seeing" (compare Psalm 34:8). These terms are activities of God's grace, power and illuminating efforts in helping Mary to understand the significance of what took place. Grace is what opened her eyes, and her heart. The New Testament throughout ascribes this activity to the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; Ephesians 1:18-20). 

So we could say then that God's Wonderous grace enabled Mary Magdalene to "see" her Lord. But now notice what else is said about her: "and that He had said these things to her". We see God's Word. God's Word is what transforms her and completes the transformation. The Psalmist prays these words in Psalm 119:28 "My soul weeps because of grief; Strengthen me according to Your word." God's Word brings light (Psalm 119:105) and life (1 Peter 1:23-25). Mary Magdalene was able to change from weeping to rejoicing over her Savior's resurrection due to God's wonderous grace and God's Word. 

Closing thoughts: You and I need God's Wonderous Grace and Word to go from weeping to rejoicing

Life is far from easy. There have been seasons that I could classify as sorrowful. Yet, in those moments, God's wondrous grace has sustained me and His Word has enabled me to punch through the layer of sadness to find strength and joy in Him. Jesus' resurrection power is promised to every Christian by the Person and work of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11). As we lean on Him, He continues to minister God's wondrous grace.  The words of the Bible are that second necessary component. Like Mary, we too can come to rejoice in the Lord again after what can be long seasons of weeping. Whenever we have wept, the rejoicing is all the better. All the sweeter. That wonderful resurrection power is ever available. Let's listen for the voice of Jesus as He speaks to us in His Word.