‘Mary & The Gardener’ – John 20:11-18 – September 27th, 2020

If you would, please turn with me in your Bibles to John 20:11-18. John says:

But Mary stood outside facing the tomb, crying. As she was crying, she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 She saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet, where Jesus’ body had been lying. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“Because they’ve taken away my Lord,” she told them, “and I don’t know where they’ve put Him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not know it was Jesus.

15 “Woman,” Jesus said to her, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Supposing He was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you’ve removed Him, tell me where you’ve put Him, and I will take Him away.”

16 Jesus said, “Mary.”

Turning around, she said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!”—which means “Teacher.”

17 “Don’t cling to Me,” Jesus told her, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to My brothers and tell them that I am ascending to My Father and your Father—to My God and your God.”

18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them what He had said to her.

This is the word of the Lord. Let’s pray.

Father we thank you that even as we are temporarily forced to change some of what we do because of COVID-19, you are greater than COVID-19. Not one of us wouldn’t rather be inside that building, sitting in the pews, catching up with the folks who usually sit next us face-to-face instead of simply over the phone. And yet, You are greater than our inconvenience. We thank you for the way that you are with us even in the midst of our social distancing, that you are near us even in the midst of our isolation, and that even as we try to serve our neighbors by distancing ourselves to try and mitigate the spread of the virus, you have given us the profound blessing of being able to look closely at your word together, to learn from it, to be changed by it, and be edified through it.

We pray these things in Jesus’s name, Amen.

*

Well, once again, we are in a very familiar passage of scripture.

We are in the second half of the Resurrection story. Last week we talked a whole lot about why we believe that the resurrection of Jesus really did happen. He actually died, and then he actually rose from the dead. Like, his body rose from the dead. He didn’t just go into the ground and then his ghost floated back up and make a few appearances on The Late Show, he died – like died died – and then he rose from the dead, and we mean that as literally as we can possibly mean it. There’s no figurative language here. It’s not a poetic embellishment that John threw in there because he’s kind of a head-in-the-clouds artsy type. We mean he went into a grave dead, and then he came out of the grave Not Dead.

But now that we’ve covered that, we’re not going back to it. We want to move past defending the resurrection and move into preaching the resurrection. Today we are going to graduate past defending the reality of the resurrection of Jesus, and move into teaching the implications of the resurrection of Jesus. And so the question that we will be answering throughout the rest of our time in the Gospel of John is not “Did the resurrection happen?” It’s very simply, “Since the resurrection happened, now what?”

What does the resurrection mean for us? What does the resurrection do? Why does the resurrection matter? What is different, about us, about the world, about the future, because of the Resurrection?

And, as cliche as it sounds up front, the answer is everything. Everything is different because of the resurrection of Jesus.

So let’s take a look, beginning in verse 11. As our passage this morning begins, John says:

Mary stood outside facing the tomb, crying. As she was crying, she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 She saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet, where Jesus’ body had been lying. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “Because they’ve taken away my Lord,” she told them, “and I don’t know where they’ve put Him.”

So the first thing we notice is that Mary is relatable.

I read through the gospel of John 3 times a year, and every time I get to this chapter I tear up a little bit. Because I really feel this.

Even though I live a comparatively easy life, even for today’s standards, I feel kind of a kinship with Mary Magdalene here. I think we could identify pretty closely with Mary in our passage this morning, because like Mary, we live in a world of tears.

You know what I’m talking about?

We live in a world of tears.

Just within the confines of our church, we have an unbearable amount of sickness. We have people who are terminally ill. We’ve had miscarriages. We’ve had broken relationships, marriages that imploded, abuse, poverty. This past week, we lost Ricky Powell.

That’s a world of tears.

Less than a year ago, two middle school students in Wake County went out for a swim and didn’t come back. That’s a world of tears.

A few weeks ago, Bob Allen, the publisher of the Wake Weekly, passed away. His last ever editorial column went to press the same morning that his life left his body. He’s in a better place now, but for the folks left behind in his absence, that’s a world of tears. That’s misery. That’s an empty chair at a table that used to seat him. That’s a grandpa that’s gone from the lives of his grandchildren.

And that’s just scratching the surface, but the point is clear: We live in a world of tears.

And while it is absolutely true that the world has gotten steadily less violent, steadily less brutal, steadily less difficult, poverty has absolutely plummeted over the last hundred years, new technology has made everyone’s lives significantly easier and considerably better, all of those things are true, but none of those things erase the fact that life is absolutely filled with suffering. We live in a world of tears. /

(Pause)

But we live in a world of tears for a reason.

It’s filled with suffering for a reason.

We believe it’s filled with suffering because of something we call The Fall.

You know the story, from Genesis chapter 3: The one with the talking snake, and the fruit, and the curses that come over us because of it. Take an afternoon, read through the first 11 chapters of Genesis, and it will really give you a bit of perspective about why the world is the way it is.

In Genesis, we see a good God creating a good world, then giving us a good role, a good vocation, a good job.

Our job was to tend to the world that he placed us over. Our job was to take care of it. Our job was to serve the World by ruling over it obediently and justly. But what we find, in Genesis chapter 3, is that instead of doing that, we do something very different.

The snake tells us, essentially, “God told you not to eat from that tree, because God knows that if you eat from that tree, you’ll become like him.” In other words, “If you eat from that tree, you can Dethrone God. You can fire him. You can stage a coup with the shareholders, eject him and take his job. You can be running this place.”

So we did.

Kind of.

We thought.

We rebelled against God, we took the fruit. But we didn’t become like God. We didn’t become stronger. We didn’t become better. We didn’t become wiser.

We became stupid. We became weak and ineffectual. We became broken and cruel. We became the kind of folk who find new ways to break the world every day, and then do it.

I know that sounds kinda melodramatic. But it’s true.

Just to illustrate how serious our problem is, Paul goes as far as to describe us as dead people. He doesn’t just say we’re “bad people.” He says, “we’re dead people.” That’s Ephesians chapter 2. He says, and I quote:

“Once, you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.”

Why do we live in a world of tears?

Because this is the world we built. We made this. We are why the world is the way it is. We were dead in our trespasses and sins, and dead people build dead worlds. /

I’ve told the story before, but one of my favorite authors is the British journalist G.K. Chesterton, from the early nineteen hundreds, and one time he wrote a book called What’s Wrong With The World, and the beginning, middle, and end of the book very simply says, “I am.”

What’s wrong with the world? I am.

I’m what’s wrong with the world.

Ryan Ellington is what is wrong with the world. And when you multiply Ryan Ellington times about seven billion, you get a world that looks like ours. A world filled with people who are basically like me. Who are basically jacked up like I’m jacked up. Who run towards brokenness like I run towards brokenness. Who reject God’s good will like I reject God’s good will, and chase after their own jacked up desires and ambitions and appetites like I do. That’s why we live in a world of tears.

We live in a world of tears because we are dead in our trespasses and sins, and dead people build dead worlds. /

(Pause)

So, that’s dark. But don’t get so caught up on how dark this is that you forget to ask the right questions.

Because the right question to ask at this particular point would be, “What does it take to fix a dead world?”

And the answer, apparently, is that it takes a Resurrection.

We were dead in our trespasses and sins, and the only solution to our deadness in sin is to “raise us up with Jesus,” like Paul says in Colossians chapter 3.

And that’s exactly what we see happening in our passage this morning. Take a look, beginning at verse 14. It says:

“Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not know it was Jesus. 15 “Woman,” Jesus said to her, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Supposing He was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you’ve removed Him, tell me where you’ve put Him, and I will take Him away.” 16 Jesus said, “Mary.” Turning around, she said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!”—which means “Teacher.” 17 “Don’t cling to Me,” Jesus told her, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to My brothers and tell them that I am ascending to My Father and your Father—to My God and your God.”

So, Jesus is risen. He’s back from the grave. “He is not here, he is risen,” as the angel says in Matthew 28. This story doesn’t end with the crucifixion. It doesn’t end with the “crucified God.” And it doesn’t end with our tears./

Because as we see in our passage this morning, eventually Jesus arrives to wipe our tears away. This is the second way that we are like Mary Magdalene this morning. Because like Mary, our tears are coming to an end.

Specifically, our tears are coming to an end because of the Resurrection.

But how, exactly does that work?

How, exactly, does the resurrection of a dead Palestinian carpenter from 2000 years ago do anything to bring our tears to an end?

Your first reaction, here, might be to say, “If a guy came back to life one time two millennia ago, that’s cool, but I’m not sure what that’s got to do with me.” And if that’s your reaction, I get that. But I would have to answer back that it has everything in the world to do with you.

Because, as strange as it sounds, the resurrection of this dead Palestinian carpenter 2000 years ago was the turning point of your life. Full stop.

Try to bear with me, here.

Because looking back at Genesis chapter 3, we see exactly why this is the turning point of your life. It says the Lord turns to the serpent – the devil, the one who encouraged us to rebel against God in the first place, and he says:

“Because you have done this, you are cursed more than any livestock and more than any wild animal. You will move on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life. I will put hostility between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Now, that’s a weird couple of sentences. That’s written in kind of bizarre poetic language. But the point is pretty clear.

It’s saying that one day, the Lord will send a messiah, and the Messiah will be struck, the Messiah will be crushed. But even as he is crushed, even as he is struck, he will crush the head of the devil.

Does that sound a little bit familiar?

If it sounds like the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, it’s because it should. Jesus is born of a woman, Mary. He spends his life demonstrating that he is the Messiah that the Lord sent and that the Old Testament prophesied about. And then he was struck. He was crucified. He was “crushed for our iniquities,” Isaiah says. But then, 3 days later, he rose again. /

Why is a 2000 year old resurrection the turning point of your life? Because that’s when Jesus crushed the serpent that was coiled around your neck. That’s when the darkness that we invited into the world in the Fall and that’ve sabotaged every aspect of your life since the day you were born sank its fangs into the heel of Jesus and Jesus responded by stomping his foot on its head till there wasn’t a head anymore. The resurrection was the day Christ claimed victory over everything – over sin, over death, over darkness, over the devil himself. Now the serpent is bleeding out on the pavement, and this world of tears is fading away. /

Your world of tears is fading away.

Get a good look at our world, with its brokenness. Because it will not last. Our dead world is passing away, and a resurrected world is replacing it. /

And, to be as clear as possible, that’s barely a metaphor. We’re not talking about a bunch of empty flowery language that sounds high and lofty but doesn’t mean anything. You rarely hear about much of any of this, because us preachers really preach about it, but the resurrection changes everything.

The resurrection causes things to happen that wouldn’t happen otherwise. The future is different, now, because of the resurrection of Jesus.

More than anything, what’s different is that now the story of the universe is a story of victory. The story of history is a story of victory. Don’t listen to the doomsayers on TV & the internet, they profit off of making you scared, so they are always gonna try and make you think the sky is falling. The story that you are living through right now is a story of victory.

If you don’t believe me, read your Bible.

Amos chapter 9 tells us that a day is coming when “The mountains will drip with sweet wine, and all the hills will flow with it.” People will “rebuild and occupy ruined cities, plant vineyards and drink their wine, make gardens and eat their produce” and “never again be uprooted.”

You hear that?

There will be a day when everyone on planet earth will have enough to eat. Everyone will have somewhere safe to live. It says, we will rebuild and occupy ruined cities and never again be uprooted.

That’s coming. That’s real. That’s where all of this is headed. That’s where everything that is currently happening is eventually headed. Why? Because Christ has risen in victory, and so he will fix what’s broken in our dead world.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Isaiah 11 tells us that a day is coming when “None will harm or destroy another on the Lord’s entire holy mountain, for the land will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the sea is filled with water.”

You hear that? It’s hard to imagine, but one day, violence will be a thing of the past. It says, “No one will harm each other.” Full stop. That sounds a heck of a lot like “world peace.”

We see the same thing in Isaiah chapter 2. It tells us that a day is coming when “All nations will stream to the Lord’s mountain,” and “many peoples will come and say, “let us go up to the mountain of the Lord’ and ‘He will teach us about His ways
so that we may walk in His paths.” It says that one day the Lord will “settle disputes among the nations and provide arbitration for many peoples.” And because of the Lord’s instruction, all the peoples of the earth will “hammer their swords into plows
and their spears into pruning knives.” Because of the instruction of the Lord, “Nations will not take up the sword against other nations, and they will never again train for war.”

You hear that?

Now, those of you who know me know that I am not a bleeding heart type. I’m not particularly touchy-feely. I will never want to sit in some kind of hippie circle you and sing John Lennon songs with a peace sign hanging around my neck.

And yet, Isaiah says what he says. This is coming. It’s gonna happen. This is not some kind of 1960s anti-war-protester-pipe-dream, this is actually where all of this is headed. Why? Because the Prince of Peace paid dearly for it. Because Christ has risen in victory, and so he will bring the peace that he paid for in the cross. Period.

So look forward to that. I know we see “wars, and rumors of wars” all around us, but peace is coming.

But maybe more shocking than anything is what we learn in Isaiah 52. It tells us that a day is coming when “The Lord displays His holy arm in the sight of all the nations” and “all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” You hear that? The Lord will display his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, to the point that “all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of the Lord.”

You hear that?

One day the gospel will reach every single corner of the earth, every single patch of land, every single tribe, every single language, every single people group. And, apparently, it’ll take hold. Every tribe, tongue, and nation will respond to the gospel, not by rejecting it, not by ignoring, not by opposing it, but by embracing it.

We don’t see that today. But it’s coming. We don’t know when it’s coming. We don’t know how it’s coming. But we know plenty well that it’s coming. It says “the Lord will display his holy arm in the sight of all the nations,” so that “all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of the Lord.”

And when you take all of these things together, you get something like the vision John points us to in Revelation chapter 7. He says:

After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

Salvation belongs to our God,
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb!”

You hear that?

All of this ends with Christ on his throne, surrounded by his people, in a world made good again.

Why? Because Christ has risen in victory, and so he will gather his people to enjoy his world together for all of eternity.

The resurrection of Jesus changes everything. /

The British pastor and apologist N.T. Wright likes to point out that when Mary first sees Jesus, here, she thinks he’s the gardener. It’s a mistake, obviously. But Wright says, “That’s exactly the right mistake to make.” Because Jesus is not a the hired han d responsible for maintaining the garden outsides the tomb. But he is very much the gardener.

Because Jesus is the God of the universe. He was the God we lived with in the Garden of Eden. He is the God we rebelled against when we took the fruit and broke the world.

And now, He’s the God who has risen from the grave to fix everything we’ve broken in this world of tears.

In other words, Jesus is the gardener.

Because through his resurrection, he is gardening, so to speak. He is planting a new world in the dead ground of the old world, that will one day overtake and replace this one. A new heavens and a new earth. Jesus is the Great Gardener.

*

I’d love to leave it there, and go home on a high.

But there’s one more question that we have to ask.

 And that is that, now, knowing what we know, what do we do?

Once again, I think the answer is: The same thing Jesus told Mary to do. It says, “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them what He had said to her.”

Like Mary, we have been given the message of Christ’s resurrection, and everything that comes with it, to spread to every corner of the earth.

You know the famous Bible verses that talk about our mission as the people of God.

You know Matthew 28, where Jesus says:

 “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

You know Luke chapter 10, where Jesus says:

“The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest. Now go; I’m sending you out like lambs among wolves.”

We could do this all day. As you read through the gospels, Jesus hammers it into our heads that this is our mission. This is what we exist for. As people who have been redeemed through the cross and are being transformed through the Resurrection, we are on this earth today to recruit new laborers for the Lord’s harvest.

It’s like the parable from Matthew 20, when Jesus says:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the workers on one denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine in the morning, he saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. To those men he said, ‘You also go to my vineyard, and I’ll give you whatever is right.’ So off they went. About noon and at three, he went out again and did the same thing. Then about five he went and found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?’ “Because no one hired us,’ they said to him. “‘You also go to my vineyard,’ he told them.”

We exist on this earth to gather in new workers, and to train them to join our work. To “Make disciples” and to “teach them to obey everything Christ has commanded us.”

And, apparently, as we faithfully carry out the work that Jesus has given us, we start to see the glorious vision that god has given us of his kingdom becoming a reality. That’s why Jesus says in Matthew 13 that:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It’s the smallest of all the seeds, but when grown, it’s taller than the vegetables and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches.”

Like a mustard seed, the kingdom grows, in some sense. So slowly we usually don’t even notice. But as we carry out the Great Commission, to make disciples of all nations and teach them to obey everything that Jesus has commanded us, apparently we’ll start to see these things come true.

Through our evangelism and our service, we can expect that one day we’ll live in a world where nobody is lost, where everyone knows the Lord because they’ve seen his holy arm and embraced his salvation.

Through our evangelism and our service, we can expect that one day we’ll live in a world where violence has vanished. Where war has vanished. Where nations no longer take up arms against each other.

Through our evangelism and our service, we can expect that one day we’ll live in a world where everyone can be fed, everyone can find a place to live, no one has to starve, and no one has to be uprooted.

All of these things sound like pipe dreams. And they would be, if our world of tears was the only world there was. But it’s not. Because Christ has risen in victory, and so he will restore everything that we have broken. To crib a phrase from the prophet Joel, “The Lord will restore the years the locust have eaten.”

This is the point in the service where, typically, I would give something that we refer to as an “altar call,” but that’s not quite possible this morning, for obvious reasons. What we’re doing instead, is that as we respond to the Lord through song, we invite you to text or email me with your prayer requests, or decisions, or burdens, and we can set a time to sit down over the phone sometime the week and talk or pray through whatever is on your heart.

Let’s pray.

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