Mary's Grief and Despair Turned to Joy


Text: John 20:10-18

10 Then the disciples went away again to their homes.
11 But Mary stood outside the tomb crying.  Then as she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb,
12 and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying.
13 And they said to her, “Woman, why are you crying?”  She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have put him.”
14 After she said these things, she turned back around, and she saw Jesus standing there, and yet she did not know it was Jesus.
15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Whom are you seeking?” Believing that he was the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you indeed have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will take him away.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” After turning around, she said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means, My Master).
17 Jesus said to her, “Do not keep holding me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to 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.


Jesus has risen! He lives! This is our joy at Easter! We do not believe in a dead man but in a living Savior. Because he rose and lives eternally, we know we shall indeed rise from the dead to live eternally.

This Easter message gladdens our hearts because it fills us with hope. Jesus’ resurrection holds out to us the antidote to the grievous problem of death that we see all around us and even feel within us. Because death is a grievous fact of life, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, that assures our resurrection to eternal life, warms our hearts with joyful hope. We can say what Christ said prophetically, “I will not die, but live; And I will proclaim the works of the Lord.” (Psalm 118:17). Jesus’ resurrection guarantees the fulfillment of his promise to us: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even if he should die, and all who live and believe in me shall absolutely never die.” (John 11:25, 26). Death fosters grief and despair; the resurrection of the dead arouses joy and hope.

Through Jesus and his resurrection from the dead God restored the life he had given to us in the beginning. God did not create the human race to die but to live. Immortal life was God’s grand design and plan for us when he made us. Death entered the world through sin. Death was the devil’s grand design and plan for us, for he has been a murderer from the beginning. Because of the sins of which all people are guilty, we see our loved ones and friends die. Because of our sins, we also will die, unless Christ returns in glory first. Because of sin and the death it brings, we must cope with the grief and despair that arise in its aftermath. Only Jesus, who saved us and rose from the dead, can turn this grief and despair over death into joy and hope.

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and his wonderful news turned Mary Magdalene’s grief and despair to joy. While the shadows of darkness still covered the land, she and the other women started walking to Jesus’ tomb. All of them believed Jesus was dead. They arrived at dawn’s early light with spices in hand, intending to complete the proper burial of Jesus’ body, which the beginning of the Sabbath on Friday had prevented.

They discovered the stone that had sealed Jesus’ tomb had been rolled away. Believing grave robbers had stolen Jesus’ body, Mary left the other women to run and tell the disciples the terrible news. While she was doing so, the other women proceeded to the tomb, where an angel told them Jesus was not there but had risen from the dead. In the meantime, Mary found Peter and John. She informed them Jesus’ body had been taken from the tomb. Where the grave robbers or authorities had taken his body she did not know.

Peter and John ran to the tomb. They found it empty. The grave clothes that Jesus’ body had been wrapped in were lying undisturbed. The cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head was folded neatly and lying in a separate place. The neat order of the clothes did not suggest that grave robbers had hastily stolen Jesus’ body. What is more, grave robbers could never have entered the tomb while the Roman guards had been guarding it. John began to believe Jesus did rise from the dead, though he still did not understand the Scriptures that had foretold Jesus’ resurrection. Peter and John then returned to their homes, no doubt wondering what had happened.

Shortly after they left the tomb, Mary Magdalene returned. She stood outside the tomb sobbing. Her beloved Lord Jesus was dead, and now even his body had been taken away from her. She felt helpless and hopeless, not knowing what had happened or where his body had been taken. Her grief and despair poured out in profuse tears that washed down over her cheeks. Weeping, she bent over to look inside the tomb. Her only concern was to find the body of her beloved Jesus. May our faith in our dear Savior Jesus fill our hearts with such an intense concern and love for him, who first loved us and died to save us from death.

Grieving and despairing as she was, she failed to notice the significance of the two angels, whom she saw inside. The purpose of their presence as God’s messengers to deliver good news never registered in her mind. What is more, her grief and despair prevented her from seeing the obvious: the grave clothes were all there, neatly arranged. No one had stolen Jesus’ body in great haste to escape with it. This evidence of Jesus’ resurrection never clicked in her mind. This is understandable. Grief and despair so cloud the mind that it fails to see the rays of truth and hope.

Ready to announce the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, the angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” If she would but comprehend the evidence before her and recall Jesus’ promises to rise from the dead, she would not weep in grief and despair but rejoice. The angels’ question, however, did not penetrate her gloom. She poured out the dark suspicions that so troubled her mind: “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have put him.”

Mary exemplifies how distraught Christians can become when serious troubles plague their lives. The death of a beloved spouse, family member, or friend especially brings on grief and despair. Like Mary, they miss their beloved who so filled their lives. They grieve that they will not see their beloved again or enjoy his company. Their dark gloom of despair prevents them from recalling and taking comfort in the Lord’s promises. Nor do they see the evidence of his continued blessings on them and in their lives. All looks hopeless and they feel helpless, as Mary did.

Only the Lord and his Word of promise can ultimately comfort them and turn their grief and despair into joy, as Psalm 119:92 states: “If your law (meaning God's Word) had not been my delight, Then I would have perished in my affliction.” The Lord Jesus himself appeared to Mary to turn her grief and despair into joy.

After answering the angels, Mary turned around. Suddenly she saw Jesus standing there, but she failed to recognize him. His risen body was glorified and spiritualized. He could withhold or reveal his identity and appear or disappear at will, as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus would also later learn.

Like the angels, Jesus asked Mary, “Why are you crying?” He then asked her, “Whom are you seeking?”

Assuming he might be the gardener, who cared for the tomb, she again poured out her heart’s despair. “Sir, if you indeed have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will take him away” (literally carry him). Her desire to find Jesus’ body, and her loving concern to give him a proper burial in a good resting place so consumed her that she never considered that she herself could not possibly carry Jesus’ body to a final resting place. May the Holy Spirit awaken within us all such a love for our Savior and a dedication to serve him!

Then Jesus turned her night of gloom into the light of joy. He spoke her name, “Mary,” in such a way that she knew instantly whom he was. From the depths of despair her heart rose to soar in the clouds. “Rabboni!” she exclaimed, which is an Aramaic term of special respect that means, “My Master.” The experience of seeing Jesus alive, risen from the dead, lifted her spirits to a profound joy. Grieving and despairing, she had searched for her dead Jesus, but with joy she discovered instead her living Savior. He had risen! He was alive! Nothing else mattered to her. Nothing would take away her new-found joy. She threw her arms around him to cling to him, she was so happy to see him and to have him back.

Jesus rose! He lives! Our faith clings to, not a dead man who was crucified and buried, but a living Lord and Savior who rose from the dead. His resurrection arouses joy within us. We rejoice that he who died to save us lives. Our hearts hold the joyful hope that with our very own eyes we will rise from the dead to see him and hold him who loves us and gives us eternal life. With Job our faith sings, “Now I indeed know that my Redeemer lives, and he, the Last One, will stand upon the earth. And after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I will see God, whom I, indeed even I, will see for myself, and my eyes will behold and not some stranger’s. O my heart languishes within my breast!” (Job 19:25-27).

As Mary’s grief turned to joy upon seeing her beloved Jesus risen from the dead and living, so we also will rejoice in seeing, not only our risen and living Lord Jesus, but our dear loved ones who died in Jesus risen from the dead and living once again. This hope, which is due to Jesus’ resurrection, dispels the gloom of our grief and despair over their deaths and turns it into joy. We are not without hope, as are the people of this world. We will see our loved ones alive and well in heaven, and happier than they ever were here on earth, as we ourselves will be also.

Mary was so happy to see Jesus alive and to hold him that she did not want to let go of him. She was joyfully anticipating that she would again enjoy the daily fellowship they formerly had enjoyed. That time of walking together on earth, however, had ended.

Jesus said to Mary, “Do not keep holding me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” Their former fellowship would not resume because he would soon ascend to his Father in heaven. His full glorification had not yet been completed. In the future his fellowship with his disciples would not be as it had been during the time of his humiliation on earth but would be as their glorified Lord and Savior who had ascended into heaven and dwelt within their hearts.

He then entrusted to Mary a comforting message of good news for his disciples. He told her, “Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”

Previously Jesus had called his disciples his friends. Now that his sacrificial death for the sins of the world had redeemed them, he called them his brothers. He put them on an equal level with himself. He was the Son of God. Being his brothers, his disciples were also sons of God. God was his Father and God. Being his brothers, God was also their Father and God. His redeeming sacrifice had broken down the barrier of sin that had stood between them and God and had reconciled them to God. They were now members of God’s family and household as he himself was. Being such, they would inherit the same inheritance he inherited, the resurrection of their body to everlasting life with God in the glory of heaven.

Mary Magdalene hurried to the disciples with this good news. She told them, “ ‘I have seen the Lord!’ She then told them that he had said these things to her.

Jesus’ redeeming sacrifice for the sins of the world has broken down the barrier of sin that had stood between us and God. Jesus has reconciled us to God. We are now his brothers and sisters through our faith in him. He, the Lord of glory, who controls all things in heaven and on earth, is our dear brother. His inheritance is our inheritance--the resurrection of our body to everlasting life with our God and Father in heaven.

Death will not be our end. Nor has death been the end of our loved ones and friends who died believing in Jesus. All of us who believe in Jesus, our brother, will rise to live forever with him in heaven. So why should we weep? Why should we grieve and despair over our future death or the death of those we loved? Jesus has risen! He lives. So we likewise will rise and live. This is the joy and hope that dispels grief and despair. Amen.