Theme: Learning from This Story
In this week’s lessons, we look at another story unique to John’s Gospel, and see what important truths are illustrated for us in Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene after his resurrection.
Scripture: John 20:1-18
Now I have looked at this story and asked, as I have done with the other stories we’ve been studying, why it is that John puts that particular story in the Gospel, and why does he put it here? He already has the story of Peter and John, who act as two male witnesses, which is in accordance with Jewish law for a truthful testimony. Thomas, as well, becomes another witness to the truth of Jesus Christ, when he finally sees Jesus, falls at his feet and says, “My Lord and my God.” In fact, that’s the very thing that John has written the Gospel to produce. John tells us that Jesus did many other miraculous signs that are not recorded, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name. Thus, you have the proof in the first story with Peter and John, and you have the climax in the second with Thomas, and the question is, why the story about Mary in between?
Well, it struck me, as I was thinking about that, that what we have in the story of Mary and Jesus is an illustration of a number of the great teachings that we’ve already found in the Gospel. Let me suggest a few of the things that are illustrated for us here in a very dramatic and poignant way. First of all, at the very end of John 6, in verse 68, Jesus turned to the disciples and said on the occasion of the departure of the great multitudes that had been with him earlier in the ministry, “Will you go away, too?” And Peter spoke up for the others and said on this occasion, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
You see, that’s what Mary is showing in this story. Jesus has been taken from her, but if Jesus is taken from her, she has nowhere to go. He had the words of eternal life. She had nowhere else to turn, and so she makes her way back to the tomb. There’s a great hymn that is not very well known, with a verse that goes like this: “Draw and win and fill completely till the cup o’erflow the brim. What have we to do with idols, who have companied with him?” Mary had been with Jesus, as had the others. After they had spent those years with Jesus, nothing else ever measured up to that. Only Jesus can fill us with what we truly need.
I suggest that that will be what you find also, if you spend time with him. Many of us don’t spend much time with him, and therefore take our relationship with him lightly. We say, “Well, it’s another story. I believe it, sure, but it doesn’t mean a great deal.” But if you spend time with Jesus, you’ll find that all of the other alluring voices and all of the intriguing idols of this world will fade inevitably by comparison. You’ll say, “Lord, to whom can we possibly go? You’re the only one that has the words of eternal life.” And you’ll make your way to him as Mary did.
The second teaching illustrated in this story comes from the tenth chapter of John, verse 27, in that great discourse about Jesus and his sheep. After Jesus had called to himself the man born blind, he says something about the way the sheep hear his voice. He explained, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” That’s what’s illustrated here, isn’t it? Isn’t this a case of Jesus calling one of his sheep by her name? She recognized it when he called, because he was her shepherd and she was one of the sheep who know his voice when he calls.
If you’re one of Christ’s sheep, you hear his voice. You hear his voice in the preaching of his Word. You hear his voice in the reading of Scripture. You don’t find yourself intrigued by what a merely human teacher says. You want to know what Jesus teaches because it’s his voice that you hear, and it’s his voice you want to follow. Have you heard the voice of Jesus? Has he called out to you? He calls out in the Scripture. If you’ve not heard it, read it. That’s where you hear it. That’s where he speaks. He knows his own sheep and he calls them by name, one by one by one. That’s the way he makes up his flock, and he’s been doing it all down through history.
From the lesson, what reason is offered for why John might have included this story of Jesus and Mary?
What are two things this story illustrates about Jesus?
Reflection: What other voices and idols of the world are calling for your attention and affection? Which ones are more tempting than others? What steps will you take in order to withstand their call?