Meeting the new Adam in the garden
An Easter sermon on John 20.11-18
11 But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 13 Then they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him." 14 Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, "Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to Him, "Rabboni!" (which is to say, Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, "Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, 'I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.' " 18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her. (NKJV)
Congregation of Jesus Christ,
"Love," Song of Solomon 8.6 says, "is as strong as death." When we arrive at the first day of the week, the third day after that dark Friday on which she had seen her Lord hanging in agony and giving up His Spirit, we find Mary Magdalene coming again to find Him. We learn from Matthew's Gospel that she is coming with other women to anoint His body with perfumes.
She is not coming to find a risen Saviour. She does not expect a risen Saviour. But she is compelled by love to touch Him again, even in death. Her coming is a coming born out of love, but not out of hope.
And that love is stymied when she arrives. The body which she longs to see again, to touch - is gone! "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him!"
The Easter gospel is for ones such as Mary Magdalene. The Easter gospel directs itself to grief and to love, and astonishes us with the power of an unexpected and glorious new creation.
In John 20.11-18, Mary meets the new Adam in the garden; and she discovers new life in Him. We look at this new life from three angles. First, the angelic signals of new life, in verses 11-13. Second, the stunning recognition of new life, in verses 14-16. And third, the hopeful proclamation of new life, in verses 17-18.
1. Mary meets the new Adam in the garden, and discovers new life in Him. Notice first of all the angelic signals of new life.
In the preceding verses, Mary has fetched Peter and John with the news that the body of Jesus is missing. They have come and looked and gone their ways. But Mary remains, held here by her love and her grief. This Jesus, who has brought her out of a life of desperation and bondage, who has cast seven demons out of her - she cannot let Him go, and she is perplexed by this empty tomb.
And so she persists here, looks again inside, as if by her repeatedly looking the body will appear again. She is like you, when you lose something valuable, and you keep looking and looking at the place where it is supposed to be, as if it will just materialize, even though you know very well that it is not there.
And this time when she looks, she does see something. It is not, however the body. We read in verses 11-12,
But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
Two angels, with a flat spot between them... does that sound at all familiar? Does it remind you, perhaps, of the ark of the covenant, and of the mercy seat, overshadowed by a cherub on each side?
This is the last in a long string of hints in the Gospel of John that Jesus has become the new tabernacle, the new temple. Already in John 1.14, he tells us that the Word tabernacled among us. And on through his Gospel, John tells about Jesus, the laver of water, Jesus the bread, Jesus the lamp, and so on. And finally here, the angels are signaling to Mary that her Lord for whom she weeps is the mercy seat of God Himself. Or... perhaps they are even signaling that Jesus is the One who sits upon that mercy seat.
But nonetheless, the body is still noticeable by its absence. And so we must reflect further.
The truth is, the cherubim over the mercy seat were an echo of something even older. You may recall that when Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, the entrance into that Garden was guarded by cherubim, making sure that these fallen human beings could not pass and enter again. The way to the Tree of Life was closed; the way to the Garden was closed. Instead of eating from the Tree of Life and living forever, man was pushed out of the Garden in order to die and return to the ground.
But on this morning, Someone has come out of death, emerged from the ground, gone past the cherubim, and stepping out of the tomb... has stepped into a garden. This tomb, we learned in chapter 19.41, is in a garden. The presence of the angels in the tomb is a signal that Jesus has stepped out of the old dying, cursed creation, and into the new creation. He has become the New Adam who will bring healing and life where Adam brought death and curse.
Jesus' flesh, we are told in Hebrews 10.20, has become the torn veil, the new and living way into the very presence of God in the Holiest of All. The new Adam has become life for us by dying. It is by way of the tomb, through being buried with Christ, that we emerge with Him on the other side, into a new creation of life and light.
The empty tomb and the angels: these are the signals that a new Adam has come up out of the ground. This is what Mary Magdalene should see. She should realize that angels don't sit in tombs every day. They're here for a reason, a glorious and wonderful and astonishing reason.
That's the humorous element in our story, of course. Mary looks into the tomb, sees two angels, and doesn't bat an eye. It's like she sees angels every day, which of course she doesn't.
And so in verse 13 [a], "they said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping?'" It seems to them that it is obvious that this day is a day for rejoicing. The Lord is risen; the tomb is empty; the new creation has begun! "Why are you weeping?"
Mary responds [13b]: "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him."
She is apparently not startled by the angels, nor does she draw the lessons from their presence that she is intended to draw.
Yet we must not be hard on Mary. Her insensibility arises out of her grief, and her grief arises out of her love. It is a rare woman that can continue to weep in the presence of heavenly beings, rather than quake with fear!
2. So Mary has not picked up on the angelic signals of new life. But she is about to meet the new Adam in the garden, in person, for herself. In verses 14-16, Mary comes to the stunning recognition of new life.
After she makes her complaint of grief to the angels, we read in verse 14, "Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus." In her grief, Mary does not even recognize Him.
Contrary to those critical "scholars" who suggest that the biblical resurrection stories arose out of "wishful thinking," so that the disciples only thought they saw Jesus, we see here that Jesus is the last person that Mary expects to see alive. She is looking for Him as a corpse, but when He appears alive before her - well, that just can't be Him.
It is not all that easy to recognize what you just aren't looking for. Mary had seen Jesus on the cross, she had seen Him die. Mary is no fool. She knows that corpses don't get up and walk around. The only person she ever knew who was capable of raising the dead is Himself the deceased. No, she does not expect to see Jesus out of the corner of her eye when she turns from the doorway of the tomb.
But if Mary's grief means that she does not recognize Jesus, that does not mean that Jesus does not recognize or acknowledge Mary. Jesus knows her love, and He knows her grief.
And so, Jesus takes the line of the angels, and advances it one step, in verse 15 [a]: "Jesus said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?'" Whom, after all, are you seeking, if not Me? And if it is Me that you seek, why do you weep, since I stand gloriously alive before you?
Mary's fixation, her grief, is still too strong to recognize Jesus or what He is saying. Notice her response [verse 15b]: "She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, 'Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.'"
I hope you hear just how delicious this is! Well, yes, she is talking to the One who has "carried her Lord away" - He has borne Himself out of the tomb under His own volition!
And she thinks Him the gardener. So wrong - and yet, so right too. For here before her is the new Adam, and who is Adam, but the one is called from the beginning to care for the Garden, to tend it and to guard it? Not for the first time in John, one of the speakers utters words far truer and far more profound than they realize. Just as Caiaphas said that one man must die for the people; just as Pilate called Jesus the King of the Jews: Mary has hit the nail on the head. Jesus is the new Adam, the Gardener of the new creation.
But if this woman does not realize that she has become the first woman to bear witness to the new creation, if she does not realize that for the moment, she is the first woman of that new creation, if she does not realize in her grief that she is Eve in the Garden with the Great and Last Adam - Jesus knows just what to do.
When God brought the woman to the first Adam, Adam responded by saying, this is woman. Jesus has just said to Mary, "Woman, why are you weeping?" But now in verse 16 [a], He calls her by name: "Mary!"
One word. One word, and it is enough. For, as Jesus said in chapter 10.3-4, the Good Shepherd "calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. And when He brings out His own sheep, He goes before them; and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice."
When Jesus calls His own sheep - this ewe lamb, Mary - when He calls her by name, she knows His voice. One word is enough. And so [16b]: "She turned and said to Him, 'Rabboni!' (which is to say, Teacher)."
This is the recognition of love. When Adam speaks to the woman in the Garden, she recognizes the One she loves, and she turns. She turns - her love converts from grief to faith.
3. And she clings to Him - clings to Him, as Eve surely must have done when she recognized Adam as her husband, as her counterpart. Indeed, Genesis 2.24 says that a man will leave father and mother and cleave to his wife; naturally, the woman likewise will cleave, cling, to the man. And so too Mary's instinct is to cling to the new Adam.
And it is here that there must be a difference between John 20 and Genesis. We read in verse 17 [a], "Jesus said to her, 'Do not cling to Me.'"
After the tenderness of Jesus' appeal to Mary, this perhaps sounds somewhat like a different note. Is Jesus backing away, is He really not as tender and gentle as He seemed?
No, that is not the reason for the counterpoint, the contrast, between John 20 and Genesis. We must recall that Jesus alone has entered the new creation. This garden in which they stand has not. Mary has not. This is indeed a garden, but it is not quite a new Eden. Not yet. This is indeed a woman created for the new Adam, but she is not quite a new Eve. Not yet.
And this helps explain the way in which Jesus continues, as He commissions Mary with the hopeful proclamation of new life. He says : "Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God."
Jesus speaks now of ascending to the Father. He has spoken this way before, in His "Farewell Discourse," back in chapters 14-16. It was there that Jesus explained to His disciples that if He ascends to the Father, He will send the Holy Spirit in His place, and by that Spirit, He will make His home with them and in them.
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the new creation. Paul speaks frequently of the coming new creation, and in connection with that, he calls the Holy Spirit the firstfruits, or, at other times, the earnest or pledge of that new creation. It is by the Spirit that we are able to share the blessings of the new creation with our resurrected Lord.
So Mary, you see, is not yet ready to cling to Jesus. He is the new Adam, but she is not quite ready to be a new Eve. Jesus is not here rejecting Mary's love; He is not speaking out of a lack of tenderness. Rather, He is speaking with the anticipation that truly belongs to love. It is the Holy Spirit whom He will send who will make us fit lovers, who will fashion us into a Bride fit for Christ, the Adam of the new creation.
And so Jesus commissions Mary with this word of the gospel to speak to "the brethren." So it is in verse 18: "Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her."
Like the woman at the well, who left her waterpot, who left Jesus and went into the city with the gospel of the Messiah, here too Jesus sends forth another woman with a "history," to speak to the men. She leaves the garden, she leaves Jesus, to become the first witness to the resurrection, and in that sense she does become like Eve in Genesis 3.20: as the first witness to the life of the new creation, Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus cast seven demons, becomes the "mother of all living."
Congregation, Jesus has ascended to His Father and your Father; He has sent the Holy Spirit of promise. And so, on this Easter morning, we may do what Mary could not yet do. We may cling to Him. We may recognize in Him the fulfillment of the new creation which has only begun in us. We who once were dead in Adam have been made alive in Christ.
The love of Mary Magdalene for Jesus was as strong as death. But that is not the great thing. The great thing is that the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord is stronger than death. In Christ, God has overcome death for the sake of His love for His creation. Christ Himself has overcome death for the sake of His love for His Eve, His Bride. The Holy Spirit has overcome our death and bondage under the old creation, in order to raise us up with Christ as His members, bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh. This is love, not that we loved Him, but that He loved us.
God's love in Christ is stronger than death. Stronger than the death that killed Jesus. Stronger than the death of sin that held us in its bonds. And stronger than the death that will take us into our own graves. We belong to the new creation, and we can be assured that the New Adam will not leave His beloved Eve, His beloved Bride, in the grave, but will raise us up into the full and glorious life of new creation. That hope is not merely our personal wish or preference; it is the triumph of Christ Himself; it is the triumph of God; it is the destiny that belongs to us.