This sermon was first published in the April 1, 1996 issue of the Standard Bearer.
* This is an Easter sermon of Herman Hoeksema, preached to the congregation of First PRC in Grand Rapids, MI. It has never before appeared in print.
… Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.
Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her. John 20:11-18
The fact of the resurrection of Christ on the morning of the third day, and all that is connected with it, is viewed in the gospel of John from the viewpoint of Mary Magdalene. It is Mary Magdalene, according to the gospel of John, who went to the sepulchre. The other women are not even mentioned. Although we know that there were others that accompanied Mary, they are not even mentioned by John. Yes, even though we know that Mary did not really reach the sepulchre, but when she saw that the stone was rolled away from the sepulchre, something which had been a matter of concern for them while they were on the way, she immediately returned and told the disciples.
That John looks at the resurrection from the viewpoint of the activities and movements of Mary is easily explained. It was Mary who brought the report of the resurrection to him and Peter. Mary came and told Peter and John about the open sepulchre, and also her conclusion. Upon the report of Mary, John and Peter run to the sepulchre. It is because of the marvel of that grave, and especially of the linen clothes which lay in the grave, not neatly folded up, as it is usually explained, but just as Jesus lay in them, that John believed. Not because of the report of Mary, but because of the marvel of the grave, John believed. It seems that Mary followed John and Peter. But the disciples had run. Mary came to the sepulchre when the disciples had returned, so that we find Mary here alone. We find her here with a very foolish question. But it is a question born of love.
Jesus hides Himself from her
You understand that it is not our calling and purpose to preach on Mary. That is beside the point. It is not that a study of the character of Mary Magdalene would not be interesting. But it is not the purpose of the text to bring the figure of Mary before us. To the contrary, it is the purpose of the text to bring our attention upon the resurrection of the Lord. There is here a manifestation of the risen Lord. Him we want to see. It is only in as far as the resurrection of the Lord is reflected in Mary, and determined by it, that we wish to consider Mary. In other words, we wish to see the resurrection of Jesus through Mary.
Then we see two things. In the first place, on that third day none of the disciples believed or expected the fact of the resurrection. Surely they had been told, and they had been told plainly. If we look at the words which Jesus spoke before His death, it is almost unbelievable that the disciples could be so in the dark. They had been plainly told that the Lord must suffer and die, and be raised again the third day. Yet none expected the resurrection. This shows how impossible it is, if our heart and mind are filled with our own notions, to receive the things of the kingdom of God. That is true today. You can sometimes instruct children in things which men will not receive. The reason is that when the hearts are filled with notions of our own we cannot receive the things of the kingdom of God. That was the trouble with the disciples. Surely they had an earthly conception of the kingdom. All did. But not only did they have an earthly conception, they also had set their hearts on that conception. They did not want another conception, and they could not receive it. Though Jesus tells them that He must suffer and die, and on the third day rise again; and though Jesus told them to go to Galilee and that He would see them there, they stayed in Jerusalem and paid no attention to it. We must not look at the love of the women going to the grave. That they were not on he way to Galilee, but to the grave, was an act of unbelief.
In the second place, the idea of the resurrection was not understood by them. They believed in the resurrection. They believed in the resurrection on the last day. They had seen the resurrection of Lazarus and others. They had some conception of the resurrection of Jesus as they had seen it typically. But of the resurrection, a resurrection that would be wholly different, that they did not understand. That they could not understand. Therefore Jesus must do two things. In the first place, He must convince them of the fact of the resurrection, He must instruct them in the resurrection. And He must teach them that His resurrection was not a return to this life. Of these two things He must convince the disciples.
How? There are especially five elements that enter into that work of Jesus by which He convinces the disciples of His resurrection. There is, in the first place, the marvel of the resurrection itself. The resurrection of Jesus was a marvelous thing. No one was there when it took place. We do not even know the exact moment when it took place. Jesus was raised before the stone was removed. The resurrection was not witnessed by anyone. Why not? Because it could not have been witnessed by earthly eyes. It could have been witnessed if the resurrection of Jesus had been like that of Lazarus. You could see the resurrection of Lazarus. You could see him rise and come out of the grave. But that is not the case with Jesus. Jesus arose with a spiritual body. That does not mean that it was not material. But it does mean that it differed materially from our present body. Our body belongs to the sphere of the earthly things, so that we cannot enter into the sphere of the heavenly with our present body. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven. Jesus arose with a spiritual, a heavenly body. If Jesus had not appeared, if He had not shown Himself, He would never have been seen. If the disciples had seen Jesus come out of the grave, it would have given them a wrong impression. They would have looked at the resurrection in a natural way. That is one element.
The second element is the open grave. The purpose of the angels at that grave was to keep that grave undisturbed. The open grave proved two things. It proved in the first place that Jesus was not there. In the second place it proved that He had left in a remarkable way. That was plain from the place where he lay. It was plain from the linen clothes, which lay in the grave just as Jesus had lain in them. They lay in the grave just as they had been wrapped around His body. Jesus had risen out of them without even disturbing them. If we consider this, we see what a marvelous testimony that open grave was for the disciples.
In the third place, there was the preaching of the angels. The angels preached. They brought the message of the resurrection of Jesus to the disciples.
In the fourth place, after the resurrection, Jesus did not have the former communion with the disciples. He came occasionally, and then left again. That left an impression with the disciples.
Finally, there are these manifestations of Jesus, ten of which are recorded in the Scriptures. One of them was to Mary Magdalene. You must remember that these manifestations of Jesus were not all alike. We see that He manifests Himself in a different way to Mary from the way in which He manifests Himself to the sojourners to Emmaus, or to Thomas. He appeared to the sojourners to Emmaus, also by holding their eyes, so that they could not recognize Him, but in their case Jesus appeals to Scripture. He instructs them in the Scriptures. When they see the Scriptures, they see Him for a moment, and then He disappears again. That is a different manifestation from the manifestation to Mary, or to Thomas. To the sojourners to Emmaus, Jesus shows Himself as the fulfillment of Scripture. To Thomas, He appeared differently. He comes to Thomas’ senses. He comes to Thomas so that Thomas can see Him.
So also He appears differently to Mary. Jesus appears to her in the garden. But Mary did not see Him. That does not mean that Mary was so filled with sorrow that she could not see Jesus. But Jesus so appeared to Mary, that she could not see Him. Jesus appeared to Mary, not by sight, not by reasoning, but by striking a road straight to her heart. We know very little of Mary. We know that Jesus had cast seven devils out of her. We know that from that moment Mary had followed Jesus. From that moment Mary’s life had been bound up with Jesus’ earthly form. To follow Him, to minister unto Him, to give Him drink and food, to tend to His clothes, that was Mary’s life.
It is from that point of view that we must look at Mary here in the garden. What did Mary want? She wanted the body of Jesus. You say that is but natural. It is but natural that she should go to the sepulchre, expecting to find a body. The others did that too. But not as Mary. When Mary does not find the body of Jesus, she is filled with grief. Why? Because she cannot do that last service to that body. Mary is looking for a dead body. Notice, that dead body she calls her Lord. Notice too, that her mind is so concentrated upon the body of Jesus that she does not see anything else. She is not amazed, as the other women had been, when she sees two angels sitting there by the sepulchre. For when they address her, she answers them as though it were a common thing to see angels, and to hear them speak. When the gardener, as she supposed, asked her why she wept, and whom she sought, she answered him as if the gardener knew all about it. If thou have borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him.
Finally, notice that Mary’s mind is so concentrated on her search for the body that she says: if you will show me where you laid Him, I will take Him away. Just imagine Mary carrying the body of Jesus away. So that it comes down to this: Mary had placed all the love of her heart on the Lord, as she had known Him in His earthly form. She revealed that love of her heart by following Jesus and ministering to His earthly needs. You must understand, Mary was not a woman like, for example, Salome. None of the disciples had a clear conception of the kingdom of heaven. But that was especially true of Mary. Mary cared nothing about conceptions. There are such people. Mary liked to hear Jesus speak, she liked to sit near Him and listen to His sermons. But for the rest, Mary liked to serve and wait on Jesus.
Jesus reveals Himself to Mary
To that Mary, Jesus reveals Himself. Mary had to learn three things. In the first place, that Jesus is alive. In the second place, that she must keep away from Him. She will never be able to follow, to serve, to wait on Jesus again. In the third place, Mary must learn to know Jesus in a higher fellowship than the former fellowship. If Jesus had appeared to Mary as He had been before, she would never have understood the reality of the resurrection. Therefore, Jesus withdraws in order that Mary may be instructed.
First, the angels address Mary. They say unto her: woman, why weepest thou. Then she hears something behind her, and turning she sees a man. That man was Jesus. But Mary did not know Him. Not because sorrow so beclouded her eyes that she could not recognize Jesus. But because Jesus appeared, intentionally, in a form that Mary would not recognize. Jesus said, before He said anything else, I am not the same, Mary. He addresses her in a different voice. He does not speak to Mary in His old voice. If He had, Mary would have recognized him. But Jesus addresses Mary in a different voice. Whom seekest thou?
Now we would expect that Mary would say: I seek the old Jesus. But she does not. She says: if thou hast taken Him away, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away. Notice, after Jesus has plainly shown that the old fellowship is gone, He shows that there was a new fellowship, in the name “Mary.” In that name Jesus addresses Mary in her heart. In that name, Jesus said to Mary: although thou canst not come to Me, I, from My sphere, will come to thee.
That is the fellowship which we have with Him. We do not see Him. But although we do not see Him, He comes to us, as He came to Mary, and He calls to us, He calls our name, and we have direct fellowship with Him. That we have today. O, the blessedness of hearing Jesus call our name. That was the blessedness of Mary. When she heard it, Mary turns around and says, Rabboni. This means that Mary had not yet changed. She still wants the old Jesus. When Mary says, Rabboni, she means to say: I have come to seek a dead Lord, and I find a living Lord.
Jesus instructs Mary in His resurrection
Jesus says, touch Me not.
That is the comfort.
Jesus says, I am not yet ascended to My Father. Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended to My Father. That means, in the first place, that Mary can no more minister unto Jesus, as she had done before. In the second place, it means that she shall touch Him again. Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended unto My Father. But go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.
That means two things. In the first place, My Father is your Father, and My God is your God. There is a new fellowship.
In the second place, it means, when I am ascended to My Father and your Father, then I will let you touch Me. Then I will let you touch Me, in a more blessed, spiritual, heavenly, eternal way. For when Jesus ascended, He received of the Father the Spirit. When He had received the Spirit, He fulfilled the promise of letting His people touch Him, by coming to them and dwelling in them, in the Spirit. We have fellowship with Jesus in a far more blessed sense than Mary had before the resurrection. In a far more blessed sense do we respond to the calling of our name, and say, Rabboni.
If we have heard Jesus call our name, and we have responded, then we will go and walk as disciples of that Lord. We will expect the day when we shall touch Him. For we shall touch Him, and see Him face to face. Not because He shall come to us, but because we shall be drawn to Him. And then we shall have fellowship with Him, for ever and ever.
Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965) was born in Groningen, the Netherlands on March 13, 1886 and passed away in Grand Rapids, MI on September 2, 1965. He attended the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church and was ordained into the minitry in September of 1915.
"H.H." is considered one of the founding "fathers" of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. He and his consistory (Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI) were suspended and deposed from their offices in 1924-1925 because of their opposition to the "Three Points of Common Grace" adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in the Synod of Kalamazoo, MI in 1924. He, together with Rev. George M. Ophoff, Rev. H. Danhof and their consistories continued in office in the "Protesting Christian Reformed Church" which shortly thereafter were named the "Protestant Reformed Churches in America."
Herman Hoeksema served as pastor in the 14th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, MI (1915-1920), Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1920-1924), and First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1924-1964), He taught in the Seminary of the Protestant Reformed Churches from its founding and retired in 1964.
For an enlarged biography, see: Herman Hoeksema: Theologian and Reformer