Do you hear
the crying? If we would listen, especially with our imagination, we would hear
the weeping from all parts of our worldfrom Nicaragua, from Ireland. Can you
hear the crying all around usin hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, funeral
homes? Can you hear the crying that is going on in personal lives everywhere?
Many times we don't hear it because it's silent. Many times we try to hide our
weeping and our crying from other people because we've been led to believe that
it's not proper to show emotion. Yet all of us, from time to time, have to cry
a little bit or a whole lot, as the case may be. Tears, in themselves, are not
wrong. They are a God-given means to enable us to express feelings that might
otherwise damage us or adversely affect our health if we did not express those
feelings. But the feelings, the things that necessitate our tears, are the
Christ is the answer to our tears over life
people weep? Why do you weep? Why do I weep? For many reasons: sadness, the
loss of loved ones, fear sometimes, frustration. How many people weep out of
loneliness we probably will never know, because they don't tell us about it.
And how many people weep simply because of the futility of life? When in our
sober moments we think, What's it all about anyway? What's it all worth?
sometimes we are moved to tears. I think it is significant that the first
appearance of the resurrected Christ was to one who was weeping, Mary
Magdalene. Mary's weeping was understandable. Christ had done so much for her.
before we think about what took place there at the tomb that morning, I want to
refresh your memory about who this person was who came there weeping: Mary
Magdalene, or literally "Mary of Magdala." She is called Mary
Magdalene because she was from the city of Magdala. Tradition says that Mary
was an immoral woman. However, there is no scriptural basis for believing that
Mary of Magdala was more sinful than any other person. She is often confused
with other women in the Scripture, especially other Marys. But we do know this
about Mary of Magdala: Jesus cast seven demons out of her. (I'm sure many of
you get different pictures when I tell you that. There are people who want to
explain away demon possession, saying, "It was really mental illness."
Naturally, you're welcome to your belief. But the more I learn about life, and
the more I realize what I don't know, the more I wonder, Why should I doubt
such a thing as demon possession? I don't think our Lord doubted it; he dealt
with demons. And I think when the Scripture says he dealt with demon
possessions, that's exactly what it was. So, I don't think it was a
misunderstanding of the times; I think Jesus literally had cast demons out of
Mary of Magdala.) Who knew, who could say before that, what torment went
through her life, her mind, her spirit, because of these demons? But Jesus had
delivered her from their domination. He gave her purpose and meaning in life.
(We know also that this Mary contributed to the furtherance of the gospel. She
was a woman of some means who helped finance Jesus and his disciples as they
went around preaching the Good News.) Jesus had done all this for her, and now
he had been crucified. All of that was over. Her Lord had been unjustly killed.
We know from
Scripture that she watched the Crucifixion. We know that she stood by and
watched as Christ was buried. Some expositors, G. Campbell Morgan among them,
believe that she stayed all through that first night beside the tomb watching
to see what would happen, and only later had she gone home. Can you imagine the
thoughts that must have gone through her mind as she stayed in that lonely
cemetery, thinking about what had happened? Here was the one who had delivered
her from demon possession, and now he was dead. She must have wondered, Are the
demons going to come back? Is my life going to go back to being the terrible,
terrible thing it was before I met him? All sorts of things must have gone
through her mind as she waited there in that cemetery. She came back that next
morning so early that it was still dark. (The original language says she came
literally between three and six A.M.). And now she finds that not only was her
Lord dead, but the body is missing. And she is beyond herself. But her weeping
was unnecessary. She did not know that her Lord had been raised from the dead.
She is so overcome with grief that she can't comprehend what is happening even
after she receives word from the angels that the Resurrection has taken place.
Bible says she came to the tomb while it was dark, it probably means more than
just physical darkness. She came while it was still dark in her mind. She still
did not have all the facts that Christ was alive, that he had risen from the
dead. She didn't know how near he was, even when he spoke to her (she was
looking in the wrong direction; she thought it was the gardener).
"Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?"
"They've taken away my Lord, and I don't know what has happened. Sir, if
you can, tell me where he is, and I will get him."
calls her name, "Mary," and Mary turns and sees that it is the Lord.
She is overcome with joy. Her inclination is to grab him and hold on to him.
Then we hear one of the most curious sayings of Scripture. Jesus says, "Do
not touch me." A better translation is: "Do not attempt to cling to
me; do not attempt to hold on to me." Jesus was telling Mary: Everything
is changed. It will be an entirely new relationship. Before, I was in a
physical body; now, I can be with you at all times. I can live within. I will
always be present.
understand that then. But Jesus was telling her, "Do not cling to me. Do
not assume the old relationship we had with each other. Everything is changed
now." Indeed, everything would be different. Jesus gives her not only
assurance, but also an assignment. He says, "Go tell others. Go and spread
the word that, indeed, I have risen from the dead. Make it clear to the others
that now there will be unbroken fellowship and constant access to the risen,
living Savior of humankind." In sum, Christ was the answer to Mary's
tears, and Christ is the answer to the weeping of the world today. He comforts
our mourning over life.
I try to use
the sanctified imagination in dealing with Scripture. I've tried to put myself
into Mary's place, to imagine what she was thinking when she thought her Lord
was dead. I think his death meant more than just the loss of a personal friend,
but of one who had given her meaning and purpose in life. I imagine Mary thought
something like this: If this world is such that the only perfect life that ever
lived was overcome by that world, then what is life all about, anyway? If the
life that was in Jesus Christ had no chance against the evil powers of this
world, what chance do we have? In that case what would life be about? Good
would be inferior to evil. Falsehood would be superior to truth. Deceit would
win out. Do we not hear that implied regularly when we talk with many people,
especially about the "practical" aspects of life, like success in
work? How many times have you heard a person say, "You can't get by being
honest"? In other words, falsehood is superior. Deceit is better and
when I was working for the state, a fellow who also worked with the state told
me, "It's no wonder you're not doing well financially. If you would let me
adjust your expense account, then you would come out all right." Are we
naive enough to think that this sort of thing is not done regularly, that many
people don't live by this kind of thinking (that you have to be crooked to get
by, that you have to practice dishonesty)? The implication is that truth is not
strong enough to survive. Well, if Christ could be overcome by this world, then
all that would be true. The beautiful would be defenseless against the ugly of
Why do we
weep? If we were honest with each other, we would confess that many times we
weep because the world is not better. When I see things in the newspapers and
on TV, especially when I think of the abortion issuehow people continue to
think it's quite all right to murder an unborn child (millions of whom are
being killed every year)I want to weep. Because the world is not better, I
want to weep. I want to weep because others, in their conduct, attitudes, and
behavior, are not better. The other day when I was on a fishing trip, I saw a
young couple with two little children fishing. If you take little children on a
fishing trip, you've got to expect some problems. But although they really
weren't being bad, this man was cursing these little children with God's name.
I would have liked to have baptized that fellow and held him under awhile!
Think about those little children, being brought up in that home with a father
who would treat them that way. It is enough to make you weep that others are
not different and better. And I have wept many times because I'm not different,
because I'm not better, because I'm still so unlike my Lord. Jesus understood
Mary's tears, and he understands ours. We know because some of Jesus' own tears
are recorded. I say "some" because I don't believe all of Jesus'
tears are recorded. We know that Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus. We know
that Jesus wept over Jerusalem because of the course it was pursuing. But don't
you think Jesus wept at other times? Scholars believe that Joseph (Jesus'
stepfather, if you will) was taken early in life. Don't you think Jesus wept
many times over that and what his mother had to go through? Don't you think
many times Jesus looked at sinful humanity, at what people were doing with
their lives unnecessarily? How he must have wept over them! Don't you think
there were a lot of tears shed those many times he would go off and pray all
night? I do. Jesus understands our tears when we shed them today. Yet he is
Christ is the answer to our tears over death
said the choice between Muhammad and Christ is this: at every crossroads of
life, we can either seek help from a dead body or we can seek help from a
living Lord. How we ought to rejoice on Easter, that we worship a risen Savior!
"We serve a risen Savior / He's in the world today." He is Lord
indeed. One of the frustrations and sadnesses of my life is that, every once in
a while, I think of people whom I so wish would have a real relationship with
the living Christ. I see church members who are going through the motions (and
some of them aren't even going through many of the motions), who are kidding
themselves that they really have what God wants to give them. But they don't have
it at all, because they've never met a risen Lord. He's not living within them.
They still see their religion as a matter of something out theresome moral
deeds, some church attendance, some giving of moneyand they don't understand
what it's all about. Let's not misunderstand; doctrine is important. You have
to start with understanding, with reading the Word of God and comprehending
some of its truths. Doctrine and Scripture are important. But doctrine did not
die for you. Doctrine did not rise from the dead. Even Scriptureas much as you
might memorize it, and as precious as it isdoes not live within you and give
you hope and strength the way a living power can.
recently I have seen people find strength in great crises. Those in a hospital
or a nursing home who were going through a great crisis did not say to me,
"Doctrine is with me." They did not say to me, "Scripture is
with me. My beliefs are with me." Do you know what they said? "He, he
is with me." When we are saying good-by to our dearest loved ones, can
facts give us comfort? But what about that living, risen Savior who lives
within? When we come to the place where we know he lives, lives within our
hearts, religion is no longer something out there, but something in here. And
it transforms all of life. Everything literally becomes different. It's not a
matter, then, of obeying the moral code, but obeying the one who lives within,
who directs our life. That comforts us; Christ is the answer. The risen Christ
is the answer to our tears over life; Christ is the answer to our tears over
How many of
us are affected regularly by the passing of other people? Their deaths sadden
us so much. Perhaps there's nothing sadder than the death of a young person. If
you were to ask me what is the hardest thing I've ever had to do in the
pastorate, I would tell you: facing the loss of young oneslittle children and
young people. How sad it is! It's almost more than any human being can bear to
conduct the funeral of a young person. Why? Because we feel it's wrong. We want
to cry out, even against God, and say there's something wrong when a young
person is taken. This one has been deprived of life. This life was just getting
started, and now it is over. It seems so wrong; we're so saddened by the loss
of a young person. When death comes to an adult, we say it's the interruption
of life, or we say that the person was just getting to where life had its
greatest meaning. And now that the person is gone, it, too, seems wrong. And
even when an elderly person dies, we might feel this proves the futility of
Greeks had a saying that everything earth brings forth, time devours. Think of
that. Everything the earth produces, everything life brings forth, time
devours. Even when an elderly person dies, we say, "Yes, that's the way it
seemstime conquers all. Sooner or later, time will claim us all." Time
seems so cruel. We are saddened over the deaths of other people. Furthermore, the death of self terrifies
us. Do you know what the modern taboo is? I read an article recently that said
that we now wear on our T-shirts what we used to not tell our analysts. Isn't
that the truth? Look at the messages on some T-shirts. How open our society is
about so many things! When I was young, you didn't talk about a lot of those
things, especially in mixed company.
seems that anything goesexcept for one subject. You know what the modern taboo
is? Death. Don't talk to people about death. They don't want to talk about it.
I have been given perfect liberty in this pulpit for almost twelve years now.
As long as I've stuck to Scripture, nobody has given me a hard time about
anything I have preached. But I did have some flack over one messagewhen I
preached on death. People said, "I don't want to hear about it. I didn't
like that. I wish you hadn't talked about it." We don't want to think
about our own death. We either want to rule it out completely, or we want to
project it so far into the future that it has no relevance for our lives now.
Someone once said, "You're getting older when, instead of thinking of how
long you've lived, you start thinking of how long you may have left." We
start thinking like that, don't we? Nonetheless, we'd rather not think about
nature to say, "No, I don't want to talk about death." But the risen
Christ provides power, promise, and proof that this earth is not all there is.
He made the crucial point with Mary, in his resurrection, that because he was
alive, she could be sure that all was changed for her. Likewise, we can be
sure. Elsewhere Jesus said, "Because I live, you shall live also."
That's the message of Easter. It's the crucial matter of all of history. As it
was with Mary, so it is with us. If Christ could be overcome by this world,
then there isn't any hope. But Christ could not be overcome by this world;
death could not hold him. It looked like the forces of Rome and the false
religions were having the last say. But they didn't have the last say, because
Christ rose from the dead. And because he lives, we can live also. I haven't
read it, but just the title of a play written by Eugene O'Neill is sad. It's
called A Long Day's Journey into Night. As I understand it, the theme is that
life is heading toward darkness, that it gets darker as you go along. Is that
the way it is with Christians? Not really. Life is getting brighter as we go
along. Mary came to the tomb while it was still dark, not only outside, but
inside. In her mind it was still dark, because she did not know yet that Christ
is alive. There are so many of us who are still living in darkness. I wish I
could somehow, some way, point youyou who do not yet know the risen Christin
a way that would make him real in your life.
see Christians who obviously have Christ living within, and we say,
"That's a special person. I couldn't have that." Or we might say,
"Well, So-and-so is a very religious person," or "has a very
religious nature." So we assume that we can't have a vital relationship
with Christ. But that's not so. What was true in Mary's case can be true in
ours. We all can be aware that Christ is alive and not just out there. One
scholar says Mary was present on the Day of Pentecost (when the Spirit of God
fell upon all who were present): the Bible says all believers were present when
the Spirit of God came upon them. Think of the implication. Here was Mary:
before Christ met her, she had been possessed, filled with seven demons; now
she is possessed with the sevenfold Spirit of God. What a beautiful thing to
think aboutthat transformed life! Mary doesn't have to worry now about whether
the demons are coming back, whether she's going to become her old self. No, it
won't happen, because she's got a new power living within. Christ said to Mary,
"Do not cling to me. Do not try to hold on to this old kind of
relationship. But go and tell others."
Resurrection, Christ repeatedly appeared and left, appeared and disappeared. He
would be with his disciples behind locked doors; then he would be gone. I think
he was conditioning them to know that once he did bodily ascend away from this
earth, they would still, at any moment, be sure that he was present and that
any time they turned to him in prayer, he still would be there. There are
people who say, "Wouldn't it have been great to have been there when
Christ walked in the flesh? Wouldn't it have been something to have sat at his
feet and listened to him? Wouldn't it have been something to behold the things
that he did, the great miracles and all?" But they're missing the point. If
we were to ask Mary or Peter or Thomas or any of Jesus' followers, "Would
you want to go back to the old days when Jesus was here in the flesh? Or do you
prefer it the way it is now, the way he lives with people at all times?"
They would not exchange the indwelling of Christ for a Christ who was out
there. But many people today still think of Christ as someone who is out there
somewhere, and they are missing the resurrection power of Christ, who can live
within and transform all of life.
Mary came to
the tomb while it was still dark, but when she left there, she was walking in
the greatest light in all the world: the light of the knowledge that Christ
rose. What kind of life are you dwelling in: darkness or light?
At the time
of this message, John Lares was pastor of First Baptist Church in Weston, West