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Good News for a Weeping World

Knowing Jesus is alive relieves all our sorrows

Do you hear the crying? If we would listen, especially with our imagination, we would hear the weeping from all parts of our world—from Nicaragua, from Ireland. Can you hear the crying all around us—in 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 problems.

The risen Christ is the answer to our tears over life

Why do 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.

However, 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.

When the 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).

Jesus said, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?"

She said, "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."

Then Jesus 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.

She couldn't 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 stronger.

Years ago 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 life.

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 issue—how 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 Lord.

The risen Christ is the answer to our tears over death

Someone has 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 there—some moral deeds, some church attendance, some giving of money—and 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 Scripture—as much as you might memorize it, and as precious as it is—does not live within you and give you hope and strength the way a living power can.

Just 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 death.

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 ones—little 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 life.

The ancient 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 seems—time 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.

Now, it seems that anything goes—except 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 message—when 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 it.

It's human 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 you—you who do not yet know the risen Christ—in a way that would make him real in your life.

Sometimes we 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 about—that 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."

After the 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 Virginia.

(c) John A. Lares

Preaching Today Issue #79


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Sermon Outline:


I. The risen Christ is the answer to our tears over life

II. The risen Christ is the answer to our tears over death