Bitter Sorrow Made Sweet (John 20)
1. Good evening, brothers and sisters. I wanted to come to you this evening to tell you something wonderful that happened to me. I was one of the women who followed Jesus from Galilee. I was one of the few that were there with Jesus' mother Mary when Jesus was crucified. I was there on the saddest day in human history. I was there when the Savior of the world was put to death. That was the day the sorrow started.
2. The sorrow wasn't always there. I had followed Jesus since He left my hometown of Magdala. I was so thankful to Him for casting out the seven demons from me (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). What could I do but follow Him and listen to all the wonderful Gospel words falling from His lips? Jesus went to every town in Galilee preaching, teaching, casting out demons and healing diseases. He was bringing about the new heavens and the new earth that Isaiah had prophesied (65:17-25). He was making all things new (Revelation 21:5). He was bringing about the great Messianic reign as He preached throughout the Jewish world. All of these great things were happening. That's what made the sorrow of His death so bitter. Everything was looking up. The future was bright. Then everything crashed down to earth. It was a very bleak Friday, and it wasn't just the weather. Jesus had been arrested during the night. Rumors were swirling around that one of His own disciples had handed Him over to be executed. It wasn't until we heard the news about Judas' suicide that we truly believed the rumors. Then it was apparent that this was truly a day that belonged to Jesus' enemies. It was the day before the Sabbath that He was crucified. Myself and one of the other Marys followed Joseph and Nicodemus to the tomb where they laid Jesus' body. It was a sad day, but we had to decide what to do in order to go on with our lives. We went back to the homes we were staying in to observe the Passover Sabbath. Through that entire time, my mind was spinning with all sorts of thoughts about Jesus. The one question kept coming back: "What now?"
3. So, on the first day of the week, "early, while it was still dark" (v1), James' mother Mary, Salome and I went out to the tomb. We had decided to give Jesus a proper burial, anointing and spices and proper wrappings. Joseph and Nicodemus did an okay job, but they were under time constraints. They had to be done by sundown. We literally had all the time in the world to take care of His burial. But there was something amiss when we got to the tomb. The stone had been rolled away. Seeing that, we all ran back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples. After all, the Temple guards had been posted there, but they weren't there anymore. When we got back to Jerusalem, Peter and John came out immediately to the tomb to inspect our story. I didn't mind that so much. After all, we'd all just gone through the single greatest trauma in anyone's life. Maybe we had been delusional. Maybe we went to the wrong tomb. But no. They confirmed that the cloths Jesus was wrapped in were still there. Someone had been laid in that tomb recently. Peter and John left and I was there all alone in the garden. I began to cry. I looked into the tomb once again, but it wasn't dark this time. It was quite bright in there. And two men were sitting, one where Jesus' head had been, the other at His feet. They asked me, "Woman, why are you weeping?" (v13). What a silly question to ask anyone standing in a cemetery! Then I heard a sound behind me. I turned around and saw a man standing there. I thought he was just the gardener who'd come to make sure that everything was in order in the garden. He wanted to know why I was there. I was hysterical. I was crying and couldn't help myself. I just blurted out, "Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away" (v15). If the gardener didn't want Jesus' body in that tomb, I'd be more than happy to find another tomb. But His answer was simple. Just one word. My name. Then I knew. This was no gardener I was talking to. This was Jesus raised from the dead. I couldn't have been happier. I grabbed hold of Him, but He told me, "Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father" (v17). There was still work for Him to do. He had to ascend, but He was alive. My sorrow was gone. Its terrible bitterness turned into great sweetness. And it can hapen to you.
4. Your sorrow can be made sweet as well. By hearing His Word and meditating upon it, the sorrows of your life are set into proper focus. Your life will be made sweet because you will see that His death and His resurrection are for you. That was what took so long for me and the rest of His disciples to understand. He died and He rose again so that your life will be sweet. Myself and the rest of Jesus' disciples had to find out the hard way. We had to live through the days of His life and death and resurrection. We faced the hardships of uncertainty and the blindness that our sinful nature puts before our minds. But you, you have the great testaments of faith of the disciples. You have our eyewitness accounts that bring faith to your lives. You get to see not only our accounts of the events but the fulfillment and the coming of understanding that only Jesus can bring to you through His death and resurrection. May thoughts like these continue to fill you as you continue your journey through Lent. Amen.