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Seeing or Recognizing?


John 20:1-18
Bible Studies for Life, March 31


As we have been studying some of the “Questions Jesus Asked,” I’ve thought of Rudyard Kipling’s classic lines, “I keep six honest serving men. They taught me all I knew. Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.”

In today’s lesson from John 20, Jesus employed the interrogative, “Who.” Of course, the fact that Jesus was asking any question on that Sunday morning is remarkable considering He had been crucified a few days earlier. His devoted follower, Mary Magdalene, had come to Jesus’ tomb fully expecting to find His lifeless corpse. Instead, she encountered the living Christ!

She didn’t recognize Him at first; perhaps because it was very early in the morning, perhaps because her eyes were filled with tears. It’s possible that Jesus prevented her from recognizing Him at first, as He did with the Emmaus road disciples in Luke 24:16. Whatever the reason, she “knew not that it was Jesus” (v. 14). Jesus asked, “Who are you looking for?” Clearly, Mary was looking for Him; at least, for His dead body. But before she could find Jesus, He found her!

As we study this passage, let’s first highlight the fact that…


A tomb was empty - John 20:1-4

The empty tomb caused Mary to worry (vs. 1-2).

When Mary Magdalene arrived early that morning to anoint Jesus’ body with spices, she saw the stone moved from the entrance. She concluded that Jesus’ body had been taken.

Not too many years before this, Mary had seven devils living inside her (Luke 8:2). But since Jesus delivered her, she had devoted her life to Him. She loved Jesus greatly, and this situation upset Mary.

Being distraught, she immediately went to tell Peter and John. The “first day of the week” has become for us a day of worship, but that Sunday began for Mary as a day of much worry.

The empty tomb caused men to hurry (vs. 3-4).

Mary summarized her report to Peter and John with two disturbing facts: “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher,” and “we know not where they have laid Him.”

The thought of Roman soldiers or religious stooges moving His body to an undisclosed location was so distressing that Peter and John “ran both together … to the sepulcher” (v. 4). Though they believed Him to be dead, they definitely didn’t want to lose sight of where He was.

In studying this passage, we also notice that ...


A trust was emphasized - John 20:5-10

Jesus’ body was missing (vs. 5-7).

The unnamed “other disciple” here is, of course, John who also penned this account. His mention of ‘outrunning’ Peter in verse 4 is a bit amusing, but it reminds us that John was anxious to get to the tomb. His hurried running quickly turned into hesitant restraint as he arrived and looked inside but did not enter.

In contrast, Peter charged right in. But neither man saw the lifeless corpse of Jesus. They saw only the linen cloth that had wrapped His head and body.

John’s belief was mentioned (vs. 8-10).

After seeing the grave wrappings, both men returned home (v. 10). And the Bible says in Luke 24:12 that Peter was “wondering” about all this. Peter saw and was bewildered. But John “saw and believed” (v. 8). In verse 5, John “saw” the scene in a glance, but now he “saw” and understood what had happened.

He didn’t make the scriptural connections yet, according to verse 9. But he recognized that Jesus had passed through the unmoved grave clothes and had neatly folded the kerchief that covered His head. John believed Jesus had risen from the dead, but interestingly, he told no one at this point.

The last thing I would highlight as we study this passage is that ...


A turning was experienced - John 20:11-18

Mary turned to the sepulcher with grief (vs. 11-14).

The narrative turns again to Mary, who was left with more questions than answers. Her “weeping” indicated a loud sobbing; she was heartbroken over Jesus’ death, and now, His missing body. She peered again inside the tomb and, this time, saw two angels “sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain” (v. 12), reminiscent of the two cherubim covering the mercy seat in Exodus 25:18-19.

When they asked why she wept, she mentioned again that she couldn’t find Jesus. Some believe that at this point, one of the angels motioned for Mary to turn around.

Mary turned to the Savior with gladness (vs. 15-18).

She turned and saw the man standing there but didn’t recognize Him. He also asked why she was weeping and who she was looking for. She asked if He had removed Jesus’ body, believing Him to be the gardener. And in a sense, He was, for He had been cultivating resurrection ground.

She must have looked longingly again to the tomb, for when He spoke her name, “Mary,” she “turned herself.”

The drama of this moment is palpable. She went from calling Him Mister (“Sir”) in verse 15 to calling Him Master (“Rabboni”) in verse 16.

She recognized Him now! She was thrilled that He was alive! But the resurrected Lord instructed her in verse 17 not to hold onto Him and keep Him there, but to go share His good news. And it’s still our mission to go tell others about Jesus.

When you come to church on Easter Sunday, “Who is it you are looking for?” Will you casually see the biblical facts about Jesus? Or like Mary, will you personally recognize the transforming truth that He is the risen Savior?