John 20:10-18 

Sermon preached on March 22, 2015 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2015. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

I'm currently reading a book by Rodney Stark called,
The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World. As the title suggests, it gives explanations for the rise of Christianity. One of the chapters deals with how women were treated within Christianity and notes the fact that Christianity honored women and so that is listed as a reason for the rise of Christianity. It notes that some studies that estimated that there were 131 males per 100 females in the city of Rome and 140 to 100 in the whole of Italy, Asia Minor and North Africa. (p. 97) It says that the reason for this was 'tampering with human life'. It was legal for unwanted female babies to be killed. This was widely practiced and accepted. But Christianity taught respect for all human life and disapproved of killing babies.

But there had to be more to it than that because in today's society the evangelical church continues to teach that the killing of babies is wrong—yet, in spite of that, and in spite of the fact that there are reports of gender based abortion, that more female babies are aborted than male babies—the evangelical church is viewed as being anti-women. Because we believe that abortion is morally wrong and because we're not pro-choice—in some sectors of society we're viewed as being misogynists.

So there was more to it than just trying to protect female babies. That was just part of it. The argument that the book makes is that women were honored in Christianity. In the Roman world Christianity was appealing to women because, (p. 97)

"within the Christian subculture women enjoyed for higher status than did women in the Greco-Roman world at large…"

Many in our society today believe that women hold a lower status within Christianity. Many see them as being second-class citizens. They can't be ministers, be elders, or deacons. I sometimes find it awkward when I'm asked to do a wedding services and I talk to the bride and groom about the vows. Our denomination's outline of the marriage service has reference to 'obey' in the wife's vows. The first form for the marriage vows put it this way,

"…do you promise in the presence of God and these witnesses to be to him a faithful, loving and obedient wife, so long as you both shall live?"

"Obey?" That doesn't go over very well with a lot of brides. Nor does withholding the offices of elder and deacon from women.

How are we to respond to this? Some denominations have responded by giving in to society. They have women ministers, elders, they are in favor of abortion and they have changed their marriage vows to take out the word, "obey".

We can't do that because we are called to be faithful to God. But then the question becomes—is God a misogynist? Does He hate women? Does He want to put them down? Of course not. Of course not. Such questions are way off base. Nothing could be further from the truth. God has told husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it. God has told husbands not to abuse their authority. He has instructed them to respect and honor their wives.

Indeed, if you look at the greatest event in history—the death and resurrection of Jesus—you find incredible and amazing things about Jesus and His attitude toward women. This morning we're going to focus on the first part of John 20—a passage that so honors women that it is astounding. We read that Mary was at the empty tomb crying, (John 20:15–18)

"'Woman,' he said, 'why are you crying?
Who is it you are looking for?'
Thinking he was the gardener, she said,
'Sir, if you have carried him away,
tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.'
Jesus said to her,
'Mary.'She turned toward him
and cried out in Aramaic,
'Rabboni!' (which means Teacher).
Jesus said, 'Do not hold on to me,
for I have not yet returned to the Father.
Go instead to my brothers and tell them,
'I am returning to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.'
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news:
'I have seen the Lord!'
And she told them that
he had said these things to her."

Let's look at some of the things this teaches us about Jesus' attitude, His affection and His charge to women.

The first thing that we should notice here is that

the first person on earth that the resurrected Christ revealed Himself to was Mary, a woman.

He didn't show Himself first to John, the beloved disciple. He didn't show Himself first to Peter, on whose confession He would build His church. He didn't show Himself first to His own mother. He didn't show Himself first to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. He didn't appear to Pilate. He didn't appear in Caesar's court. And who did He appear to? He revealed Himself to Mary Magdalene. Mark's gospel confirms this. It says, (Mark 16:9)

"When Jesus rose early
on the first day of the week,
he appeared first to Mary Magdalene,
out of whom he had driven seven demons."

Jesus' resurrection, along with His ascension into heaven, was the culmination of the greatest event in the history of the world. Without His resurrection, there is no hope for mankind. As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14–19,

"And if Christ has not been raised,
our preaching is useless
and so is your faith.
More than that, we are then found to be
false witnesses about God,
for we have testified about God
that he raised Christ from the dead.
But he did not raise him if in fact
the dead are not raised.
For if the dead are not raised,
then Christ has not been raised either.
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile;
you are still in your sins.
Then those also who have
fallen asleep in Christ are lost.
If only for this life we have hope in Christ,
we are to be pitied more than all men."

The resurrection is so crucial, so pivotal, so significant—it was a vital part of the greatest event in the world. And who was the first one that the resurrected Christ appeared to? It was Mary Magdalene, a woman. This is astounding.

But secondly,

Jesus appeared do Mary, in part, for her to tell others about His resurrection.

Verses 17-18 are incredible. We read,

"Jesus said, [to Mary]'Do not hold on to me,
for I have not yet returned to the Father.
Go instead to my brothers and tell them,
'I am returning to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.'
Mary Magdalene went
to the disciples with the news:
'I have seen the Lord!'
And she told them that
he had said these things to her."

The greatest news in the history of the world—and Jesus chooses a woman to relay that news. This is astounding.

The culture in Jesus' time was highly patriarchal. Women weren't allowed to speak in the synagogue. The NIDNTTE tells us,

"Any male member of the synagogue might be asked by the ruler to read from the law or the prophets, but the woman was to preserve strict silence ('The woman does not read out of the Torah for the sake of the honor of the congregation,'… Women were commonly bracketed with slaves and children by the rabbis…"

Not only that, but back then

the testimony of a woman was inadmissible in a Jewish court of law.

Women weren't even allowed to be a witnesses.

Now if you have an important message you want delivered in person—who did you send? Governments send ambassadors, or the secretary of state, or even sometimes the President himself will go to deliver a message.

When my father took a turn for the worse just before he died, my brother phoned me with the news. You don't leave that to your secretary or someone else.

This is the greatest news ever in the history of the world—and Jesus personally sends Mary Magdalene. This is earth shattering news—and Jesus appears first to Mary and tells her to go and tell His brothers that He has risen.

How important are women in the church? How important are they to Jesus? They were honored with being the first to see Jesus. Matthew's gospel tells us that when the women found the tomb empty, an angel told the women to go and tell His disciples that He was risen and would go ahead of them into Galilee. We read, (Matthew 28:8–10)

"So the women hurried away from the tomb,
afraid yet filled with joy,
and ran to tell his disciples.
Suddenly Jesus met them.
'Greetings,' he said.
They came to him,
clasped his feet and worshiped him.
Then Jesus said to them,
'Do not be afraid.
Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee;
there they will see me.'"

Donald Macleod, (Christ Crucified, p. 57)

"Nothing but the fact that this is how it actually happened can explain the choice of such witnesses [women]; the supreme instance, perhaps, of the foolishness of God (1 Cor. 1:25). They would literally have been laughed out of court."

Yet God chose them.

The third thing we see in our text is that

the first word that Jesus spoke was the word, 'woman'.

This is the first recorded word that Jesus spoke after His resurrection. Think about that. It is significant.

We need to be clear that this was not a disrespectful mode of address. In our culture, calling someone, 'woman' is sometimes very disrespectful. A few years ago while she was teaching a 4
th grade class, Marg was addressed as "Woman!". Just before the class was over she told the class to get ready for the end of class. They were playing electronic keyboards with headphones plugged in. She told them to turn off their pianos and take off their headphones. They all obeyed except for one boy. So she told him again to turn off his piano and put away his headphones. He looked at her and said,

"Okay, woman!"

That was both disrespectful and demeaning.

But that's not the way that we are to understand how Jesus addressed Mary. Indeed, while He was hanging on the cross, Jesus said to His mother, (John 19:26)

"Dear woman, here is your son,"

He said addressed His mother the same way, with the exact same word that He addressed to Mary in our text. The NIV translators put the word "dear" before "woman", but that's not in the Greek. They were trying to given us the idea that this was not a harsh word. The NIDNTTE tells us that the word translated 'woman',

"can be used as a respectful way of addressing a woman, comparable to Eng. madam…"

In the movie, "The Queen" there's a scene in which newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair is getting ready to meet the Queen for his first meeting with her as Prime Minister. When he arrives at Buckingham Palace he's prepped on how to address the Queen when he meets her. He was told to address her as, "Ma'am". He was even told how to pronounce it. The official at Buckingham palace said to him,

"It's 'mam' as in hand, not 'mom' as in fom (farm)."

It's a gender specific designation, yet one with great respect. That's how we are to understand Jesus address to Mary.

The other thing to note in our text is the whole sentence. Jesus said,

"Woman, why are you crying?"

Mary was in distress. Her distress was caused by men. Donald Macleod points out that Jesus suffered under a patriarchal system of justice. He writes, (Christ Crucified, p. 63)

"All the leading agents in his condemnation, from Pilate to Judas Iscariot, were men. In the process, human justice (patriarchal justice) was exposed as a system which operated through treachery, perjury, cruelty and corruption. It was satanic: an instance of the one who had the 'power of death' (Heb. 2:14) exercising his power through a patriarchal judicial system stamped with his own image."

This scene of Jesus and Mary prompts Macleod to ask, (Christ Crucified, p. 62)

"Is this symbolic: a reflection of the Lord's compassion for the weeping women of the world?"

Yes. How dearly Jesus cared for Mary.

What this means for you men here is that it's very important that you treat all women, especially your wives, correctly. The world watches how we treat women. How we treat women and the respect we have for them should be an evangelistic tool. The world should see your behavior toward women and know that you honor them.

But there's more.

Before Jesus appeared to Mary, here at the tomb she was, to a certain extent, unbelieving, as far as the resurrection was concerned.

Verse 2 tells us that when she saw the open tomb she went to Peter and told him that someone had taken Jesus out of the tomb and that she didn't know where they had taken Him. She still didn't grasp the words that Jesus had told them about His resurrection. Verse 12f tell us that when she looked into the tomb and saw two angels there, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and one at the foot—they asked her why she was crying and she told them it was because they had taken Jesus away and she didn't know where they had put Him. When she sees someone she mistakes for the gardener—she asks Him where they have put the body.

She was confused. She did not really grasp Jesus' words about His resurrection—so she didn't really believe them. She was there at the tomb, not because she expected for Jesus to be alive—but because she knew He was dead.

Yet Jesus dealt so gently with her. When she didn't recognize Him, and thought He was the gardener,

He said to her, "Mary". He called her by name.

Mary, was in deep distress. Her belief in the resurrection was non-existent. Yet Jesus appears to her before anyone else in the world. He soothes her. He calls her by name. He gives her the great privilege of telling others about His resurrection.

Donald Macleod writes, (Christ Crucified, p. 57)

"In the case of Mary Magdalene her credibility was further prejudiced by her medical history. She was one of those whom Jesus had cured of evil spirits (Luke 8:2)."

Note this well. If you asked anyone who Jesus should appear to first, I'm not sure anyone in the whole world would have picked Mary Magdalene. How much Jesus cared and honored this insignificant, former demon possessed woman.

Christian, do you ever think that God doesn't care much for you? Do you think that you're insignificant in His eyes? Do you think that your tears don't matter to God? Do you think that your past troubles have disqualified you from doing great things for the Lord?

The whole passage here shouts out that God cares for people like Mary Magdalene, people like you. He cares about you.

Marg was telling one of my relatives about how she got her teaching job in Lisbon. It was an incredible story. They had given the job to someone else, but a week before school was going to open this other lady got an offer from another school, and it was a full time job, rather than a part-time one in Lisbon. So when that happened, Lisbon offered Marg the job. After Marg told him about it, he said,

"Wow, you were really lucky."

Marg replied,

"No, God did it."

He replied,

"You really think that God is involved in the minutia of your life?"

Yes. Absolutely. Jesus noted the tears of Mary Magdalene and asked her why she was crying. Jesus cared very deeply for Mary in her distress.

Christian, Jesus rose from the dead to save you. He rose from the dead to care for you. He rose from the dead so that you can cease your crying and rejoice in His salvation.

What a Savior you have in Jesus.

Lastly, if you're hurting, if you're confused by life, if you're full of doubt and are troubled—know that Jesus is the One you need.

Go to Him. He rose from the dead. He can save you. He can forgive your sins. He can take away your shame and sorrow and give you dignity, honor. He can give you life. He's the only One that can do that. Go to Him today.