The Scandal Of Hope | 04.09.23 | The Scandals Of Jesus Pt 1
Drew Williams   -  

John 20:1-18
Pastor Drew Williams

There was an interview I saw recently with an interrogation specialist from the FBI who said that when we look at another human, we don’t really SEE them fully. Instead, we are “reading” their face for a few quick clues, like hair color, skin color, and a general sense of their gender and age. This is why when you’ve just met someone and only spoken to them for a moment or so, you CAN remember whether it was a man or a woman, and probably a general sense of how old they were, but you probably CAN’T remember what color their eyes were, or whether they wore their watch on their right or left hand.

So, to test this, I need you to tell me what color your neighbor’s eyes were… No, just kidding! I’m not going to embarrass anyone today!

This limited awareness is due to our brain’s inability to focus deeply on more than one thing at once. I gave you all a job to say a phrase to each other, so your brain was thinking about that, which left less focus to take in information about the person you were actually speaking to.

You were too focused on what you were supposed to be DOING at that moment to truly see and notice the other person.

That reminds me of when my daughter was very young, less than a year old. We would often put her on this play mat that was decorated with jungle animals, and it had a mobile of butterflies above it that sang songs and blinked colorful lights. She would lay on that mat, mesmerized by the colors and the butterflies that were JUST out of reach.

Then, she started turning over from her back to her stomach. And I would watch her struggle and struggle, trying to maneuver her hips and shoulders so that she could swing her leg over and turn to her stomach.

And I remember when she turned over by herself one of the first times. At first, she was so pleased with herself, and in awe at the pictures of animals and plants that were now in her view on the mat beneath her.

But then she started to whimper, and then cry. She had flipped to her stomach, but she was stuck now. And she couldn’t see the butterflies…and she couldn’t see me. She was all alone and had no way to be rescued, no hope of getting back to what was familiar and comforting.

And I was sitting nearby, watching all this, and I called her name, “Emmy, you’re okay. I’m right here.”

And even though I hadn’t swooped over and picked her up yet, she had heard my voice, and for just an instant, she stopped crying, tilting her head to try and hear me better, to hear the voice of her dad, telling her she was okay.

This occurrence doesn’t just happen to babies. All of us know what it’s like to get ourselves into a situation where our view is funnel-focused in on the issues right in front of us. All we can see, all we can think about, is the stressful thing that is looming. All we can think about is the pain we are feeling in that moment.

Our focus is trained in on what is right in front of us, and it’s going to take something big to catch our attention and help us see the bigger picture. Until then, all we can see is that we are alone.

Our scripture passage today picks up with someone who is feeling exactly that way. So open up your black, seat-back Bibles to page 88 in the New Testament (past the Old Testament), where we’ll find the gospel of John, chapter 20.

Our story highlights Mary Magdalene, and I want to tell you a little about her while you are finding page 88 in the New Testament.

Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus’ disciples. Both Luke and Mark tell us that Jesus had healed Mary of 7 demons, which could have meant there was some spiritual oppression going on, or it could have meant that she was suffering from some mental illness, or some combination of the two. So Jesus heals her of that and then she had begun following him, learning from his teaching and seeing him perform his miracles. In fact, she must have been a woman with some wealth, since Luke tells us that she funded some of Jesus’ travels while she was following him as his disciple.

She was from a small village on the Sea of Galilea called Magdala, hence her name, but she had stayed with Jesus all the way up until his death. She was one of the few followers of Jesus who was actually there for his crucifixion, and now she’s here on the first day of the week after he’s been in the tomb for over a day and a half.

I hope you’ve had a chance to find John 20 in your Bibles, so let’s read together, starting in verse 1.

[SLIDES] John 20:1-18

So our story opens while it is still dark. There were no alarm clocks back then, so either Mary had an impeccable sense of time, or she had been up all night, waiting until she could go to Jesus’ tomb to…to what?

To cry more? To help spruce up the place? To see if there were embalming spices and strips of cloth that needed tidying?

She didn’t know what, because her whole world had ended the day Jesus died. He had healed her, he had given her back her life, and then he had spent the next few years teaching her how to live, how life is supposed to look like when God is your king.

She had a place, a group, a family, and it was all because of this teacher. But then he was arrested and killed. And everyone else in his group had run, hiding anywhere they could. She was abandoned again. Alone.

So she didn’t know why she was going to the tomb, except for the fact that being close to Jesus was the only place she wanted to be. But he wasn’t there.

Peter and John were the first ones she could find. They ran faster than her, and by the time she caught up to them, they were getting ready to leave. They had seen the empty tomb. They had seen the grave cloths laid out as if someone had folded them and made their bed and left it looking nice.

Jesus was nowhere to be found, and if he HAD been stolen, there were no clues to follow as to where he had been taken. So they headed home, but Mary just stood there. She couldn’t leave. Where would she go? Nowhere felt like home. Everywhere she went, she felt alone.

She peeked into the low cave they had used as a tomb. Inside, she saw two angels at either end of where Jesus’ body had been laid, as if they were guarding the area.

“Why are you crying?” they asked, puzzled at her emotional state.

Why am I crying? Why do you think I’m crying?! They’ve taken away my Lord…MY LORD…the only one to make me feel as if I belong. The only one who didn’t write me off when I was dealing with my mental health issues and on the verge of a breakdown. The only one who showed me that I was important to him and that I was useful in his mission. They’ve taken him away and I don’t know where they have laid him.”

She must have felt the stare of someone behind her, because when she turned around, she saw someone standing there…but she didn’t really SEE them.

“Why are you crying?” the person asked, just like the other two. “Who are you looking for?”

Mary thought this guy might be the gardener, the keeper of this little plot of the property where the tomb is. It’s a stranger, and he’s probably there to kick her out. But her desperation gives her the boldness to speak to him and plead for his help.

“Please, sir, if you have moved Jesus’ body, tell me where you put it, and I’ll take care of it and get out of your hair.”

But then she heard the familiar voice of Jesus say, “Mary!”

And for the first time that day, she lifted her gaze to meet the eyes of Jesus.

She had been so focused on her tasks before, so focused on the empty tomb. She had been so focused on frantically telling the disciples what she had found, so focused on looking AROUND for Jesus that she hadn’t looked AT him standing right in front of her.

“TEACHER!” she cried, and she must have grabbed onto him in relief and joy, because he told her to let him go.

Her role isn’t to care for Jesus or hold on to his body. She might have shown up that morning ready to help dress the wounds on his dead body, she might have been ready to hold on to him crying, but Jesus has different plans for her. She isn’t meant to hold on to him to care for him. No, her role is to GO and TELL.

Mary Magdalene. The psychiatric case from a little town is now not only someone who has been healed, she’s not only someone who has been a close follower of Jesus, she’s not only one of the few who didn’t desert him at his crucifixion…

She’s now the first person to see his resurrection. She’s the first person sent by Jesus to go and tell his other followers the good news that Jesus is alive. Mary from Magdala is the first person to preach an Easter Sunday sermon.

So, when I tell you that Jesus can use ANYONE to spread the good news of his hope…

When I tell you that it doesn’t matter how hopeless your situation seems, because Jesus’ resurrected life gives hope and meaning to our life…


How often have we been like Mary in this story? Too focused on the stress and despair in front of us that we can’t see anything else? We can’t hear anything else?

How often do I spend all my energy stressing about things, uncertain how to move forward, assuming no one will be there to help me and care for me?

“I’ve got to figure it out. I’ve got to work harder. I’ve got to be the one who steps up and takes care of others. That’s the only way that I can be cared for, because no one would ever want to reach out to me FOR ME…”

But the good news of our story today is that YOU ARE IMPORTANT TO JESUS. And He WANTS to work with you to spread his hope.

Once Jesus had given Mary her mission, she went right away, announcing to the other disciples, “I have SEEN the Lord.”

Y’all looked in the tomb, but you didn’t really see. Y’all looked at your neighbor sitting next to you today, but maybe you didn’t really SEE them. We all go through our lives looking around, but maybe not SEEING where God is already at work, already inviting us to join him in sharing hope and good news with every man, woman, and child in the Sauk Valley.

“I have SEEN the Lord.” And then she proceeded to tell them all the things Jesus had said to her.

Mary Magdalene proves to us that ALL OF US are important to Jesus, there is nobody that he can’t use, there is nowhere that is too far gone for his grace, and ALL OF US can join him in spreading his message of hope.

So what about you? What have you seen? What have you heard?

Who in your life needs to hear this story? Of hope that overcomes despair and life that overcomes death and a Savior who can use ANYBODY to join him on mission?

Who in your life needs to hear this story? And how can you tell them?

Seriously, this week: how can you share this story with someone you meet?

Today over Easter lunch, who is someone who needs to hear a story of hope?

Next week: how can you share the message of hope with someone, letting them know they are important to Jesus?

Listen, we can have hope because Jesus gives grace.

We can have hope because Jesus has taken away our sin and punishment.

We can have hope because Jesus forgives.

We can have hope because Jesus met death head-on.

We can have hope because Jesus beat the grave.

We can have hope because Jesus NEVER leaves us alone in our grief.

And he’s calling your name and lifting you up and sending you out on his mission so that everyone you know can know that…

We can have hope because Jesus is alive!

Isn’t that good news?