Who Are You Looking For? (4/3/16)

Posted by on Apr 14, 2016 in Sermons | 0 comments

Last week was Easter!  A mountaintop!  But today we’re called to move on from the mountaintop and continue in our walk with Jesus. 

Click the below “Play” button and scroll down to follow along (the recording is from the 11:00 service)…


The scripture was John 20:11-18, but the sermon focused on verse 15.  Here’s the entire passage.  Click the following Drop Down box to follow along.  Pastor Jim read from The Living Bible, and the New International Version is shown below…

John 20:11-18

11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in.

12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying.

13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her. “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him.

15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”  She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

16 “Mary!” Jesus said. She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.


Our Joy that Hath No End…

Is there a letdown on this first Sunday after Easter?  Even after the eggs and chocolate are gone, there’s an inner joy that can be experienced every day.  In the 7th Century, John of Damascus wrote the following poem (which was later turned into a hymn which is on page 303 of our hymnals, “The Day of Resurrection“)…

The day of resurrection!  Earth, tell it out abroad;

the passover of gladness,  the passover of God.

From death to life eternal,  from earth unto the sky,

our Christ hath brought us over,  with hymns of victory.

Our hearts be pure from evil, that we may see aright

the Lord in rays eternal of resurrection light;

and listening to his accents, may hear, so calm and plain,

his own “All hail!” and, hearing, may raise the victor strain.

Now let the heavens be joyful! Let earth the song begin!

Let the round world keep triumph, and all that is therein!

Let all things seen and unseen their notes in gladness blend,

for Christ the Lord hath risen, our joy that hath no end.

Many today are not feeling the joy of this song, and Mary and the other disciples weren’t feeling any joy during that first Easter Morning either.  Mary wasn’t going on an Easter Egg hunt; she was going to a cemetery! Who would ever expect that a trip to the cemetery would lead you to a direct face to face encounter with the person you’re visiting?

Seek or Run?

It wasn’t an Easter Egg hunt.  Here’s what the Bible tells us about that first Easter morning…


A job to do…
The morning starts out when Mary and other women head for the tomb to give Jesus’ body a proper anointing.

Gospel Accounts

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.  Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb  and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”  Mark 16:1-3

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.   John 20:1-2

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.   Matt 28:1

Gordens Calvary garden tomb

Outside of the garden tomb

But they run into a bit of a surprise!  Instead of a stone that needed to be rolled away they discover an angel telling them to return to the disciples and give them the news about the resurrection…

Gospel Accounts

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”   Matt 28:5-7

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'”   Mark 16:4-7

They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,  but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.  In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee:  ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'”   Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.   Luke 24:2-10

Gordens Calvary garden tomb resurrection

He is risen. He is not here!

The Second Visit…
The women go and tell the disciples.  John fills in the extra detail of Peter and John dashing off to the tomb to see for themselves.  Mary comes too, but she sticks around…

John's Account

So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”    John 20:2

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.  Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.  Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there,  as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.  Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.  (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)   

Then the disciples went back to their homes…    John 20:3-11

… but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb  and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.   John 20:11-12


Stick around and Keep Seeking

John tells us that Mary would not leave.  She just can’t leave.  She keeps searching and searching, and while she really has no idea of what to do, she retraces her steps looking into the empty grave again.

Perhaps she thinks, “Maybe I just didn’t look in the right spot.”  Who knows what she was thinking.  But she Keeps On Searching!

Maybe she was remembering what Jesus said back in Galliee, “seek and you shall find.” (Matthew 7:7).  Maybe she remembered what her scriptures taught about seeking God…

Jeremiah  29:11-14    For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.
Proverbs 8:17   I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.

What about us?  When the unexpected happens to us do we continue to search for God in the midst?  Or do we get distracted and give up?

Someone asked Mary “Why are you crying?”  But for a moment, Mary was distracted by her grief and confusion.  Since it’s early morning, she assumes that the voice belongs to the gardener who would be making his rounds at that time of day.  Even after she turned to look towards the voice, perhaps she was “distracted” by the bright sunrise.  She didn’t recognize that her search for Jesus paid off until she heard his familiar voice speak her name, “Mary.”

Once Jesus spoke her name, her life was changed.  Mary sought, and Jesus’ voice found her.

Are we listening for God in prayer?  Are we seeking for God in the scriptures? 

    *     *     *     *     *     *     *


Mary Didn’t Find Jesus:  Jesus Found Mary!

Isn’t that the whole point of the Gospel?  God is searching for us!  Because of our sin, we wouldn’t seek Him.  So God provides forgiveness and seeks us instead!

Check out any other major faith system in the world and you’ll discover that their deity sits and demands people to come to them.  But the God of Jesus Christ is a God who peruses humanity!  Throughout scripture, God reveals Himself as a seeker.  We find Him on a continual pursuit.

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.   John 4:23
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Psalm  14:2
For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. 2 Chronicles 16:9
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10

God seeks us!  He’s committed.


Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan rightly observes that “Christianity is unique among all religions for it is about God’s pursuit of us to draw us to Himself.  In every other religious system, people pursue their god, hoping that through good behavior, keeping of rituals, good works, or other efforts they will be accepted by the god they pursue.”


God is like a sheep dog nipping at our heals.  He peruses us as He molds us into His image.

The British poet Francis Thompson catches the profound nature of this reality when he writes of the relentless pursuit of God in his life.  In his work titled “The Hound of Heaven“, he writes that as he fled from God he couldn’t outrun “those strong feet that followed… with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace.”

God is constantly perusing us.  He didn’t save us to be sitting up in heaven saying, “OK, let’s see what they do now.”

This pursuit is the same story we find in Genesis 3:8-9 when God seeks Adam and Eve after they sinned.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”


It’s the same pursuit of the father of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:20

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”


It’s the same pursuit that Jesus speaks about when He tells us about the Good Shepherd in Luke 15:4-6

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders.”

In the Christian church, are we committed to finding that one lost sheep?  Even if we’re not obeying Him, God is still pursuing us. That should make us want to run closer to that God, not run away from Him!

Jesus didn’t wait for Mary.  He came to her in her greatest hour of need.  We can say that even before she arrived at the tomb, Jesus was seeking after her.

I belong to my lover,  and his desire is for me.   Song of Solomon 7:10

If you’re in an emergency room; God is there.  He’s looking for you.  If you’re having a bad day at work- God is there.  He’s looking for you.  You are precious in God’s sight (Isaiah 43:4).  You are the apple of His eye (Zecheriah 2:8).


Mary Searched For Jesus With Her Whole Being

There’s no blame for Mary as she didn’t recognize the resurrected Jesus at first.  I mean, afterall, who goes to a cemetery to visit someone who has passed, and expects to meet them and talk with them?

Isn’t it true for us?  We find ourselves in the midst of challenge and we forget that God said, “I will never leave you or foresake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

We have a God who will never throw us under the bus.  We have a God who is constantly in love with us.

To her credit, Mary didn’t run away.  She didn’t sit and pout.  She kept searching.  She still may have doubted, but she kept searching for Jesus.

In Mark 12:29-30, Jesus said that the most important command is to  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ ”

ALL“… There are only three letters in that word, but “ALL” is a huge word!  God asks us to pursue Him the same way He’s pursuing us!

Jesus has a way of showing up when we least expect Him. For Mary, it was at a tomb.  For others, it has happened at a funeral…

When sharing with families who are going through a time of grief,  I always tell them to give themselves permission to stop and see where God is.  Sometimes we get distracted.  But if we seek God, even at a cemetery, God is going to show up. Butterfly _Facebook_300x300

Some years ago I was performing a funeral 13 year old girl.  She had died after a long illness, and it was obviously a very emotional service.  A lot of her young friends were in attendance at the funeral home, and a group of kids was sitting on the floor near the casket. So I sat down on the floor with them.  I started talking to them about caterpillars and how they turn into a chrysalis and then become butterflies.  I was trying to give them some sense of what’s happening here, of what’s going on; death is a comma- not a period.

The service at the funeral home ended, and we drove to the cemetery.  We reached the end of the graveside service, and the family members each laid a flower on the casket.  Just as the dad stepped up to lay his flower on his daughter’s casket,  a monarch butterfly suddenly appeared and flew towards the coffin.  It circled around the casket three times…  and then disappeared. 

Yes- God is here!  God will show up!!!  He shows up in a cemetery. He showed up to Mary.  He shows up to us!


Our God never leaves us or forsakes us.  Are we seeking Him with the same intensity that He is seeking us?  Just as a sunflower bends and strains to face the sun’s rays, do we strain at the leash to find God?sunflower-402249__180

Or do we give up and let go?

Psalm 63:8 says, “My soul clings to you;  your right hand upholds me.

The Hebrew word used in the psalm literally means “longs to come as near to thee as possible.” It points to loyalty related to affection.  It’s the same word used in Genesis 2:24 where it says that a man will “cleave” to his wife.

In John 20:17 Jesus tells Mary, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father.

Mary had a strong desire to be with Jesus.  But her desire to seek and find Jesus also made her want to tell others.  Mary was the first evangelist!  Right after Jesus told her to not “cling” to Him, He told Mary to “Go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.‘”

Jesus seeks us to send us off, so that we can go and help Him find others!


A. W. Tozer wrote,

“Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God.  They mourned for Him, they prayed and wrestled and sought for Him day and night, in season and out, and when they had found Him, the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking….

Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.”

“The Pursuit of God, pages 15, 17



How’s Your Pursuit???

Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.

Friends, these first words of Jesus after the resurrection are not just for Mary, but are for us as well.  Often, we like Mary, find that life is not turning out as expected.  We find ourselves at times overwhelmed by the weight of our responsibilities and just life in general.

But we too can have the same hopeful experience that Mary had that holy morning.  We can find this hope when we’ve searched for the Lord with our whole being.  We can find Him because He’s looking for us!

Jesus’ first recorded words after the resurrection were, “Why are you crying?  Who is it you are looking for?” (John 20:15). Our seeking Lord Jesus enters into the dark, uncertain, and fearful times of our lives and asks us the same questions.

Who are you looking for?

Look no further than Jesus!  Give yourself with all your heart, soul, and strength to your pursuing God.


Quiz Time!

As you reflect on what you’ve just heard/read, give this quiz a try.  If you don’t understand an answer (or if you disagree with the “correct” answer, post a comment)…

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