Community Group Study Notes
- Have someone in your group provide a brief, 2-minute summary of Sunday’s teaching.
- In Sunday’s message, we heard about Mary Magdalene’s tears of heartbreak and emptiness. In what ways can you identify with what Mary experienced?
- Read 1 Corinthians 15:17. Why is the resurrection of Jesus so important? What would be true if Jesus had not been raised? How should this change the way we live?
- How has Jesus transformed your tears of heartbreak and emptiness into tears of joy? Point to a specific example of how God is leading you during this current season and giving you His joy, regardless of the circumstances.
- What is one action step you can take in light of Sunday’s message and our discussion today?
Tears are curious things. In fact, the American Academy of Ophthalmology tells us that there are actually three different kinds of tears. There's basal tears, which are the tears that are just always present in our eyes. They just lubricate our eyes and they're just there all the time. And then there are reflex tears. Reflex tears are when something gets in our eye like an irritant and they are used to be able to help clear that out. And then there's emotional tears.
The interesting thing about emotional tears is that the science doesn't really tell us why these things happen. It's a little fuzzy at that point and we don't quite understand from a scientific perspective why that's the case. What we do know is this, is that emotional tears have the capacity to overwhelm what's called the lacrimal system, which is the drainage system that goes on inside of our head whenever tears are produced. And these emotional tears actually cause this system to be overwhelmed such that they fall out, they fall out of our eyes and sometimes, I won't tell the secret, but sometimes out of our nose as well.
We're made in this specific way that there's this overflow, when these emotional tears start to generate, there's this overflow almost like a valve, like our bodies weren't made to be able to handle these things. They're dealt with in a little bit of a different way. Emotional tears don't come from our eyes, they come from way deep down inside of us, our souls, our hearts. That's where they come from.
And what's interesting about emotional tears is that they have a lot of variations as well. You've got good tears. You remember when you were little and you saw your mom crying and she was saying, "No, no, honey, everything's fine"? These are good tears. There's good tears and there's painful tears and there's sad tears, sentimental tears, overwhelmed tears, and probably a whole lot more. Some of you are probably asking yourself this question about now, "Jerry, what does your little TED Talk about tears actually have to do with Easter?" Well, a lot actually.
In fact, when we see a story that John records in his gospel about Jesus' resurrection. In that story, no less than five times, does he mention tears or crying. It's the story of Jesus and a woman named Mary Magdalene. And before we actually get into the narrative of the story, maybe a little background or context would be helpful.
Well, her name's Mary. Mary is a super common name, as you could imagine. It was probably borrowed from Moses's sister who was Miriam, and it was probably some variation of that. And there were a lot of Marys that were running around at that time. She was called Mary Magdalene because she came from a place called Magdala or maybe in more modern terms, Migdal. This was a town that was in the neighborhood of the west side of the Sea of Galilee. And it was on this side of the Sea of Galilee that also another town named Capernaum was, and Capernaum was where Jesus actually started his ministry.
And so Migdal or Magdala and Capernaum were reasonably near one another, and this is where she was from. And that's why she was called Mary Magdalene, because it was Mary from Magdala. Magdalene wasn't her last name, as you and I would think about it. We don't know much about her, there's a lot of stories and myths and fables that have been constructed around this woman, but the truth is all that we really know about her is what Mark and Luke told us about her in their gospels.
We don't have much background except this. We do know that at one point in her life, Jesus freed her from seven demons that were possessing her. Can you imagine that? And imagine how that made her feel once she was freed from these demons that were tormenting her and now this gratitude and this love that she has for Jesus are so overwhelming that she travels with him. She traveled with the whole company of disciples and other women and that they went wherever Jesus went.
In fact, the likelihood is, is that Mary Magdalene was a woman who had at least some measure of wealth because she and these other women were mostly helping to support the ministry of Jesus and the disciples. Her love for Jesus and her gratitude for Jesus were so deep. She was really one of the last people that were hanging around at the cross where the disciples had already scattered, there she was at the cross. And then she was one of the first people to the Empty Tomb as well.
On the particular day and the story that we're going to connect with in just a few moments, she was dealing with the crushing blow of seeing Jesus crucified, which is a horribly, horribly tormenting way to die, and she watched all of this. And now, that was on a Friday. And a couple of days later, early on a Sunday morning while it was still dark, she and some other women are making their way to the tomb. And when they get there, they realize that the stone has been rolled away and so they go back and they tell all of the disciples and Peter and John take off in a dead sprint and Mary Magdalene comes with them back to the tomb. And Peter and John who arrived there first, they looked in and then they went back to where they were staying. But Mary Magdalene, she stayed right there. And what she did when she stayed right there, she cried.
In fact, that's what we see when we begin to pick up the story. She's actually crying tears of heartbreak. Those are the very first things that we can see and I imagine that you're going to identify with the tears that she's feeling, these tears of heartbreak. Here's how the story begins in John's gospel, beginning in chapter 20 verse number 11. It says, "Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying."
These aren't any old tears that she's crying. When we understand what this word means in the Greek text, it actually talks about sobbing. These aren't the soft little tears that come down our face as we are thinking about something, these are sobs of heartbreak that are coming out of her eyes, coming from deep down within her. You know these, so do I. They're the sobs of a mother who's lost a child who's sitting outside of their empty nursery or their empty bedroom in the hallway and sobbing. These are sobs of a young man or young woman who's lost a parent way too early, a parent that was so important to them, a parent that was so good to them, and they just sobbed when they think about it, or it's the husband. He's only been married for a couple of years and then he loses his wife and you find him sitting in the floor of her clothes closet sobbing into one of her dresses.
That's what Mary was feeling in this moment, that the one who had freed her, the one who had rescued her from being tormented by these demons, the one who treated her with value and with dignity, the one who didn't treat her like her past was what was defining her but changed everything for her, now, he was gone in a cruel, cruel way, and so she cried tears of heartbreak. But you know what other kind of tears they were? They were tears of emptiness.
You can imagine how empty she was feeling. And actually the text of scripture itself tells us that very thing when we start to look at the story again in verse number 11. It says, "Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. And 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. They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" "They've taken my Lord away," she said, "And I don't know where they have put him.""
You can see how cruel of an indignity this is for her because these are tears that are falling from her eyes because of the hollow feeling inside of her, of not knowing where Jesus is. Again, this felt to her like a cruel indignity. She didn't have any place to mark her mourning. She wanted to be wherever his body was to be able to mark that, and she didn't have an ability to do that. The powers of darkness had already killed him and now she thinks the powers of darkness have left no trace of him. This is why she's crying these tears of emptiness. The open mouth of the grave is taunting her because he's not there and she doesn't know what to do with all that.
And as you can see in the story, even though there are angels there, the angels are not even able to console her. She weeps because they've taken her Lord away and she doesn't know where they put him. I think I understand this impulse to a degree and I think I learned it when Edie and I left Georgia and we moved to Florida. I remember being in Florida and when I was there, my grandmother, on my father's side, we were on the phone one day and she said, "I need you to take some pictures." And I said, "What do you mean?" She said, "I need you to take some pictures of the house that you live in. I need you to take pictures of your room. I need you to take pictures of you standing outside the house." And I called her Memama. That was a Southern term for my grandmother.
I said, "Memama, why do you want me to do that?" And she said, "Because I need to be able to place you in my mind." You see for her, thinking about me being in a place that she didn't know where I was, that felt empty to her and she needed to know where I was and be able to visualize that. I think that to a degree is the emptiness that Mary Magdalene was feeling because she didn't know where her Lord was. Though this isn't the same exact thing, I think that you could probably understand that it might be similar.
I read an article in the New York Times, but it was a really old one, and it was describing a really small community in Ray County, Missouri. In this small county, they had a cemetery there that had been there since before the era of the Civil War. And virtually, everybody who had ever lived in Ray County, Missouri, had been who had died there, was buried there. It was a cemetery for the whole community and everybody knew the family legacies that were buried there. And they were all there in place, that is until the flood of 1993.
Even though this small town was five miles from the Missouri River, it still flooded and it basically dragged a 50 foot crater through the entire cemetery and took all of the bodies downstream. They weren't able to recover many of them, maybe even most of them, and I was reading this article from the New York Times in 1993 and I was hearing the same thing over and over. How all of these loved ones who were still living, who had loved ones who were buried in the cemetery, felt so empty now because they didn't have a place for them. They didn't have a place for them. This was what Mary Magdalene, I believe, was going through and that's where the tears of emptiness were coming from.
I can imagine that we've cried some of those even in recent days. We are living in a time of empty. We've got empty businesses, empty sports venues, empty art galleries, empty restaurants, and as I said early this morning, we've got empty church parking lots. We've got empty church worship centers. I don't know about you, but when I see all of that, it does make me grieve and I have shed some tears with other people and maybe you have shed some yourself as a result of this.
But empty, as Mary would soon find out, may not be as empty as it seems. Empty doesn't always mean empty. Mary Magdalene was about to find this out and it would turn her tears of heartbreak and her tears of emptiness ultimately into tears of joy. This is what our hope is, isn't it? This is what the hope in the resurrection actually is that it takes these tears of heartbreak and these tears of emptiness and turns them into tears of joy. Let's continue on in the story. Notice what it says.
Mary Magdalene says, ""They have taken my Lord away," she said, "And I don't know where they've put him." And at this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her the same question the angels asked, "Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you're looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you've carried him away, tell me where you've put him and I will get him." And Jesus said to her, "Mary," and she turned to him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" which means teacher. Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them I am ascending 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."
This is a beautiful picture, isn't it? That here now, when she's saying to the angels, "I don't know where they've taken him," and she turns and she actually comes face to face with Jesus, but she's kept from recognizing him. I don't know exactly why he's unavailable to her to be able to be seen, I'm not sure. It could be a number of natural explanations. It could be that it's still pretty dark and she's not sure who she's seeing there and supposing it's the gardener. It's also possible that the tears that had overwhelmed her eyes had blurred her vision to some degree and she couldn't see him there. I imagine it's probably also possible that maybe she just... He was out of context.
The last person she was expecting to see was the man that two days prior who had been killed or it could be that some divine way, some supernatural way, Jesus, kept her from being able to see who he was at that time. I don't know exactly how that occurred, I just know that it did. And even though he said something to her, she still wasn't picking up on it until he said her name. He said her name and she knew his voice. There was a way in which he said her name that turned over everything inside of her and she recognized that it was him and she screamed out or cried out this term of endearment, "Rabboni!"
This was a really exalted term, a term of endearment, and she likely flung herself at his feet and held on to his feet and his ankles. And what for her this meant was that he was back, he was killed, but now he lives, and for her this was love rising up in her and she realized that he was back and love was motivating her tears that had been tears of heartbreak and tears of emptiness and now it just overwhelms her system and they are tears of joy because he's back and she loves him.
But these tears of joy had so much deeper meanings for her. It wasn't something that in the moment she was able to sort out completely, but now having the benefit of time in retrospect, we know that those tears of joy had depths of meaning to them for her and I think depths of meaning for us. You see, what these tears of joy meant is they meant that she could experience full forgiveness. Think about it this way. She had been freed from seven demons.
I don't know exactly what that looked like, I'm not even sure exactly if that means anything about her past. It's possible certainly that these demons came upon her unwittingly and that's what happened, or it could also be possible that maybe some of the choices that she was making in her life were opening the door more and more for these types of things to be able to occur. We don't know exactly, but we do know this, that when Jesus showed up, however that interchange happened and he cast those demons out of her life, we know that she was freed and she was forgiven. And out of great love, she continued to follow Jesus.
But I wonder, if maybe in her heart on Friday and maybe in her heart on Saturday, she was thinking to herself, "Does this mean that I'm actually fully forgiven?" Because if Jesus is now gone, if he has died, does that mean with his death so too, my forgiveness goes away? I imagine that those things must have rolled around in her heart and in her mind, that if Jesus is still dead, if he's gone, "Could my sins be forgiven?" She wondered. Could our sins be forgiven if Jesus was still dead?
Well, the apostle Paul gives a resounding answer to that question and it is, no. Our sins could not be fully forgiven if Jesus is still dead. In fact, Paul said it this way in 1 Corinthians 15. He said, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile. You are still in your sins." If Christ has not been raised, you are still in your sins. And so these tears of joy ultimately would be a reminder that this forgiveness that Mary Magdalene had experienced, she now has the full measure of confidence that her sins have actually been forgiven, that her life has been renewed, that her past is no longer in charge of her, because Jesus is alive.
But these tears of joy not only meant that she would receive full forgiveness, they also meant something else. It meant that she had hope in this life. You see, think about it for just a moment. All of a sudden, for Mary Magdalene, all of a sudden when she sees Jesus alive, where she had seen this cruel death, now she sees him resurrected from the dead, this flood of purpose and meaning all comes back to her life.
You see, she thought he was the Messiah, that's why she was following after him. She believed he was who he said he was. She believed that he was the Son of God, come to rescue his people. She believed that in him was the story of all stories, the story that God had begun from the very beginning and was telling about humanity and that Jesus was at the epicenter of this story. She believed John's words, that in him was life. She believed all of these things.
In fact, what she found is that her identity and her purpose and her meaning, now came flooding back to her because everything he said was true, that he actually was life just like he said he was. John's gospel tells us that Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full," and Mary Magdalene was experiencing this in the now. And she also believed what he said when he said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
You see, what Mary Magdalene was experiencing here in these tears of joy, was she was recognizing that she has hope in this life. Because Jesus lives, she now has purpose, she has meaning, she has identity. Her life's identity is now caught up in the life that he is and the life that he gives. That's why she began to act on that immediately. She became what some scholars have called an apostle to the apostles. She ran back from that interaction with Jesus and she told the disciples, "I have seen the Lord."
And I imagine that would not be the last time that she would bellow that news out to people, because now her life took on a new mission that Jesus came, brought the Kingdom of God, demonstrated what it meant to live in relationship with God, died for our sins, rose from the grave, and we can now have meaning and purpose and identity in this life. These tears of joy had such layers of meaning, but I would imagine that they would also tell us that this meant hope beyond this life.
That Mary Magdalene realized that not only did she receive full forgiveness in Jesus life, not only did she have hope in this life because he had resurrected from the dead, but it also meant hope beyond this life because he was dead and now he's not. This is the incredible promise and it's remarkable to me that Jesus asked this question to her. He says, "Mary, why are you crying?"
You see, what Jesus is demonstrating in asking her that question, "Why are you crying?" He's demonstrating not only the power of his resurrection, but he's also giving us a glimpse into new creation that is going to change everything for all of eternity. It's almost as if Jesus was saying this. "Mary, tears have no place falling in the dirt where death has been defeated. Why are you crying?"
This is a remarkable reminder to us that Jesus is not only showing us the power of his ability to conquer death, but he's also giving us a foretaste, a glimpse, into what is coming in new creation. It's a glimpse that has been promised long before Jesus. In fact, if you wound your way back 700 years, you would see Isaiah the prophet who was communicating the very word of God, he was communicating prophecy that came right from God. And listen to what he says in Isaiah chapter 25. He says, "He will swallow up death forever. The sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces. He will remove his people's disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. In that day they will say, "Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.""
See, this promise was from 700 years prior to Jesus, and Jesus is now telling Mary in this one small moment, "I have conquered death and I'm giving you a glimpse of what is going to come in the future." And when we look in the scripture, we can actually see that future as if it's already happened. As the Book of Revelation begins to unfold, the promise that was made in Isaiah 25, coming true, when Jesus returns.
Listen to what it says in Revelation 21. It says, "I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.""
Ladies and gentlemen, there is a new day coming because of the resurrection of Jesus and I can't help but think what he wants to do in everybody's heart is take tears of heartbreak and tears of emptiness and change them into tears of joy just like he did in Mary Magdalene's life.
You see, what we learn here in this story is really a simple truth, but it's something that's so, so deeply personal for each of us, and it's this. The resurrection of Jesus promises a day when tears aren't needed anymore. Isn't that incredible to think about? The resurrection of Jesus promises a day when tears aren't needed anymore. Just like Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, "Woman, why are you crying?" He says the same thing to us, "Why are we crying?"
I don't know. For some of you, maybe you're crying because you've had tears of regret. Maybe it's a past that you have that you've experienced in your mind over and over and over again and that you're not proud of and you think to yourself, "I could never be forgiven for some of the things that I've done, that I've said, for some of the actions that I've taken, some things that people don't even know about. And I know that if Jesus looks at that, he's just going to go, "Oh!""
Listen, this is the beautiful thing about his death and his resurrection. You see, Jesus died for sinful people like you and me. The Bible says that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God and that the wages for our sin or the payment for our sin is death. That means, not only that we'll physically die, but it means that there will be spiritual separation from God. That's an awful thing to think about. This Holy God and us as sinful people that can't be reconciled to God on our own. But that's why God took it upon himself in the person of his son, God with skin on, God in the flesh. Who came, was born of a Virgin, lived a sinless life, went to die on a cross to take upon himself the punishment for our sins, the payment for our sins. He who did not sin, he who did not deserve this, stood willingly in our place. He died our death so that we could live his life.
He died in our place and he rose from the grave conquering our sin and our past and the things that have held on to us. And what that means, ladies and gentlemen, friends, what it means is that your sins and your regrets and your tears of regret, can turn into tears of joy when you put your faith in Jesus, the resurrected Son of God. Maybe some of the tears that you've cried have been over your life. You feel like you don't have purpose, you feel like you don't have an identity, you feel like maybe you don't have meaning.
Do you know how much you matter to God? So much so that even while you and I weren't thinking about him at all, even while the Bible says, even while we were sinners, Christ died for us. Do you know why? Because he loves you. He loves you with his whole heart. He loves you so much that he died to set you free, that if you would just put your faith in him, he would change everything for you. He would give you life and life abundantly. You would have purpose and meaning and identity because you would find where life truly is.
It's not just in existence, it's not just in breathing, it's in Jesus. The one who lived and died and rose again, never to die again, that's where life is. If given the choice between some smart people and some fun things, and someone who has died and risen to life, never to die again, I'm going to go with the guy who got up from the dead every time. Because my tears of heartbreak, my tears of emptiness, my tears of isolation, they can be changed into tears of joy.
And maybe you've thought about it in terms of loss, maybe people that you've lost or thinking about your own mortality, we all in this day and age have been thinking about our own mortality. We've been thinking about what it means to be frail, what it means to be fragile people when we see running death totals on our screen all the time. Some may have friends or family members who've experienced this, and we're talking about our own mortality now more than ever.
I want to remind you of something. The resurrection of Jesus says that there's hope beyond this life. That because he raised from the dead, we too, when we put our faith in him, though we might die physically, we will be raised with him spiritually, and one day when he returns, we will be raised with him in a resurrection body. Listen, sign me up. This is the great hope of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, to believe by faith in what God has done. It means that we believe that only he can save us from our sins, we believe that only he can give us purpose and meaning and life that is truly life. And it is a life that we believe endures beyond just this life and actually carries us into eternity.
So what about you? Have you ever come to a place in your heart and in your life where you have turned from trying to be the savior of yourself and have actually received Jesus to be the one who forgives you of your sin? Who takes up his rightful place in the throne room of your heart, where the seating capacity is only one, and who now gives you meaning and purpose in life, not only in this life but in the life to come? I can't think of a better thing than that. I can't think of a better time than Easter for you to make that decision that changes everything about this life and will change eternity for you.
Maybe right there where you are, probably seated in the comfort of your own home, right there where you are, would you just bow your head with me for just a moment? Whether you're a man or woman, young person, children, just bow your head with me for a moment. And if you know that your need is actually receiving Jesus, having your sins forgiven, your life made brand new, in other words, what the Bible says that the old would be gone and the new would come, that if anyone is in Christ, that the old is gone and the new has come. The Bible says that if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved.
Saved from our sins, saved from our past, saved to be able to enjoy life in the now, in ways that God designed for us. Saved to a mission and an identity and a purpose and a meaning that is rich. Saved to an eternity that will be spent with him. And if that's your need, would you just pray this in your heart with all the faith that you have, right where you are? Just pray this in your heart.
Lord Jesus, I realize that I have sinned and come short of the glory of God. I realize I cannot save myself, but I believe that you died for me. I believe that you died because of my sin. But I believe that you conquered death. I believe you rose from the grave. And so right now, Lord Jesus, I receive you by faith. I believe that you are the Savior of the World and the only one who can save my soul. With all the faith that I have, I confess my belief in you as Lord Jesus, in Jesus' name I pray. Amen.
You know what? If you just prayed that prayer with me, would you let us help you, resource you a little bit? Obviously, I can't interact with you personally, I wish I could right now. I wish I had your face right in front of me and I grieve not being able to see you personally, but if you just prayed that, there's a couple of ways in which we can help you. The first is, even if you're not on thechapel.com right now watching this, you can go there in just a few minutes to, thechapel.com/knowingjesus.
If you just go to thechapel.com/knowingjesus, there's some information there that's going to help you in your journey of faith. And we would actually love to know that you've made this decision to entrust your life to Christ. Would you tell us? We'd really appreciate it if you did. But maybe if the computer is not your thing, and you said, "Man, could you give me something easier?" How about a phone number? If you just dial that number that's on your screen, 716 631 2636, there'll be a real human being on the other end of that line who would love to talk to you about what you've done, this journey that you have begun now by faith in entrusting your life to Jesus.
And if you call, when somebody answers just say, "Hey, I'm so and so, and I just entrusted my life to Jesus," and they would love to talk to you about maybe getting you some material that'll help you grow as a follower of Christ. You're not signing up for anything you don't want to sign up for, you're not becoming a member of the church. There's no string here. We just want to be able to help you.
My encouragement is, would you let us know either at thechapel.com/knowingjesus or give us a call. If you prayed that prayer, we would celebrate that, it would be the greatest news I have heard all day long to hear about your life being changed by the resurrected Jesus right here on Easter Sunday. Please let us know.
Father, would you give us grace to be reminded this day of how you take tears of emptiness and tears of heartbreak and you change them into tears of joy. May we be heartened and encouraged by the story we have seen of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and may we regard it as a true story, not only historically, but a true story for our lives even now. I bless you for this encouragement, I bless you that I can speak to you right now because you are not a dead teacher who left us some good nuggets of truth, you are the living God in the person of Jesus Christ who has died, risen from the dead, and one day will return for his own. We love you and bless you, in Jesus' name. Amen.