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Why Did Mary Magdalene Think Jesus Was the Gardener?

We are continuing our meditation on the resurrection of Jesus. After running to tell the disciples that the body of Jesus was gone from the tomb, Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb and found two angels beside the empty cocoon of the linen wrappings. The angels then asked Mary a question:

13They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15He asked her, “Woman, 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.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”) (John 20:13-16).

Why didn’t Mary recognize Christ at first? Do you think there have been times when the Lord has come to you but in a different form? Why would Jesus hide?

There are times when the Lord deliberately hid who He was from people, for example, on the Emmaus road in Luke 24. Unrecognized, Jesus talked with two disciples for some time as they walked. When the two disciples came to turn off the highway road toward Emmaus, he continued walking as if He was going further. It was only at their insistence that Jesus stayed with them. When at supper, the Lord took the bread and broke it, "Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight" (Luke 24:28-32). We are no longer to walk by sight, but by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7). When the Lord met the disciples as they fished on the Sea of Galilee, they did not recognize Him (John 21:4). When Jesus told them to cast their net on the other side of the boat, and they did so, they filled their net full of fish! It was only then that the disciples recognized that it was the Lord. Do not limit the Lord Jesus in your mind by thinking He will only come to you a certain way. Be open to the Lord coming to you in any way He wants to appear.

Some suggest Mary didn't recognize Christ because of her deep sobbing and tears clouding her vision. Others say that, maybe, the rising sun behind Jesus made it difficult for her to see. When Mary spoke to Jesus, she asked for the body, mistakenly thinking He was the gardener. All she knew was that she wanted to be near the Lover of her soul. When a lover of God is low in spirit, only the presence of Christ will do. Love will find a way.

When Jesus spoke Mary’s name in His own intimate way, she suddenly recognized Who it was. God's sheep know His voice (John 10:4). This writer knows a few people who have heard the audible voice of God, but even if God doesn’t speak audibly to you, a mature believer knows in his inner man when God speaks. Mary knew Him by His voice. Now, her tears were tears of joy! How wonderful it will be for all of us who know Christ to finally look upon Him Whom we have longed to see in all of His glory and to hear His audible voice! I imagine Mary putting her arms around Him and hugging Him so tightly with her head on His chest. She would not let Him go again! I wonder how long that hug lasted. Jesus now gave her a mission:

17Jesus 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.’” 18Mary 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 (John 20:17-18).

The English King James Version translates Jesus saying to Mary, "Touch Me not," but this confuses what is said because, just a few hours later in the evening, Luke wrote that Jesus showed up in their midst and said, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:39 Emphasis mine). The NASB and most up-to-date Bibles translate Jesus as saying to Mary, “Stop clinging to me,” or stop holding on to me. It is possible that Mary was so overwhelmed at seeing Jesus that she threw her arms around Jesus and would not let Him go. However, Jesus had a mission for her to tell the good news to others. God used the greatest of sinners to be the greatest of evangelists. The Lord honored and trusted her to be the first to deliver this great news to the disciples. In just a few brief moments, Mary had gone from grief to overwhelming joy! It will be so for all believers when Jesus comes! Keith Thomas

Taken from the study in John’s Gospel: 41. Jesus Appears to Mary and the Disciples


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