Try to imagine being Mary Magdalene before she witnessed Jesus’ resurrection (Matt. 28:1). Luke tells us that she had once been in the grip of evil and Jesus delivered her, casting out seven demons (Luke 8:2). Who knows what the horrors of her life had been? Often identified as a prostitute forgiven by Jesus, though the New Testament never identifies her as such, she was certainly an outcast whose life Jesus had changed. Now she believed that Jesus was dead. She had seen his crucifixion and had now come to the tomb, Mark tells us, to anoint his body in burial (Mark 16:1). She clearly didn’t expect Jesus to rise from the dead. No one did. We can only imagine what she must have thought. Here was the man who had liberated her, forgiven her sins, given her dignity, transformed her life. Now he had died a criminal’s death.
Maybe she wondered if all Jesus had seemed to do for her was now undone. Maybe his forgiveness and her freedom were now called into question. Would the dark demons of her past return? Would she once again be treated as a social outcast? Was there any hope? Then she sees the empty tomb. She hears the angel’s announcement: “He is not here, for he has risen” (Matt. 28:6). She departs from the tomb trembling with joyful fear (v. 8). And then, in verse 9, she actually sees him, hears him! So she falls down, touches his feet, and worships him. He is alive, and that means she really is free. What assurance this must have given her!
In John Bunyan’s famous allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, a man on a journey carries a large and heavy burden on his back. The burden represents the weight of his past: his sin and guilt. The one thing he wants is to have that burden loosed, but no one he sees, nor anything he tries, can remove it . . . until he comes to the cross. Then, the burden rolls off his back. But it does not roll just anywhere: significantly, it rolls down the hill into an open tomb. And the man sings out because he knows the man who died on that cross but then walked out of that grave took all his shame away.
The resurrection assures us of God’s forgiveness. It shows us that the burden of our past, including all our sin and guilt, has rolled off our shoulders and onto the scourged and bleeding back of Jesus so to be buried forever in his empty tomb! That’s why Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). But he has been raised. He “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). Now we are free. The resurrection proclaims the complete sufficiency of his redemptive work for us. It is “the ‘Amen!’ of the Father upon the ‘It is finished!’ of the Son” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics 3:442). His resurrection declares our vindication. In the words of John Wilbur Chapman,
Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me;
Buried, He carried my sins far away;
Rising, He justified freely forever:
One day He’s coming—O glorious day!
Excerpted from With Jesus: Finding Your Place in the Story of Christ by Brian G. Hedges.