Image: Irises, North Garden, Virginia, May 2019
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 20:9-18.
John 20:17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God and your God. 18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.
The first resurrection appearance was to Mary Magdalene (cf. Mark 16:9).
Christ’s word to Mary Magdalene In John 20:17 constitute one of the most intriguing and perhaps difficult to understand statements of the risen Jesus. Ryle says, “No doubt the language is somewhat mysterious and ought to be delicately and reverently handled.”
Why did the risen Christ ask Mary not to touch him?
What is this reference to his ascending to the Father? Was there a preliminary ascension to the Father after his resurrection and a return to appear for forty days before his final ascension?
Was Mary as a woman disciple and non-apostle forbidden to touch him, while only the twelve were given the privilege of handling his body, including touching hid wounds, as Thomas did (see 20:27)?
What is being conveyed here?
It is unlikely that this is a reference to “two ascensions” since such a thing is not mentioned anywhere else in the Scriptures.
Many take the point as being simply to communicate to Mary not that he could not be touched at all but that his body had been changed. This is no longer his earthly body but his heavenly, resurrection body. His physical presence in their midst is only temporary, until such time as he ascends to be seated at the right hand of the Father. It thus points forward to the reality of the age in which we now live as disciples, wherein we cannot physically touch Christ with the hand, hear him with the ear, see him with the eye, and yet we do hear his voice in the Word, and we believe.
Christ then commissions Mary to go to the apostles and to tell them both of his resurrection and his ascension.
Mary obeyed this command (v. 18). This is an evidence of her faithfulness, for which she was remembered by the early Christians and often called by them, “the apostle to the apostles.”
In appearing first to Mary Magdalene Christ, in part, demonstrated the importance and value of women disciples. Women were not called to be apostles. They are not called today to be elders or deacons. But they are called to believe in the resurrection, to obey Christ, and to serve the Lord in their own spheres of influence.
So, let us learn from Mary and grow in our obedience.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
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