William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Bewildered Love (John 20:1-10)

20:1-10 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary from Magdala came to the tomb; and she saw the stone taken away from the tomb. So she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and she said to them: "They have taken the Lord away from the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they set out for the tomb. The two were running together. The other disciple ran on ahead faster than Peter, and he was the first to come to the tomb. He stooped down and he saw the linen clothes lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and he went into the tomb. He saw the linen clothes lying there and he saw the napkin, which had been upon Jesus' head, not lying with the rest of the linen clothes, but lying apart from them, still in its folds, by itself. So then, the other disciple, who had arrived first at the tomb, went in too, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they did not realize the meaning of scripture, that Jesus should rise from the dead. So the disciples went back to their lodgings.

No one ever loved Jesus so much as Mary Magdalene. He had done something for her that no one else could ever do, and she could never forget. Tradition has always had it that Mary was a scarlet sinner, whom Jesus reclaimed and forgave and purified. Henry Kingsley has a lovely poem about her.

"Magdalen at Michael's gate

Tirled at the pin;

On Joseph's thorn sang the blackbird,

'Let her in! Let her in!'

'Hast thou seen the wounds?' said Michael,

'Knowest thou thy sin?'

'It is evening, evening,' sang the blackbird,

'Let her in! Let her in!'

'Yes, I have seen the wounds,

And I know my sin.'

'She knows it well, well, well,' sang the blackbird.

'Let her in! Let her in!'

'Thou bringest no offerings,' said Michael,

'Nought save sin.'

And the blackbird sang, 'She is sorry, sorry, sorry.'

'Let her in! Let her in!'

When he had sung himself to sleep,

And night did begin,

One came and opened Michael's gate,

And Magdalen went in."

Mary had sinned much and she loved much; and love was all she had to bring.

It was the custom in Palestine to visit the tomb of a loved one for three days after the body had been laid to rest. It was believed that for three days the spirit of the dead person hovered round the tomb; but then it departed because the body had become unrecognizable through decay. Jesus' friends could not come to the tomb on the Sabbath, because to make the journey then would have been to break the law. Sabbath is, of course, our Saturday, so it was on Sunday morning that Mary came to the tomb. She came very early. The word used for early is proi ( Greek #4404 ) which was the technical word for the last of the four watches into which the night was divided, that which ran from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. It was still grey dark when Mary came, because she could no longer stay away.

When she arrived at the tomb she was amazed and shocked. Tombs in ancient times were not commonly closed by doors. In front of the opening was a groove in the ground; and in the groove ran a stone, circular like a cartwheel; and the stone was wheeled into position to close the opening. Further Matthew tells us that the authorities had actually sealed the stone to make sure that no one would move it ( Matthew 27:66 ). Mary was astonished to find it removed. Two things may have entered her mind. She may have thought that the Jews had taken away Jesus' body; that, not satisfied with killing him on a cross, they were inflicting further indignities on him. But there were ghoulish creatures who made it their business to rob tombs; and Mary may have thought that this had happened here.

It was a situation Mary felt that she could not face herself; so she returned to the city to seek out Peter and John. Mary is the supreme instance of one who went on loving and believing even when she could not understand; and that is the love and the belief which in the end finds glory.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

The Great Discovery (John 20:1-10)

One of the illuminating things in this story is that Peter was still the acknowledged leader of the apostolic band. It was to him that Mary went. In spite of his denial of Jesus--and a story like that would not be long in being broadcast--Peter was still the leader. We often talk of Peter's weakness and instability, but there must have been something outstanding about a man who could face his fellow-men after that disastrous crash into cowardice; there must have been something about a man whom others were prepared to accept as leader even after that. His moment's weakness must never blind us to the moral strength and stature of Peter, and to the fact that he was a born leader.

So, then, it was to Peter and John that Mary went; and they immediately set out for the tomb. They went at a run; and John, who must have been a younger man than Peter since he lived on until the end of the century, outstripped Peter in this breathless race. When they came to the tomb, John looked in but went no farther. Peter with typical impulsiveness not only looked in, but went in. For the moment Peter was only amazed at the empty tomb; but things began to happen in John's mind. If someone had removed Jesus' body, if tomb-robbers had been at work, why should they leave the grave-clothes?

Then something else struck him--the grave-clothes were not dishevelled and disarranged. They were lying there still in their folds--that is what the Greek means--the clothes for the body where the body had been; the napkin where the head had lain. The whole point of the description is that the grave-clothes did not look as if they had been put off or taken off; they were lying there in their regular folds as if the body of Jesus had simply evaporated out of them. The sight suddenly penetrated to John's mind; he realized what had happened--and he believed. It was not what he had read in scripture which convinced him that Jesus had risen; it was what he saw with his own eyes.

The part that love plays in this story is extraordinary. It was Mary, who loved Jesus so much, who was first at the tomb. It was John, the disciple whom Jesus loved and who loved Jesus, who was first to believe in the Resurrection. That must always be John's great glory. He was the first man to understand and to believe. Love gave him eyes to read the signs and a mind to understand.

Here we have the great law of life. In any kind of work it is true that we cannot really interpret the thought of another person, unless between us and him there is a bond of sympathy. It is at once clear, for instance, when the conductor of an orchestra is in sympathy with the music of the composer whose work he is conducting. Love is the great interpreter. Love can grasp the truth when intellect is left groping and uncertain. Love can realize the meaning of a thing when research is blind. Once a young artist brought a picture of Jesus to Dore for his verdict. Dore was slow to give it; but at last he did so in one sentence. "You don't love him, or you would paint him better." We can neither understand Jesus nor help others to understand him, unless we take our hearts to him as well as our minds.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible