What oxygen is to your lungs, hope is to your soul. It’s essential, not optional. Hope is something we’re all looking for right now, and so today yChurch pivots to a new series that’s all about that—reality-based, time-tested, rock solid hope.
I want you to know that generations before us have walked through crises not of their choosing, and we can learn from them. We can grab hope from them.
We start the series at a tough place, because of how unpredictable things are right now. More than 30 million Americans out of work. A jumble of plans at various level around the world trying to figure out best ways to open things up and protect public health.
So if you find yourself riding an emotional roller coaster lately, if you feel stressed, you are normal. What we need most in such a time…is hope. To get there begins with acknowledging where we are at present: we are in a season of unprecedented uncertainty, amidst an incredibly divided society and world.
That…is exactly where today’s New Testament character finds herself. Her name was Mary Magdalene. If you’ve heard anything about Mary Magdalene it’s probably wrong. That all traces back to a 6th-century Pope who confused this Mary with another woman by the same name.
Mary was the most common girls’ name in 1st-century Israel, so the New Testament writers include where this Mary was from, the lakeside village of Magdala, to distinguish her from others.
What to Do When All Hope is Gone
As we begin a series on hope, we start with someone whose hope was gone. Everything she had come to know and value and treasure…had been swept away at a moment’s notice. All of a sudden, she had no idea what the future would look like. All she could see…was the confusing, tumultuous moments she was experiencing.
Let’s turn back the clock to how things had been for Mary Magdalene. The four biographies of Jesus in the Bible tell us a fair amount about her. She was apparently wealthy, as we’re told that she was one of several women who financially supported Jesus and his dozen closest followers. Jesus and the Twelve could focus on teaching and healing and driving out demons, because a group of women, likely women business owners, footed the bills.
But how Mary Magdalene met Jesus really fills in the color. Luke tells us Jesus had freed her from seven demons. That explains her deeply devotion to Jesus, and her financial support of his ministry. She was grateful that God’s personal touch had come to her through Jesus, freeing her from torment.
So from the moment she encounters Jesus, life becomes better for Mary Magdalene. It’s a whole new adventure: she gets to see people being drawn to Jesus like a magnet as he teaches about God with authority and profound wisdom; she looks on with wonder as he commands evil spirits to come out of many; her jaw drops as she sees people who come to Jesus handicapped or diseased healed with His word or touch. It’s all amazing and fulfilling to be part of.
But then. Everything. Changes. Time stops. There comes a nighttime betrayal and arrest. A kangaroo court. Beatings and mockery. And then to unspeakable levels of shock and horror, she watches as the One who had delivered her from darkness is nailed to a cross, darkness descending to shroud the midday sun.
Mary heard those seven final cries from the cross.
She holds her breath as Jesus takes his last breath.
She reflexively spasms as a soldier jams a spear through Jesus’ rib cage to ensure his demise: his body doesn’t so much as flinch.
Mary Magdalene stays long enough to see Jesus’ body taken down from the cross and hastily laid in a borrowed tomb without the proper embalming because soon the setting sun will begin the weekly Sabbath, when no work is allowed. No time for a proper burial, so something has to be done immediately. Mary was there all the way to the end.
Friday night through Saturday night, no one can wash off the caked blood, rub the body with oil, and wrap it with strips of clean lined interspersed with aromatic spices. Not until sunrise Sunday, when Sabbath is over and they can see by daylight. Pastor Bryan Wilkerson, whose work on this passage fueled me, points out that Mary makes it a point to reach the tomb even before sunrise, ever-loyal even to her dead Savior.
But it gets worse. In the pre-dawn darkness, Mary approaches and begins to make out that the stone which sealed the tomb shut has been shoved aside. Horrified, she flees to the house where Peter and John, two other followers of Jesus, are holed up in fear that the chaos which took Jesus will find them next.
Mary barges in and yells, perhaps startling them awake, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (this is from John chapter 20 and verse 2).
Peter and John strap on their sandals and outrace Mary to the tomb. They rush inside, only to see the linen strips and separate head cloth lying there, but no body. Not knowing what to make of what they’re seeing—or not seeing—they stumble their way back to the house and lock the door behind them.
And Mary? She doesn’t know what to do. All she can do is stand outside the tomb and weep.
That’s where some of you are lately. Emotions all over the place. Little is certain. Things change daily, sometimes by the hour. It’s hard to keep up, no less make sense—of where we are and where things are headed. Where are you looking for hope?
Mary didn’t know anymore. All bets were off. This was unknown territory. Five year plans? Forget about it. She had no clue about that day, no less that month. Too much was unknown, unclear in the dark.
John tells us that as Mary stands there shellshocked and weeping, confused, she bends over to see for herself, peering into the tomb. This woman who had been tormented by seven demons, sees two angels, 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 have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
Notice her answer: Not, “Someone has taken the body that was here.” No: it’s, “They have taken my Lord away.” She’s saying, “My hope has been stolen. My hope has vanished. I’ve been robbed of hope, and I don’t know where to find it.”
Wilkerson asks, What is hope? Wishful thinking? Naïve optimism? “Hope it doesn’t rain,” we say. “Hope the economy bounces back.” “Hope the sermon doesn’t go too long.” [wink!]
• When a sports team loses hope, the game is over.
• When investors lose hope, the stock market tumbles.
• When a hospital patient loses hope, death is crouching at the door.
Viktor Frankl can teach us about hope. He survived three years in various Nazi concentration camps including Auschwitz. He noticed that prisoners died just…after…Christmas. They were hoping they’d be free by then. When they weren’t, they gave up. Frankl realized that as long as prisoners had something to live for, a reason to press on, they could endure just about anything. But once they lost hope, they quickly died.
Likewise the 19th-century Russian thinker Dostoevsky, who lived in a very troubled time politically, socially, and spiritually. Dostoevsky observed that “to live without hope is to cease to live.”
Bur I’m guessing you didn’t come here for an English class, right? Neither have I. Let’s get to us and today. Bobby Knight is admittedly a controversial figure in our state’s hoops mania—because of some of what he’s said and done. Bobby has something to throw into any conversation about hope. In Bobby Knight’s opinion, “hope” is the worst word in the English language. It’s foolish and lazy, he says, to tell yourself that “things are going to be all right.” Because they’ll only be all right if somebody steps up and does something.
In other words, hope needs a reason. In order to find or regain hope that’s based in reality, we need to see something, or someone, step up and truly change the trajectory toward a better place. Without that, without good reasons, hope is just wishful thinking.
All that to say Mary had no reason to hope that morning. There was no wishful thinking. No naïve optimism. She expected nothing more than a corpse, badly in need of spices. Remember, she watched hope die. She saw the corpse hastily wrapped and laid to rest. As far as she’s concerned, it’s over.
Even the appearance of angels doesn’t give her the hope she so desperately needs. But then. John chapter 20 and verse 14, Mary turns around and sees someone standing there. She doesn’t recognize it’s Jesus. She knows Jesus. How can she not know it’s him? The answer? We don’t know. We can guess—it’s still dark, or for some reason his appearance has changed, as other post-resurrection appearances show other people likewise not recognizing the risen Jesus at first.
But sometimes we don’t get all the answers, right? Like the time we find ourselves living in today. We want certainty. What we get are projections and protections and plans that might or might not work, but we just don’t know. That is where Mary Magdalene finds herself.
What she doesn’t yet see is that Jesus is still with her. In the uncertainty. In her unknowns. Watch how it plays out. Verse 15: Jesus 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.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
Something about the sound of the voice, something about him calling her by name, opened her eyes and her heart. It was him!
Suddenly, he was there. She wasn’t alone. And because of that, hope rushed back in. By way of a couple of questions and speaking her name, Jesus showed Mary that he is stronger than all the evil—thrown at him or us;
He is stronger than our worst fears;
He is stronger even…than death itself.
This is what washed over Mary, restoring her hope.
And so in response she must have thrown her arms around Jesus, or taken hold of his feet. Because Jesus says, “Don’t cling to me, for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. Go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
He’s telling her he’s still going to be with her—with all of them—but not in the same way as before. He’s going to return to God the Father and send the Holy Spirit to be with them and in them—to be with us and with us—in every circumstance, at every hour.
And in the meantime, until he returns or we go to Him, he has a message for Mary and us to share, the only message that brings hope: Jesus Christ forgives sin and has defeated death! Hope…has a name—and it is Jesus!
Hope isn’t a what, a when, or a why. Hope is a “who.
” Hope has a name. Bobby Knight is right. Things don’t get better just because we want them to. Things get better because somebody does something. Hope is always embodied in a person.
• Shareholders hope the CEO can lead the company back t profitability.
• Citizens hope an elected leader can get their country or state or city back on track.
• Colts fans hope Frank Reich can reshape our team into champions.
Hope is always a who—somebody wise enough, strong enough, good enough—to get us to a better place. And Jesus Christ is the only someone…who will never disappoint. He knows what he’s doing. He knows where this is all going. And he promises to be with all who daily choose to trust Him and follow Him.
So where does Mary Magdalene’s story end? With hope. But let’s be clear—there was still tons of stuff that she didn’t understand. She still had no idea what the future held. What she did find in the risen Jesus is hope that whatever the future, He was with her, and He was stronger than anything the future might bring.
That’s the hope that Jesus came to bring.
• It’s not pretending in the face of harsh possibilities.
• It’s not throwing our brains out to reject data and trends and wise counsel.
• It’s not faking that we can control everything moving ahead.
What it is…is confident hope that our story isn’t over, because Jesus is alive and Lord. And as such, he can meet us in this moment—just as surely as he met Mary on that dark morning when her hope had vanished. He restored her hope, and He can do the same for you today. Hope has a name, and that name will never change: Jesus Christ, who is alive and Lord.
• So if your hope has slipped lately;
• If you are losing hope;
• If you have given up hope in news or projections or orders or permissions…
Let me urge you…to redirect your hope, to Jesus. Whether for the first time or the 900th time, He is where hope is found, hope that will not disappoint.Let me pray for you now, please:
Lord Jesus, we can see Mary Magdalene trudging toward the tomb to care for you even in death, even though dreading the sight and smell.
We can feel the pit in her stomach as she begins to make out that the tomb has been broken into.
We feel her despair at everything she treasured vanishing, and with him, her future completely unpredictable.
For the first time in our lives, that’s where many find ourselves lately.
So come to us, we ask.
Call out our names. Let us hear You.
Open our eyes to see You and believe.
Most of all, Jesus, we’re asking you to give us hope—hope like you gave Mary Magdalene the day you freed her from seven demons, hope like you gave her when she saw you heal the sick and teach with authority, hope like you restored to her on the morning you rose.
That’s what we’re asking for, the right kind of hope, hope that does not disappoint—hope in You.
Touch each one at their point of need, we ask. Amen!
Hey, if you are new to yChurch, we have been praying for you. I mean that. So say hello by way of the contact form on yChurch’s titled, “How can we help you today?” We would love the chance to pray with you by phone and encourage you.
The next time you need encouragement and to be anchored in God’s timeless Word, everything we have for you is available 24/7 at the church website, www.y-church.com.
One final reminder: if this message has blessed you, bless someone else by sharing it on your social media feed. All we want to do is point people to the hope that has a name—Jesus! God bless you!