This article on John 20:17 is about the resurrection of Jesus.

Source: Clarion, 2000. 2 pages.

John 20:17 - The Saviour is Alive

Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.

John 20:17

The words seem strange, perhaps even cruel, at first glance. “Do not hold on to me.” Why does the risen Saviour speak like this to Mary? Look at her. Her face is still streaked with the torrent of tears that blurred her sight. The pain of the crucifixion of Jesus surely has left its marks upon her as well. The empty tomb she has just discovered has only added insult to injury. And then to have her Saviour back! Not just a loved one, Jesus, but the Messiah! The one who had delivered her from no less than seven demons! Imagine her joy; imagine the passion of her embrace!

Yet Jesus rebukes her: “Do not hold on to me.” What is so wrong with a little embrace on that Easter morning? Is the risen Saviour adverse to our touch? Has that glorious resurrection perhaps placed Him beyond our reach?

Not at all! In fact, the very opposite is true. “Do not hold on to me.” Despite appearances, it is really a promise, not a denial. Mary is not losing something, but gaining it. Here in these words of rebuke we actually have a wonderful proclamation of the great blessings of Easter for Mary, and for you and me.

When we think of Easter, we often remember that death has now been conquered. The Saviour is the first fruit of the new mankind. Unlike Lazarus and others in the Bible who were raised from the dead, Jesus Christ went through the grave to the other side. And that gives us great hope.

But Easter is even more than this. It is more than a great event that plays a role at the beginning and the end of this age, at the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of Christians. Easter is more than opening the door of death and allowing passage to the other side. It is about God working his greatest work in our lives, day by day, and eternally. And what is that? What is the great goal of your life? Where is the LORD bringing you? To heaven, to paradise, you might respond. Our eyes are set beyond this life, to the next one. That is our destination, you might say.

But there is even more to the riches of our faith. The goal of our lives as Christians is not so much a place, but a state. It is not so much about a changed world, but a changed people. Read Revelation 21 about the New Jerusalem, the climax of God’s redemptive work. If you read it carefully, you will discover that the New Jerusalem is not just the new paradise, the new Garden of Eden, the new place we live. It is also we, the people of God! We are that great city! God’s greatest work is to make us that city decked with fantastic jewels in which He lives.

And it all happens through the risen Saviour, through Jesus Christ. He does not just come to take away sins and conquer death. He comes to live in the hearts of the people of God. He comes to be their mediator, their link with God that allows his Spirit to dwell in their midst. He comes not just to bring us to heaven, but to bring heaven to us. He comes so that He himself might live in us so that we might know and enjoy the Triune God (Colossians 1:27).

That is what is promised to Mary in these words. That is what Easter is all about. “Do not hold on to me.” Why? “For I have not yet returned to the Father.” When the Saviour returns and ascends into heaven He receives the right to pour out the Spirit upon his people. And through that Spirit, He dwells not physically in the midst of the disciples, but in their hearts, in a much richer way. Through his Holy Spirit, He himself becomes their life, so that the Apostle Paul can later say so beautifully “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

The Saviour knows how much we yearn for his physical presence. To hold Him, to hear his voice, even to see his flesh and blood, would be a great blessing. He can see how much that would benefit the weeping Mary. He can see how much that would help you and me.

But yet He wants to be present in our lives in a greater way. He wants an even greater blessing for us. He wants the fullness of Easter to be ours. Not just a Saviour who is alive, but a Saviour who is alive in us. Not just a Saviour who has risen, but a Saviour who lives in the hearts of his people. He wants to dwell in us and make us citizens of the New Jerusalem about which the Apostle John writes. And that means also that He must leave us for a time.

Look at Mary. She lets go of the Saviour and He leaves her. But 50 days later she receives Him back in a much greater way, in the power of the Holy Spirit. She receives his glorious presence in a far greater way than she had ever known when she walked with Him during his ministry on earth.

And that is true for us as well. The fullness of Easter will one day be ours as well. The Saviour has only left us so that He might one day be much closer to us. Let us wipe away our tears and wait with patient longing for that day when God’s work in us through the presence of the risen Saviour will be brought to a glorious completion!

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