Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome came at first light on Sunday morning. It would have been their earliest opportunity to give Jesus’ body the treatment & burial he deserved. What they found was an empty tomb.
It may be easy, at first glance, to dismiss the fact that women were the first to witness the resurrection. Some may call it circumstantial, they just wanted to give him the proper burial and happened to be there. Some may call it nurturing, they just wanted to care for him. While their presence there certainly was circumstantial and evidence of their love for Jesus, we have to recognize two important reasons why it is significant that women were the first to witness the resurrection.
We can enjoy a beautiful reversal of Eden.
The very beginning of Scripture tells the tragic story of humanity’s failure in a garden. Eve believes the lies of Satan, while Adam stands by, passive. Sin enters the world, death reigns and the one hope of humanity hinges on a promised savior.
Fast forward to resurrection morning. Again, we are in a garden. But here, we see a garden playing host to a story with a better ending. Not a story of failure, but of victory. Here Jesus— the new Adam—sends women to men with good news. Eden, reversed. For those steeped in the story of Scripture, we shouldn’t miss this beautiful detail, of Garden to Garden, defeat to victory. Jesus unravels the failure of humanity, and sets things right.
Truth from the inside and out
Before we move on, I want to tell a story that will help illustrate the strength of this second reason.
Not long ago, my wife and I were on a road trip with our 3 kids. We crammed our lives (and our baby supplies) into our SUV and hit the road. As you can imagine, kids don’t stop being kids simply because they’re in a car. So that meant lots of pit stops to change diapers. One particular pit stop was an emergency. Let’s just say, it wasn’t the tire that blew out. So we pull over into a strip mall, throw open the trunk and clean up. Just at that moment, the owner of one of the businesses in the mall noticed our chaos, and came out to invite us inside to finish the diaper change and clean up.
Inside the car, we were in our own world. Outside the car, our lives intersected with someone else. The same principle is at play here. Inside the world of Scripture, the garden to garden moment is beautiful, but for someone who was/is unfamiliar with the story of Scripture, they would need to be confronted more directly, just like our blowout brought us into contact with the business owner.
Lets assume for a moment that you aren’t familiar with the Scriptures, with the story of Eden, and with the promises of God given to His people, Israel. Let’s imagine for a moment that your set of beliefs about the world, the gods, life, and death don’t line up with the beliefs of a first century religious Jew. You’re pagan. You’re more Roman or Greek than Jewish. What do women witnesses mean for you?
We have brilliant evidence for a risen Jesus.
All 4 accounts of resurrection morning include the women witnessing an empty tomb. For someone unfamiliar with the Jewish Scriptures, this fact is an incredible argument for historical reliability. If you were a Roman, a pagan, committed to the gods, women witnesses may force you to consider rethinking your entire perspective of reality. Why?
Women in the first century had little, if any, legal rights that we are familiar with today. There were no “votes for women”. Women could not testify in a court of law as credible witnesses. It’s why Jesus, at the point of death, asked John to care for his mother. It’s why Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for Jesus’ body, not the women.
If the resurrection of Jesus was a man-made fabrication, the gospel writers did a terrible job concocting a story that would be convincing in their society. If the gospels were lying about the resurrection, they do it terribly.
By reporting women as the first witnesses, the gospel writers confronted their world with the truth of the resurrection. They didn’t need to hiding the fact that the primary witnesses were women. No, the resurrection of Jesus was public enough, authentic enough, and verifiable to the point that the gospel writers were able to convey, with accuracy, that women were the first to see and verify the empty tomb.
Pointing to truth, inside and out.
Inside truth matters. When I say “inside” I mean all the ways Scripture confirms and affirms itself, between Old and New Testaments, like the Garden to Garden moment we looked at above. We should constantly point our world to the many ways Scripture lines up with itself, in often very beautiful ways. Jesus did. Read the account of the risen Jesus’ unpacking the Scriptures with 2 Jewish men on the way to Emmaus in Luke 24. The risen Jesus was physically walking with them, but he wasn’t recognized by them. Instead of stating the obvious: “hey guys, it’s me, don’t you recognize these scars?” Jesus thought it was important to unpack the ways Scripture pointed to Himself.
Today, many people are unfamiliar with the Scriptures.
Outside truth matters. When I say “outside” I mean that there are certain truths from Scripture that confront people regardless of their familiarity with the Scriptures. There’s shared interest. We all inhabit this world, who made it? We all die, who rose again? Jesus is the fullest expression of this reality. He is the word of God, according to John. The living Word given to humanity so we can see God both inside the pages of Scripture and outside where the living Word confronts our way of life.
Blog written by Jared Stacy, Pastor to College Students and Young Professionals