Easter: What It’s All About John 20:1-9, 19-23
4/23/2019 11:51:20 PM
April 21, 2019
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: John 20:1-9, 19-23
Imagine you have a friend you haven’t seen in a long time coming to visit you! They’re flying in from out of town and you agree to pick them up at the airport. You confirm their flight number and arrival time. You head to the airport early to make sure you are on time to meet them. Then you get to the arrivals area and wait. You eagerly watch the board for their flight number. You see they’re listed as “on time.” Then “arrived.” You start mentally calculating how long it might take for them to get their baggage. As the doors open, various passengers come through. Some have joyful reunions with family. Others just head out the doors to find a cab. Finally, you see your friend through the door! Yay! You’re so excited to see them. They see you and come straight for you. They put their bags down and you give them a huge hug. When you expect someone to arrive, you prepare and wait for them.
Today is Easter. Today we celebrate what happened almost 2,000 years ago on the very first Easter. One thing that we will see in our text today is that Jesus’ followers were not prepared for Jesus. They were not waiting for him! Why? Because they did not expect him to come back. They had seen him die, or at least heard from people who were there that he had died.
Let’s turn together and read one of 4 accounts of what happened on that day long ago. Turn to John 20:1-9, 19-23. We are reading just a part of a longer narrative that I encourage you to go back and read this afternoon. We don’t have time to consider what Mary Magdalene experienced that day. Nor do we have time to consider what happened to Thomas a week later, but both are important contributions to our understanding of what happened that day.
What It Says
There are a number of remarkable aspects to our text. John uses the phrase, “on the first day of the week,” several times. Here in v. 1, then again in v. 19 and later in v. 26. Why? This is why we worship on Sunday! John is pointing out that the resurrection marks the dawn of a new age, a new day. Throughout the centuries, Christians have gathered together on the first day of the week to celebrate and respond to what God did that first Easter Sunday! This is what church is all about! Sunday worship is all about the Resurrection. Remember- Jews worship on Saturday. Christians worship on Sunday because of the Resurrection!
Next, notice Mary Magdalene’s reaction when she sees the tomb open. She’s not excited. She’s not running to look for Jesus whom she was waiting for. She isn’t like someone waiting to pick up a friend at the airport. She knows Jesus is dead, so she runs to tell the disciples that someone has taken the body!
Two things to note. 1- She says “We don’t know where they’ve taken the body.” The other Gospels mention several women are with her. 2- The “disciple whom Jesus loved” is John- the author of this Gospel. The disciple John, author of this Gospel, is the “beloved disciple.” John never names himself in this book- he is always the beloved disciple, or here, the faster disciple! Three times he goes to lengths to point out that when he and Peter ran to the empty tomb that he was faster! I think there was some youthful competition there that John, writing in his old age, remembers fondly.
What happens when they arrive at the tomb? Do they find the body and calm the hysterical Mary? Do they find the right tomb and correct her sense of direction? No! All they find in the empty tomb are the burial linens.
The neat state of the burial linens indicate they were no longer needed, an eye witness detail. Remember, shortly before coming to Jerusalem, Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead. When Lazarus was raised, he came out of the tomb still wrapped in his grave clothes! Here, we see that Jesus was resurrected in his grave clothes, but somehow his resurrected body passed through the grave clothes, leaving them neatly in place. This was not a dead man who “woke up” and crawled out of the tomb. There were no grave robbers, stealing the body but leaving the wrappings behind. (*valuable linens by the way! No thief would leave these behind! [DA Carson, John, p. 636])
John believed before he fully understood. It was afterwards that he was able to see the resurrection of Jesus in the Old Testament, but his belief, his commitment and trust came beforehand.
In the passage we skipped over, Mary has followed John and Peter back to the tomb. Here she encounters Jesus herself! At first she doesn’t recognize him, but when she does, she grabs hold of him and clings to him! Jesus tells her to let go so that he can ascend to the Father, but also so that she can carry out a mission- Mary is to go to the disciples and tell them that Jesus is returning to the Father (and that she has encountered the risen Lord!)
Lather than same day, Jesus visits the disciples in a locked room. What are they experiencing in that room? Are they setting up decorations for a visit from Jesus? Are they preparing for the arrival of a friend who’s been gone for a while? No! They’re still trying to figure out what’s happened. They don’t seem to believe yet. In fact, they’re afraid! They’re not planning Jesus’ triumphal return. They’re not getting ready for him to come back. They’re terrified that the authorities are coming for them next!
Jesus appears among them, demonstrating again that his physically resurrected body has supernatural characteristics! (He is able to enter a locked room!) He says, “Peace be with you,” a typical Jewish greeting, but with much deeper meaning now! Jesus has opened the way for peace with God, overcoming our sin!
He shows them the identifying marks of his crucifixion and their fear is transformed to joy. The disciples’ fear is turned to joy. Jesus then breathes on them, which is significant. In Hebrew and Greek both, the word for breath is the same as the word for spirit. So in Genesis 2 when God “breathes” into Adam, God is giving him a spirit. Now, Jesus breathes on the disciples, giving them a new spirit- in fact the Holy Spirit! And with that new Spirit comes new life!
Having empowered them, he now commissions them. He gives them the same mission he had from the Father- to bring the good news of salvation from sin and reconciliation to God to the world.
The following passage is the one in which Thomas, who wasn’t there the first day, is present the next Sunday when Jesus joins them again. Thomas’ doubt is turned to faith!
Let’s summarize quickly. The resurrection was:
Unexpected- by all of the disciples- nobody was looking for it to happen! Even though it was predicted, both by Jesus and the OT.
Investigated- by the women, Peter and John, the other disciples, including Thomas at a later date- he was skeptical too!
Discovered and proclaimed – after examining the evidence, including the risen Jesus himself, the unbelievers came to believe and then proclaimed it
Transformative- it changed the disciples’ fear into joy, Mary’s grief into mission, and Thomas’ doubt into faith.
What It Means
What does all this mean? I’ve said that this is what it’s all about. But what is this all about? We’re going to see what Easter is all about, what Christianity is all about, what history is all about, what creation or the universe is all about and what life is all about! Because this, here, the Resurrection of Jesus, is what EVERYTHING is all about!
Easter is all about Jesus’ resurrection, conquering sin and death. It’s not about Spring. It’s not about life or fertility, chocolate or bunnies. Easter is about Jesus’ resurrection, which is qualitatively different from resuscitation- just coming back from death but not being physically different from before. Resurrection means new life, qualitatively new life, including a qualitatively new body.
Notice from the text that Jesus’ body had supernatural characteristics- he seemingly passed through the linen wrapped around his corpse. He was able to enter locked rooms. He was able to keep from being recognized at times, etc. His body was transformed from his body before the crucifixion. In the resurrection, the power and dominion of sin was broken, including the power of sin to separate us from God- which is death. Easter is all about the resurrection.
Christianity is all about the resurrection of Jesus. Lee Strobel, an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, rightfully realized when he tried to “debunk” Christianity that Christianity rises and falls on the resurrection of Jesus. Disprove that, he thought, and you disprove the whole thing! Little did he know, though, that in his quest to debunk the resurrection he would be confronted with such a mountain of evidence that he actually came to faith! Like John in our text, when confronted with the evidence, Lee Strobel came to believe in the resurrection and then committed his life to the consequences of it!
Christianity is NOT about being good people. It’s not about following the example of Jesus or the teachings of Jesus. It’s not about doing good in the world, helping the poor or sick. These follow from the resurrection! They are the results of the resurrection. But Christianity is about the resurrection, from which these things follow.
F –D –P Fundamentals or foundationals, Distinctives and Preferences. Fundamentals are the core that all Christians believe and hold to. That the Bible is God’s word is a fundamental. That Jesus was both divine and human is a fundamental. The need to pray and worship is a fundamental. Practicing baptism and communion are fundamentals. Distinctives are denominational differences- what baptism means and how to do it, what it means that the Bible is God’s word, what communion means and who can partake are distinctives. Preferences are just that- what we prefer- like music style, praying out loud or using written prayers, what translation of the Bible to use, etc.
The Resurrection of Jesus is not only “a” fundamental to Christianity, it is THE fundamental to Christianity. Without the resurrection of Jesus there is nothing left. Paul says as much in 1 Cor 15! Christianity is all about the resurrection!
History is all about the resurrection of Jesus. The very centre of history upon which all else hinges is the resurrection of Jesus. Why? Because if it’s true, then history doesn’t end with the end of civilization. History is not just about humanity. History is not finite, but it becomes infinite. History hinges on the resurrection because the resurrection fundamentally changes our understanding of everything! It means there is eternal life, it means we can be reconciled to God, it means everything changes in terms of what is of value and importance.
“The early Christians saw the finger of God in all of history and Christ as its central figure.” [Ravi Zacharias] History turns on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The truth of the resurrection is evidence of the identity of Jesus. It is evidence of the truthfulness of what he said. It is why we believe in him, follow him, obey his commands, study his teaching and try to emulate his ministry. The resurrection is the climactic event in the story of God’s loving pursuit of a fallen people in order to reconcile them to himself.
Helping the poor, doing good, being good people, going to church and all the rest that Christians do are all important, but only if they are a sincere response to the resurrection of Jesus and what that means for our relationship with God- that we are reconciled to God and righteous in his eyes. All of history will be judged in light of this response to Jesus and his resurrection.
The universe is all about the resurrection of Jesus. What do I mean about that? I mean creation, God’s creative activity, is all about the resurrection of Jesus. Our sin didn’t surprise God! God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all knew beforehand that if they made creatures with free will that we would eventually disobey them, entering into sin and plunging all of creation in turmoil and the dominion of death! But free will was necessary for love. And God’s whole plan of creation was to create creatures who could love him as he loves us. So God made us anyway! But God’s plan was not just to create us at the beginning of time, but to redeem us at just the right time!
How do you make free willed creatures that don’t sin? You make free willed creatures that do sin and then redeem them and transform them. Jesus, God the Son, knew before creation began that he would enter creation with us, live amongst us, take on our very nature of humanity, and then die on the cross in our place! He knew of the resurrection before he even began to create the universe! And he made us anyway! This is how God demonstrated his love for us- while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!
The resurrection and the redemption it brings is part of God’s creative plan from the beginning! It allows the universe to be re-created, for people to have new life and for that life to extend into eternity!
So the resurrection is not just an event in creation, it is not just an event that affects the universe, but it is the centre of the universe paving the way for its eternal, but transformed existence! Just as Jesus’ body was transformed at his resurrection, so our bodies will be transformed at our resurrection and all of creation will be renewed with the return of Christ!
Why does all this matter? How do we apply this? We have seen that Easter is all about the Resurrection. Christianity is all about the Resurrection. In fact history and the entire universe, all of creation, is about the Resurrection of Jesus and the future Resurrection of his people!
So why does this all matter? Because it means life is all about the resurrection of Jesus. This life is all about how we respond to the news that God raised Jesus from the dead. It determines what matters, it determines what our priorities are, what our goals are. It determines what really matters.
If Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, then we are dead in our sins. We can experience up to about 100 years of life if we’re lucky, and then we’re done. So live life for the moment, accumulate material wealth, enjoy yourself to the fullest. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die!
But! If Jesus was resurrected, that changes everything! The resurrection of Jesus completely changes what is important in life. Suddenly, what Jesus said about life matters, and what he said was very counter-cultural. Suddenly, death is not the finish line! The day of Judgement comes into play after death and then there is no finish line- either eternal victory or eternal defeat! If life, then, goes on forever, but what we earn, buy or enjoy in this life ends at death, then we need to be diligent in figuring out what will last into eternity! If Jesus was resurrected, then we are going to be resurrected too. But Jesus lived without sin, we don’t. So what matters between here and death has to do with our sin and its eternal consequences or our redemption in Christ and the eternal blessings that come with it!
What to do? Investigate the resurrection. – If you’re not a follower of Christ, this is vitally important! Don’t worry about any of the rest of Christianity- investigate the resurrection. Once you come to believe in this, the rest can be added- just as John believed before he understood the OT.
If you’re a believer, also investigate the resurrection. Let your investigation bolster your faith, inspire your imagination and fuel your will. It is so easy to get distracted, sidetracked or discouraged. But it all comes back to the resurrection! Let that be your foundation.
Proclaim the resurrection. – Jesus told his disciples to carry out his mission. He said it is up to them to forgive sins. That is- we now have the task of proclaiming the good news of Jesus= that forgiveness from God is not only possible, but freely available! And the flip side is that ignoring this, or denying this means our sins are NOT forgiven! This is a solemn and important duty and responsibility we have to carry out! -Proclaim the resurrection of Jesus and let your actions reflect the truth of the resurrection.
All the stuff that goes with Christianity: prayer, worship, reading the Bible, sharing your faith, helping the poor, feeding the hungry, fighting for justice, etc. All of this is the result of our faith in the resurrection and how we go about proclaiming it with credibility!
So talk to your family about the resurrection. Talk to your friends about it. Talk to your neighbours and coworkers about it. You can even start with, “My pastor on Sunday said that all of history is about the resurrection of Jesus. What do you think about that?”
Be transformed by the resurrection. Surrender to it. Put your faith in it. Commit yourself to it and to the one who was resurrected- Jesus Christ himself! Let the resurrection of Jesus change your priorities. Let it change your mind. Let it change your goals. Let it change your attitudes. Let it change your will. Let it change your motives! Why do you do good things? To appease God? To get praise? Do it because Jesus was raised from the dead and you are so grateful you can’t help doing good things as a way of thanking God for the new life he has given you!
Are you in grief? The resurrection can change your grief to mission! Are you afraid? The Resurrection can change your fear to joy! Do you doubt? The resurrection can change your doubt to faith!
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