John 20: He is Risen
John has written a biography of Jesus Christ’s ministry. When a biography of a famous person is written, it ends with his death and burial. But Jesus Christ was no ordinary person. He is God in flesh, Immanuel, God with us. So, His story- and History does not end with His death for He is Risen and alive.
Now it is obvious if you think about what happened after Jesus died, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus already had a plan in place to take the Lord’s body and prepare it for burial. This means only one thing- they were willing to defile themselves on this Passover day by touching a dead body. They would not be partaking of the Passover events, for I believe they knew they had found the Lamb of God. Their planning meant these men had already made arrangements for a tomb, all of the necessary elements for burial, the linen, and the spices.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE RESURRECTION
The Resurrection of Jesus is an essential part of the Gospel. Without it, Paul says, ‘if Christ be not risen, your faith is in vain; you are still in your sins.’ (I Cor. 15)
So let us review the simple message and elements of the Gospel as Paul writes in I Cor. 15: “ For I delivered unto you first of all that which I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried; and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures ; and that He was seen of Cephas( Peter) then of the twelve: and after that He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto the present, but some have fallen asleep.” Paul then goes on to explain how important the Resurrection is, because if Christ is not risen our faith is in vain, empty and we are most miserable of all men. But Christ is risen indeed. He is alive! So over 500 eye witnesses, many of them prominent men and women of that day could have been called into court, sworn to tell the truth and testified they saw, heard, and touched the Resurrected Jesus. They had evidence for their belief. But as you will see, so do we.
There was a lot of coming and going and confusion that first Easter Sunday, the day Jesus arose from the dead. Our story today will focus on Mary Magdalene; Peter and John and Thomas. We first meet Mary Magdalene. Her double name was most likely derived from the town she was from- Magdala, a small fishing village on the Sea of Galilee. It was within walking distance of Capernaum, where Jesus had started his ministry. We read this account in Luke 8: “ And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him ( Jesus) of their substance. (Helped support them out of their own means.) “These women were Jesus’ early supporters who faithfully served Him during his three year ministry.
There is no biblical evidence Mary Magdalene was a prostitute or an immoral woman. She was an early and devoted follower of Jesus. Of her is it said; she owed much, gave much, loved much and served much.
A FAITH ECLIPSE
Let us focus on John’s account for he and Peter interacted with Mary on this first resurrection day. A day, I am sure, John would never forget. Here is John’s account:
“The first day of the week (Sunday) cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulcher; and sees the stone taken away from the grave.” It was not yet dawn. It was dark. She was alone. She came to serve her Master to whom she owed her life. Have we forgotten ‘all to Him I owe? He gave up His life, He gave His all for us- all to Him I owe.
She must have been thinking of many things that morning, which included: how could she roll away the stone? What about the Roman soldiers? Would they help her? Would they allow her to minister to Her Lord? Finding the stone rolled away and the soldiers gone, makes us realize the Lord had already taken care of her concerns. He knows what we have need of, even before we ask.
She runs back to tell Simon Peter and John: “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher and I know not where they have laid him.” Uncertainty. Fear. These are emotions which can eclipse our faith. We cannot see what is going on. We cannot understand. Her faith is not extinguished. Her faith is going through a period of uncertainty because of circumstances she cannot understand. Why has this happened? What is going on? Where is the Lord? We can certainly identify with those questions and emotions when it seems as if the Lord is no where to be found. Nothing makes sense. The One who is called the Light of the World has left us in darkness of doubt, uncertainty and fear. Has the Light gone out? No- it is a temporary blocking of the One who is the Light or our lives. It is an eclipse, an eclipse of faith. When the light we need to see is not available. Mary Magdalene had come alone and in the dark. We know what that feels like. But do not throw away your confidence- for dawn of a new day is coming. It will come sometimes after a long, dark night of weeping. Joy comes in the morning. The sun was still there, in fact the sun never moved, it was the earth which turned its back on the sun. She was alone in the dark of night with her imaginations running wild and creating the worst possible circumstances. She had jumped to the conclusion they had stolen his body and she could not minister to Him now. Ever jump to conclusions of the worst possible circumstances? Thinking I will never recover from this catastrophe. I will never be able to bear this trial. Mary Magdalene had faith. But her faith like ours in similar trials and tribulations and problems is eclipsed by the darkness of uncertainty. But do not throw away your confidence for He who is coming, is coming in a little while.
“Now faith is being sure what we hope for and certain of that which we cannot see.” (Hebrews 11: 1) Faith is most needed when the dark circumstances of life rush in like a flood. For if we can see and our hope is realized, faith is not needed. And remember, without faith it is impossible to please God. To learn how to trust Him and live by faith and not by sight, means the Lord must place us in those circumstances which we have no control over, nor can we see how it will work out, our even why this is happening. Peter says we have need of these in order to purify and strengthen our faith. So Peter advises us to not consider fiery trials strange, but a part of the life of faith.
FAITH DAWNING: Oh Say Can You See By the Dawn’s Early Light?
When Peter and John heard Mary’s report they took off running for the empty tomb. John, being younger than Peter was able to outrun the larger, lumbering Peter. I cannot help but think of how we are admonished and encouraged to run the race of faith. But also I see faith dawning, beginning to rise like the sun that Sunday morning. The light of day is coming up and their faith seems to be rising with the rising sun. And there is a courage which comes with that faith. For these men had basically been hiding since the crucifixion- awaiting fearfully behind closed doors. They had to be thinking, will they come arrest us also and crucify us? Now they are running toward what may be armed Roman soldiers- they are running with what some would say was reckless abandon into the very presence of what could be trouble. Faith was rising in their hearts and minds, as the sun was rising. And soon they would discover the Son had risen indeed. Jesus was their hope, their only hope. Peter had once said, when Jesus asked if they were going to leave Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (John 6: 67-69)
Oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light what so proudly we hailed in the twilight’s last gleaming? Is the Banner, our Banner, and Jehovah Nissi still alive? Here is what John saw when he stooped and looked in the empty tomb: he saw the linen cloths, the strips which had been wound about the Lord Jesus lying there. But John did not go in the empty tomb. Here comes Simon Peter and he goes right into the empty tomb. He sees the linen strips lying there. And the napkin which was over our Lord’s faith, wrapped together in a place by itself. Here is what I visualize they saw: the linen cloth used to wrap the Lord’s body was lying there like an empty cocoon. For the Lord in His Glorified body was able to pass through the wrappings without disturbing them, just like He could pass through a locked wooden door. In addition the burial cloth around his face was folded neatly and lying with it on the burial shelf. No thief or Roman Soldiers had stolen the body. If this had been the case, the linen cloth would be in disarray, having been unwrapped and torn away to take away the body. When John saw this, he came to the conclusion based on the physical evidence: Jesus was alive. He saw and believed.
The Son had risen. It was a new day. The faith which had been eclipsed by the darkness of circumstances which they could not understand, was beginning to dawn on them. They knew their Lord had been crucified, was dead and buried. But now their faith was rising as the dawn’s early light revealed the truth.
Now the disciples went away again unto their own home. But Mary Magdalene stood outside the empty tomb.
Mary Magdalene now looked inside the empty tomb. Through her tears she sees two angels in white seated where Jesus’ body had been lain. One was at the head the other at the foot. This is exactly what was carved on the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. Two cherubim facing each other on the very cover where the blood of the lamb was sprinkled by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.
Mary was allowed to see what had become the new Mercy Seat. For the temple veil had been rent in the temple on that Passover day and a new way was open to all mankind into the presence of God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.
The angels asked Mary, “Woman, why are you crying?” She repeats the conclusion she had come to- that the Lord’s body had been taken away and she did not know where they had laid him. Do you see Mary wants to know the truth? Where is the Lord? Where has He been taken? For she still wants to serve Him? She is seeking the truth. She is seeking the One who is called The Truth.
Now Mary must has sensed someone else there for she turns and sees Jesus standing there, although she does not recognize Him. He asked her the same question, “Woman, why are you weeping? “ Who are you looking for?” Who do you look for when you are troubled? Who do you depend on to give you hope and comfort when you are weeping? And the darkness of night seems like the sun will never shine again.
Mary once again repeats the conclusion she had come to that Jesus’ body had been taken away and she wanted to find Him and minister to Him. Jesus said to her, “Mary.” Jesus knew her name, and He knows my name. Does He know your name? Has He written down your name in His Lamb’s Book of Life? He wants to. He died so He could. Mary recognized His voice, for the sheep know their shepherd’s voice.
She knew her Savior was risen, alive and standing before her. She says to Jesus, “ Raboni” which means Master. Jesus tells her Do not touch me, for she had knelt and took hold of his feet we are told in Matthew 28. Jesus then gives her a message: “Do not touch me for I have not ascended to my Father: but go tell the brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Jesus always used the singular personal pronoun when identifying his relationship with God the Father, for it was different from that of the disciples. But also it emphasizes we each must have a personal relationship with God. God desires an intimate one-on-one relationship with us.
Mary shared with the disciples that she had seen Jesus personally, but more importantly she shared what Jesus said, the words He had spoken. I can tell others about my experience of how I was saved and my life transformed. But we are to share the Word of God for it is the Word of God which generates faith. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10: 17)
Now Peter and John had seen evidence which led them to believe. Mary had seen the Risen Lord and had evidence to believe. Thomas had not seen the risen Lord yet and would not believe until he had evidence.
The key has always been belief in the Word of God. If Adam and Eve had believed the Word of God they would have never eaten from the forbidden tree. They would have never died.
Abraham believed the promise of God that He would make a great generation from Abraham. Because he believed the promise of God and acted upon it-Abraham was counted righteous. Noah heard and believed the Word of God and built an ark. Do you see they believed the Word of God which led to their salvation?
The key is faith in the Word of God: “What must I do to be saved ask the Philippian jailer? They replied: Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved- you and your household.” (Acts 16) “What must we do to work the works God requires? Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” (John 6) “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in Him, will not perish, but have everlasting life. O John 3: 160
The Word of God generates faith. It is alive and powerful and sharper than a two edged sword. It is life giving, life changing and life sustaining. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds from the Lord.
In the case of Thomas, I believe we see an example of those of us who when faced with troubling circumstances forget what we have seen the Lord do in our lives and the lives of others before. Thomas was right there when Jesus called Lazarus to come forth from the grave where he had been entombed for four days. He not only witnessed this miraculous event, Thomas heard Jesus when He said: “Did I not tell you if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (John 11) Many of us when we face trials and troubling circumstances we forget what the Lord has done for us before, what we know and believe. Jesus turned to Thomas after Thomas saw for himself and said: “Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen me and yet have believed.”
Are you like Mary? Has something come between you and the Lord and you can’t see Him? Or maybe you are like Peter and John and you have lost your hope and are wondering what is life about? Or perhaps you are like Thomas, faced with a tragic of epic proportions which make you doubt the Lord is who He says He is? The Lord understands. Mary wanted to know where He was and He revealed Himself to her. He was right behind her. Peter and John needed to have their hope revived- one look at an empty tomb and the shed grave clothes revived it. And Thomas asked for hard, physical evidence. Jesus said ‘put your finger here and stop doubting.’ Put your finger on that verse in the Word of God, for He is the Word of God and quit doubting.