Are you hard of hearing or hard of listening? Children and apparently husbands are sometimes hard of listening. That is to say, they can hear just fine, but they don't listen very well.
The disciples of Jesus had heard him say numerous times that He was going to die and rise again. In the gospel of John on two occasions Jesus predicted his death and resurrection. In John 2:19 we read, "Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”" Then in John 10:17 Jesus says, "For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again." The other gospels record even more of these announcements. In spite of these repeated teachings of Jesus, when it happened, it seems the disciples had not been listening. The message went out of Jesus' mouth, but it never landed in the hearts and minds of the disciples.
This morning, we will look at the account of the resurrection from John 1:1-18. As we look at it, we will examine the evidence for the resurrection and then examine how it landed with the people mentioned in the text. Thinking about these things will help us think about how well we have heard the message about the resurrection.
On our trip to Israel, we went to Petra, which is an amazing archeological site in Jordan which includes a temple carved right out of a rock. to get there requires a walk through a canyon. As you come closer to the temple, at first you have a little glimpse, then as you turn the corner you get a larger glimpse and as you walk further, you finally see the whole temple. The view is revealed, a little at first then more and then completely.
That is sort of what happens in John's description of the resurrection. At first there is a little glimpse and then a larger glimpse and finally the truth that Jesus is alive is fully known. John gives us 5 evidences that Jesus was alive. Because their hearts would not see what Jesus had told them and because resurrection was so unexpected, God needed to allow them to experience things which would gradually allow their hearts to open in order to realize the truth.
The first person to perceive anything was Mary Magdalene. Early Sunday morning, the day after Sabbath, she came to the place where Jesus body had been laid. It was still dark when she came, but as she approached the tomb, the first thing she noticed was that the "stone had been removed from the tomb."
Her response was to run to Peter and the disciple "whom Jesus loved" whom we believe to be John, the writer of this gospel. The message she gave them was, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have laid him." Of course she didn't know that. It was an assumption based only on the fact that the stone was gone. She had not looked into the tomb, she didn't know that the body was gone, and she certainly did not yet understand that Jesus had risen from the dead. She does not identify who "they" were or why they would want to remove the body of Jesus. Was it grave robbers? was it the Jewish leaders or the Roman soldiers? There is no clarification of her thinking.
What we do have is the first indication that something has happened, but it is not enough for her, at least, to know that Jesus had risen from the dead. It was, however, the first step that would lead to this conclusion.
Upon hearing her report, Peter and John went to the tomb. The story tells us that although John got there first, he did not go into the tomb. However he did notice that "the linen wrappings were lying there." This gives us a hint towards the second evidence of the resurrection. The cloths which had been used to wrap up the body of Jesus for burial were lying there.
John arrived first, but Peter was the first one to go into the tomb. He also saw the "linen wrappings lying there" but he saw one additional thing. He saw "the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself."
Now the second evidence about the resurrection is complete. It is not certain exactly what this describes. Does it imply that the cloths had been unwrapped from Jesus and laid aside or that the body of Jesus had simply passed out of the cloths as he rose from the dead and were lying there flat with no body in them? What is clear is that the body of Jesus was no longer present there and that is the important evidence.
If we try to put ourselves in the position of Peter and John, what might have been going through their minds. I suspect that they began to think about how this could possibly be explained. There is really only one reasonable explanation, but they may have considered others. If the enemies of Jesus would have done it, they would have taken the body and wrappings, and the only thing they would gained by doing so was to be able to produce the body if a rumor of resurrection should ever surface and that didn't happen. If the disciples had taken the body, they might have thought of taking the body without the wrappings, but that makes no sense because here they were, utterly confused about what was going on and later their lives changed not because of a rumor, but because they served a risen Lord. If grave robbers had done it, they would have taken the cloth and left the body. So the only reasonable explanation is that Jesus was alive. The text tells us that John saw and believed. For him, this was enough evidence.
The third evidence of the resurrection is evidence that they did not perceive at the time, but which stood as evidence in any case. John reports that "they did not understand the Scripture that he must rise from the dead."
The message of resurrection is one that should have been known to them not only from the words of Jesus, who announced it several times, but also from the Old Testament Scriptures. Two Old Testament passages, in particular, communicate the resurrection. In Psalm 16:10 we read, "For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit." Isaiah 53:10-12 also says, "Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the LORD shall prosper. Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."
Yet John says more than that the Scripture communicates the fact of the resurrection. He says that Scripture indicates that He, "must rise" which is a phrase used in Scripture to point to a divine necessity. God's word stands that resurrection is not a sudden, surprising event. It is within the divine plan as a necessary part of God's victory.
Although at this point they did not yet understand that, it still stands as an evidence of the resurrection. Later the Scriptural evidence would be the foundation from which they proclaimed God's victory to the world.
Somewhere between alerting Peter and John and their return to their homes, Mary went back to the tomb. She stood outside weeping and this time stooped down to look into the tomb. As she did, she "saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying." This is now the fourth evidence of the resurrection. Peter and John had already confirmed that the body of Jesus was not there and the comment that they were sitting where the body of Jesus was reinforces this. Now Mary saw something else which confirmed that a divine event had taken place. Angles are messengers. They often deliver important messages from God. Matthew Henry comments, "Their number: two, not a multitude of the heavenly host, to sing praise, only two, to bear witness; for out of the mouth of two witnesses this word would be established." It is interesting, however, that they did not declare to Mary that Jesus was alive. Instead, they lead her in the next step of perceiving that that is exactly what had happened. They asked her why she was weeping. The question implies that weeping was not necessary and was an invitation to her to consider that her assumption was not the only possibility. Yet we see that Mary had not progressed very much in a conscious understanding of the resurrection. She responded once again with a concern for where the body of Jesus was.
Because their presence did not arouse any immediate response in Mary, she turned away from them. When she did, she saw Jesus. Now we have the final piece, the full and clear revelation that Jesus was alive. He was actually present with her. Yet, she was so overcome with grief and confusion that the realization did not immediately land with her. She did not recognize Him, but continued with her desperate search to express her love by adequately engaging in all the appropriate burial rituals.
When Jesus spoke her name, she finally understood. I believe all the other things which happened – the empty tomb, the empty grave cloths, her background in Scripture, and the presence of the angels all contributed to her ability to finally recognize Jesus and to understand that He was alive. As soon as she did recognize Him, she responded by naming Him as her honored teacher. It is also possible that she hugged him because Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me." This is an intriguing statement but likely means that Jesus was communicating to her that yes, He was alive, but that their relationship would be different. Matthew Henry writes, "He forbids her to dote upon his bodily presence, to set her heart on this, or expect its continuance, and leads her to the spiritual converse and communion which she should have with him after he was ascended to his Father; for the greatest joy of his resurrection was that it was a step towards his ascension."
Jesus instructed her to go and make the news that He was alive known to the other disciples. Her announcement to the disciples gives us the full evidence of resurrection. Her message was, "I have seen the Lord."
In each of the disciples, this growing evidence of resurrection landed in a different way. As we think about the different ways in which they experienced the truth of the resurrection, it gives us a chance to think about how we have experienced the message that Jesus is alive.
Mary is introduced first, but let's leave her for a moment and examine Peter and John's response first.
We meet Peter very briefly in this story. He came, he saw and he left, but we know that there is much more to his story. Even within this text we see glimpses of that story.
Ever since the day that Jesus was arrested, Peter had been carrying a heavy load. The last encounter he had had with Jesus was to deny him publicly. That public denial must have caused him great grief. He had denied his Lord and because Jesus had died, he had no chance to make it right. As Peter and John ran to the tomb with John, we wonder why John bothered to mention that he was a faster runner than Peter? Peter was the first to enter the tomb and we understand that as part of his impulsive nature; but we wonder if perhaps he ran more slowly for other reasons. Was Peter reluctant to go and see? Was he too weighted down with guilt to really want to examine what might have been going on?
Perhaps we also are reluctant about facing a risen Lord. If our life is filled with baggage it may prevent us from wanting to know the Lord who is alive. Later in the story, Peter had a chance to meet Jesus and Jesus restored him and that restoration included forgiveness. The story of Peter, invites us to approach the risen Lord. Although He is the only one who has been raised from the dead and has ascended to the Father to reign over the entire universe, He is also the one who died for our sins and who welcomes the sinner and offers forgiveness. Let us not hang back, but welcome a meeting with the risen Christ.
John and Peter went to the tomb together and John arrived first, but did not go in. He looked in and noticed the cloths lying there. After Peter entered the tomb, John followed and saw the same things Peter saw. But John saw more deeply. The text says that when he saw he believed. Why was this enough for him? We don't know if Peter believed at this point and we know that it took many more steps for Mary to see. Why did John see so quickly?
John was introduced in verse 2 as the "one whom Jesus loved." Does that perhaps give us a clue as to why John was so quick to get it? Love leads to confidence, trust and hope. Was that why John, who also loved Jesus, was so quick to believe in the resurrection?
If we love Jesus, because we see His love for us and because we see what He accomplished at the cross, will that help us also to believe fully that we have a risen Lord who continues to represent us before God and who continues to love us.
Barclay tells the story of a painter who brought a picture of Jesus to the artist Paul Dore to evaluate. The response of Dore was, "You don't love Him, or you would paint Him better." Barclay comments further, "We can neither understand Jesus or help others to understand Him, unless we take our hearts to Him as well as our minds."
Yet love can also distract us from truly seeing. This is what happened to Mary.
Mary Magdalene was a woman out of whom Jesus had cast demons. Luke 8:2 introduces her as one of Jesus' followers, "from whom seven demons had gone out…" This is likely the reason for the love she had for Jesus and we see the expression of that love in her great concern for the missing body of Jesus. But her great love distracted her from seeing accurately. We see the singular focus she had which arose out of her grief in the fact that three times she repeated the idea that "they have taken the Lord out of the tomb" and "we do not know where they have laid him." Was it darkness? Was it grief? What was it that prevented her from seeing the risen Christ?
When Jesus appeared to her, she still didn't recognize him. Her distraction and the depth of her grief remain when we hear the impossible task she proposed to the man she assumed to be the gardener that if he knew where the body of Jesus was, she would get him and carry him back to his tomb.
We see how she is still stuck on her grief when she saw Jesus. Please notice that in verse 14 she "turned around and saw Jesus." Then in verse 16 after Jesus names her we read again that "She turned and said to him…" What happened in between? I believe that she turned and saw Jesus, but not recognizing him, she turned away from him again because she was so distracted by her grief.
Sometimes we also fail to see Jesus because although we love Him, the distractions, the grief, the trials of life prevent us from seeing Him. Yet just as Jesus called her by name, he calls us by name and if we direct our attention to Him, we will also see Him.
When Jesus spoke to Mary, He gave her a message for the disciples. In that message, we are personally drawn fully into this amazing drama. The messages she was to deliver was, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."
With each of those involved, we see something of their response, and it is always a response which arose out of who they were and what they experienced. This statement tells us something about how we can respond because Jesus is alive.
The resurrection of Jesus leads to the ascension of Jesus and implies that Jesus is and remains alive. It implies that He is not only alive, but is with the Father in heaven and is reigning with Him. It points to the exalted position of power and authority which Jesus holds.
Because Jesus is alive and ascended, the message Mary was to deliver to the disciples has great meaning for us today. She was to tell them, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." Jesus, of course has a unique relationship to the Father and that is why He distinguishes between, "my Father and your Father," but I don't think that is the main emphasis. I believe the main emphasis is that resurrection implies inclusion. Because Jesus rose from the dead, what He says becomes a possibility. The Father, from whom Jesus came and to whom He returned is not only His Father, but also our Father. The God who sent Jesus and received Him back victorious is not only His God, but also our God. In this saying of Jesus, we are invited into a relationship with the creator of the universe, who becomes our God and also our Father. We become brothers and sisters of Jesus with full rights of access to the Father and the promise of an eternal inheritance to our home in heaven. This is an invitation to rejoice in the resurrection and because of the resurrection to enter into relationship with God.
Are you hard of hearing or hard of listening? We have heard the message that Jesus is alive this morning. The evidence is there. The tomb is empty as are the garments which surrounded Jesus at his burial. Angels and Scripture have indicated the resurrection and Jesus was seen alive.
Is the evidence enough for you? Do you see and believe that Jesus is alive? Does the love you have for Jesus allow you to see? If you do see, does the evidence allow you to rejoice in and embrace the truth that God is now your Father and your God?
Christ is risen!