Preached in November, 2004
Last week we learned about how Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures even in death. He gave up His life voluntarily at 3PM, at the exact hour the Passover Lambs started to be slain. The lambs had to be completely drained before they could be roasted and eaten. The lambs were hung up on poles and were lanced at the heart to drain the blood onto the ground even as God had commanded. Likewise, the spear thrust into Jesus heart allowed Jesus’ blood to pour out on the ground as an offering to God. The actual piercing was predicted in Scripture in Psalm 22 as well as Zechariah 12:10. Isaiah 53 predicted He would be numbered among the transgressors (the two thieves), but would be buried with the rich in His death. And this Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had done.
In six days, God had created the world and everything in it. In particular, he created man on the sixth day. The seventh day, God rested from all His work of creation. Jesus, God the Son, finished the redemption and had re-created man on the sixth day. On the seventh day, He rested from all the work the Father had given Him.
Exposition of the Text
v. 1. And on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came very early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
We know from the Scriptures that several women had actually gone along with Mary Magdalene. These were the woman who stood faithfully next to the cross of Jesus while the disciples had fled. They probably weren’t let in on the fact that the body had already been quite properly prepared for burial by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, due either to confusion of the desire of the men to remain hidden. The women had assumed that the proper burial customs had not been done to Jesus. They went out to buy spices to anoint the body in the couple of hours between Jesus’ death and burial, although it is also possible that they might have purchased them the evening before.
John, in his usual fashions only introduces the people who are necessary to the drama so that it did not get bogged down in side issues. So, only Mary Magdalene is introduced. Mary was a woman of some means, for Luke mentions her with Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, Susannah, and others in Luke 8:1-4 who had financed Jesus’ ministry. In the text in Luke, it had said that seven demons had been cast out of her. The number "seven " is a number of completeness indicating that she was totally possessed. She must have been some mess before Jesus had come to her. She stood loyally along Jesus with several women named Mary, and other women as well. Women would have never been allowed to have been a disciple to a Rabbi in Jesus’ day. Yet, in a way, they too were disciples of Jesus. Mary of Bethany had even sat at Jesus’ feet to learn of His teaching. This would have been scandalous. Many Rabbis would not even discuss Scripture with their own wives and would have preferred for the Torah to be burnt rather than have it taught to a woman.
So there is a story here going on behind the scenes. We know Jesus had admitted at least one woman to hear Him. And I suspect there were others as well. The fact that women are even mentioned at all is extraordinary. They were kept hidden in the background, and were virtually anonymous in many cases. Yet for all this, the contributions of women to society could hardly be calculated, even in this male dominated culture. The very fact that Jesus taught them, and mentioned them by name should remind us that no one is a “nobody” to Jesus.
We should also be reminded that society still to this day gives the least notice and reward to the hardest workers in society. Where would the world be without the backbreaking toil of the farmer who provides the very food we eat? Their plight is dependent upon the weather, those who buy the goods which often squeeze them, and the grace of God. Yet they are faithful to their task. And to think that these fruits are often picked in this country by immigrants of questionable legal status. And we treat them as less than livestock while so many of live in comfortable homes, condemning them for doing the work we are too lazy and proud to do ourselves.
In the Gospel of John, there are two categories of secret disciples. The first were those who because of fear of losing their status in society and fear of persecution for the name of Jesus remain hidden. And part of this Gospel is encouragement for these to make their profession of Jesus an open one regardless of the costs of coming out of the closet. The second category is those disciples who are kept anonymous because society hardly considers them human. These are the people whom Jesus made a point to minister to in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1-4. These included women, Gentiles, the poor "People of the Land", the handicapped, and the prisoners. And in solidarity with these "nobodies" whom Jesus loved, John does not even include even his own name in the gospel. To tell the truth, the only One that is of any consequence that we be someone with is Jesus. As long as He knows who and where I am, what else ultimately matters? This is what true discipleship is all about. It’s not about us, it’s about Jesus.
v. 2. Therefore, she ran to Simon Peter and to the disciple whom Jesus loved and said: "They took the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they laid Him."
This indeed must have come as a shock. But as of yet, no one had come to understand what had happened. The other gospels differ a little on the details but all agree that none of them had figured it out. We do know that Mary Magdalene went to find Peter and John. This means she knew where they were hiding. And if she already knew that, it makes me wonder why they had not gone out with her. Why were these mighty disciples, who had just argued which of them would have the chief seats in Jesus’ kingdom, too afraid to come out? But the women were bold. They made the trek out by themselves in the late night when perhaps the streets weren’t all that safe to go to a place guarded by Roman soldiers.
Mary must have been beside herself. And from the run, she probably gasped out the news to John and Peter. She had made the conclusion that because the stone was rolled away and the body removed that someone had removed the body. Dead bodies were not in the custom of rolling away the gravestone and walking out. It is the conclusion which anyone and everyone would have made from the evidence. But valid evidence does not always explain everything. In this case the evidence had led to the wrong conclusion. This should serve as a warning before we accept all of the conclusions of science.
v. 3. And Peter and the other disciple came out and started to the tomb.
Curiosity must have overruled the fear of Peter and John. This does not mean that they understood that a resurrection had happened yet. The context tells us the opposite. But they did want to figure out what happened. They would later have difficulty believing her when she came back the second time saying He was alive. But that the body had been taken, which Mary had assumed, was perfectly believable, especially seeing Mary’s determination and fear.
v. 4. And the two men were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter arrived at the tomb first.
We assume that John was a bit younger and ran faster than Peter. The two had started the race together, but John had more endurance and got there first. What is significant is that John did not go into the tomb at this time but waited for Peter. Obviously he saw what Mary had reported. But what was going through his mind.
Mary Magdalene and perhaps the women were returning to the tomb at the same time, even though this is not mentioned. Mary had to get back there for her special appointment with Jesus. It has to be admitted that the exact sequence of events recorded in all four Gospels is difficult to determine exactly. We must remember that the events of this day ran the entire range of emotions from fear and deep depression to absolute joy. This resulting confusion is vividly portrayed in the accounts and actually gives powerful evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. The disciples of Jesus had reacted psychologically just as one would expect.
v. 5. And stooping down, he saw the linen cloth lying there, but did not yet enter.
The significance of what had happened had not sunk in to John. But he mentions a significant clue that the body had not been stolen. The linen cloth or shroud was there. This should have lit a light. The shroud was placed over and under the body. Then the shroud was wrapped with strips of cloth. If one were to put two and two together, it seems unlikely that a robber would have taken the time to unwrap the body before stealing it, especially since the strips would have clotted to the body. The other Gospels also indicate that all the burial cloth in the tomb was also tidily arranged. There was also an armed guard. Looking back to the tomb, the physical evidence would have to make us conclude that no one had taken the body, and that some other explanation was in order. But the testimony that Christ rose from the dead must come from God Himself. The evidence supports the account, but the significance of the event is above that which forensics and scientists can explain.
v. 6. And Simon Peter followed him and came into the tomb and saw the linen cloth lying there.
This witness of the evidence was the second witness necessary to establish it as valid. But he had not put two and two together either. He, like John was confused, puzzled, and perhaps frightened.
v. 7 --And the head bandage which had been placed over His head was not in the same place as the linen cloth, but was folded up in another place.
One more clue that something big had happened is now revealed. Peter saw what John had seen, but then further inspection showed a neatly folded kerchief which had been placed over his head was lying in another place. It is interesting that the strong Greek word for "but" is used here. This means that fact that the head kerchief’s being in another place is significant in some way. It kind of sets up John’s coming to believe in the Resurrection. He needed to see a little bit more before it hit him what had happened. The tomb had not been raided by grave robbers who in their haste would not have cared about being neat.
v. 8. Then the other disciple entered, who had come to the tomb first, saw, and believed.
This is a powerful statement. John had not yet seen the risen Christ, but believed. John 20:29 tells us that Jesus had blessed Thomas for seeing and believing but said the one who had not seen yet believed was even more blessed. This is the faith which is given to us. We must believe without the benefit of physically seeing the Lord Jesus. We do have the evidence of Scripture including this account, but something more is yet needed to believe than just science. Science can draw the wrong conclusions about evidence because it is interpreted through our senses. But it is incapable of understanding the realm of God. This is because God will not submit Himself to our control and experimentation. Science may think it has the answer to everything, but the resurrection proves them wrong!
Yet the physical evidence is not unimportant. Any reasonable person who has faith in Jesus Christ should clearly see that the evidence logically leads to one possible conclusion: He is risen! John had believed.
v. 9. For they did not yet know the Scriptures, that He must rise from the dead.
Valid testimony and evidence must be certified. The Scriptures are that second and confirming witness. They Old Testament had indeed told about the resurrection of the Messiah. But no one can find it unless they have had their eyes opened by God. They had heard Jesus say that He must rise from the dead, but neither John nor Peter believed it.
Peter still did not. And from this we can see that whereas John had believed that Jesus had risen from the dead, he did not yet know the significance of the event. He had seen Jesus raise others from the dead. So at least to the disciples it had to be possible to him that someone or God Himself had miraculously raised Jesus. There was more that John needed to know before he could understand what had actually happened. This would happen when the risen Jesus both opened their eyes to the Scripture and also when they received the Holy Spirit. The Hoy Spirit becomes the third witness necessary to prove the resurrection of Christ. But this is not given to the unbeliever. And without the Holy Spirit, they cannot either properly understand Scripture or interpret the evidence here.
v. 10. And the disciples returned to where they had come.
I am sure they would have been full of talk. Peter had not put two and two together, but probably was very agitated in describing the events. The other disciples were still too afraid to come out and see for themselves. John believed that something miraculous had happened and probably tried to convey that, although we cannot tell for sure. What we do know for sure is that when Mary Magdalene came back with the news that she was thought to be mad or hysterical. The disciples were already in shock from the events of Friday. It seemed to be an unlikely time for Easter.
When we started our series on the Gospel of John fifteen months ago, I did not know where we would be in the gospel and when. And here we are in November, and we are talking about Easter. You might want to ask me why we are talking about Easter in November. "Preacher, it Ain’t Easter!" Easter should be in the springtime when the world comes back to life from its winter sleep. In November, all we see is death. The leaves are dying and falling off the trees. The tomatoes have been killed by the frost. Animals are heading for hibernation for winter. It seems to be an unusual time to celebrate Easter.
But yet, isn’t this the point? I could justify myself this morning by saying: "Why not change the date of Easter?" After all, the church did when they changed it from the Sunday after Passover to the date of the Feast of Astarte (Asherah). But what really makes the case compelling this morning is that the first Easter was totally unexpected. they had come to a tomb, a place of death, to care for a dead person. The Jewish people had been taught that there would be a general resurrection of the dead at the last day. In other words, the resurrection would come in the "sweet by and by". But did they expect Easter to come on the day of mourning for the dead? -- no way!
Do we believe in the resurrection of Jesus? Is it some far off hope or a reality in our lives? If we have believed in Christ, every day is a celebration of Easter. He is alive! But if our faith is weak, or we have not yet made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ, it seams as a dead promise. Look at the evidence itself and pray to God for faith to see. Today would be a perfect day for your first Easter when you rise from the dead to new and eternal life in Christ Jesus.