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John 20:1-20:31
Key Verse: 21:17

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”.

Happy Easter! Do you now know why we celebrate Easter? During Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In Easter, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Now, you’ve just heard the message about Christ’s death for us sinners. This message is about Christ’s resurrection. The event of Jesus’ resurrection is recorded chiefly in the four synoptic gospels, but did you know that each gospel’s record and retelling of the same event is unique? In this beautiful Easter Sunday, let us look at the passage together and see what John is trying to tell us concerning the truth about Jesus’ resurrection.

I. The Empty Tomb

As we learned from the last passage, after Jesus’ death, two men claimed his body and laid it in a tomb. It had been on the Jewish day of Preparation when they had done this, the day before Sabbath. But early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. Here, we really see her personal love for Jesus. There was no requirement for her to venture out and make this journey to Jesus’ tomb, but her love for Jesus compelled her to do so. She truly experienced Jesus’ love for her and she really loved Him back, putting Him first place in her heart. He was her first thought on the first day of the week, and she ventured out to Him at first light, the first moment she can. But upon arriving to the tomb, she saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. Jesus’ body was not in the tomb! Where could Jesus be? So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put Him!”

Upon hearing this, Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. The passage tells us how both were running and how the other disciple outran Peter and how although he reached the tomb first, he did not go in. It is interesting to note the intimacy and attention to details in John’s writing. When we read John’s retelling, it seems peppered with so much unnecessary details. We’re almost persuaded to think: How funny! Is this some report about the disciples’ great hundred-meter dash? Who cares about the disciples’ running and about who ran faster?? But listen (!) to how the story he tells is vivid and reads like a first-hand account of what really happened that morning. Also interesting to note is the honesty of his account. The disciple who arrived first seemed to boast that he had better athletic prowess, but also honestly reveals his slight cowardice. He’s great at running, but maybe he’s afraid thinking he might see a ghost or whatever else he might find in a tomb and so did not go in. Who knows? But, he described how he bent over, looked in and saw the strips of linen lying there and mentioned explicitly “but did not go in”. Peter however, though noted in the account as being less physically fit, by contrast went straight into the tomb.

What did the two men find in the tomb? Simon Peter, who went straight into the tomb, saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. The description of what they saw in the tomb is very interesting. With Jesus’ body missing from the tomb and his beloved disciples who couldn’t find him, only two possibilities ensued: either Jesus’ body had been stolen or He really rose from the dead on the third day as He said he would. It is easier to think that someone had stolen Jesus’ body. But what they found instead was not a scene where a robbing of a body had taken place. What robber robs a dead body and takes off the burial cloths? Moreover, who robs a body and takes the time to fold up the linen separately?? Rather, apart from all reasonable expectations, what they found was a neat tomb absent of Jesus’ body. Finally, the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went inside. He also saw what Peter saw, and he believed. Then he goes to even distinguish how this belief did not come from the understanding Jesus’ resurrection from Scripture. Why does he do this? Believing is not an easy matter, yet here we clearly see in John’s writing how this is exactly what he is most careful about. We notice how in John’s account of what happened that morning that there was a real emphasis on what the two disciples saw themselves, rather than on what they had heard from others or what they themselves had understood or had remembered from scripture. This witness of an empty tomb is a very special testimony of Jesus’ resurrection based on a first-hand account of facts, unconfirmed still by scripture. From this account, we discover that the facts alone of Jesus’ resurrection contained within the details of His empty tomb, is a testimony that is powerful enough on its own, sufficient for our belief that Christ is risen.

II. Why Are You Crying?

The disciples went back to their homes. But Mary, stood outside the tomb crying. She had journeyed out early so in the morning with the intent to mourn for Jesus, but now that she can’t even find His body. Try and think of how much her sorrow must have doubled. She was so sad her crying turned into weeping. As she wept, she saw two angels seated where Jesus’ body had been, they asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they’ve put Him”, she answered them. And then she returned to her weeping. Even when she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, she did not realize that it was Jesus. Even when Jesus asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” , she did not recognize Him, but mistook Him as a gardener and answered: “Sir, if you have carried him away tell me where you have put Him and I will get Him.”

“Why are you crying?” The passage presented the question twice. Let’s take a pause here and consider why Mary is really crying. What is her sorrow really about? Mary stated herself that the source of her sorrow was because she couldn’t find Jesus. But it is curious how even as she saw Jesus standing there, speaking with her, she couldn’t really see Jesus and thus persisted in her weeping. Why? Mary was sorrowful because she couldn’t find Jesus; she had eyes but they couldn’t see, she had ears but she couldn’t hear. Consider how much she must’ve loved Jesus, but in her blindness, she was trapped in a world that was fundamentally dark and silent. Spiritually speaking, not being able to see or hear God is a sign of death. When we seriously think about this, it is truly a sad and sorrowful state of reality. Mary was crying because she was really under the power death; her sorrow comes from being under power of death. And it is important that we see how not even for all the love that we might have for Jesus can cure us from being under the power of death.

Being under the power of death is a spiritual reality we cannot ignore. It is a spiritual reality that has real implications and consequences in our practical life. As we see in Mary’s case, being under the power of death can make us really sorrowful. It is a sorrow that could not be cured by anything in this world. Mary would be sorrowful even if she had found Jesus’ body. It is important to know that Jesus did not come to us simply to love us and that we may know His love. He came so that we may have life and have it in full. (John 10:10b) Jesus also came into this world as a light, so that no one who believes in Him should stay in darkness (John 12:46) To secure for us life in full, Jesus had to defeat the power of death. This is why He had to rise from the dead. This is why His tomb was empty. Jesus is not among the dead, but is living. He is not in the tomb, but in front of Mary speaking with her, caring and concerned about why she was crying. Poor Mary was under the power of death so much that she couldn’t see Him. Indeed, anyone’s condition is truly poor when they’re under the power of death. But how does Jesus solve this? Jesus says her name, “Mary”. Then she turned toward Him and cried “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher) At hearing the sound of her name spoken by Jesus, she recognized Him immediately and all her darkness and sorrow was gone.

It is interesting here how Jesus did not try to prove His resurrection to Mary by identifying Himself such as by saying “Hey, it’s me!” or by appearing to her in some glorious, shining manner. Rather, the proof that Jesus is alive and living is contained all in the fact of Him simply speaking her name. It was all she needed. It was precisely what she needed. To speak her name “Mary”, is a more powerful message than ‘He is risen’. Jesus can speak our name because He personally knows us; He could personally know us because He is living.

To know someone truly for who they are is a very powerful thing. When we think about Mary’s sorrow, we picture her embedded in this deep, dark abyss. She wept publicly, but her sorrow was very personal; private. She seemed alone in her sorrow, isolated from all others. No one shared it and no one could really help her because no one understood her. Similarly, we can think about this reality in our lives. Who is the one who really sees me in my deepest sorrows? Who is the one who really knows the hidden me in the deepest recesses of my heart? In my life there have been times where the situations I faced really overwhelmed me---so much that I couldn’t even speak of it and suffered powerlessly and alone in my defeat. Who knew about it? No one (I thought). Who can help? I thought the answer to this was no one too—because I couldn’t even articulate what I really needed, and didn’t. Little did I realize how much Jesus actually already knew, and spoke to me the words I precisely needed to hear--His words in Luke 5:4: “Put out into deep water”. Who could speak such words that could equally rebuke, encourage, and give direction all at the same time? But these words that He spoke and gave to me really opened my eyes to see Jesus who truly saw me in the reality of my condition. I was under the impression that no one really saw me. But Jesus saw me, and speaks His words to me. He knew exactly what I needed because He is living. Jesus sees us and speaks to us because He is living. He could know us because He is living. He is not in the tomb; it is empty. The fact is He is living here and now and He even calls you by your name.

III. Go And Tell

At hearing the sound of her name spoken by Jesus, Mary’s joy returned and her sadness was dispelled. Mary was so happy that she had found Jesus, crying out “Rabboni!” Her day had started with her thinking that she had lost Him forever, that at finding Him again she must’ve wanted to hold on to Him tightly so as to not lose Him again! It was such a natural and beautiful response. But Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”.

Why does Jesus say this? Think about how powerful a reality Jesus’ resurrection from the dead truly is. Ever since before this event, man has always been under the power of death. Whatever had been done, whatever existed, no matter how noble or beautiful, ended in death. Death as a matter of fact, controlled life. Death controlled each and every man’s life and living. We saw just a moment ago how sorrowful Mary was because of this. And now she is the first recipient of the joy that comes from Jesus’ defeating death. She could enjoy Jesus all by herself forever, but she would also remain selfish in this regard forever. Jesus defeated the power of death to give life to man, but what we really need to understand that the life He gives is the one from God. So in doing this, Jesus came really to restore man’s life and identity before God. This kind of restoration work involves the restoration of Mary’s identity before God. Let’s take pause and think about what Mary’s life had been like. She was someone whom Jesus had casted seven demons out from. What kind of grief she must have given to those around her while she lived this kind of life. But after meeting Jesus, she really experienced Jesus’ love and healing mercy. In accepting Jesus’ words to “Go instead to my brothers and tell them”, she would no longer be just someone who selfishly enjoys Jesus’ love for herself, rather she would now be the one who brings Jesus’ love to others. Think about the beauty of her restored life: demon-possessed girl now a bringer of God’s love. Her life is changed from a demon-possessed woman to a life of blessing to others (!) That is God’s restoration work---complete. That is why Jesus says “Go and tell..” In an even larger sense, we can have eyes to see the woman’s terrible role in the history of man, tracing all the way back to Genesis, helping man to first fall into sin. But in Jesus’ direction to “Go instead to my brothers and tell them”, the woman is now given first the wonderful role of bringing the good news of Jesus’ defeat over death that could help sinful man. In giving these words to Mary, Jesus is also restoring her image of a woman before God. In going and telling, women cease their role in being a curse to sinful man, and become instead a source of blessing to all mankind. In going and telling, woman’s relationship to man can be healed, because through the message she brings, man’s relationship with God can be healed. God would not just be ‘my Father, but your Father’, not only my God, but also your God.’ As a woman, I realize just how large and immense of a blessing this direction to “go and tell” really is. These words of Jesus really testify to the vastness and beauty of God’s restoration work, which applies not only to certain individuals, but given to all; a work that is full, complete, and restores all things in creation. God’s grace and apostleship really cannot be separated; they do come together, and they testify to the fullness and completeness of His restoration work.

While the direction to “Go and tell” was given to a woman first, it was not given to women exclusively but to all the disciples of Christ. On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were gathered together with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them. The power of death had manifested itself as sorrow in Mary, but amongst the disciples it manifested itself as fear. Without knowing of Jesus’ power over death, the disciples themselves became fearful for their own lives. Men have so much strength, but they can be fearful too. They need Jesus too. But upon seeing Jesus—and seeing His hands and side, the disciples were overjoyed, because they had seen the Lord. At this, Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you! As the Father sent me, I am sending you”. And with that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. This reminds us too of the passage in Genesis when God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being. And He gave them the message of forgiveness: “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven”

IV Stop Doubting

Thomas had not been with them in this meeting with Jesus, so the disciples told him how they had seen the Lord. But just as the disciples suffered from fear, Thomas suffered from doubt. In response to their report of Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas said: “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” Thomas’ unbelief clearly illustrated the version of Jesus he believed. Jesus to Thomas was a great man; someone worth dying for but someone has no power over death. Even while travelling with Jesus, death was the overriding power of thought in Thomas’ being. A while back, when Jesus tried to go back to Jerusalem after the Jews had tried to stone Him in that city, Thomas said as if in encouragement to the rest of disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him”. (John 11:16) It seems tempting to admire Thomas’ resolution during that instance, but being under the power of death his unbelief shows him to be a tragic fool—the one who could not know the living Jesus. Who can help such a person in such a state? Even the disciples are helpless to him who is their friend. It is at this point that we see how much personal mercy and love Jesus truly had for Thomas. He appeared amongst the disciples as they gathered again a week later, this time with Thomas with them. He seemed to appear only for Thomas’ benefit, personally addressing him, to “Put your finger here, see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side”. To do this would be painful! But Jesus didn’t mind, and offered Thomas…for the sake he might believe. Then he gently rebuked him to “Stop doubting and believe”. Thomas’ doubt and unbelief had received its answer: he personally tasted God’s love. Not only was Thomas convinced but he was also changed at that point. The Jesus he knew had not been the Jesus he thought. He had underestimated this Jesus; he’d been wrong about Him. In Genesis, man doubted God’s love and fell into the power of death. But now the love of God is restored in Thomas’ heart. Thus in meeting the resurrected Jesus, the once doubtful Thomas could not help but confess “My Lord and My God!”

The subject of belief is a very carefully treated one in this passage, beginning from what the two disciples saw in the empty tomb, to what Mary couldn’t see at one point and then saw, and what all the disciples themselves saw, including the doubter, Thomas. In this passage alone, there’s a lot of seeing then believing. Thomas himself believed only after he saw Jesus. But Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” In this matter the author reveals his purpose in writing, affirming Jesus’ words regarding how we should believe. The passage then tells us how Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples which are not recorded in this book. But of the things that were written, they were written so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in His name. We may not have seen physically the risen Jesus, but in believing what was revealed in God’s word about Him, we too are given life and have life in His name! Jesus’ words are true. In this, we are truly blessed!

What a beautiful message it is we truly received from the sign of Jesus’ empty tomb! Jesus is not in the tomb, nor is He dead. He is living! He sees us, knows each one of us and calls each us by our name because He is living! He speaks to us His words of life that we may not suffer under the power of death. And by believing in Him we are given life in His name! I believe this. Do you believe this? As the Risen Christ says, “Go and tell…”

OW: Jesus is not in the tomb. He is living and He gives life to those who believe in His name.

(Written by Jemmie)

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