John 20:1-18 | Jesus is Alive | Andrew Gutierrez
Topic: Worship Gatherings Passage: John 20:1–20:18
If you will, open to John, chapter 20. Next week we will be, Lord willing, spending some time in Matthew 1 together. So we’ll step out of John, although we’re right near the finish line. Next week I want to actually preach on the genealogy from Matthew. It’s fascinating and I think it’s often a passage that we can skip and overlook, but there’s great truth to understand as it will be the day before Christmas.
But today we come to the high point in the Scriptures, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. John, chapter 20, verses 1 through 18. I’ve entitled the message “Jesus is Alive,” which kind of seems cliché until you remember that he was once dead. And I didn’t say that Jesus was alive. I said that Jesus is alive today.
So, John 20, verses 1 through 18, please follow along as I read:
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
Again, Jesus is alive. Let me say at the outset that today is a wonderful day in the providence of God to be talking about the resurrection. The humanist writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley said this: “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” I think oftentimes the resurrection of Jesus Christ is ignored.
If we could just take the world by the cheeks for a moment and say, a man who lived a perfect life—historically verifiable—a man who lived a perfect life, died, and rose again, and his previously timid disciples went out and preached that message not caring whether they died or not because they trusted in it. If we could just do that, and point the world to the seriousness of this claim, it would change the entire world.
We’re proclaiming a message that is the only hope for the world today. The only hope is not in the correct political party coming into power, not the correct military defeating the incorrect military or the bad military. There’s no hope in philosophers, poets, artists, priests. Only the one Priest, the one King, the one Prophet, Jesus Christ. And he rose from the dead.
And it’s not just that today is a great day to preach that message. Every day is a great day to preach that message because every day we experience some difficulty, some pain, some cancer, some sickness, some fractured relationship, something that tempts us to look down in despair, but this truth, although it happened 2,000 years ago, lifts our heads up.
See, the temptation is when something happened a long time ago that it becomes less and less true. That’s not reality. If something happened, and it was true 12,000 years ago, it’s still true today. Time doesn’t diminish the truthfulness of something.
I just had one of my sons—I was reading a book to them, and one of my sons asked me, what does it mean that he dialed the phone? [Laughter] And I was kind of in shock. [Laughter] How do I explain this to him who’s used to touching things to make it happen? He might be tempted to believe that that never existed. We just touch these things. You used to dial phones. That’s a true statement.
The resurrection of Jesus happened. George Washington lived. Aristotle lived. These things happened, and they’re not less true because they happened 2,000 years ago. So I hope that this morning in a sense we’re brought to the empty tomb, and our hearts understand this passage to make it real to us as if we were right there, because it is real.
I’m framing the passage in this way—two points. Two truths on which to stake your life. If these truths are true, then you need to stake your entire life on this reality.
1. The Tomb is Empty
The first is this: The tomb is empty. The tomb is empty, and John’s going to show us the resurrection of Christ really through two people’s perspectives. Yes, he talks about Peter and himself, but really the focus is on him telling us his own testimony of believing when he saw the empty tomb. So it’s his perspective and also Mary’s—Mary Magdalene.
So first, we see in verses 1 through 10 the tomb is empty. John is going to tell us about his own testimony. He believes when he sees the grave cloths there and no Jesus. Verse 1: “Now on the first day of the week [which is Sunday] Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” Again, this is Sunday. This is three days in the Jewish time period after Jesus died. Any part of one day equaled a day, so he died on Friday (one), Saturday (two), rising from the dead on Sunday (three). Three days. This is Sunday.
Early in the morning, and we learn from John that it was still dark. Now Mark tells us that it was morning, that it was light. A lot happened here. Mary in this passage comes to the tomb twice. First, to go and see Jesus, and by the way, she came with other ladies. John focuses us on her. She left her home at dark, came to the tomb, he’s not there, she goes and tells the disciples, they come, we hear the story about them, and then she’s still there a second time coming back, and we pick up her weeping at the tomb the second time.
So it is dark when she sets out, but by the time she experiences the rest that would happen in this passage, it’s light. So she sets out early in the dark. She came with at least three other ladies. The synoptic writers tell us about more ladies, but this is just like John. So you might think, well, then is John not telling us the whole truth? Or why isn’t John telling us the truth? Is there something wrong with our Bibles?
Listen, John writes for a particular reason. John often highlights one character in a room full of people. Remember the anointing of Jesus’ feet. The other writers talk about the other disciples and other people that were there. John wants you to focus on Mary and Judas. He talks about particular people for particular reasons.
So John’s not trying to tell you the whole story about the whole environment. What did the room smell like? What was all there? He’s not trying to do that. He’s just trying to focus on his testimony and Mary’s testimony.
So Mary is coming to the tomb, we know, with the other three ladies, and Mark actually says that they were discussing the fact that—they were wondering who was going to roll the stone away for them. Even before they got there, they knew, we’re just going. Something needs to happen. We need to somehow find a way to move the stone.
Verse 1, the second part, says it was still dark and they saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. They arrive and their problem is solved. The stone’s already gone. The tomb’s already accessible. Verse 2: “So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’”
She runs immediately to Peter and John. She would have known where they were. She knew the house that the disciples were staying at during the time of the Passover. It was not their house, but it was the house they were staying at during this week-long celebration. She runs to them. She’s panicked because she’s not thinking, oh, great, Jesus rose from the dead. She’s thinking someone took his body away, is going to desecrate it, do something to it. She’s worried, so she runs.
Verse 3: “So Peter went out with the other disciple [John, as we know], and they were going toward the tomb.” Both of them were running together but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. So Peter and John immediately get up from the house that they’re at, from where Mary finds them, and they start running to the tomb.
It’s really interesting in the second part of the gospel of John, John writes about himself and Peter together a lot. John coming into the courtyard where Jesus is betrayed, and he gets Peter to come inside. Peter denying Jesus, John stays at the cross, and he’s there for Jesus. Later on, when Jesus restores Peter to ministry and restores him to relationship with him, Peter and John are on the shore, and Jesus tells Peter, in a sense he prophesies about his future martyrdom, and then Peter turns and looks at John and says what about him?
Peter and John are together, and John determines to do this throughout the rest of the second part of the gospel of John. He shows us the two different disciples and their different responses at times. But in the end, they’re both disciples of Jesus.
So John includes here the fact that he and Peter ran to the tomb. They both start running, and John outruns Peter. And John, just like a former high school athlete would, includes this part in the story. I am John. I understand this temptation. Both of them were running together but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
Some people think this is because Peter wasn’t in as good a shape as John. Maybe he was heavier than John. It’s more likely that he was older than John. I had a friend that went on a trip this last Spring to the Holy Land, and he actually did the tour all by hiking with a backpack. So he and his group went all throughout … they went to Galilee—which is not close—went to Galilee and all throughout Jerusalem.
And he came back and he said this: I’ll tell you one thing, our Lord and his disciples, they were in shape. Knowing all that they did in three years, these men were in shape. It’s unlikely that it was because Peter was not in great shape, but it was probably because Peter was a little older than John. So John includes this, but it fits in the story. It shows what happened.
Verse 5, I think this is really the reason John is doing this, not to kind of point to his letterman jacket back in the day and say, see, I had some speed. He’s really focusing us on the fact of what happened at the tomb, and he wants people to know that he got there first because he stopped and looked and Peter went in. They’re just different men, and this is the account of what happened once they got to the tomb.
Verse 5: “And stooping to look in, he [John] saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.” So he just stops and looks and sees the cloths. No Jesus. Verse 6: “Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.” This is just like Peter, right? I’m not stopping. I’m just going full force right in, probably barely even ducked. Just same speed all the way in.
“He saw the linen cloths lying there, [verse 7] and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.” So what they would do oftentimes is have a special cloth for the face that would keep the mouth closed, keep the mouth of a dead body closed. And that was a different cloth than the rest of the linen wrappings. So the linen wrappings are laying there, and the face cloth is laying separate from them.
And it’s interesting, John mentions the cloths a number of times. Why? Because this is ultimately what gets him to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. John sees these cloths and he doesn’t think someone stole his body like Mary did. Mary looked, there was no Jesus, she thought someone took his body. John sees there’s no Jesus, and he believes. Why?
Because robbers don’t unwrap things carefully, nor do they fold things once they’ve messed things up. This face cloth is folded. And a lot of people have speculated as to why this is revealed to us in Scripture. A lot of parents think it’s to show their kids, see, Jesus was orderly, so you, Johnnie, need to make your bed. That’s in a lot of commentaries. [Laughter] That’s in a lot of application to sermons like this. So, kids, Jesus was orderly, make your beds. Husbands, you, too.
I don’t believe that’s why this is being revealed to us. I believe it’s revealed to us to show that this was not a robbery. Would robbers even take the time to unwrap a dead body? Probably just take the body out with the wrappings on it. But someone left the tomb and folded the face cloth and set it down and departed. John believes that Jesus is alive because of this.
Verse 8, which is really the key to these ten verses, this is what John’s getting at: “Then the other disciple [he had been talking about Peter; this is talking about himself], who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.” Remember the whole purpose of this gospel. We keep talking about it. We’ve talked about it for two years.
John 20, verse 31. I’ll read it to you because I haven’t read it in a while, but listen to the purpose: “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” This is the part of the message … now, John had faith in Jesus all the way through his discipleship three years earlier, but this is the part where the whole gospel kind of rounds itself out. He knows about the death of Jesus, but now he knows about the resurrection of Jesus, and it comes together for John, and he believes in Jesus.
John is writing this book so that you would believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that by believing you would have life—eternal life—in his name, and he’s saying, I’m one of you. I saw these things. I was around these things. I witnessed these things. Trust me, this is what happened, and I believed.
Verse 9, they see the empty tomb, John believes, and he says, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” So they knew Old Testament passages about resurrection, but they never tied them to Jesus rising from the dead after he died. Jesus even taught his disciples a number of times that he would rise from the dead.
And what’s interesting, you go to each of those accounts and it doesn’t land on them like it should. I mean if someone said I’m going to die and I’m going to tell you how I’m going to die. The Jews and the Romans are going to see to it that I’m executed, but in three days I’m going to rise from the dead. You wouldn’t go, oh, what’d you say about ten minutes ago? No, you would focus on what they just said to you. What? His disciples don’t do that.
Mark 8:31-33: “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”
Jesus says I’m going to be rejected by all of these groups. They’re going to see to it that I am executed. I’m going to die. I’m going to be raised from the dead three days later. And Peter says, nah, come over here, come over here. That should have hit Peter. It didn’t. But John is saying now I understand. Now I get it.
So it’s the things of Jesus that he taught them that are starting to … the dots are starting to connect. The Old Testament Scriptures are starting to connect. Psalm 16:10, one of the most famous passages on resurrection: “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol [the grave], or let your holy one see corruption.” God the Father would not let his Son see corruption in the grave.
I don’t know if it was this text or the end of Isaiah 53 that speaks of the reward that the suffering servant who dies will receive. I don’t know which text it was. Perhaps one of these two. These were two of the most famous to them. I don’t know which text it was, but John’s mind is starting to connect the dots. Jesus is the Messiah who died and now is alive. And he’s having that moment there in the empty tomb.
And then verse 10: “Then the disciples went back to their homes.” Again, probably the homes that they were staying at in Jerusalem for the Passover week. But it ends kind of abruptly. I mean John’s just talked about his testimony. I looked in, saw the grave clothes, saw the face cloth folded up, and I believed because up to that point I hadn’t connected all of the dots from the Old Testament Scripture. And then I went home.
John abruptly and Peter abruptly exit the scene, and then John focuses us on Mary. Why Mary? I love this about our God. Mary’s testimony about what happened in any situation would not be admissible in court because she was a woman, and women are not as credible witnesses as men are, so these people thought at this time. And so for heaven to reveal to us that Mary is the one to see Jesus first is heaven’s way of saying, I don’t care about your systems down there. I’m going to reveal my Son who is alive to Mary.
And not just any woman, by the way, a very controversial woman who once had demons in her and who was once hysterical. So her credibility is just lower and lower and lower. She’s a woman and then she’s this kind of woman with this kind of past. Heaven says I don’t care, I’m going to her. And this is going to be recorded in the pages of Scripture.
And as we read earlier in Isaiah 40, verse 8, flesh is like grass. We’re like the flower of the grass. We flourish and then we die. But the word of the Lord endures forever. And what’s one thing that’s in the word of the Lord, that heaven revealed the risen Christ to Mary Magdalene. So John focuses us on her.
But before we go to her, let me say this: I’ve asked you to stake your life on a truth in verses 1 through 10. Stake your eternity on this reality. The grave that Jesus was buried in was empty. He’s gone. He’s alive. Now there are some theories about this. Of course, if you don’t want to submit to Jesus Christ, you’re going to figure out some other theories. You’re going to conspire to come up with some other things that happened. Because then you don’t have to submit to Jesus.
But if he truly rose from the dead, then you must submit to Jesus. He must be your Lord. He evidently has the power over your and my greatest enemy—death. So there’s some theories for people who don’t want to submit to Christ, and I’m going to give you two of them. One is called the swoon theory. The swoon theory.
Jesus had himself drugged so that he really didn’t die. That’s the theory, and people take it seriously. Took a drug that made him unconscious for a time, and he really didn’t die, and he came out of the tomb by his own strength.
So Jesus, who had his hands and feet pierced with nails—pierced, that’s kind of a weak word. Hammered nails into his hands and feet. On a cross for multiple hours with his whole body weight weighing down on those nails, being held up by those nails. That Jesus, who also probably hadn’t eaten since Thursday night, who was scourged before he was on the cross, whipped with pieces of metal and bone that would rip his skin off and go deep down into the arteries, veins, and perhaps even the bone, that Jesus was in the tomb not yet dead.
But the Roman soldiers checked earlier when he was on the cross to see if he was dead, and they stabbed a literal spear through his side, through his lungs, perhaps into his heart to where water and blood came out. And the theory is, he wasn’t dead. I’d love to see someone who holds to that theory say I will go through the testing of that theory. Not gonna happen.
And by the way, after being wrapped up in linen cloths for about 40 hours, he seems to have enough strength to unwrap the linen cloths. He thinks carefully, and not only is going to come out of the tomb, but he’s going to quickly fold the face cloth first. Then he’s going to come out of the tomb and roll the stone and then overpower some Roman guards.
That’s what you’ve gotta believe if you believe the swoon theory. And I’m not done. Because later on that day he’s gonna show up as some of his disciples are going to a town called Emmaus 7½ miles away, and he’s going to hike the walk with them. And nothing’s gonna come up about his body, his disfigurement, anything that happened to him. He’s just gonna start giving them a Bible study in the Old Testament.
Have you ever sprained an ankle or broken a toe? You’re not hiking for 7½ miles that afternoon. The swoon theory is ridiculous, but if you do not want to submit to Jesus as Lord, you’re going to find a way to believe that theory. It all comes down to the submission of your soul to Jesus Christ.
There was another theory. The disciples stole the body. The disciples stole the body. Now, you cannot read the gospels and then come to the conclusion that the disciples had all of this courage to steal the body, and then knowing themselves he is not alive, to go and preach to the world and saying you can even kill me if you want. He’s alive. That does not make one bit of sense. But that’s theory.
There’s a problem with that theory. No one ever produced his body. No one ever found the body. The disciples stole it, then it must be somewhere. No one ever found it. Another problem: the Roman guards were under order not to let anyone enter the tomb. And by the way, if they did, they would be executed. So the disciples somehow muster up this courage, overpower the Roman guards who were going to see to it that no one would overpower them.
Another problem with this: the large stone covering the entrance. You had a fourth problem: many of Christ’s followers were soon told to renounce their faith or die. Why would this fearful group of men who have been fearful all along, even in the upper room—they’re not going to get more courageous by seeing Jesus on a cross. They’re afraid in the upper room. Knowing that he’s on a cross—they’ve already left, by the way, out of fear—knowing that he’s on a cross, they’re not going to get more courageous. They’re going to become more fearful.
And then you’re telling me they get together and say let’s steal his body and say that he’s alive and be executed ourselves. It doesn’t make any sense. I would encourage you, if you are skeptical about this, give the four gospels an honest reading. Open a Bible. Give Matthew, Mark, Luke, John an honest reading, and then read the book of Acts—the disciples’ response to the resurrection. Just give it an honest reading. And if you’ve never prayed to the Lord before, maybe just utter one prayer. Lord, just teach me what’s in here. I just want to believe the truth. And see where you come out.
These are foolish theories.
Chuck Colson was one of the burglars in the Watergate break-in, and he gives this kind of humorous quote about his belief in the resurrection, but it’s got some truth in it, and that’s why I’m sharing it with you. He says this: “I know the resurrection is a fact. And Watergate proved it to me. How? Because twelve men [speaking of the disciples] testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead. Then they proclaimed that truth for forty years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned, put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true.”
“Watergate embroiled twelve of the most powerful men in the world, and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me twelve apostles could keep a lie for forty years. Absolutely impossible.” It’s a great point. It’s a great point.
So I’m saying trust him with your life. If he can overcome death, and he means us to be united with him, he means to be the first fruit so that we will rise just as he arose. If he means for that to be true, trust today to him. Trust him to handle tomorrow for you. Trust him to tell you what’s right and for you to do what’s right in a week. Trust the next thousand years to him. Trust him with your life.
He overcame our greatest enemy—this world’s greatest enemy—death. He overcame it. And Tim Keller brings up a good point. He says, “If you aren’t convinced of the resurrection, you should want it to be true.” If you’re not convinced, you should still want it to be true.
Or as Tolkien says, “The birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus means that one day everything sad will come untrue.” That’s what it means. And this is the promise of the resurrection, that Jesus, if he can overcome death, he will one day right all wrongs. Every single wrong.
I remember being on vacation this summer and I was still kind of reading the newspaper in Prescott, seeing what was going on in Prescott, and I remember reading about a young child who was abused and murdered by his parents. I remember just having this overwhelming feeling that we need this all to be fixed. This all has to be fixed. Lord, fix this whole thing.
The resurrection is our hope. He overcame death and said that he will right all wrongs. He will be the one that reverses the curse. Romans 8, the creation groans. We groan. He’s the one we hope in. So even if you don’t believe in the resurrection, listen to the arguments I just made, and you should at least hope that they’re true.
2. The Lord is Alive
Point number two: The tomb is empty; number two, the Lord is alive. See, if the tomb’s just empty, then maybe they did steal him. Maybe there is some other explanation, but now the Lord reveals himself. The Lord is alive.
Verse 11: “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb …” So Mary has come back to the tomb. She probably followed the two disciples who were running to the tomb. “Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.” She’s weeping. She stoops to look in, still weeping, and why is she weeping? Because in the Jewish culture to mistreat a dead body is a horrible offense. You take care of dead bodies.
There’s a story in 1 Samuel 31 about Saul and his sons who were killed by the Philistines. And the Philistines had their bodies, and they put them in the temple of their God, and it’s rather graphic. They beheaded Saul, and they hung their bodies, they attached their bodies to the wall. And the men of Israel at night who had lost the battle and lost their king and lost his sons, the men of Israel—and they’re called valiant in 1 Samuel 31—valiantly go by night to remove the bodies of Saul and his sons.
Why? Because how you handle a dead body is important, and you do not desecrate a dead body. Mary’s weeping because this is further trouble, further mistreatment of her Lord. Yes, he’s dead. His body can’t feel it, but it’s just the height of mistreatment to mistreat his dead body, and she’s weeping. This isn’t right.
Verse 12: “And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’”
Now, here’s where we as readers want to go into angelology. What’d they look like? Were they glowing? Did they have wings? Did they not? One of the writers in the gospels tells us one looked like a young man, so they probably looked more human than like Precious Moment figurines. But we want to know what they looked like. It’s not important. John’s telling us it’s not important.
Angels—the word angel comes from the word messenger. Messengers from heaven are in the tomb. Listen, the Jews are not in control of the tomb. The Romans are not in control of the tomb. Both perhaps thought they were. Joseph of Arimathea isn’t even in control of the tomb. Heaven is in control of this tomb. And heaven sends messengers to sit where Jesus was and asks Mary who are you looking for? Why are you weeping?
“They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Verse 14: “Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing …” I love that he wasn’t laying down. He’s not limping. He’s not leaning against the wall. He’s not cringing in pain. Jesus is standing. Reminds me of Revelation 5 where heaven worships the lamb that was slain, and the lamb is standing. Standing.
Turns around, sees Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Many think this is because it was still dark. I don’t believe that it was still dark at this time. It was light. Many think that this could have been because the tears filled her eyes. I don’t believe that that’s the thing. I mean, when you’re crying and you see someone, you still know that that’s who it is.
I believe that she didn’t recognize him because Jesus’ glorified body was different. Similar enough to his original, but still different. The reason I believe that is because that’s what happened in Luke 24 on the road to Emmaus. The disciples didn’t know who it was that was talking to them. But then he opened their eyes and it made sense to them.
So there’s enough difference in a glorified body that people wouldn’t recognize it at first, but then there’s enough similarity that when they get it, it’s like, oh, yes, of course. Mary didn’t recognize him at first.
Verse 15: “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’” This is just like Jesus. He often does this. He draws out what people are thinking. He draws out what they’re worried about. He asks the question. Why are you weeping? He knows why she’s weeping. Whom are you seeking? He knows who she’s seeking.
“Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’” She thinks he’s the gardener. Remember from last week. Because Jesus’ tomb, Joseph’s tomb, was in a garden. She thinks he’s the one that takes care of the premises. She thinks he’s the gardener. Tell me where he is, and I’ll take him away.
Verse 16: “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’” Now, he’d been speaking to her. She didn’t realize it was him. Then he says her name, Mary. It reminds me of Luke 19 with Zacchaeus. They’d never met before, Jesus and Zacchaeus. This little tax collector man has run, which is kind of a disgrace to be running, and he’s up in a tree coming to see this religious celebrity. And Jesus looks up and says, Zacchaeus. Jesus speaks the name of his new disciple.
Jesus, here, speaks the name of the disciple who has been following him all along, Mary. He says, Mary.
“She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher).” But it means more than that. It means dear teacher. It doesn’t just mean teacher, like you think of a high school history teacher. It’s dear teacher, my Rabbi, the one who teaches me, the one whom I follow. Dear teacher. She knows it’s Jesus.
Verse 17: “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me …’” Better translated, stop clinging to me. She’s clinging to Jesus. She says dear teacher and falls on him. She’s holding onto him. And he says stop clinging to me because “I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
So he tells her stop clinging to me. Now you would think that Jesus showing up in front of Mary is the final good. He’s alive. This is the best thing that could happen. No, it’s not. Remember in the upper room all the times Jesus referred to himself going back to the Father? He hasn’t gone back to the Father yet. This is not the best thing that could happen. It’s pretty great and remarkable, but it’s not complete yet.
Go back to John 14, if you will. I’m going to read a couple verses from the upper room discourse and remind you that Jesus’ work, Jesus’ mission is not yet complete. He’s not in heaven yet. John 14:1-2: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
Jesus hasn’t gone yet to heaven to prepare a place for Mary and for us. Yes, he’s alive, but there’s more to be done. So stop hanging on me. There’s more to be done. John 14:28-29: “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.”
Jesus tells the disciple, and we covered this, if they were thinking rightly, they would be exhilarated that Jesus was going back to the Father. If they were thinking rightly about all that he did and was meant to be, how he was meant to be glorified, they would be rejoicing. And he’s saying you should want me to be in heaven with the Father. Trust me.
So it’s a big deal to Jesus that he not only rises from the dead, but he goes back to the Father. John 16:7: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” Here’s another reason you need me to go away, because you need me inside of you. You need the Spirit. You don’t just need me next to you, even me resurrected next to you. You need me inside of you because you are to be like me.
This isn’t enough, just a resurrected Christ. There’s more. John 17:4-5, Jesus praying to the Father: “I glorified you on earth …” So I finished what you had me do. “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
Yes, Jesus finished the mission. He rose from the dead, but now it’s time for him to be glorified and praised by all the angels for everything he did. Praised by all who are in heaven for everything he did to accomplish their salvation. And that work is still not yet done. He needs to be praised by every tribe, tongue and nation. That’s what he is due, and it still hasn’t happened yet.
But Jesus is only going to have that done when he goes to the Father, and the Father proclaims that he is King of kings and Lord of lords, and that every knee must bow. So this is just Jesus alive now. He’s not yet glorified and worshiped by all the nations. And so that’s why Jesus is saying this is great. The hug’s great, but let go. There’s more to happen.
John 17:24: “Father [Jesus praying to the Father], I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, [why?] to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” Jesus wants us to be with him, and he wants us—Mary Magdalene, John, Peter, and you and me—he wants us to be with him to see how amazing he is, and that will captivate us for eternity. That’s what Jesus wants, and just coming out of the tomb, it’s not there yet.
What’s better than seeing Jesus alive in the days after he arose? Jesus going back to heaven to be glorified and rewarded for what he’s done. Jesus leaving the Holy Spirit with us in order to finish his mission. Jesus interceding for us at the right hand of the Father while we do his work. Jesus preparing a place for us. Jesus longing to be with us.
And then finally, one day, the groom coming back for his bride to bring her to his Father’s house. That’s the culmination. So now you see why Jesus says stop hanging onto me. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s more that needs to happen. And I love this: Go tell my disciples, “say to them, ‘I’m ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Put yourself in the place of the disciples at this time. They’ve been traveling with Jesus for three years, and in John 6 many of the crowds, many of the people who were following Jesus, who called themselves disciples, turned and left him, rejected him because it was getting too hard the things he was saying. And Jesus tells his disciples about the fate of those people who reject him.
What do they think that they’ve just done? They think they’ve rejected Christ. They weren’t there when he died. They’re holed up in an upper room somewhere, hiding from the authorities. And Jesus tells Mary, go tell them I’m going to my Father and to your Father. Tell them I’m going to their Father. Tell them I’m going to my God and to their God. This is Jesus’ way of telling the disciples you are still mine and you are still the Father’s.
There’s a difference between rejecting Christ and stumbling. The disciples, while they might feel the guilt of rejecting him, they stumbled. They were believers in him, but they had a weak moment, and they were not faithful to him. But he was faithful to them, just like he is with every single believer who stumbles. And Jesus tells Mary, go tell them I’m going to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples I have seen the Lord. I don’t know if she barged in the room and yelled it. I don’t know if she said it with trembling, with tears. I don’t know how she said it, but she said I have seen the Lord and that he said these things to her. And she told them what he told her to say.
What I love about this is that it’s not just that the tomb is empty, and he would never be seen again. If that were the case, there would be endless Discovery Channel shows on that. The tomb is empty. What happened to him? Well, he appeared to a questionable woman, and then he appeared to a lot more people, and to a lot more people after that.
Jesus didn’t die, rise from the dead, and because it was fiction no one saw the evidence. Jesus died, rose from the dead, and because it was true he showed himself to all kinds of people. 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, Paul writing this: “and that he appeared to Cephas [to Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time [take that, Discovery Channel], most of whom are still alive [at the time of this writing], though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
Jesus didn’t reportedly rise from the dead and no one ever saw him again. And the Bible doesn’t call us just to believe in that. He rose from the dead. Sure, no one saw him after that, but just believe that. He rose from the dead and appeared to people, and they told people, and they told people, and they told people, and here we sit. And it’s not less true because it happened 2,000 years ago. You believe in George Washington.
Jesus didn’t predict his death and resurrection and then disappear. He appeared to witnesses who were so amazed they preached a message that has spread all over the world for the last 2,000 years. We’re not done, by the way, but it’s made it’s way around the world. We have a Savior who appeared to witnesses. This was not done in a back alley.
So I call you, if you haven’t already, stake your life on this. Take this seriously. Take this claim seriously. The tomb is empty and Jesus is alive.
This week on Thursday R. C. Sproul, a name that many of you know, went to be with the Lord. He was a giant, an absolute giant, in church history. Maybe one of the greatest, maybe the greatest teacher of the 20th-21st century. Went to be with the Lord. His family is not grieving. They miss him, but they’re thrilled. You can read about the things that Sproul said about his upcoming death. He was not terrified. He was eager to be with his Lord. Why? Because his Lord rose from the dead, and his Lord was the first fruits, which means we come after.
That was Thursday. This last Tuesday one of our own, little Haven Cox, breathed her final breath. Where in the world do you go if you don’t believe in the resurrection? R. C. Sproul, a great blessing to many of us, many of you, informed many of your minds. Haven, although we only had her for a few short months, touched many of your hearts. You cared for her.
Do we think it’s any coincidence that the Lord decided to give Canyon Bible Church of Prescott the next passage, which happens to be the resurrection of Jesus Christ, after a week like this? I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Jesus is alive, and he came so that men no more may die but have life in his name. Today is a day to think about the resurrection, just like any other day is. This is the finish to all of our problems. This truth. And just because it happened 2,000 years ago doesn’t mean it’s less true.
So, Christian, this is why I always say, there should not be any pessimistic Christians. This is what we put our hope in, a Savior who rose again. The tomb is empty, he’s alive, and he came to earth so that men no more may die but would have life in his name. This is a day for the resurrection. Let’s pray.
Father, give us more hope than we had coming in here. Give us more hope in the fact that our greatest enemy—death—has been conquered. There’s no sting. It’s not lasting. It’s not permanent. We put our hope in something real. You led the way, Jesus Christ, and we look forward to the time where we, your bride, will be with you seeing you in your glory, amazed. A day when all the dots are connected, all the wrongs and trials and difficulties and tribulations of our life make sense, and you redeem it all. Lord, give us hope in this message. We pray this in your name. Amen.
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