I'd like to speak with you this morning in a continued way about a series of sermons we're doing, Pastor Crutcher and I, on the life of Jesus Christ. This is one of the last. Next week will be the final sermon on this series: Jesus' Last Words. Today's sermon is based on John 20, if you would like to follow along in your Bible.
It had been a long bleak Sabbath for the three grief stricken ladies. The sunshine of their hope had set and the blackness of night had settled into their hearts. The problem was: Jesus had died. As the hours of that sad Sabbath droned on and on, they got more and more discouraged. As they sat there on that dismal day, the strong smell of spices that had been purchased in haste just before sundown on Friday, reminded them of their unfinished duty. They must go early in the morning before much decay would set in and anoint their Savior's body.
For Mary Magdalene it was an especially bad Sabbath. She had loved Him dearly. And now she had to say good-bye. It's one thing to say good-bye when somebody dies, but it is hard to get over it, and she could not even go to the cemetery because to go there would break the Sabbath because of all their rules and regulations. And so they had to sit at home. Many times that long day she wiped sad tears from her cheeks. It had been a strange Sabbath as well. At the time of Jesus death there had been an unusual earthquake. The epicenter, of all places, seemed to be in the local Jerusalem cemetery. Graves, both ancient and new had been excavated leaving bones and skulls protruding from the dirt. Families were terribly upset. The ghastly scene had to stay in that horrible condition all day it had happened at sun-down and it was the Sabbath. You can't work in the cemetery on Sabbath. So they all had to wait until Sunday. There was a lot of work to be done.
These three women agreed to meet at dawn to perform their last deed of love for their Savior and each went to their separate homes to rest. I imagine Mary tossed and turned as she struggled with thoughts of what was going to happen in the morning. "How am I, a woman, going to be able to convince the big Roman guards to roll away the stone and allow us to go in and anoint the body? Maybe we're going to be in danger. You know, our lives could be in jeopardy." And so, she was very nervous.
John 20:1 begins with a certain word. It says, Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. Now that word, "early" is a technical word. In the Greek it is proi, which stands for the last of the four watches of the night which was from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. So, here these ladies were, sometime between three and six in the morning headed for the cemetery. I don't like to be in cemeteries even in the daytime, do you? Much less at night. But, that's when they head out to do their job. As they approached the tomb, suddenly, they could see in the far distance, way over at the cemetery, a bright light. They wondered what that was. And then another tremendous earthquake. They were rolled around like popcorn in the popper. It was another bad circumstance and yet they pursued on because they had all these spices with them.
Mary hurried and was the first to arrive. As she came around the corner she saw that the giant round stone was rolled aside in its massive trench and there was the tomb, just open. That shouldn't be! Apparently God had opened it up in her behalf and she wasn't going to ask the guards because already it was open. But as she got closer, there were no guards there. The Roman guards were gone. Something had happened. Her worst fears were confirmed when she came to that tomb. Jesus was gone. The tomb was empty. Apparently the Romans had taken Him. Those soldiers. Maybe the Pharisees had taken Jesus' body away (Maybe they had not been satisfied with killing Him on the cross and were off somewhere inflicting further indignities on his dead body), or, maybe some greedy creatures who made it their business to rob tombs were in possession of Jesus body holding it for some purpose. This was a bad Sabbath and was followed by an even worse Sunday. This was horrible.
I want to ask you a question. You know, as I read this story, and you heard it in the scripture reading that was read by Elder Miller. John believed when he came to the tomb. Why didn't Mary believe when she came to the tomb? I think I know why. Mary came looking for a dead body she could anoint. And she got what she wanted. Disappointment. She came with a negative attitude. You know, life gives you what you habitually look for. If you look for mud, you're going to find mud. If you look for stars, you're going to find stars. Jesus died on Friday, and now Mary is deprived of His body, that she could have at least anointed. This is the worst day of her life.
Let's go to verse 2. So what did she do? She ran away. This was more than she could handle. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one that Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put Him!" She didn't know who took Him, or where He was. Mary ran like an Olympic sprinter.
One of the amazing fasts in this story is that Peter is still the recognized leader of the 11 disciples. Despite the fact that he had turned his back on Jesus at the trial, despite the fact that he had actually cursed, He was still the leader. I think we should always remember how great a person Peter was. Peter was still accepted by the others despite his weaknesses, he was strong. We all have weaknesses, don't we. If somebody has a weakness, try to forgive them. The disciples did that with Peter. I think Peter was helped a lot because Peter was probably one of the most forlorn dejected discouraged people in the world. Can you imagine turning your back on Jesus? And, what had Peter said? "I will never leave You. You can depend on me." And he did leave Him. He deserted Him. He turned Him down. He denied Him.
Who brought Peter out of all of this? I believe it was John. I believe that John alone had witnessed Peter's sad fall. I think that from Friday night to Sunday morning John was lovingly employed in binding up Peter's broken heart. When Peter fell, there was a brother who was there, who did not condemn him but came to help and to give him strength. And we all need that when we're down.
Suddenly, before it was even light, Mary Magdalene arrived with her startling news. "Get up, get up! Something terrible has happened." You can notice what happened in John 20:3,4. So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
If example means anything here, you would get from this that Sunday mornings are a good time to zealously do aerobic exercises like running. Right? That's the example that the Bible is giving here. Everybody is running. Mary's adrenaline must have been powering her exhausted body. John and Peter ran a race at dawn. John won. John won because he was younger. John was sort of like a teenager. He lived on another sixty years!
According to the Mosaic law Mary had to do what she did, anyway because a woman back in New Testament times was not eligible to be a witness. In fact the truth could be established by no less than two men or you didn't have a witness. They both had to be witnesses. Now Peter and John become the needed eye witnesses of the empty tomb. As John breathlessly stopped at the opening of the tomb he was not comfortable with going inside. Look at John 20:5. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Bless his heart. John is timid, isn't he. Look at John 20:6 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He went right in.
Peter in his typical impulsiveness looked, and then went right on in. Nothing slow or bashful about him! Peter was a type "A" Personality. Hot, zealous, fervent, forward. Jump right in. John was more gentle, quiet, reserved, deep-feeling. But you can't confirm your faith by behaving like John and staying outside the tomb. You must go in and see. To stand outside the tomb and try to believe is like seeking to anchor a ship by casting the anchor within its own hold. The anchor must be thrown outside the ship. The best way to confirm our faith is not to peer within ourselves but to exercise our faith.
As the two men stood there they both saw the grave clothes. John 20:6B - Peter saw the strips of linen lying there, Well, look at what happened. John 20:7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. He saw all that, but was unsure.
John 20:8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. Praise God for that.
For the moment Peter's thought was amazement that the tomb was empty. But things began to happen in John's mind. He thought about what he saw. also, the Greek word "saw" in verse 6 is different from the Greek word "saw" in verse 8. The first word means that you just looked. The second word means that you saw and you comprehended, you perceived, you understood what you saw. What it means is that Peter looked, but John perceived with full understanding.
John thought, "If some grave robber had removed Jesus' body, why would they leave the his clothes? Why would the undress Him? Wouldn't they just take Him away and get out of there quickly?" Have you ever been robbed? You know when those robbers come into your house they just empty the drawers and they leave everything in a mess. They get out of there quickly. Why would they have left the clothes behind and unwrapped the body? Then something else struck him. Look at the way the grave clothes are lying. Here again the Greek helps us. The Greek adds something unique that you don't get in the English. I says they were "wrapped up in their original convolutions." Now, I've thought about that. What does that mean? These clothes were left behind, and they were left in such a way that it looked like Christ had passed out of them without their being unwrapped; they were still coiled like an empty cocoon of some insect. Like Jesus had simply evaporated out of them. Now, that's a possibility.
Another possible possibility is that they were lying there folded up in the original creases. You know that Linen quickly shows creases. It was like you fold up a brand new road map on the same original folds, not messing it up. What does t tell you about Jesus? He's neat. Let's be like Jesus.
John also singles out that the head cloth or napkin for special attention. What thieves would stop to fold the clothes if they stole the body? What thief would fold anything? They'd just go get new ones. Maybe there's something unique in the way it was folded. Maybe John recognized: "I know Jesus did that. That's how He always folded His clothes." Agape love sees more clearly than friendship love. This was a clear signal to eyes of faith that Jesus Himself had folded the material. Maybe there was something unique in the way it was folded, which would be a sign to the Beloved Disciple. He did not see anything different than Peter did, but John saw differently and what a world of difference it made. He believed Jesus was alive even though he had not seen Him. You can experience Jesus presence without actually seeing Him. John did, and you can.
The light suddenly penetrated John's mind. The disciples had spent many nights with their Savior and John had seen how neat Jesus was. He had watched Jesus fold up his sheets and his robes before. John knew Jesus Himself had carefully folded up those grave cloths just moments ago and that Jesus was really alive! Maybe he felt the clothes and they were still warm? No. They wouldn't be warm, they'd be cold because Jesus had been dead all weekend.
A mighty angel came down and opened up the tomb, along with Jesus' angel who had been His guardian angel all His life. Those two angels woke Jesus up and He came back to life. They rolled away the heavy stone as if it were made of Styrofoam (See Desire of Ages by EG White, p. 789).
To me it is very interesting that it was Mary, who loved Jesus so much who was the first person at the tomb. And it was John, the disciple who loved Jesus so much who was the first person in the world to really believe that Jesus was alive. Love gave him the eyes to read the signs and a mind to understand what he saw. Love is the great interpreter. Love can realize the true meaning when research is blind. John loved and John believed. Then Peter also came to believe. It takes love and unless you love Jesus you aren't going to be one of His children. You're not ever going to be a believer. You need to love Jesus. You need to fall in love with Jesus. Love is a great gift, it's a great interpreter of what you see. When you come to this Bible and you're in love with Jesus, you're going to see something different than the person like Peter, who loved Jesus but not in the same way. Fall in love with Jesus and you're going to find more of the Bible. Peter came to be a believer and he caught his belief from John. John 20:9 (NIV) (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Biblically they somehow had missed the fact that he should rise up again. Even though Jesus had told the over and over, they still didn't get it. It is interesting that for over three years the two leading disciples had heard Jesus speak of His resurrection, yet they had not put two and two together.
And yet here Jesus enemies had remembered what He said (Matthew 27:63) and had posted Roman guards to make sure His body was not resurrected. The disciples were not there to watch. His friends had forgotten His promises. I think that sometimes when we have problems the days are darker than necessary because we forget God and His promises.
One time I talked with a Jew, who was not a Christian, who said, "Jesus' disciples took His body. I could never believe in Jesus because they themselves took the body. I'm convinced of that. And they hid the body." I'll tell you why that's an impossibility. I don't believe that for one minute. The reason is that the early church, the early disciples, with the exception of John , they were al brutally murdered. All but John were eventually imprisoned, tortured and killed. Some of them were dunked in boiling oil until it killed them. Others were sawn in half lengthwise. Do you really think that those men would have gone through all that to perpetuate a fraud? Do you think that they would be sawed in half length-wise or boiled in scalding hot oil when all they had to do was tell where they had hid the body? They would not risk so much to propagate hoax.
I had somebody else tell me that Jesus' enemies hid the body. That's an impossibility. That could never happen. Do you realize the early church in its early stages by about two months they had thousands of new members in the new church? They were growing like wildfire. They were spreading all over the world. All the Pharisees had to do was to produce the dead body and the thing would have been nipped in the bud. They couldn't do it because there was no dead body. Jesus was alive! And He is alive to this day. They couldn't produce the body.
Do you know an interesting proof of the resurrection of Jesus? It is the fact that the early Christian Church showed virtually no interest in the grave site of Jesus. When a loved on dies we put up a plaque or a monument or something. They had no interest in Jesus' tomb. No interest at all. This is very unique. Interest in His tomb came hundreds of years later in the Dark Ages. Think about it. All middle East cultures are very interested in grave sites. The most precious site for Israelites was Mount Zion where King David is still buried.
What about Egypt? Most of Egypt is one vast cemetery. Queen Hatshepsut's temple, the Valley of the Tombs, the Pyramids. Some pyramids are even built for bulls and animals. Now take the early Christian church. They had absolutely no interest in the grave site of Jesus. Their Savior was alive! Christians are not necrological. We are not preoccupied with death.
Jesus was alive. John 20:10 Then the disciples went back to their homes. Why would John go back home? Who is at John's house? Jesus' mother now lived with John. Remember John 19:27, From that time on this disciple (John) took her into his own home! Could it be that Peter and John now hastened over to John's house to tell the Savior's mother that her Son was risen from the dead!
Another earthquake shook the world at Dawn. At that moment Jesus came back to life and with Him a host of captives. The bones that were exposed on Friday just before sundown began to move. The skull started moving and was placed in proper connection with the neck bones and all the bones of those skeletons came together and God restored life to a host of saints, some dating from way back to the time of Adam and Eve. These were the first fruits! Their resurrection proves that if you and I have a saving relationship with Jesus, we too will some day be restored to life if we die before He comes.
Our Jesus is alive. But it doesn't do any good for Jesus to be alive up in heaven if He's not alive in your heart. Is Jesus living in your heart? Can He be? Yes, He can. But not without invitation.
Because Jesus lives, we shall live. Grasp this hope and it will hold you like an anchor fastened to the solid Rock. Just as Jesus really died, Jesus really conquered death. It is terribly important to know that. Because His victory is not just for Him it is for you! Because He lives, you can live forever!
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last updated 4/17/2001 by Bob Beckett.