Welcome everyone! Thanks for joining us this morning. Whether you’re an every week church attender or a CEO attender – Christmas and Easter Only. We’re so glad that you’re here.
Family on this day, approximately 2.38 billion people all around the world are remembering and celebrating, what is, in my estimation, the most significant event in human history.
So significant, in fact, that even our calendars are divided into 2 halves based on the birth and death of Jesus – BC and AD.
And let me be clear if you’re new here today, we don’t just believe that Jesus was raised from the dead in some spiritual, metaphorical way. We believe Jesus was brutally killed, placed in a tomb, was resurrected by the father, an angel rolled the stone away, and Jesus walked out of the tomb.
That’s not something we fantasize about, that’s something we believe LITERALLY happened.
And you don’t HAVE to believe in the resurrection if you don’t want to. But if you’re a Christian do you. The resurrection is quite possibly the most foundational, fundamental belief that separates a Christian from a non-Christian.
It is a ‘non-negotiable’ of the Christian faith. Christians disagree with other Christians on ALMOST everything you can think of. Politics, Bible translations, the end of the world, how old the universe is, what happened to the dinosaurs, on and on and on. But “the resurrection did not happen” is not a stance a Christian can have. This whole thing rests of the fact that Jesus rose from the grave.
And his resurrection, for us, is a powerful picture of possibility. And it should stir up in us faith in God’s ability to bring life to dead things.
The resurrection shows us that in the same way the grave couldn’t hold Jesus, our graves can’t hold us. That whatever is gripping you, whatever is holding you, whatever is oppressing you, must bow it’s knee to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
The resurrection shows us that because he got up, we can get up.
Black Panther I’m not big into the Marvel universe. I liked the first 4000 movies, and after that, it like “Look, we all get it! You can do special effects. You have fancy computers. But I do know about the character known as Black Panther.
Well, Black Panther’s sister is a scientist and she makes for her brother a very special suit made out of a very special metal called… “Vibranium”.
And it’s a very special suit in that when Black Panther is attacked, and violence is done to him, the suit absorbs the violence. It might be bombs or bullets or punches and kicks. It absorbs the violence, and when he chooses, he can blast that energy back at his enemies.
Now this is an interesting contrast with Jesus. Because Jesus when he was on the cross, absorbs our violence against him. Of course there’s the physical violence that he endured, tortured, maimed, brutally killed, but not just the physical violence, the rejection and the humiliation that humanity offered Jesus and still offers him today. He absorbs all that violence on the cross, but he blasts back at us, not violence for violence, fire for fire, but he blasts back love, and reconciliation, and kindness, and forgiveness.
And then he begins to melt our hearts and he starts he change enemies into friends. And then he creates this army of people who wear the same kind of suit, with the same commitment to absorb and blast back love, and forgiveness, and reconciliation.
And this is not usually a day for a long sermon. But I do want to briefly take you through the story of that Sunday morning and point us to you something that I think will be helpful to you.
There are lots of different ways and reasons that people come to faith in Jesus.
Think about your own life. What was it that persuaded you to choose this life rather than another life?
- Why is it that you are a follower of Jesus and not primarily a follower of Buddha?
- Why is it that you’re a follower of Jesus and not a follower of Allah?
- Why is it that you are a follower of Jesus and not a functional atheist? Which is what the average American is, of course. Self-identified as a Christian, functionally an atheist. That’s not meant as a criticism, it’s a simple fact.
But for you, What was it that originally drew you to Christianity and to put your faith in Jesus?
Hold that in your mind as we go through this story.
Context Ok so, let’s see if we can briefly enter into the story. Jesus, the prophet, who some called the messiah has just been killed. “Welp, so much for that!” A movement usually dies when the leader does. He was killed on Friday. And today is Sunday.
Which brings us to John 20. It’s a huge chapter, we could do a whole series on just this chapter, so I’m gonna just hit some of the highlights.
And there’s 3 characters you need to know if you want to understand this story.
First we have John. He’s the one who is writing the words we’re about to read. He and Peter are the 2 disciples that go to the tomb, after the women.
As we read the gospel of John, you’ll notice that John doesn’t refer to himself as “John” or, you know, “Me”, he refers to himself as…. “The Disciple Jesus Loved”, which I just find delightful and brilliant. In fact, if I ever get the chance to write about myself in the 3rd person, I’m gonna to call myself “The pastor that everybody loved.” So if you read that, you’ll know I’m talking about myself.
Next we have a lady named Mary Magdalene. We don’t know much about her except that she came from a really dark past. Church history tells us that she was likely a prostitute or some other extreme form of sinner and her community had rejected her. We also know that at one point, she was possessed by 7 demons at the same time. Well, Jesus comes and heals her completely, and she loves him deeply (not romantically), and she’s one of his most loyal followers. Certainly more loyal than his ragtag group of 12 disciples.
Lastly, we have Thomas, who we know as ‘Doubting Thomas’ which is really unfair, because as we’re about to see, LITERALLY EVERYBODY DOUBTED. There’s not a single person who believes through the entire story. Except for, of course, Jesus.
But yeah, Doubting Thomas. He may have also been “Good Looking Thomas” “Funny Guy Thomas” “Big Muscles Thomas”, but we’ll never know. It’ll just always be ‘Doubting Thomas’, poor guy.
Here’s the big idea
And here’s the big idea for the morning:
After Jesus’s resurrection, his followers recognized him through:
- The power in his works
- The love in his voice
- The truth in his claims
That’s still how we recognize him today.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb (John 20:1)
Ok so Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. By the way, the other gospels show us that it wasn’t JUST Mary Magdalene, but there were other women. But all the gospels list Mary first. And Mary was not just a leader among the women, but she actually led ALL the disciples in numerous ways, not just to the tomb of Jesus.
Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. (John 20:1b)
Ok, so when you hear “the stone”, think door. Mary saw that the stone had been moved from the entrance.
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 have put him!” (John 20:2)
Now notice the pronoun we, so there is a plurality of women involved.
And Mary Magdalene says “We don’t know where they put him.” Which shows just how dense these people really are. Jesus continually said “I’m going to die, but I’ll rise again. I’m going to be killed but I’ll rise again.”
To which the disciples would basically respond “La la la la la. We can’t hear you Jesus. We’re gonna protect you. You’re gonna slay our enemies the romans and establish us as a mighty kingdom to kick the butts of all the other kingdoms, and we shall have our revenge.”
And Jesus says, “No, I’m going to teach how to lay down your life, and love your enemies. And I’ll rise again and establish a spiritual kingdom that all are welcome into. And your enemies will become more than friends, they’ll become your brothers”.
And they’re going, “How about ‘no’ Jesus?”
So Mary and other women go to the tomb, find it empty and they don’t even CONSIDER that Jesus may have been telling the truth!
They’re not going to the tomb to see if he’s still dead or not, they’re going to the tomb to re-spice the body. Which is something they’d do for the decaying process.
And when they show up and there’s no body. They assume someone STOLE the body, and they say “We don’t know where they put him!” Again, Thomas was not the only person that doubted.
John and Peter Go
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. (John 20:3)
Both were running, (this is one of my favorite verses) but the other disciple (remember he’s talking about himself) outran Peter and reached the tomb first. (John 20:4)
“Just wanted you to know.” There’s absolutely no reason to include this detail!!!!
John is the last to write his gospel. So Matthew, Mark and Luke have already told this story and I can picture John thinking “No one pointed out that I ran faster. Boy is Peter in for a surprise when he reads this!” And then I can picture reading Peter reading it saying “Why, you, son of a…”
He (talking about himself who got there faster) bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. (John 20:5)
Pay attention to that, he’s saying “I was respectful. I didn’t just barge in, I just looked in.”
Then Simon Peter came along behind him (funny) and went straight into the tomb. (John 20:6a)
“He just walked right in there like a idiot. I got there first, but I was respectful and didn’t jump right in there. Peter got there after me, and walked right in!”
Ok so Peter walked right in and…
He saw the strips of linen lying there, (John 20:6b)
as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. (John 20:7)
Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (John 20:8)
So John says “Yeah Peter went in first, but I got there first, and you know what? I BELIEVED first. Too.”
Ok so what was it that caused John to believe? He saw the empty tomb. So he saw Jesus’s miracle working power. That Jesus wasn’t just talk, he was also powerful. So John saw Jesus’s miracle working power, and that caused him to believe. Mary saw the empty tomb first, but that did NOT cause her to believe, but for John, that caused him to believe.
So John and Peter go back to the other disciples, but Mary stays there at the tomb.
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. (She’s not celebrating, it’s Easter Sunday. She’s crying.) As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb (John 20:11)
Now she’s the first to see this:
and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. (John 20:12)
So this is an interesting detail that John points out:
John describes these 2 angels, sitting there, one where Jesus’s head was and another where Jesus’s feet were.
So there would have been a stone type box in there, and an angel seated on each side.
Ark of the Covenant John describes these specific details for a reason. For the jewish reader, a rectangular box with an angel sitting on each side would have immediately caused them to think about something very specific. And that’s the ‘Ark of the Covenant’.
“Pastor, what’s that?” The Ark of the Covenant was, in the Old Testament, a box that God’s people would carry around with them. And it was the place where God’s presence would rest. And where God would offer mercy and forgiveness. In fact, the lid which was made of Gold was referred to as ‘The Mercy Seat’,
And so this picture John paints of the tomb of Jesus, with two angels sitting on the far edges, speaks of the mercy and forgiveness that is available to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Verse 13 – the angels ask Mary a question:
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” (John 20:13a)
By the way, let me just say that when a woman is referred to as “Woman…”, the angels do this, Jesus does this. And in english, it sounds disrespectful, but in the greek, it’s not, it’s like saying “Ma’am”. It’s respectful.
And so they say “Ma’am, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” (John 20:13b)
So Mary is witnessing some miraculous things. But surprisingly, this isn’t enough for Mary to believe.
At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. (John 20:14)
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” (John 20:15)
So Mary here, she’s not even thinking “Maybe he was raised from the dead just like he said.” No, she’s thinking someone physically stole the body and moved it somewhere and she’s saying, “Just tell me where you put him and I’ll go get him.” So Mary doubts, yes, but she also has this amazing loyalty. Even when she doesn’t have all the answers.
Something that I love about this whole portion of scripture is that Jesus never takes their doubt as an insult. He never says “How dare you doubt! Don’t you know, it is I, the risen King!” No, even when his followers respond with doubt, and struggle to believe the things that Jesus said, he respond with compassion and embrace.
Ok, so what is it that finally makes Mary recognize Jesus? It’s one word. And it changes everything for her. Let’s read it.
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” (John 20:16a)
He just says her name. Isn’t it interesting that he doesn’t say HIS name? (Points to self) “Jesus. Not gardener, Jesus.”
But he doesn’t say his name, he says her name. And that’s an amazing little detail. That as amazing as Jesus is, he doesn’t find the need to talk about himself all the time. He’s actually interested in you. Which is really surprising if you think about it. That the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God of the universe, cares how you’re feeling. That’s amazing.
Here’s what’s happening with Mary. I don’t believe it’s just the fact that Jesus KNEW her name, I think when he said her name, it brought back up in her, how deeply Jesus knew her and how deeply Jesus loved her. In that moment, Jesus communicated to her that she was seen by him and known by him.
And for Mary, that’s what she needed to recognize Jesus and believe. And that’s how it will be for some people. They’re not looking, necessarily, for some mighty miracle, they’re looking for Jesus to see them, to know them, and to love them.
I think being seen and known is such a profound need for people and most people don’t even realize it. Think about the YEARS of peoples lives that are wasted on social media. Why do you post anything online? Well because you somehow find it pleasurable. “No I don’t.” Of course you do. Otherwise you wouldn’t do it. We all have on the inside of us a need to be seen and a need to known. Even you.
I don’t have time to get into it, but there’s this story in the bible of a sinful woman anointing Jesus’s feet with expensive perfume and her own hair, which is very strange. And Simon says “Eww. A gross sinner wiping her nappy hair all over Jesus’s feet. Gross. She probably has dandruff and that’s nasty.” Jesus turns to him and says “Do you see the women?” Do you see her? Simon saw the sin, Jesus saw the woman.
That’s what Mary needed. To be seen by Jesus.
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). (John 20:16b)
John provides a translation here. Rabboni meaning “Teacher”. But it’s a more intimate word than ‘Rabbi’ which means teacher. “Rabboni” literally means “MY teacher”
And then in verse 17, there’s a weird mis-translation issue in the King James that has caused some confusion.
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” (John 20:17)
So some of you know this from the King James which says “Touch me not”. Parsing greek verbs is very complicated, but the King James translators in the 17th century didn’t do it right in this case.
And they created this picture of Mary saying “My teacher! It’s you!” and running to embrace him and Jesus saying “Whoa whoa whoa! No touchy! I’m holy, see my halo”. Which is not a well thought out stance, because a week later, Jesus INVITES Thomas to touch him, out of the blue.
Many of you know, that if you’re looking for the most ‘literal’ english translation, it’s probably the NASB, the ‘New American Standard Bible’. It’s not easy reading, but it’s very literal when it comes to the hebrew and greek. Let’s read it from the NASB:
Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’ ” (John 20:17 NASB)
This is the correct translation from the greek. “Stop clinging to me”. We don’t know how long the clinging lasted, but at some point Jesus said “Ok, snuggle time has been great. But I’m going to need you to let go of me, because I have a job for you to do, Mary.” Because when we meet Jesus, he commissions us, he gives us things to do. The hugging and the loving and the worshipping is great, but at a certain point Jesus says “Ok now I’ve got something I need you to do.”
There’s people who are like “I just want to spend my whole life just sitting, and soaking in God’s presence.” And I’m thinking “I don’t think he’s gonna like that.” We all have a job to do.
So she goes, she tells the disciples, they don’t believe her. So again, they ALL doubt. But then Jesus appears to them later that day. That first Sunday. Then they all believe. But one of them isn’t there, and that was Thomas.
So eventually Thomas comes back, and the disciples say “Jesus was here!!” And Thomas says “Oh hahaha. You’re hilarious. Yeah Jesus was here!” They say “No, we’re not joking. He literally was.” So Thomas says “Unless I see the evidence with my own eyes I won’t believe it.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. (John 20:26a)
Sundays There’s something important that I want to point out here. The first time Jesus appears to the disciples is when they gathered together on that first easter, which was a Sunday. And then the next time he appears to them, a week later, is the following Sunday.
So it seems that there’s something about them gathering together that causes Jesus to appear in their midst. And we know this to be true.
Jesus says in Matthew 18: “For where two of more are gathered in my name, there I will be also.” (Matthew 18:20)
So Jesus of course knows that he still needs to appear to Thomas, but it’s worth noting that he doesn’t go pursue Thomas. He waits for Thomas to gather together with the other disciples to appear to him.
…Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” (John 20:26b)
Jesus says this repeatedly to the disciples. “Peace be with you.” Not “How dare you betray me. How dare you don’t believe.” Nope, just “Peace. Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27)
Again, just like with Mary, he’s not saying “Don’t touch me.” No, he’s saying, “You can come. It’s ok. You can touch me.” And then once Thomas sees the evidence, Thomas recognizes Jesus and believes.
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)
Ok so let’s review.
- John comes to faith when he sees the empty Tomb. When he experiences, first hand, the miracle working power of Jesus.
- And that’s how it was (and is) for some of you. And so what I would encourage you to do today is to remember and recognize God’s miracle working power in your life. To remember all the miracles he’s done for you. Miracles in your family. Miracles in your mind. For a lot of us, the fact that we’re in this room today is a miracle.
- Mary comes to faith when she hears Jesus speak her name. The turning point for her was that she was seen and known and loved by Jesus.
- And that’s how it was and is for some of you. And if that’s you, I would encourage you today to meditate on the fact that Jesus knows everything about you. And loves you completely. He knows the number of hairs of your head. He knows every thought you think. He knows you every desire, your every fear, your every frustration. And he loves you completely and perfectly.
- Thomas comes to faith when he sees the evidence of Jesus’s resurrection. He needed not just the LOVE of Jesus, but the TRUTH of Jesus.
- And that’s how it was and is for some of you. You’re a diligent truth-seeker. This is me by the way. And you don’t have to be just one of these, you can see yourself in all these characters. But if you’re a truth-seeker, maybe today can be a day that you thank God for the gift of Jesus who leads us into all truth. In a world where everyone is hurling their opinions like granades over a wall, we can relax knowing Jesus is THE way, THE TRUTH, and THE life.
Closing – Scars
And as we close our service today, Pastor Marshall is going to come up and pray with us and we’ll receive communion, but I wanted to leave you with a final thought.
When Jesus appeared to the discipled, his body had scars from his crucifixion. Not wounds, but scars. Now we assume he didn’t need to keep those scars if he didn’t choose to.
But he intentionally kept his scars as a point of connection with you. To remind you that Jesus has experienced the wounded life that you live.
So Jesus doesn’t just SYMPATHIZE with the struggles that you go through, he EMPATHIZES with you as someone who has had the same experience.
But see, the thing about Jesus’s wounds, is they didn’t stay wounds, they turned to scars, because he let the father heal him. And maybe for you, you identify with Mary. “I know I should be celebrating today, but I feel like crying.” I want to say to you…
- God heals wounds.
- God brings second chances.
- God speaks life into dead things.