************ Sermon on John 20:1-9 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on April 12, 2020

John 20:1-9
"Easter's Footrace"
Easter Sunday 2020

Early Easter morning there was a footrace. One of only two actual footraces mentioned in the Bible. Easter's footrace pitted Peter against John. I snagged a picture from the internet ... I want to bring up three points: first, the starting line; second, the race; third, the victor's circle.

I The Starting Line
A Easter's footrace started because of Mary. Early on Easter morning Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. How early? It was still dark. John doesn't mention anyone else, but we know Mary didn't start out alone. According to Matthew 28, the other Mary went with her. Maybe Mary Magdalene was in a hurry. Maybe the other Mary was delayed. But Mary Magdalene is the only one John mentions.

What did she see? We say Mary was a witness to the resurrection. Not really. Because no one saw it. No one saw the resurrection. Nor could anyone see the resurrection because it is a miracle, a creative miracle. It is a supernatural act, like all the other miracles of God. Not a single Bible writer tries to explain the details -- the science, the anatomy, the physiology -- because it is beyond science and anatomy and physiology. It is an act of power, a miraculous act of power. So, no, Mary did not witness the resurrection. All that she and anyone else saw was the resurrected Lord. That is all that anyone needs to see. Nothing else was necessary but to see the Lord Himself.

So Mary comes to the tomb and sees what? One thing: that the stone has been removed from the entrance. A big stone. A stone guarded by soldiers. A stone sealed with the seal of the Roman emperor -- saying, don't touch, don't move, off limits, keep out.

B Mary has one thought when she sees the stone has been moved. Did she think to herself, "The Lord has risen. He has risen indeed"? No. Did she think, "Wow, He has risen as He said"? No. Did she think, "He is the Messiah, the glorious Son of Man"? No. Did she confess faith in the risen Lord? No. Mary has one thought: that someone has "taken the Lord." She thinks someone has stolen the Lord's body. Let me put you in Mary's situation:
Cemetery workers made a horrific discovery at a Connecticut cemetery this past November: decades-old remains were stolen from a grave and replaced with two dead chickens.
And, a few years ago the news told us of a cemetery in the Chicago area that dug up bodies so plots could be resold.
The grave is supposed to be the final resting place of our loved ones. Their remains are supposed to be safe there. For loved ones to be treated with such disrespect makes people sick and angry.

What was Mary's response? Did she go into the tomb to look around, to see for herself the desecration of Jesus' body? Did she peek around the corner to make sure Jesus was gone? No. Instead, "She came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved." She spins around and runs. She tells them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"

"They." Who is "they"? Who does she think took the Lord? The leaders of the people who hated Jesus? The soldiers? Grave robbers? Some of those who followed Jesus? We aren't told. "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"

C We are being told something very important about Mary: she did not expect a resurrection. She is assuming Jesus is still dead. She saw Him die. She saw Him buried. She did not expect Jesus to rise from the dead. Resurrection is not on her mind, not at all. "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"

Mary, of course, is not alone. None of the disciples expected a resurrection. It appears the only ones expecting a resurrection were the Jewish leaders. They knew Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and expected something similar to happen with Jesus -- that's why they used a seal and a guard to keep Jesus locked up and locked in.

Mary did not expect the greatest, most important, event in history: that Christ has risen; He has risen indeed! Mary did not expect the greatest expression of the power of God. Mary did not expect what we know to be the cornerstone of the Gospel promises. Mary expects none of this.

D So Mary tells Peter and John that someone took Jesus. Something happened to His body. John's and Peter's response? "We need to see for ourselves. We need to look over the grave." Mary's news started Easter's footrace. So off they went. Running. It was like the starter's pistol. It was like someone had said, "On your mark, get set, go!" "So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running ..."

II The Race
A Why do I call it a race? Because we are told "the other disciple outran Peter." We are told Peter arrived "behind him." Two times, two times, we are told this other disciple "reached the tomb first." John is writing this about himself. "I reached the tomb first. I was in a footrace with Peter and I reached the tomb first." This was not just a jog in the park. This was not a friendly competition. This was an all out, desperate, first century race.

I have some questions. Where did they get the energy to run -- for I am sure they did not get much rest the last couple of days? The euphoria of Palm Sunday probably kept them awake at the start of the week. And, sleep became impossible with the shock of the arrest, the mock trial, the chanting of the crowds, the crucifixion and death. On top of this, Peter was covered in shame because he had denied the Lord. So much had happened and was happening -- stuff that prevented sleep and rest.

What was going through their minds as the two disciples tried to outrun one another to get to the empty tomb? Was anger and outrage fueling them to outpace each other? Were they thinking that the horrible stuff that happened to Jesus was continuing even after His death? Or, was there something else at the back of their mind fighting to come to the surface? Were they remembering words about the temple and the Son of Man that made no sense to them when Jesus first spoke them? You know these words but let me remind you:
(Jn 2:19-21) Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." (20) The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" (21) But the temple he had spoken of was his body.

(Mk 8:31) He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.
I wonder if they were remembering the special events they witnessed over the years: the first miracle when He changed water into wine, the last miracle when He called Lazarus out of the tomb? I wonder if they were thinking of people fed and demons expelled and health restored? I wonder if they were thinking of the glory of the transfiguration? I wonder if they were rethinking who Jesus is -- whether Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God?

We will never know the answers to these questions. But this we do know: they raced for the tomb. Against each other. And John won the race. He was desperate, they were desperate, to find out what had happened to Jesus' body.

B John reached the tomb first and did what? Was he the first to go in? No. He did not go in. However, he did take a peek from outside and saw "the strips of linen lying there."

Then Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He, too, saw "the strips of linen lying there."

What are these strips of linen that both John and Peter saw? You have to go back to the burial and remember they did not embalm; rather, they wrapped bodies like a mummy. They would wrap Jesus' body in linen and lay down some spices; they would wrap some more linen and lay down some more spices; more and more linen and more and more spices. About a hundred pounds of spices. All to hide the smell, to overpower the stench, of decaying flesh. And they would wrap the head with its own linen, also with spices.

The strips of linen were lying there. Meaning what? Well, it couldn't have been a grave robbery because no robber would have taken the time to unwrap the linens and touch a dead and smelly corpse.

The strips of linen were lying there. Where the body had been. Where the head had been. Meaning what? Meaning Jesus had passed right through them. This is no grave robbery. This is something else. This is resurrection. This is the greatest event of world history.

III The Victor's Circle
A John won the race. John beat Peter. John stood in the victor's circle. But not because he outran Peter. Not because he beat Peter to the tomb. Not because he was the first to peek inside the tomb. John won the race because he was the first to believe. What does Scripture say? "He saw and believed." He was the first to believe the greatest event of world history. He was the first to believe Christ has risen, He has risen indeed.

John is special among all the early believers. He is the first to believe Christ has risen as He said. And, he is the only one of the first believers to believe before he saw the risen Lord. All the others believe only after an encounter with the living Lord. That was true for Mary Magdalene, the disciples, Thomas, the Emmaus travelers, Peter. They believed only after they saw Jesus. John saw the linens, John saw the empty grave, and John believed Jesus is alive.

B Do you also stand in the victor's circle? Of course, unlike Mary and Peter and Thomas, you don't have the privilege of an encounter with the risen and living Lord. Jesus said to Thomas, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (Jn 20:29). That's you and me. We have not seen. We have not seen the linen wrappings. We have not seen the risen and living Christ. We have not seen the empty grave. Yet, we believe.

If you stand in the victor's circle with John, Jesus pronounces you to be blessed. Which means all the blessings of His resurrection are yours. Which means death is not the end. Which means you can look forward to life forevermore praising God.

I invite you to run the race. Many times the Bible compares the Christian life to a race. That's not the race I am talking about. Instead, I invite you to race to the tomb. I invite you to see the strips of linen. I invite you to see it is empty. I invite you to believe He has risen, He has risen indeed.

If so, if you believe, you stand in the victor's circle with John celebrating that Jesus Who died is alive.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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