************ Sermon on John 20:7 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 8, 2007
"I'm Not Finished Yet"
I have never quite known what to do with our text for this morning. It seems John interrupts his story to tell us about the napkin or face cloth that was wrapped around the head of Jesus.
But this napkin, when it is understood, is a message of hope and joy from Jesus.
We all know that Jesus was crucified on Friday and gloriously transformed early on Sunday morning.
On Friday you would not have known that He was the Son of God, the second person of the triune Godhead. You would have only seen and witnessed the gruesome death of a common criminal on Golgotha. This makes me think of what Isaiah wrote:
(Isa 52:14; 53:2-4) ... his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness ... (2) He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. (3) He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (4) ... we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.He was not a pretty sight on Good Friday. And, we all know why He suffered and died. Again, as Isaiah put it:
(Isa 53:4-5) Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows ... (5) But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.Jesus was sacrificed as the Lamb of God. Not a pretty sight at all!
Easter Sunday was completely different. On Easter Sunday we see the heavenly transformation of the Messiah. The body that was so grossly humiliated was now raised and exalted!
It wasn't only Jesus Who was changed or transformed. His followers were too. Their sorrow was turned into Easter Joy! Despair was turned into hope! Unbelief was changed into faith.
This message of Easter is summed up in the face cloth or napkin that John tells us about.
I Jesus' Burial
A We know that Jesus died upon the cross. His body hung there – bloodied, bruised, drained. Two men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, went to Pontius Pilate and begged for the body of the Lord (Jn 19:38).
Have you ever thought of what they all had to do?
The first problem was the spikes holding Jesus' hands and feet. Did they pull the nails out or did they gently but firmly pull the hands and feet over the nails?
Then they prepared Jesus' body for burial. We know they did not have to drain many body fluids – especially since the soldier pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water (Jn 19:34).
They washed Jesus' body and wrapped it in an expensive mixture of myrrh and aloes (Jn 19:39).
After this, they wrapped Jesus' body in strips of linen (Jn 19:40). They folded His arms over His chest. They closed His eyes, kissed His cheek, and placed a napkin or cloth over His face.
John tells us they did everything "in accordance with Jewish burial customs" (Jn 19:40).
Where were the disciples during all of this? How come those who were closest to Him were not helping? The disciples were not able to help. They were too scared, upset, bewildered, shocked, and panicked. Too many things had happened in too short a time.
B Joseph and Nicodemus did all of this out of love. But it was NOT necessary. You see, they were attempting to preserve the crucified body of Christ for all of eternity. But man's best efforts are nothing compared to what God would do after three days. Man was attempting to preserve a body in death but God would raise the body from the dead.
II The Face Cloth
A Mary is the first person who comes to the empty tomb. She sees the stone rolled away and it scares her. And so she runs to get the help of Peter and John. She tells them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him" (Jn 20:2).
What follows is a footrace between Peter and John. John wins the race. When John gets to the tomb he looks inside, sees the linen strips, but does not go inside. When Peter arrives he goes directly into the tomb. He also sees the linens lying there. But he also sees something else. He sees the "burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth is folded up by itself, separate from the linen" (Jn 20:7). Then John comes in. "He saw and believed" (Jn 20:8).
B John saw the face cloth, he saw the napkin, and he believed.
The face cloth, the napkin, is an important detail. In a Bible inspired by God every word and detail is important. The Bible takes an entire verse to tell us the napkin was neatly folded and lying by itself.
As I already said, this napkin, when it is understood, is a message of hope and joy from Jesus.
So, what is so important about the napkin? What is Jesus telling us?
Jesus wants us to think of a meal, of a master being served his meal. [Don't forget, Jesus and His disciples had celebrated the Passover meal just a couple of days earlier.] You see the plates, the ladle, the cups, a cloth or napkin, the food.
The traditions of that time were very clear and very orderly. Every item was important and everything on the table had its proper place. The servant had to make sure the table was perfectly arranged. And, when the meal was served the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating. In fact, the servant would not dare touch the table until the master was finished.
When the master was finished eating, he would rise from the table, take that folded napkin and wipe his fingers and mouth and clean his beard. He then would throw the napkin on the table – no longer neatly folded. The servant would then know the master was finished and that he could clear the table.
In those days, a used and discarded napkin meant "I'm done. I'm finished eating." However, if the master got up from the table, and folded his napkin, and laid it beside the plate, the servant knew not to touch the table. The neatly folded napkin meant, "I'm not finished yet. I'm coming back."
John saw the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. "The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen" (Jn 20:7). Do you hear what the Master is saying? Do you hear the message of Jesus to His disciples? Jesus is saying, "I'm not finished yet!"
C Yes, upon the cross Jesus said, "It is finished" (Jn 19:30). With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit (Jn 19:30). He died and was buried. But there is more to come. "I'm not finished yet!"
On Good Friday, Jesus finished His work as the Suffering Servant. Jesus finished His work as the sacrificial Lamb of God. But that did not mean Jesus' work was done.
"The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen" (Jn 20:7). "I'm not finished yet!" Dead people don't say that. People in the grave don't say that. Only living people say this. Only people with more to do say this.
John knew what Jesus was saying. John didn't understand what the Scriptures said about the resurrection (Jn 20:9). John didn't understand everything that Jesus had said about Himself (Mt 16:21). But John knew what Jesus was saying in the tomb. John knew what Jesus was saying through the neatly folded napkin. John knew Jesus was saying, "I am alive. I am not finished yet!" John knew his Redeemer liveth. John knew Jesus was not finished with His work yet. John knew that death and the grave did not have the last word.
"I know that my Redeemer lives." That's the message John saw and heard. "I'm not finished yet!" That's the message John saw and heard.
John "saw and believed" (Jn 20:8).
III I'm Not Finished Yet
A "The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen" (Jn 20:7). This is a message of joy from Jesus. This is a message that "I'm not finished yet."
Jesus is not finished yet when it comes to Mary. He meets her in the garden. He talks to her. Mary goes to the disciples with the good news, "I have seen the Lord!" (Jn 20:18). Do you see the change in Mary? She was crying. She was sad. She was upset. But now she was filled with great and exciting and joyful news!
Jesus is not finished yet. There is still more for Him to do. He says to Mary, "I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (Jn 20:17). We know He is going to heaven where He will exchange a crown of thorns and a purple robe and a bloody cross for a seat at God's right hand. Instead of people bowing before Him in mockery, every knee shall bow before Him in fear. Instead of people poking fun of Him as "king of the Jews," everyone shall acknowledge He is Lord (cf Jn 19:1-3).
Jesus is not finished yet. He appears before the disciples and they are "overjoyed" (Jn 20:20). He sends them on a mission to tell others about Christ (Jn 20:21). Jesus fills them with the Spirit (Jn 20:22) and gives them the authority to declare the forgiveness of sins (Jn 20:23). Don't forget how scared and discouraged and dispirited and upset they were. But now they are "overjoyed." The Greek word for "overjoyed" forms the basis for our English word "choir." They were filled with joy. They said "Hallelujah" and "Amen" and "Praise God" and they probably burst forth into song.
Jesus is still not finished. He knows there are doubters and skeptics. He appears before one by the name of Thomas. Thomas sees Jesus and he believes (Jn 20:28). "My Lord and my God!" he said to Jesus (Jn 20:28). Thomas acknowledges that Jesus is the One he worships. Thomas acknowledges that Jesus is his Master to Whom is owed all service.
B "The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen" (Jn 20:7). "I'm not finished yet!"
Jesus is thinking of future generations of believers. He is thinking of you and me and those who professed their faith this morning. Unlike John and Peter and Mary and Thomas and the other disciples, we do not see Jesus' face cloth or His hands and His side. But by His Word and Spirit Jesus works faith in us. Jesus talks about us in verse 29 when He says, "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (Jn 20:29).
"I'm not finished yet." Faith is not the end. Profession of Faith is not the end either. Jesus wants to work with you and me. He wants to make us in His image. He wants to get rid of the acts of the sinful nature within all of us: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. He wants to get rid of this because those who live like this will not and cannot inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21).
"I'm not finished yet." There is still more. Jesus not only wants us to get rid of the acts of the sinful nature but He also wants us to be filled to overflowing with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22).
"I'm not finished yet!" Jesus wants us to present all that we have and all that we are to Him as a living sacrifice of thanks and praise. He wants us to withhold nothing – not our time, not our money, not our talents, not our family, not our marriage, not our business. He wants our heart's desire to be His praise and honor and glory.
"I'm not finished yet." There is still more. Jesus wants all the world to know about Him. Jesus wants every square inch of this universe to know He claims it. He wants to gather His sheep from the four corners of the earth – from every tribe and language and people and nation. He wants to do this through you and me and everyone else who believes.
"I'm not finished yet!" Jesus wants to prune out the dead parts. We see Jesus doing this when He struck dead both Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 6). And, He continues His work of pruning today so that someday the church will be complete and perfect.
"I'm not finished yet." There is still more. Someday Jesus shall return to resurrect the body and to judge the living and the dead. Someday Jesus shall make a new heaven and a new earth.
"The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen." What a message of Easter joy. A message that my Redeemer lives. A message that He is not finished yet. A message that He is returning.
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