************ Sermon on John 20:1-18 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 12, 2009
A couple of years ago, the president of my Rotary club had two favorite words. We had a Rotary work day with Habitat for Humanity and the work we did was "fantastic, awesome." We all had to go to the Rotary District Conference because it was "fantastic, awesome." The Rotary Auction was "fantastic, awesome." Our weekly programs were "fantastic, awesome." The Rotary Newsletter was "fantastic, awesome." Everything was "fantastic, awesome." Of course, when his term as President was finished we did a fantastic and awesome job in roasting him.
A kindergarten teacher at a Christian school was determining how much religious training her new students had. While talking with one little boy, to whom the story of Jesus was obviously brand new, she began relating His death on the cross. When asked what a cross was, she picked up some sticks, and fashioning a crude one, she explained that Jesus was actually nailed to that cross, and then He died. The little boy with eyes downcast quietly acknowledged, "Oh, that's too bad." In the very next breath, however, she related that He arose again and that He came back to life. And his little eyes got big as saucers. He lit up and exclaimed, "Totally awesome!"Of course, our Rotary President would add the word "fantastic" to this. The little boy hit the nail right on the head. The Easter story is "fantastic, awesome!" Far more fantastic, awesome than anything we do in Rotary. But we have heard the Easter story so many times it no longer strikes us that way.
"Fantastic, awesome!" To get that reaction to the Easter story, let's put ourselves in the place of Mary Magdalene, whom John identifies as the first witness to the risen Lord.
I They Have Taken the Lord
A There are a dozen references to Mary Magdalene in the 4 Gospels. The first time we meet her we are told she was possessed by 7 evil spirits (Lk 8:2). We are not told anything more about this possession but her life must have been filled with misery, tension, turmoil, and grief. It is Jesus Who set her free; He brought peace and hope, meaning and order, into her life. Mary's response: she traveled with Jesus and the Twelve from one town and village to another; and, being a woman of some wealth, she supported the group with the funds to purchase food and lodging (Lk 8:2,3; Mt 27:55).
Undoubtedly, Mary Magdalene is one of the mourning, wailing, weeping women who followed when Jesus was led out of Jerusalem to be crucified (Lk 23:27) because we next see her on Golgotha Hill. Beneath or near the cross she heard Jesus' words of love to His mother (Jn 19:25f). From a distance (Mt 27:55,56) she watched His sufferings: she saw Him nailed to the cross; she saw the sign placed above His head; she heard the mocking of the crowds, the chief priests, the elders, and the teachers of the law; she experienced the 3 hours of darkness at midday; she heard Him call out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"; she heard the Lord's final cry and saw Him bow His head as He gave up His spirit. She was there when the soldiers ran a spear through His side. She was still there when Joseph and Nicodemus took Jesus' body down from the cross, and wrapped it, with spices, in strips of linen. She must have followed them to the garden because she watched while they lay Jesus' body in the tomb and then roll a big stone in front of the entrance (Mt 27:61). After this, Mary went home and prepared spices for the proper embalming of Jesus' body (Lk 23:56;24:1,10).
Without question, Mary is convinced in her own mind that Jesus is dead, gone, lost to her forever (Lk 23:56).
B The next time we see Mary Magdalene is on Easter Sunday. She is still filled with grief. She wants to do one last loving act for Him Who set her free. So she goes back to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body with the spices and perfumes she has prepared for embalming (Mk 16:1; Jn 20:1).
Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb. She sees that the stone has been removed from the entrance. The Gospel writer doesn't say anything about her looking inside at this point. Rather, she sees the stone has been moved and right away concludes that the Lord's body has been taken.
(Jn 20:2) 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!"
Someone has taken the Lord. This only makes sense, doesn't it? Wouldn't you come to the same conclusion if you were Mary Magdalene? The Lord is dead; you have seen Him die. And now, 2 days later, when you come to the tomb before sunrise, you see that the stone is rolled away. "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"
Mary Magdalene is so convinced of this that she says it three times: to Peter and John (vs 2), to the two angels (vs 13), and to the gardener (vs 15). "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"
Mary is convinced the Lord is dead and now someone has taken His body. So to the gardener she says, "Tell me where you have put him, and I will get him" (vs 15). That's not idle talk – that's a promise. "I'll get him," she said. "I'll bring His body right back here."
Again we have to say Mary is convinced in her own mind that Jesus is dead, gone, lost to her forever (Lk 23:56). And now – now she is robbed of her chance to even grieve over His body. "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"
II Failure to Recognize the Lord
A Mary loved the Lord. About that there can be no doubt. What seems so strange is that she didn't recognize Jesus when He was talking to her. Any person that devoted, anyone who had spent as much time around Jesus as she had, should certainly have recognized Him immediately.
How could she possibly not identify the face of a friend – even in the early light of daybreak? How come she didn't see and believe right away that Christ has risen from the dead?
B Did you catch what John wrote in verse 9? John writes, "Jesus had to rise from the dead." Jesus "had" to. In theology, the Greek word that is used is known as the "divine must." Jesus "had" to rise. Jesus "must" rise from the dead. Why? There are at least four reasons.
First, at least three times Jesus had made specific predictions about His forthcoming crucifixion and resurrection (Mk 8:31;9:31;10:32).
(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.
Second, the Old Testament Scriptures foretold His resurrection:
(Ps 16:10) because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
(Hosea 6:2) After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.
Cf Jonah 1:17; Jonah 2:1
Third, as I said this is a "divine must." This is part of God's eternal plan for our salvation. From eternity to eternity God's plan to save us involved the cross and the grave, the crucifixion and the resurrection.
Fourth, let me ask you, how are we saved? What saves us? I bet most of you would say something along the lines of "the blood and cross of Jesus." You know what? You would be wrong! You would be wrong because your answer is incomplete. Listen, and listen carefully, to what is written in 1 Corinthians 15:
(1Cor 15:17) And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.Did you hear what the Spirit-inspired apostle wrote? "You are still in your sins ... if Christ has not been raised."
Think this through. The blood of Jesus is not enough. The cross of Jesus is not enough. The crucifixion of Jesus is not enough. Something more is needed. Now, I am sure you realize there are those who say that the something more that is needed is my obedience (Roman Catholics, those who subscribe to the new perspective on Paul, Federal Vision theology). But we all know better than that. None of us believes for a moment that our works save us or help to save us. Yet, something more than the blood and cross and crucifixion of Jesus is needed to save us. That something more is the empty grave; that something more is Easter's resurrection.
I want you to think of Christ's passive and active obedience. The passive obedience of Christ is the obedience He showed when He allowed wicked things to happen to Him. The active obedience of Christ is the obedience He showed when He actively kept the commandments of God. On Good Friday, the passive obedience of Christ was applied to us so that Jesus died in our place and for our sins. On Easter Sunday, the active obedience of Christ was applied to us so that if was as if we had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for us.
So, "Jesus had to rise from the dead."
C When Mary saw Jesus, she should have believed. She should have known "that Jesus had to rise from the dead." Yet, she did not recognize Him. Why didn't Mary recognize the Lord? With the evidence staring her in the face why didn't she believe He was raised from the dead?
A number of years ago I played "Mall Madness" with the Youth Group. A number of us were sent to the mall. One pretended to be a store clerk. Another stood by a jewelry counter all night. Still another was pushed around the mall in a wheel chair. I wore a wig, coveralls, and old boots. The young people had to find us and identify us. One of my sons passed within a foot of me and did not recognize me. Was Jesus disguised so Mary could not recognize Him?
Last week Saturday night a new Rotarian introduced me to his wife. We both looked at each other a little funny and then thought no more about it. Later, we discovered we had already met – at the doctor's office. But because it was the wrong place and the wrong time, we did not recognize each other. Is this what happened with Jesus and Mary?
In a little side note John tells us why Mary Magdalene and Peter and all the others had trouble believing:
(Jn 20:9) (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)Eventually they did understand but now they did not. The idea that Christ might just pass through the burial wrappings, that He might just walk out of the tomb, hadn't occurred to Mary or Peter or the rest of the disciples. That sort of thing just did not happen. It is too fantastic, too awesome, to believe this could happen. So they didn't understand because they couldn't understand.
While He was with them, Jesus made a series of promises about the Spirit, another Counselor:
(Jn 14:26) But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. It become obvious from these verses that Mary Magdalene and Peter can understand and believe only through the operation of the Spirit. Apart from the Spirit, their minds are darkened and they lack understanding. And, apart from that Spirit, we too cannot understand and believe that Christ has risen, He has risen indeed.
(Jn 15:26) When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.
(Jn 16:13) But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.
III Belief and Joy
A Then comes the moment of recognition. There stands Mary, challenging the man she thinks is the gardener. "Tell me where you have put him, and I will get him" (vs15).
Jesus needs to say only one word – "Mary." And she recognizes Him. Now she knows, now she believes. He was dead, she saw Him dead, but now He is alive. "Fantastic. Awesome!"
In her great joy she ran to Him immediately. She must have grabbed Him, for Jesus has to tell her to let Him go (vs 17).
It was Mary Magdalene who rushed to the disciples with the news, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!" Now she rushes back with some more news: "Fantastic. Awesome" "I have seen the Lord!" "He was dead but now he is alive."
B My brothers and sisters, you've been in Mary's place. You've walked with Jesus from town to town. You know He was crucified, dead, and buried. You were a witness; you saw this. But now, now He is alive. What is your response to that?
There is only one response: ""Fantastic. Awesome."
This is the only response possible if you are a Christian. Do you know why? Because we are no longer in our sins. Because of the cross and the grave, because of the crucifixion and the resurrection, we are saved.
A man was going down a street when in a store window he saw a very beautiful picture of the crucifixion. As he gazed spellbound at the vividly pictured story, he suddenly became conscious that at his side stood a young boy. The boy, too, was gazing at the picture, and his tense expression made the man know that "The Crucifixion" had really gripped the eager little soul. Touching the boy on the shoulder, the man said, "Sonny, what does it mean?" "Doncha know?" he answered, his face full of marvel at the man's ignorance. "That there man is Jesus, an' them others is Roman soldiers, an' the woman what's cryin' is His mother, an'" he added, "they killed 'im!"
The man did not want to move from that impressive piece of artwork but he had other things he had to do, so he turned and walked away. In a few moments he heard footsteps on the street behind him, and there came rushing up the boy. "Say, mister," he exclaimed breathlessly, "I forgot to tell you, but He rose again!"
I ask you, isn't that simply fantastic? awesome?
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