Whether you’re brand new to SonRise or have been around SonRise for a while, let me briefly state what we seek to accomplish in this sermon moment each week. During the preaching portion of our Sunday morning gathering we employ and enjoy a style of preaching called expositional preaching. Which means that whoever is preaching does not aim at saying anything new but seeks only to say what God has already said, such that the point of the text in view that week is the point of the sermon. In this sense whichever elder preaches the sermon makes it their aim to be the nothing more than waiters, whose task is taking the Chef’s meal and bringing it to the table without adding to it, taking away from it, or changing it in any way, shape, or form. We don’t to do this randomly but orderly, as we work through books of the Bible. So when we come to specific passages week after week we come to them in their own context, having already examined the verses that come before and anticipating the verses that come after. Or to put it another way, we seek to sit underneath the authority and illumination of the Scripture, rather than standing over Scripture using it only to support our own message.
Think of it like this. If a king were to tell you to go into his gold mines and dig freely for as much gold as you so desire, would that not be an encouragement to you? So too, it is an infinitely greater encouragement to know that in preaching (in all of worship really) the King of Kings invites us to come and dig into His mines of grace and glory in order to take away as joy and delight as we can carry away. The double result follows: we are satisfied in Him and He is glorified in us.
This is our goal, we don’t do it perfectly, but we do aim to be faithful handlers of God’s Word.
With these things in mind, this Sunday is a special occasion for us as a church. It was back on January 10, 2017 when we began walking through the Gospel of John and after spending two and half years in it we have gleaned much to say the least. This morning is something of a culmination to our entire study in John because we’ve come to what is by far the most immeasurable and colossal moment in John’s entire Gospel, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. And that today is Easter, it seems all the more fitting for us to look back at the events of the first Easter.
It is to these things we now turn.
You heard our text read just now, let’s pray that God would move mightily among us as we open His Word.
This morning I’d like to call your attention to the two portions of John 20:1-10.
Running to See (v1-7)
v1-2 begin John’s culminating moment by saying, “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”
Before getting to Mary running off for help, notice how John begins. He doesn’t go straight to the events themselves, no, he begins by giving us a time reference saying this event occurred on the first day of the week. Why not say the third day, as other passages of Scripture mention? Well, in calling this third day Jesus was in the tomb the first day of the week John is desiring us to see the resurrection, as it is, as the beginning of something entirely new.It’s right for him to do this, because from this moment forward nothing will ever be the same as the Son of God walks out of the tomb in victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil. It indeed is the grand beginning of all things being made new. You should also know that from this grand beginning on this first day of that week, the early Church throughout the book of Acts and the universal Church ever since has preferred to gather together on the first day of the week, on Sunday, for worship.
After this John tells us of Mary Magdalene. How she went off to the tomb early while it was still dark. We know Mary wasn’t alone, the other gospel authors tell us a group of women went off to the tomb together. Also, v2 hints at it when Mary comes back from the tom. She doesn’t say ‘I’ but ‘wedo not know.’ John likely just mentions Mary because she is the most prominent woman among the group. So off they go and when they get to the tomb and find a surprise. The large stone blocking the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away and Mary’s reaction is immediate. She doesn’t believe something went wrong with the stone, or anything like that. No, she believes someone had stolen the body of Jesus. Why did she think this though? Apparently during this time grave robbery was a common, especially in tombs of the wealthy like this one belonging to Joseph of Arimathea. Robbers would usually break into tombs like this because they’d be seeking rich valuables or expensive spices and perfumes left behind.History shows us these crimes were common enough that the Emperor Claudius declared anyone caught and convicted of destroying tombs, stealing bodies, or even displacing sealing stones would be executed.So it isn’t a surprise to see Mary immediately believe this had happened rather than go examining what had taken place. In her distress and panic she ran back to the disciples, specifically Peter and one other identified here as once again ‘the one whom Jesus loved’ to tell them what had happened. This other disciple is likely John himself. He’s used this description before to refer to himself in 13:23, which leads us to believe this is him in view here with Peter. After hearing the news of the out of the breath Mary Peter and John then launch off in their own race to the tomb to see it for themselves.
Don’t you love how John puts it in v3-4? “So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.” You have to imagine Peter reading over John’s freshly written gospel account and turning to John at this point and saying something like, ‘John, you had to include this detail?’ Some do try to make this a bit more than it is saying that John symbolically represents the swift response of the Gentiles to the gospel while Peter represents the slow and dull response of the Jews to the gospel. Most reject this view saying it’s little more than allegorical fiction because while John beat Peter to the tomb, the rest of the passage makes it clear that Peter was the first one to go in the tomb. Others say John knew the way to the tomb better than Peter and so he may have taken a shortcut.Many simply see this detail as evidence as John’s youth and Peter’s old age.That may have been truly been accurate, but I’d like to think it’s also a small window into the humorous personality of John.
Anywho, v5-7 tells us how Peter and John’s visit to the tomb played out, “And stooping to look in, he (John, that is) saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.”
John, being faster than Peter, arrived at the tomb first, he stooped down (the door wasn’t that tall), looked in, saw the linen cloths lying empty, and didn’t go in. While John was waiting just outside the entrance Peter then arrived and in normal Peter like fashion he didn’t wait but walked right in without hesitation. He also saw the linen cloths lying empty as well something John couldn’t see by just peering in, the face cloth, empty and neatly folded up nearby. You have to wonder if, in seeing these empty fragrant linens, that Peter didn’t begin to wonder at what had taken place. He would probably conclude right away that it wasn’t grave robbers because no one stealing a body would take the time to remove the body from the linen wrappings, let along neatly fold some of them and lay them down. If robbers had some how been able to move the large stone, and did indeed steal the body, the whole scene would’ve shown disorder rather than the order present here.After thinking that no robber did this, he would’ve asked himself, ‘What else would do this?’ Eventually he would arrive at the most wonderful of conclusions…‘Did Jesus do this?’ And of course, he would’ve been right! Unlike Lazarus who walked out of his tomb with his linen wrappings still on, even around his face, John means to tell us that these linens had clearly once been used and but now have been strangely and neatly put back by One who no longer had any use for them.Remember John is still outside, but perhaps it’s at this moment when a true understanding began to dawn upon Peter about what had truly occurred.
We’ll see some of this made clear in a moment but for now, think, are you not encouraged to see them run to the tomb? Mary brought word about robbers breaking in and stealing the body, and ran back to tell the others. And when Peter and John heard it – there was no leisurely stroll to the tomb, no calm walk on a cool morning, no, they ran. There must have been mostly worry and fear in them about what someone or group of people had done with the body, but they’ve been with Jesus enough to leave a bit of room of wonder in them. Something different was taking place. What could it be? We have to find out! Many within the Church have lost this zeal and eagerness about the gospel. Many have grown all too familiar with the things of God and have grown cold and far too comfortable.
It was said after WWII that when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on that December day they woke a sleeping giant. May it please God on this Easter day to awaken His sleeping Church to a new resurrection power! George Whitefield was one of the great preachers of the Great Awakening, after commenting on his life and passion for Christ, one of his biographers once pled with God for new Whitefields to be raised up by God. He said it like this. May God raise up believers who are “…mighty in the Scriptures, their lives dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty and holiness of God, and their minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace. They will be thosewho have learned what it is to die to self, to human aims and personal ambitions, thosewho are willing to be ‘fools for Christ’s sake’ who will bear reproach and falsehood, who will labor and suffer, and whose supreme desire will be, not to gain earth’s accolades, but to win the Master’s approbation when they appear before His awesome judgment seat. They will be thosewho will havebroken hearts and tear-filled eyes, and upon whose livesGod will grant an extraordinary effusion of the Holy Spirit, and who will witness ‘signs and wonders following’ (how?) in the transformation of multitudes of human lives.”
May it be! We’ve watched them running to see, now watch them…
Seeing to Believe (v8-10)
“Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.”
Now we see the other disciple, John himself – the one writing this account, enter into the tomb. And upon entering John sees the whole scene laid out before him as Peter saw it before him. Not only the linen cloths lying there empty but the face cloth neatly folded up as well. The end of v8 comments that it was this exact moment when John saw and believed. But ask, believe what? Believe that there’s no way robbers took the body? Probably. Believe that something had happened with Jesus that was too wonderful to imagine? Probably. Believe that Jesus had risen from the dead and is truly alive once again? Maybe. John’s faith is a true faith, but it is a faith in its infancy. v9 lets us know this when it says they didn’t yet understand that the Scriptures foretold that He must rise from the dead. So this isn’t a full faith, a mature faith, or even a very informed faith, but is a true faith, that will grow exponentially as we see how these events unfold throughout the rest of chapter 20.
Don’t miss the gem presented to us here. How does one believe? They must see. What must one see? Simple, Jesus. Seeing Jesus not as the world sees Jesus, as just a holy man, or just a good teacher, or just one among many prophets this world has known. No, a true sight of Jesus will see what and whom Jesus truly is: the Christ, the Messiah, God Almighty, and here for John (even in the infancy of his faith), the risen Lord over all things! They ran to see, now John sees and believes and goes home in v10 no doubt to share it. Learn here Christian how you were saved, and learn here non-Christian how you can be saved, how one who lost in sin can be found, how the dead are raised to new life – through a sight of Christ. May you look at Christ.
As one preacher of old said it, “Lookin’ don’t take a great deal of pain. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it’s just, ‘Look.’ A man needn’t go to college to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth thousands a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look. Many of you are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some of you are miserable, and you always will be miserable—miserable in life, and miserable in death—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you’ll be saved. Look to Jesus Christ. You have nothing to do but to look and live!”Church member, visitor, attender, all of you the hope of Easter is that when we look to Jesus we don’t look among the dead, we look among the living, for He has risen!
Some of you don’t believe this. I’m not unaware of you. Here is what I have to say to you now. Think on the resurrection honestly, thoughtfully, and try to answer one question: did Jesus really walk out of the tomb? The more you look at it, the more you’ll see the truth. That something astonishing really did happen that day, and that after every attempt to refute it or squash it, whatever it is, it is not the stuff of legends nor lies. It is historical objective fact witnessed firsthand by many.
Coming to this conclusion prompts a new thought, ‘Since Jesus did walk out of the tomb, everything He said must be true, and since everything He said was true, He must be who He said He was, and since He is who He said He was, I must no longer continue in unbelief, I must believe.’
The empty tomb, after all these years, is more influential than ever. It refuses to leave the stage of world attention. Ponder the angels’ words, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:5-6).
Know this.In an ancient, arid city, one singular event occurred this day, unleashing a movement so compelling, so enduring, so influential, so unstoppable that two thousand years and billions of adherents later, it still grows, faster than ever, while the mighty empire that witnessed its birth lays in ancient ruins. This movement has shaped nations, spanned oceans, birthed universities, launched hospitals, transformed tribal peoples in the world’s remotest places, and is now spoken, read, and sung about in more languages than any other religious movement on the planet by far. That singular event? The body of Jesus of Nazareth walked out of his tomb. So ended the single most important day in history. And so began the single most influential movement in history.
Love it or hate it, the world has not seen nothing like it. I mention this because the resurrection has a double edge to it. It is both a message of terror to those who rebel and refuse to believe, and a message triumphant joy for all who come in faith to this Savior.
“Death and darkness have now left packing, nothing to man is now lacking. Satan’s triumphs have ended, what Adam marred is now mended.”The fall plunged man into death and pain, but now through Christ, life eternal, we gain! “Pluck the harp and sound the horn, do you not know, tis Easter morn! Crowded may His worship be, praise the Holy Trinity! Hope has returned for man in his sinful plight, through Christ’s powerful resurrection might! “Where is hell’s once dreaded king? Where O death is your sting? Hallelujah’s to Christ we now sing!”
Adapted from Thomas Watson, Body of Divinity (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 2012) page 14.
The Response Church in San Diego (Acts 29) begins every sermon with a description very similar to this.
D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991) page 635.
R.C. Sproul, John – Saint Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Orlando, Florida: Reformation Trust, 2009) page 383.
Osborne, page 455-456. See also Carson page 636.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 832.
Most commentaries end up at this explanation.
Morris, page 833.
Carson, page 637.
Arnold Dallimore, George Whitfield(Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1970) 1:16.
Guest preacher at a little Methodist chapel in London who preached to Charles Spurgeon, he was converted at this moment.
I do believe this. Evidence abounds for the validity of the Resurrection, thus, our hope abounds as well.
Jon Bloom, The Single Most Important Day in History, accessed via desiringgod.org, 4/31/18.
Henry Vaughan’s Easter Hymn, quoted in R. Kent Hughes, The Pastor’s Book, page 120.
Thomas Scott, Angels, Roll the Rock Away, quoted in R. Kent Hughes, The Pastor’s Book, page 118-119.