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Expo Preaching
Life in Jesus Name
Chris Appleby
John 20:1-31
Life in Jesus Name
18 mins 36 secs
Views: 1
We can believe in the resurrection, because of the historical evidence, because of the testimony of God’s word, and because of our own personal encounter with the risen Christ through the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. But unless we tell others about him we haven’t fulfilled the reason for the season. Easter is about proclaiming that Jesus Christ who was dead is now alive again and reigns with God the Father forever.

It’s early Sunday morning, and she can’t wait any longer. Jesus had been taken down from the cross late on the Friday and buried in Joseph’s tomb, but the Jewish law prohibited anyone from travelling as far as the tomb on the Sabbath, particularly this Sabbath, being Passover. So they’d had to wait a whole day before going to put spices on his body and mourn over him properly. And so now here she is hurrying towards the graveyard in the dark. But when she arrives she’s brought up with a shock. The stone has been removed from the entrance to the tomb. Stones were used across the entrance to tombs to stop body snatchers from taking the bodies of the dead. But surely that hadn’t happened! What if someone had come in the middle of the night and taken his body away? What if she never has the chance to say good bye? What will she do?

So she hurries back to the solid and dependable Peter, who’s still with John, the disciple that Jesus loved. She probably doesn’t realise just how unreliable Peter turned out to be on the night before the crucifixion. But she hurries back and tells him, “They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” So now here are Peter and John running towards the tomb. John’s the younger of the two so he outruns Peter and gets there first. But he doesn’t go in. He stops outside, bends over and looks in and sees the strips of linen lying there. Simon Peter on the other hand, ever the impetuous one, goes straight in. He too sees the strips of linen lying there along with the burial cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. This is lying by itself, separate from the rest of the cloths, almost as though Jesus were still in it. But he isn’t. John also goes inside then, sees that Jesus is no longer wrapped in the cloths and, we’re told, he believes. What does he believe? That Jesus is risen, though he still didn’t understand the Scriptures that had predicted it.

Well, what could they do? They were totally mystified. Where was Jesus now? Would he come and meet them in the upper room where they’re staying? All they can do is go home and wait. But not Mary; she waits by the tomb weeping. She’s probably arrived some time after Peter and John, but now as she too bends down to look inside she sees something new. She sees two angels seated either end of where Jesus’ body had been. The place of his death was between two thieves, but the place of his burial is between two angels. And as she looks they ask her, “Woman, why are you crying?” They seem to be genuinely confused at her distress. From their perspective of course there’s no need for tears. But if they’re confused, Mary is even more so. “Isn’t it obvious? They’ve taken my Lord away and I don’t know where he is.” This is the final straw. Bad enough that he’s dead, but she doesn’t even have a body to care for and to mourn over any more. But then with a start she notices a man standing behind her. We’re told it’s Jesus, but Mary doesn’t recognise him. Perhaps the rising sun is behind him and all she can see is an outline, or perhaps his appearance is sufficiently changed that he’s not immediately recognisable.

Jesus asks her the same question: “Woman, why are you crying?” Then he adds a second question: “Who is it you are looking for?” Is this a challenge? Or a test? “Do you know who he really is?” If you really understood who it is you’re looking for, would you look here? Or is he saying, “Are you prepared to be counted among his followers still? Even after he’s been publicly shamed and put to death on a cross?”

All Mary knows is that she loved him and now she wants to honour his dead body. So she asks him if maybe he’s taken him away. He seems to have an aura of authority about him, so maybe he’s in charge of the garden and knows where Jesus has been taken.

But then Jesus reveals himself to her in the most profound way: with a single word. He simply says “Mary.” He addresses her with a personal, perhaps even intimate form of address, her own name. And instantly she recognises him and calls out to him in joy with her own personal way of addressing him, “Rabboni”, “My own dear Teacher.” The good shepherd calls his own sheep by name and they recognise his voice. Mary recognises Jesus as he calls her personally.

But things have changed. As she tries to hold on to him, he tells her she’s not to. This is no longer the time for physical contact with Jesus. That will come again when we join him in the Father’s kingdom, but for now our relating to Jesus is by faith in union with the Holy Spirit. This is something that we also discover when Thomas encounters the risen Christ the following week. First Jesus offers to let him touch his wounds, just as the other disciples had the previous week, but Thomas says he doesn’t need to touch them. He can see with his own eyes that Jesus is really alive. But then Jesus says (v29): “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” There’s a new way of relating to Jesus now. Now our relationship with Jesus comes by faith, not by seeing.

And so Mary is told not to hold on to Jesus. Instead, she’s given a task to perform. She’s to go and tell others about him. The first lesson she has to learn after discovering that Jesus is alive is that a relationship with Jesus implies sharing him with others. Her first impulse was to hold on to him so she wouldn’t lose him again, but in fact the only way to hang on to him was by sharing him. Notice, by the way, that the first apostle, that is the first person sent by Jesus to spread the Good News of his resurrection, was a woman.

Similarly the disciples, that night, are sent out to proclaim the gospel. Jesus breathes on them to signify the giving of the Holy Spirit who will go with them, then commissions them to go and proclaim forgiveness of sin to all who will believe.

Notice, by the way, how belief in Jesus comes about in these resurrection encounters with Jesus. There’s actually three ways.

The first is through the historical physical evidence: the empty tomb and the grave clothes left in their original position. We’re told that having seen this, John believed. Those who have researched the historical evidence over the years have come to the overwhelming conviction that the evidence points to a miraculous event. The book, “Who Moved the Stone”, first published in 1930, gives one such account. Christian Faith is faith based on the past action of God in history, so it’s open to historical examination.

Secondly there’s the evidence of Scripture. John says they didn’t yet understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. Had they known their Scriptures and had they understood who Jesus was, they might not have been so downhearted. For example Ps 16:9-11 says this "Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. 11You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." (NIV)

You know, when you look at the prophecies about Jesus’ coming and his death and resurrection and the way they were fulfilled in the NT, the closeness of some of those prophecies to the actual events is nothing short of amazing. But I guess if you’re there in the midst of it and you’re not looking for it, it could be easy enough to overlook. (Easter Prophecies on my website)

But the third way that belief comes about is through a personal encounter with the risen Christ. It was as Mary encountered Jesus personally that her eyes were opened. It was as Jesus appeared in person to the disciples that they came to believe and were filled with joy. A week later it was as Thomas saw Jesus with his own eyes that he confessed Jesus as Lord.

God has made it possible for us, too, to encounter Jesus personally. Not in the same tangible way that Mary and the disciples did, but through His Holy Spirit and by faith. What was it that Jesus said to his disciples on the night before his death? (John 16:12-16 NRSV)  “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 16"A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.”

As you read through the Acts of the Apostles you regularly read of people who come to discover Jesus, as the Holy Spirit comes into their lives and touches their hearts.

So how will we see him? Through faith. Through the work of the Holy Spirit revealing him to us as we read God’s word. As we meditate on what’s been passed down to us through the apostles’ witness. As we seek to follow him each day.

The last thing I wanted to take from this passage was to reinforce the lesson that Mary and the disciples learnt. To know Jesus implies a responsibility to tell others about him. The effect of the resurrection is universal. That is, it’s for all people and all people need to hear about it. Mary’s commission to go and tell the disciples anticipates the great commission that Jesus gave all his followers: to go and make disciples of all nations. And this is why John has recorded all of this for us: “31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (20:31)

We can believe in the resurrection, because of the historical evidence, because of the testimony of God’s word, and because of our own personal encounter with the risen Christ through the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. But unless we tell others about him we haven’t fulfilled the reason for the season. Easter is about proclaiming that Jesus Christ who was dead is now alive again and reigns with God the Father forever.

Let me finish with part of the opening chapter of Revelation (1:12-18 NRSV): "Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force. 17When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades."

This is the one we worship and about whom we’re to tell others, the first and the last, the living one, who was dead but see now he is alive forever and ever.

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