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The FirstBorn From The Dead John 20a

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John 20:1-18

Stephen Caswell © 2005

He's Dead Now, but He'll Be Back

A Church held their annual Easter pageant. A 5 year-old boy was enthralled with the drama. When the crucifixion scene took place, he got real quiet. But then Jesus came back from the grave and there was a song of celebration and his eyes lit up. He looked at his mother and said, He's alive, Mom. He's alive! and began to clap. And he hugged her around the neck. It was fun to see somebody understand the resurrection for the first time. A youth minister from a near by church heard of this and related his own experience. He said, I want to tell you what happened in our church. We showed an animated video of the crucifixion and resurrection to our kindergarten students. When Jesus was buried, one little boy who knew the story pretty well turned to his buddy and said, He's dead now, but he'll be back.


He Is Risen! The Congregation’s response is, He Is Risen Indeed. Today is Resurrection Sunday; On which we remember Christ’s victory over the grave. About 2,000 years ago, our Lord Jesus Christ became the Firstborn from the Dead. Because He lives we will live also. It affected human history so significantly that we changed our calendar to line up with His birth day. We say in the Year of our Lord, or 2005AD. The resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed human history more than any other event. Today we will see 3 things from John 20. 1. The Empty Tomb, 2. The Exalted Christ, 3. The Extended Family.

1. The Empty Tomb

a. The Ministry of Care

John 20:1: Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.

The tomb is mentioned 8 times in the first 13 verses. This empty tomb was a real bee hive of activity. John 20:2 and the other Gospel accounts tell us that other women accompanied Mary Magdalene to the tomb early that morning. Mark 16:1-2: Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. These ladies loved the Lord and wanted to anoint Christ’s body with perfume and aloes. Mary and the women found the tomb open and Christ’s body missing. If they had remembered Jesus’ words concerning His death and resurrection, they’d have been rejoicing instead of weeping. The angel of the Lord rolled the stone away to show that Christ had risen from the dead.

b. The Missing Christ 

John 20:2: Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, they have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.

Mary tells someone that Christ’s body is missing on 3 different occasions. It has left her sad and troubled. After the women left the tomb, Mary Magdalene went to see Peter and John and told them what happened. Mary was troubled because she couldn’t perform the ministry she wanted to do. She was fearful that grave robbers had stolen the Lord’s body. Mary was upset that Jesus body was missing. She continued to search for Christ, asking different ones if they knew where He was. Her persistent search will soon be rewarded.

The empty tomb is one reason we that rejoice today. I love to read biographies, and I notice that almost all of them conclude with the death and burial of the subject. I have yet to read one that describes the subject’s resurrection from the dead! The fact that John continued his account and shared the excitement of the Resurrection miracle is proof that Jesus Christ is not like any other man. The chief priests and the Pharisees were determined that Jesus was going to stay in his grave. They used every resource and power available to see to that. The soldiers were the elite guard not regular forces. He is, indeed, the Son of God. Only our Lord has conquered death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.

Garden Tomb’s Soil Analyzed

When the Garden Tomb was discovered in 1885, the godly General Gordon was convinced that this was the place where the body of Jesus had lain. There is a traditional tomb inside the wall of modern Jerusalem, but no certainty attaches to the site. The Garden Tomb, hidden for centuries, was covered with rubbish twenty feet high. When they first cleared the spot, with great caution they gathered all the dust and debris within the tomb and carefully shipped it to the Scientific Association of Great Britain. Every part of it was analyzed, but there was no trace of human remains. If this is the real tomb of Christ, then Jesus was the first to be laid there and he was also the last.

c. The Mystery of the Grave Clothes

John 20:3-9: Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.

John was younger or fitter than Peter because he arrived at the tomb first. He cautiously remained outside and looked in. Perhaps he wanted Peter to be with him when he went into the burial chamber. What did John see? The graveclothes lying on the stone shelf without any evidence of violence or crime. But the graveclothes were empty! They lay there like an empty cocoon, still retaining the shape of Jesus’ body. Christ didn’t need these grave clothes so He left them behind and clothed Himself with glorious robes.

Peter arrived and impulsively went into the tomb, just as we would expect him to do. He also saw the linen clothes lying there empty and the cloth for the head carefully rolled and lying by itself. Grave robbers do not carefully unwrap the corpse and then leave the grave clothes neatly behind. When John wrote this account, he used three different Greek words for seeing. In John 20:5, the verb simply means to glance in, look in. In John 20:6, the word means to look carefully, to observe. The word saw in John 20:8 means to perceive with intelligent comprehension. The only way those linen clothes could be left in that condition would be if Jesus passed through them as He arose from the dead.

The Living One

A Mohammedan and a Christian were discussing their religions and had agreed that both Mohammed and Christ were prophets. Where, then, lay the difference? The Christian illustrated it this way: I came to a crossroads and I saw a dead man and a living man. Which one did I ask for directions? The response came quickly, The living one, of course. Why, then, asked his friend, do you send me to Mohammed who is dead, instead of Christ who is alive? Jesus knows the way; No He is the Way. This is the basic difference between Christ and every other religious leader. All the others came into the world, lived, and died - but none of them lived again. The resurrection of Christ was the one event that persuaded His disciples once for all that He was the Christ, God’s Son.


The empty tomb separates Christianity from other religions. Budha, Mohhamad and Krishner are buried. They were conquered by death. Only God’s Son conquered death.

2. The Exalted Christ

If the Empty Tomb is the main theme in the first part of the chapter, the Exalted Christ becomes the focus for the rest of it. The Lord’s name is mentioned about 20 times and that doesn’t include personal pronouns that refer to Him. If the empty tomb is important to our faith; and it is! Then the Exalted Christ is more important. Hallelujah He is alive.

a. Jesus Knows Our Sorrow

John 20:11-15: But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, Woman, why are you weeping? She said to them, because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.

Mary was grieving over her Lord. Christ had delivered her from 7 demons. He had transformed her life. But now He was dead. Worse still, she believed some one had stolen His body away. Therefore Mary wept for her Lord. There’s nothing wrong with sorrow, because God made us to shed tears; and crying helps to heal broken hearts.

When Mary looked into the sepulcher, she saw two men in white. Matthew 28:5 reveals that an angel told the women that Jesus was risen. Yet, Mary’s sorrow had blinded her to this truth. Their position at either end of the shelf where the body had been lying makes us think of the cherubim on the mercy seat. It is as though God is saying, There is now a new mercy seat! My Son has paid the price for sin, and the way is open into the presence of God!

Mary apparently was not disturbed at seeing these men, and there is no evidence that she knew they were angels. Mary Magdalene lingered alone in the garden. She was looking for Christ’s body. Proverbs 8:17 would come true for her: I love them that love Me; and those that seek Me early shall find Me. Mary loved her Lord and came early to the garden to express that love.

b. Jesus Meets Our Need

20:14-16: Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away. Jesus said to her, Mary! She turned and said to Him, Rabboni! which is to say, Teacher.

Mary was certain that the Lord’s body was not in the tomb, so why linger there any longer? Why did she not recognize the One for whom she was so earnestly searching? Jesus may have deliberately concealed Himself from her, as He would later do when He walked with the Emmaus disciples. Jesus asked her the same question that the angels had asked, Why are you weeping? Then He added, Whom are you seeking? How tragic that she was weeping when she could have been praising, had she realized that her Lord was alive! It is encouraging to us to know that Jesus knows all about our sorrows. The Savior knew that Mary’s heart was broken and that her mind was confused. He did not rebuke her; but tenderly, He revealed Himself to her.

All He had to do was to speak her name, and Mary immediately recognized Him. John 10:3b: Christ’s sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. Mary knew her Lord’s voice. He called her and she followed Him. Jews used 3 words for their teachers of the Law. They revealed different levels of respect for their teachers. The lowest level was Rab; Rabbi and Rabboni were the highest level. The word means, My Great One, My Master, or My Teacher. This was the term that Mary used when she addressed Christ.

Christ met Mary’s need. She needed a word from her Lord. He personally met Mary’s need. He cares about our sorrows. Jesus told the disciples that they would sorrow, but then their sorrow would be turned to joy. John 16:19-22: This was Mary’s own experience. She was first to see the risen Lord. She would never be the same. Jesus had met her need. Has the Risen Christ met your need? Have you responded to Him when He called your name?

Romans 10:8-10: But what does the Scriptures say? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the word of faith which we preach: that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.


Jesus Christ has risen from the tomb. He has conquered. He’s alive! Do you believe He died for your sins and rose again? Have you believed in Him to save you?

3. The Extended Family

a. New Relationship

20:17a: Jesus said to her, do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father.

Mary not only spoke to Him, but she grasped His feet and held on to Him. This was a natural gesture: now that she had found Him, she did not want to lose Him. The word cling, ἅπτομαι means to bind, connect, adhere to. Mary wanted to hold on to Christ for good. She wanted to have things the way they were before His death. Though it was the same Jesus, only in a glorified body, it was not quite the same relationship.  Mary and the other disciples would see Jesus for 40 more days. They would enjoy fellowship with Him as Jesus taught them about the kingdom. Then He would return to glory. Yet it was different now. Jesus appeared to the disciples at times and then left them again. This was to prepare them for ministry after His ascension.

I believe that Jesus did return to the Father on that morning. He presented Himself with the first fruits to the Father. The first fruits are the saints raised at the time of His death. Matthew 27:51-53 gives us the details on this. Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. This was also the day of the Feast of First Fruits. The Jews presented a sheath, the first of their harvest to the Lord at the temple. They trusted God to bless the rest of the harvest. Jesus is called the First Fruits from the dead 1 Corinthians 15:23. But He is one stalk. The saints raised in Matthew 27 form the rest of the sheath. Christ presented these to God when He ascended on high. They were the first part of a much larger harvest of souls that will be gathered in.

Soon Jesus would ascend to the Father’s throne to stay. Mary needed to realize that Christ had a new role to fulfill in heaven for us. He would intercede for us as our Great High Priest. Christ was about to ascend to His Father. He would be exalted at the Father’s right hand. Then they would send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit to be with the disciples, to empower the Church for ministry.  Jesus said, in effect, this, the physical contact is not My real presence for the church. A new relationship will begin with My Ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. I won’t be with you physically, but spiritually. This of course happened on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled the Church.

b. New Relatives


John 20:17b: but go to My brethren and say to them, I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.


Jesus then explained the fact of the new relatives. He called His disciples His brothers. This is the first time that John uses the word brethren to link believers to Christ. Earlier He had said they were friends: I no longer call you servants - instead, I have called you friends. Believers in Jesus become a part of Jesus’ family with God as their Father. This marks the beginning of a deeper relationship with God. My Father, your Father, my God your God; This was something new. Something wonderful.

Through Christ’s redemption we have become part of God’s family. This was always God’s intention; yet previously our sin alienated us from God. Once we become God’s children our lives are secure. We will be welcomed into heaven because it is our Father’s house. Jesus Christ has already prepared a place for us. Yes, believers are in God’s family. Ephesians 3:14-15: For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.

When God Is Our Father

A missionary was teaching a Hindu woman the Lord’s Prayer. When he got to the end of the first clause, Our Father which art in heaven, she stopped him. If God is our Father, she said, that is enough. There is nothing now to fear. All questioning about God ceases when He becomes our Father.

Hebrews 2:10-12: For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You. This means that we share Christ’s resurrection power and glory. We are children of the living God and therefore we share His life and power.

c. New Responsibilities


John 20:18: Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.

Mary’s new responsibility was to testify to His risen presence. She was the recipient of four special privileges: to see angels; to see Jesus risen; to be the first to see Him alive; and to be a herald of the good news. Mary must take the Good News of Christ’s victory to others waiting to hear. She had seen and heard the risen Christ. Jesus commissioned Mary to tell the brethren the Good News. Christians today are also the recipients of special grace; they too are given this new responsibility to witness to the world. The Great Commission commands us to take the Gospel to every creature.


Jesus Christ came to save us from Adam’s family. He became like us so that we might become like Him. So that we might become God’s children. Are you a member of God’s family? Is the Lord your God? Is He your Father? You can be! You only need to believe in Christ and receive His salvation. Are we sharing this Good News with others? We must! They need to hear!


Numbers 6:23-26: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.


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