“Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.” John 20:18
He is Risen! He Is Risen, indeed!
Over the past seven weeks during Lent, we have been doing a sermon series called, “The One Another Principles.” We have looked at some of the “One Another” statements spoken by Paul and Peter. We have learned how to “Greet One Another,” “Honor One Another,” “Be Devoted to One Another,” “Serve One Another,” “Submit to One Another,” “Live in Harmony With One Another,” “Accept One Another,” and “Bear With One Another.” On Thursday we met and shared in the Last Supper, we looked at one of Jesus’ most powerful “One Another” commands. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”[i]
They always say to pay attention to a dying person’s last words. The disciples had just had supper together, Jesus had just washed their feet. Judas had left and was 30 silver pieces riches, and Jesus was sharing his heart with his friends. “Love one another. Forget the 600 rules you’ve been following. I want you to remember one command: LOVE.” The story goes on to say they all left and went to the garden to pray—and Judas came with an army to arrest Jesus. Good Friday is over—which, by the way, the SEED Christian Fellowship had an amazing service. Seven leaders spoke on the 7 last sentences of Christ from the cross and three more leaders did the rest of the service. What a wonderful memory it was for me. My passion for teaching the Word was reignited. I was truly blessed.
Back to the One Anothers! I’m thinking that today’s message should be called, “Surprise One Another!” There are women running to the empty tomb, there’s disciples running to the empty tomb, there are angels in the empty tomb sharing the surprise that Jesus is risen.
Have you ever stopped to consider the surprise that took place when the disciples and the early followers of Jesus realized when the tomb was empty, and that Jesus was alive? Even though Jesus had told them all repeatedly that He would be handed over to be betrayed, beaten, spat upon, crucified and buried but, on the third day, He would rise again!
Who do you think was more surprised by this SURPRISE ONE ANOTHER?
Pilate, who had washed his hands of Jesus and had turned Jesus over to the shouts of the crowd that were shouting, “Crucify him!”? You know, Pilate’s wife had had a dream about Jesus and she told Pilate not to have anything to do with Jesus.
Was it Annas and Caiaphas, the High Priests who thought that they had solved their problems by having Jesus crucified dead and buried? “Better that one man dies…so we can keep control.” I’ll bet they were shocked when they heard the news that Jesus’ tomb was empty.
Maybe Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were surprised. These two had actually removed Jesus’ body from the cross. Joseph and Nicodemus prepared Jesus’ body for burial with 70 pounds of spices and laid him in Joseph’s borrowed tomb. Not only had they prepared Jesus body for burial and laid him in the tomb, they saw the stone rolled shut to the entrance.
How about the Romans guards who stood outside of the tomb guarding it with their lives? I bet they were surprised when they came to and realized that the tomb was empty.
Maybe the disciples who had fled for their lives when Jesus was arrested were surprised. Or maybe Peter was shocked, knowing that he had denied Jesus three times just as Jesus told him he would. I bet Peter was stupefied when that rooster crowed. How about the women who stood at the cross and watched as Jesus was crucified and then buried? They saw Christ crucified, dead and buried. What do you think they thought when…wait a minute, I’m getting ahead of myself?
We haven’t even read the Scriptures yet!
Maybe our so what question should come at the beginning of our message today. Are you surprised by the stone being rolled away? Are you surprised by the empty tomb? Are you surprised at the resurrection of Jesus? Are you surprised by the fact that Jesus appeared first to the women and then to his disciples and then to over 500 people over the next fifty days?
Let us turn to God’s word from the Gospel of John and reflect for a few moments on our response to resurrection. Let us pray. “Lord God, sometimes we can be confused and confounded that You came from heaven to become one of us, and then offered Your own life so that we could have eternal life. Lord, God, help us understand the power, the hope, the joy and the love that is found in the resurrection. Amen.”
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 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!” 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.[ii]
There was once a Muslim college student who came to believe in Jesus Christ. One of his friends was shocked and asked him, “Why did you become a follower of Jesus?” Here was his response: “It’s simple really. Imagine that you’re walking down a road and you come to a fork in the road and there are two people there to follow as your guide along the way. One of them is dead, and one of them is alive. Which one would you follow?[iii]
One of the great appeals of Christianity is that Jesus is not dead but very much alive. And even after the hype from Easter Sunday fades into the grind of Monday, Jesus is still alive. And because He lives, we should not be surprised.
Peter & John
We are told that when John saw the graveclothes, he saw them from outside the tomb. The Greek that is used here for how John “saw” the graveclothes is the most common word used for seeing (blepō); it suggests nothing more than sight. But when Peter arrived, he scrutinized the graveclothes carefully. The Scripture uses a special word (theoreō) for what Peter did (from it we get our words “theory” and “theorize”). Moreover, it tells what Peter saw. The Bible says that Peter “went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen” (John 20:6–7). At this point John entered, saw what Peter had seen (this time the word is oraō, meaning “to see with understanding”), and John right away believed in Jesus’ resurrection (v. 8). He believed without actually seeing Jesus. He believed what he saw: an empty tomb and the folded-up graveclothes.
After these two disciples saw the empty tomb, the appearances of Jesus began. Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene, who arrived back at the tomb after John and Peter had returned to the city. Next, Jesus appeared to the women, then to Peter alone, then to the Emmaus disciples, and later that night, Jesus appeared to all of the disciples as they were gathered together in the upper room. All of the disciples who saw the risen Lord, believed.
The one thing that really surprised me in my study was that John believed first, and he did so before he actually saw Jesus.
What made him believe? What did he see that convinced him of Jesus’ resurrection? What would convince you that Jesus is alive?
In one of his great sermons on the resurrection, D. L. Moody tells the story of a bright young girl about fifteen years of age who was suddenly cast upon a bed of suffering, completely paralyzed on one side and nearly blind. She could hardly see, but she could hear. As she lay in bed one day she heard the family doctor say to her parents as they stood by the bedside, “She has seen her best days, poor child.” Fortunately, the girl was a believer, and she quickly replied, “No, doctor, my best days are yet to come, when I shall see the King in his beauty.” Her hope, like ours, lay in the resurrection.
There is so much in this account of John that we could cover. I would like for us to focus on Mary Magdalene for few minutes.
We are told in the Gospels that Jesus had healed Mary Magdalene from an evil spirit and diseases. Dr. Luke, the Gospel writer and a physician, tells us that Jesus had healed Mary Magdalene of seven demons. Mary Magdalene had experienced the deep, deep love of Jesus when He healed her.
My guess is that when Jesus was betrayed and beaten, Mary Magdalene was there. When Jesus walked the Via Dolorosa fell several times because of the brutal beating and exhaustion, Mary Magdalene was there. Mary Magdalene most likely saw Simon of Cyrene carry the cross beam to Golgotha. And when they crucified her Lord, Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the cross. She heard those seven sentences that Jesus spoke from the cross. She was there when he died and she was there when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took Jesus’ body down and prepared it for a quick burial. Mary Magdalene was there. When they laid Jesus into the tomb and rolled the stone in front of the opening, Mary Magdalene watched and waited. The Sabbath prevented her from coming to the tomb until early in the morning on the day after the Sabbath. Mary Magdalene and the other women carry close to a hundred pounds of spices to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Mary Magdalene had been there.
Do you see it? When Jesus was buried in the tomb, faith and hope were buried too! Mary Magdalene’s faith had died. Mary Magdalene’s hope had vanished. In Luke 24 we are told when Jesus meets the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they tell Jesus that they had so hoped that Jesus would be the messiah, the one who would redeem them, but he had died. Their faith had died! Their hope had died! This is where Mary Magdalene was. But there was one thing that kept her going, it was her love!
Faith had died! Hope had died! But love remained!
It was love that woke her up before dawn to carry a hundred pounds of spices, with her sisters in Christ, to the tomb. It was love that called her go to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body properly. It was love that sent her running to find the other disciples when she saw that the stone had been rolled away. It was love that brought her back to the tomb even though Peter and John had left her in the dust. It was love that kept Mary at the tomb, crying outside of the open grave. It was love that asked the gardener where Jesus body was so that she could go and get it and carry it back to the tomb. Love didn’t look at the fact that she could never carry Jesus body and the 70 pounds of spices that Joseph and Nicodemus had used on Jesus. Listen again to this exchange with Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” (John 20:15)
Tina Turner sang a song by the title --- “What’s Love Got To Do With This?” For Mary Magdalene, love had everything to do with this.
Richard Dawkins is the author of The God Delusion. He was formerly Professor for Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He once debated John Lennox who is Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University. They debated the existence of God. At one point Dawkins said of John Lennox, “He believes that the creator of the universe, the God who devised the laws of physics, the laws of mathematics, the physical constants … that this genius of mathematics and physical science could not think of a better way to rid the world of sin than to come to this little speck of cosmic dust and have himself tortured and executed so that he could forgive.”
That, says Dawkins, is profoundly unscientific. Not only is it unscientific, but it doesn't do justice to the grandeur of the universe. Why would God bother entering into our small and broken planet? Dawkins chided Lennox and all Christians for believing in that kind of God.
God’s only and eternal Son on a Roman cross? Despised and rejected by men on this tiny planet. It’s like being blind-sided in the subway station on a Friday morning in Washington DC in a hurry to get to work and you pass by one of the most brilliant violinists in the world, playing some of the most beautiful music in the world, on one of the most expensive violins in the world. You don’t expect to see the master violinist performing in such a dirty, undignified place.[iv]
But this is the very point. Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners. Mary Magdalene knew this deep love of Christ and that is what drove her to the tomb.
When Michelangelo visited several great art galleries in European cities, he was deeply impressed by the preponderance of paintings depicting Christ hanging on the cross. He asked, “Why are art galleries filled with so many pictures of Christ upon the cross—Christ dying? Why do artists concentrate upon that passing episode, as if that were the last word and the final scene? Christ’s dying on the cross lasted for only a few hours. But to the end of unending eternity, Christ is alive! Christ rules and reigns and triumphs!”[v]
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem thirty-three years before he was crucified in Jerusalem, the angels sang, “Glory to God in the Highest.” The angels announced to the lowly shepherds that they were bringing good news of great joy for all people because today Jesus was born. When Mary went running back to the disciples after meeting Jesus, the gardener, at the tomb, I can only imagine that she was singing… I have good news of great joy --- Jesus has risen --- he has risen, indeed.
I’m only kidding when I say today’s message is “Surprise One Another.” That isn’t a scriptural truth that we can all sink our teeth into. But…don’t you find it surprising that the God of this universe came to earth, to live and die, and rise again—so that we can be forgiven? So that our chains of sin are broken? So that we can live in freedom?
Your “SO WHAT?” for today is for you to decide what you think is the most surprising thing about Easter Sunday. Here’s mine: That Jesus Christ would die for someone like me and that He would wait for me to look inside the empty tomb and let me SEE for myself that He is who He says He is. Here’s another When faith dies! When Hope dies! Remember that love never dies. SURPRISE! He Has risen! He has risen, indeed.
Mike Mooney wrote a new song recently and I have asked him to sing it at the closing of the message. As he sings, think about your homework, your “SO WHAT?”
Rise today, I will rise today.
I will rise and praise, the One who saves.
I will rise today, raise my eyes and I will say
That Jesus is my way, my truth and my life today.
I will rise today, I will strive to today,
To glorify today, my God’s Son today.
And I will rise and pray, I will walk in His light today,
And show others His grace, love and mercy along the way.
The Seed Christian Fellowship
Rancho Cucamonga, California 91701
Easter --- April 21, 2019
Pastor Dave Peters
[i] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Jn 13:34–35). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
[ii] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Jn 20:1–18). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
[iii] Jeremy McKeen, “Because He Lives,” Truth Point Church Blog (3-11-16)
[v] Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (p. 668). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.