Jesus Resurrected: "I Have Seen the Lord"
Passage: John 19:38–20:18
Sermon from John 19:38-20:18 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on April 26, 2015
Jesus Is Utterly Unique
What we're about to read is utterly unique, because nowhere in history has anybody entered death and taken up their life never to die again; and this is precisely what we find Jesus doing. Nobody has entered the grave and broken its death-grip. Rather, again and again and again and again, the grave proves its power over us.
We are reminded of death’s power every day when we read the news headlines—news of boats capsizing off Libya, an earthquake in Nepal taking many lives, our own neighbors in White Settlement dying from drug overdose. I asked a fella a while back at Starbucks, what do you think about most often? He answered, “Every day I drive home, I think about dying.” Many doctors rightfully do what they can to prolong life, but none of them can defeat death.
Your bodies are growing older every day, and some of you are starting to feel the wear more than others. Others of you wrestle daily with fears of death, whether that be your own death or the death of those you love, like your spouse, your kids. You fear death, because you have experience in a broken world plagued with death. Many of us have wept over the loss of loved ones. Even though we want to so badly, we have no power to bring them back once the grave has swallowed them up.
Our experience confirms what the Bible teaches about death. We grieve over death because we know things aren’t supposed to be this way. Death didn’t belong to God’s original created order. Death entered the world, because of sin (Gen 2:17; 3:1-7). Death isn’t just the natural end to life among some fixed chain of events; death is God’s judgment against sin. Death is in our bones, because we rebel against God (Rom 5:12). Isaiah calls death the “covering that is cast over all peoples; the veil that is spread over all nations” (Isa 25:7). Death is described as an enslaving power the devil himself uses to make us afraid (Heb 2:14-15). And even the entire created order groans in the pains of childbirth as it waits to be released from its corruption and death (Rom 8:22).
Death is a terrible enemy, because it keeps us from enjoying God in soul and body, as we were created to enjoy him. And nobody can beat death. But here is one man who entered the grave and rose again to life, never to die again. Death couldn’t hold him in the grave. If true—and we have every reason to believe that it is—Jesus Christ is utterly unique. He has no sin; he has power over death; and therefore, he is the only one able to save you from death too. In fact, Jesus entered and overcame death for us, to bring us life in God’s family. Let’s take a closer look together.
1. Jesus Entered Death for Us
First of all, Jesus entered death for us. The soldiers have already confirmed that Jesus died on the cross (19:31-34). But now we see Jesus entering that great symbol of death, the grave, a tomb. That jealous place for the dead (Songs 8:6), the place of decay and ruin (John 11:39), where the cords of Sheol entangle you (Ps 18:5), the place where people are eventually forgotten (Ps 88:5). Follow with me in verse 38:
38After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
Jesus entered death for us. It's depicted here not only in him yielding up his spirit on the cross but in the actual burial of his body (cf. 1 Cor 15:3-4). The repetition is important. Joseph asked for the body of Jesus. He took the body away. He and Nicodemus then bound the body in linen cloths and laid Jesus in the tomb.
The only other place Jesus’ body comes up outside of chapter 20 is back in 2:21, just after he cleanses the temple. Jesus tells these angry Jews, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” And they think he’s crazy. But then John tells us, “he was speaking about the temple of his body.” It was Jesus’ way of saying that he’s bringing in a new order, where God didn’t dwell in a temple in Jerusalem, but in the person of his Son. You want to meet with God and experience his glory, then you come to Jesus where the fullness of deity dwells bodily.
But here, in chapter 20, Jesus’ body has been destroyed. They now place Jesus’ body in a tomb. And this leaves a huge question mark over Jesus. Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up? Was he telling truth? Did he really have that kind of power? If death is God’s judgment against sin, then will Jesus prove to be a sinner after all? Why else does he lay in the tomb?
Jesus’ burial sets us on the edge of our seats to see if Jesus really is who he claimed to be. If he stays in the grave, Jesus is a sinner and a fraud. But if he rises, we have no choice but to believe that he must have died for others. He must have died not for sins that were his own, but for our sins. To use the words of 1 Peter 2:24, he must have bore our sins in his body on the tree.
So, the tomb of Jesus presses us to decide: “Is this man who he said he was—the one who came from God and pleased God in all he did? Or is he just like everybody else who enters the grave and dies?
John answers our question in chapter 20. His answer is Yes, Jesus is who he claimed to be; he did not enter death for himself but for us. He takes us to the empty tomb and then to Jesus’ bodily appearance to Mary. And what unfolds is the evidence of Jesus’ bodily resurrection and the meaning of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. So, here’s what I want to do. Let’s go ahead and read to verse 18, and then make two passes over our passage, looking first at the evidence and then at what the resurrection means. Verse 1…
1Now 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. 2So 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.” 3So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples went back to their homes.
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
2. The Evidence Jesus Overcame Death
Okay, first pass through our passage. Let’s look at the evidence that Jesus overcame death. People will sometimes say that the Christian faith is irrational. Festus accused Paul of this very thing, right? Paul preaches that Christ rose from the dead, and Festus says, “Paul, you’re out of your mind.” But Paul responds: “I’m not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words” (Acts 26:25). Believing in the resurrection of Jesus isn’t irrational; it’s actually very rational. Christian faith isn’t blind; it’s well-reasoned and in step with reality. Here are just a few points to consider from our passage.
Eyewitness testimony to the facts
To begin, what we’re getting here is eyewitness testimony. In the first century, everybody knew that the most trustworthy historiography was based on the authoritative testimony of real eyewitnesses. And this is where the details of John’s account really stand out. It’s the first day of the week. Mary comes to him and tells him what she saw. He takes off running with Peter; and why mention that he arrived first, if not to say “This is how it all went down. I was there.” He also tells us what he sees—the linen cloths. He says that Peter sees the same thing. Then he enters the tomb for himself.
John is so careful to give us the details because he witnessed it firsthand. It is eyewitness testimony. And even better, he actually names the other folks who saw what he saw. In the field of historiography this is huge. It helps ensure the authenticity of your words, especially when those folks you name are still around when you write your account. In other words, “Go ask Peter. He saw what I saw. And go ask Mary, too. She saw the tomb empty just as well.” The testimony of the apostles isn’t a private matter; it’s not like a “Joseph Smith” experience all by yourself with a so-called angel. There were many eyewitnesses to the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ.
John’s integrity regarding his un/belief
We also get glimpses of John’s integrity as he writes about these things. Notice that he’s not afraid to admit that he didn’t believe anything had happened until after he went into the tomb for himself. Verse 8, “He saw and believed.”
So, often the objection is raised that the disciples fabricated the account of the resurrection based on their preconceived notions. But you have to ask, “Why fake something like the resurrection, if they didn’t believe it was going to happen in the first place?” John’s point isn’t that he believes something, and then fabricates the resurrection. He tells us straight up: “I didn’t believe it until I saw it with my own eyes.” His belief follows his sight, and he’s humble enough to admit it. And that gives his testimony further credibility.
The ordered state of the tomb
Of course, an empty tomb doesn’t necessarily mean Jesus was alive; but that’s why John also gives us the ordered state of the tomb. One could still argue, maybe somebody stole his body: “Tomb robbers! You gotta watch out for those guys.” In fact, Matthew’s Gospel tells us that such a rumor was spread among the Jews: the disciples stole the body that night.
But you’ve got to ask, Really? How would they have gotten past the guard of soldiers in the first place—that Matthew says were guarding the tomb so carefully? And more than that, would tomb robbers take the time to unwrap Jesus’ body and leave behind the linen wrappings? Would a group of guys that ransack tombs carefully fold his face cloth, and leave things in such order? No, the ordered state of the tomb shows that the body—even though it’s missing—wasn’t stolen. We’ll see what it does tell us in minute.
Jesus’ first bodily appearance to a woman
But let's look first to one more piece of evidence that’s significant: Jesus’ bodily appearance to Mary, a woman. John is quick to note that when Mary looks into the tomb, she sees two angels sitting where the body of Jesus had lain. She wants to know where he is, turns around, he calls her name, and she’s ecstatic. She starts clinging to him. Jesus’ resurrection body isn’t a ghost; it has able-to-be-clung-to type properties. It’s a new kind of body, but it’s still a physical body; and Jesus appears to Mary in it.
Of course, he also appears to many others as well, and we'll see that in days ahead, but for now, he first appeared to a woman. That’s very significant. Listen to the way Andreas Köstenberger puts it:
In the first century, women were not even eligible to testify in a Jewish court of law. Josephus said that even the witness of multiple women was not acceptable “because of the levity and boldness of their sex.” Celsus, the second-century critic of Christianity, mocked the idea of Mary Magdalene as an alleged resurrection witness, referring to her as a “hysterical female…deluded by…sorcery.” This background matters because it points to two crucial truths. First, it is a theological reminder that the kingdom of the Messiah turns the system of the world on its head. Into this culture, Jesus radically affirmed the full dignity of women and the vital value of their witness. Second, it is a powerful apologetic reminder of the historical accuracy of the resurrection accounts. If these were “cleverly devised myths”… women would never have been presented as the first eyewitnesses of the risen Christ (Köstenberger and Taylor, Five Errors to Drop From Your Easter Sermon in Christianity Today, April 14, 2014).
That’s a really good point; and I also hope it serves to encourage my sisters in the faith. Your witness to Jesus is valuable.
So that’s just some of the evidence John gives that Jesus really overcame death. He didn’t stay in the grave like everyone else. If he had stayed in the grave, then our faith is futile and we are still in our sins (1 Cor 15:17). Staying in the grave would mean Jesus too was a sinner; and if a sinner, he couldn’t atone for our sins. But the evidence says he rose.
3. The Meaning of Jesus Overcoming Death
And if he rose, then what does this mean? This is where we’re going to take a second pass through our passage. But what I want to do is help you read chapter 20 in light of the whole Gospel. So, we’re basically going to recall a few themes John began and then land them in Jesus’ resurrection victory. […Lately, I’ve been pushing the application toward the end of the sermon; but today it’ll find itself interwoven with the next few points. So, be listening for it now instead of later. Here we go…]
Jesus’ light overcomes the darkness
First, Jesus’ resurrection means that Jesus’ light overcomes the darkness. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the Light that gives life to people. The world he enters—our world—is characterized by darkness, because the world is shackled with sin and death. Sin and death is darkness in John’s Gospel (3:19; 8:12; 9:4-5; 11:10; 13:30). So, when Jesus is laid in the tomb, we’re watching darkness swallow up the Light. We’re left asking, “Will the Light actually prevail over darkness?” Then we enter the first day of the week; and Mary and the disciples find the tomb empty and Jesus risen.
And so right from the beginning, John tells us, “In [Jesus] was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (1:4-5). This is John’s testimony from the get go; and he can say that because of the resurrection, because of what he witnessed. Our passage completes the storyline of the Light shining in the darkness. It’s where the Gospel was heading all along.
What, then, does this mean for those who believe in him? It means total victory over darkness. He wins for you and me the promise that no matter how dark it may get for you in this life, even in the face of death itself, the darkness cannot defeat you because it cannot defeat Jesus.
The darkness will defeat you if you don’t know Christ. There will be nothing but darkness in your life—both now and into eternity, when you’re cast into the outer darkness, and there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mark 8:12). But if you know Christ, if he’s the one you trust to deliver you from sin and death, then the darkness can never win.
Some of you are consumed with darkness right now—and if you’re not, someone you’re close to is. You can’t see beyond your own sin, or the sins of others that are causing all sorts of pain. You can’t see any light shining through your depression. A few of you, you go through seasons when you’re reminded of the darkness that death has brought your family, and it’s difficult to see how the darkness cannot overcome the light. You’re brought to places of unbelief just like these disciples when the stone finally sealed Jesus’ body in the tomb.
But let this word from God give you hope: “I have seen the Lord.” God raised Jesus from the darkness of death, such that every day when you look to him as risen Lord, you’re reminded that the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. If that’s where you live right now—in absolute confidence of Jesus’ light overcoming darkness—then please help others sitting in darkness to see it. Read this passage over them; pray it for them. Oh how I need brothers and sisters telling me this!
In fact, Rachel and I put John 1:5 on the wall in our living room, because the year 2013 was so dark for us. Several events in our lives transpired—a boy we took off the street and loved like a son betrayed us; some of our friends were diagnosed with cancer; we got some hard emails; my Opa died; we were both drained by various hardships; not to mention our own sins we were dealing with. There just seemed to be no reprieve of the onset of darkness. In the midst of all that, John 1:5 came as God’s gracious answer to our prayers. God helped us see that the darkness couldn’t ultimately overcome Jesus; and therefore it wouldn’t overcome us. How do we know it didn’t overcome Jesus? Resurrection.
Jesus’ life overwhelms death
Something else the resurrection means: Jesus’ life overwhelms death. We see this when we compare Jesus raising himself here with Jesus raising Lazarus back in chapter 11. It’s true that Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead is a picture of Jesus’ power over death and that life itself is in Jesus. But we must remember that Jesus raised Lazarus with a mortal body. Lazarus was raised to die again. Not so with Christ.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t come out of the grave like Lazarus did, all bound up with grave clothes and his face cloth still on. You remember Lazarus walking out this way—his hands and feet bound with linen strips and his face wrapped with a cloth, it says. Jesus had to tell them, “Unbind him and let him go” (11:44). But what do Peter and John find here in verses 4-7? The linen cloths lying inside the tomb and the face cloth is folded up in a place by itself, as if to say, “Won’t be needing this anymore.”
The tomb of Lazarus shows that Lazarus is still subject to death. But the empty and ordered tomb of Jesus shows that Jesus is sovereign over death. He has total authority over the grave. His life overwhelms death. The cords of Sheol cannot entangle him and keep him dead. And so he walks from the tomb free of its power.
If Jesus’ life overwhelms death, then what do you suppose happens for all those united to him by faith? His life will overwhelm your death, too. Death may take you out of this world in the next 30 days or 30 years; but Jesus promises to overwhelm death on the last day such that you rise from the grave bodily just like he did. You won't be separated from God any more in body, but raised to unite body and soul in the enjoyment of God's life.
Paul says it like this in 2 Corinthians 5:4, “For while we’re still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” Jesus secures that promise for you when he walked out of the grave. In fact, the promise is so sure, that the Bible calls Jesus resurrection body the “firstfruits” of those Christians who’ve fallen asleep. Firstfruits was another way of saying, there’s more fruit coming. There’s more people to rise from the dead, just like Jesus did. And that means you need not fear death as a believer. This truth becomes a very practical defense against the fear of death.
Death isn’t a threat anymore for the Christian. Jesus’ cross and resurrection transform death for the Christian. Jesus’ cross removes death’s sting—he was punished for sin in our place. And Jesus’ life overwhelms death, such that when we pass through death, death can only bring us into more life with God.
So, Satan can’t use death to make you afraid anymore. He can’t use death to keep you from entering dangerous places with the gospel—and I’m not talking about going overseas; I’m talking about here. Death doesn’t have to paralyze us. It shouldn’t keep us from taking risks and entering risky cultures to see people saved.
Or, say you just found out you have a chronic illness or cancer. For the Christian, Jesus’ resurrection means you don’t have to fear death. I’m not saying death won’t make you cry; it will. But the Christian doesn’t have to be afraid of it.
This was beautifully displayed recently in the life of a sister named Kara Tippits. Some of you may be familiar with her story. She published a book before she died from cancer called, The Hardest Peace. But there’s a short video out describing some of what she was going through toward the end of her life. And right at the beginning of the video she says this: “I feel like I’m a little girl at a party, whose Dad is asking her to go—and I’m throwing a fit. I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to go.” Death will make us cry; but we don’t have to fear it. Why? Jesus’ life overwhelms death.
God’s sheep are coming alive at the Shepherd’s voice
Let’s look at something else the resurrection means: God’s sheep are coming alive at the Shepherd’s voice. Let’s reach back to two more places in John’s Gospel. In John 5:25, Jesus says this: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” Jesus’ voice awakens people to life. His word is like that of Yahweh in the Old Testament. When Ezekiel speaks God’s word over the dry bones, they come alive. Jesus’ voice does the same.
But as we keep reading in John’s Gospel, we notice that this voice is that of a Good Shepherd calling his sheep. And that call even carries a very intimate touch as the Good Shepherd calls his own sheep by name. And the sheep follow him because they know his voice. And oh by the way, this Good Shepherd has authority both to die for the sheep and raise himself to life again, so that he can then complete the Father’s work of gathering all the sheep under the care of one shepherd (John 10:1-18).
Now, how does John land that trajectory in our passage? Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, has just laid his life down for the sheep and then taken it up again. What do we see him doing next? He starts calling his sheep by name: “Mary.” And what happens? She comes alive: Rabboni! Before she was dead to what was going on. She didn’t even notice the angels: “Angels, Mary! In white! Hello! That usually means something important.” She doesn’t get it…until the Good Shepherd calls her name: Mary.
Had he not risen from the dead, nobody would be gathered to God. We’d all still be shackled to sin and death. We’d be separated from God, not gathered to him. But Jesus walked out of the tomb for the purpose of gathering his Father’s sheep. And if you’re a believer today, Christ calls you by name. He knows you.
Don’t miss the intimacy of the Good Shepherd, here—especially those of you who are prone to think of God as distant and far off. Or maybe for some of you, the Christian life has become mere ritual. When you sit down to pray, don’t think he’s far off and disconnected and impersonal. He knows your name. He calls and speaks to his sheep. And he makes them alive with his words. And when you’re alive, you follow him. You follow him into newness of life. You don’t present your members to sin anymore; you present your members to God as those who have been brought from death to life with Christ (Rom 6:13).
Assurance of life in God’s family
One more: Jesus’ resurrection means we have assurance of life in God’s family. His resurrection achieves this assurance. Notice the message that Mary must bring to the other disciples: “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (20:17). Jesus calls his disciples brothers; and he even calls his Father, their Father too.
Throughout John’s Gospel the Father and Jesus share a very unique relationship. It’s not one that people experience by nature—one, because we’re not God’s only Son. That belongs solely to Jesus Christ. But also because our sin keeps us separated from God. By nature, we don’t enjoy the Father/child bond with God; and how could we enjoy that bond with our sins separating us from him. But now, Jesus calls them brothers. He says that his Father is also their Father. They have become children of God. How so?
Well, Jesus’ resurrection tells us that everything that needed to happen in order to bring us into God’s family happened on the cross. Jesus’ resurrection says that his work on the cross is so complete, our sins are so taken away, the Father’s wrath is so satisfied, that he’s not ashamed to call us brothers/sisters, and his Father isn’t ashamed to call us his children (cf. Heb 2:11-12; 1 Pet 1:3). We’re now welcomed into God’s family.
Jesus inaugurates all of the Bible’s expectations for God to dwell with his people, when they would be his people and he would be their God. This is covenant language here; and it’s much of what Jesus meant back in 2:20-21, speaking about his body as the temple in relation to the resurrection: “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” He did raise up that temple, the temple of his body, so that we might dwell with God and God with us through Christ.
That’s what the temple has always been about and pointed toward. Of course, one day another temple will manifest itself in the new heavens and the new earth, where we will dwell with God face-to-face. But brothers and sisters, we don’t have to wait till then to relate to God as a Father would relate to his son/daughter. Through Christ, we have access to that relationship now. His resurrection assures us of that access. When you sin, you can come to your Father through Christ. You’ll be accepted as son or daughter. When God makes you his child, you don’t stop being his child because of something you do. You’re accepted already. So come to him, tell him what’s going on, and then ask him for help. He’s a Father to you, and as Father you can trust him to take care of you and provide for all your needs. Because he already sustained Jesus through the worst hell for you, his grace will be sufficient to carry you through in everything. How can you be certain? Jesus’ resurrection.
More in The Gospel According to John
May 24, 2015Eyewitness Testimony to the Greatness of Jesus
May 17, 2015Loving Jesus & Feeding His People at All Costs
May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus