He Is Not Here [3-15-20]

Let's run with Peter and John to the tomb:

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. And stooping to look in, he 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. 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. - John 20:3-9

Keep in mind, this was written about 50 years after it happened. But the memory was still vivid in John's mind. Here's one of the reasons this vivid memory is so important:

In order to see that Jesus' presence is real in my life, I need evidence for my mind.

Unless we dig in to the evidence, we're just making things up. That's how you get cults. Joseph Smith just started making stuff up, and now there's Mormonism. We have to look at what's real. That's why it's really important to measure a thought or belief against Scripture, and if it doesn't agree, then it's made up.


Something really happened in the tomb. Something amazing. People saw it. There's evidence for that which makes a transformational difference in our lives.


First let's look at the textual evidence. What do the words say and mean?


In verses 5, 6, and 8, three different words for "see" are used. There's a reason for it. The first one there - John, the one who outran Peter - looks in and sees the linen cloths lying there. Then Peter goes in and sees the linen cloths lying there, along with the face cloth, neatly folded. Finally, John actually goes in and sees and believes. There's some question about

what he actually believes at this point, which we'll get into in a minute.


First, let's break down the three distinct words for "see" used and what they mean:

  • Verse 5 - blepei = "to see; be watchful; perceive."

  • Verse 6 - theori = "to look at; gaze; behold; discern {for the purpose of analyzing}."

  • Verse 8 - eiden = "to see; watch; realize."


Verse 5 seems to indicate John is taking it all in. He's not jumping to any conclusions.


Verse 6 seems to indicate; from theori, we get theory; Peter is thinking things through; wondering what's going on; is developing an idea of why the tomb is empty.


Verse 8 seems to indicate that when John finally goes into the tomb, he begins to realize something huge has taken place.


The one thing that remains up in the air with verse 8 and John's seeing and believing is what John actually believes. Does he believe what Mary said? That somehow the body of Jesus is gone? Or does he believe something deeper is going on? {Work in what verses 7 and 8 indicate as evidence body wasn't stolen; Jesus passed through his burial linens, unlike when Lazarus was raised, in his burial linens, as sign he would die again.} Verse 9 - "For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead" - seems to indicate that perhaps John believes Jesus has somehow been raised but doesn't yet understand the full significance of it. Verse 10 - "Then the disciples went back to their homes" - lends credence to the lack of full understanding. It's funny how they so casually return home, while Mary stays at the tomb.


I think John is walking us through a process here, based on the real-life experiences of himself and Peter and Mary. We can move toward something we think is potentially important and sort of glance at it. We can check it out. Or we can try to form some ideas about it, trying to figure things out. I think this is on display in Mark 9, where a father brings his son to Jesus to be healed. At one point, the father cries out,

"I believe; help my unbelief."

Then there's the third way, where John realizes something deeper is going on. He goes into the empty tomb and sees a spiritual truth. It is transformational. He's not all the way there yet, but that's okay. He knows the resurrection is real.


God wants us to get it. God wants us to see it. God wants us to see the transformational power of the empty tomb. That's why He's showing us the evidence in John 20.


How many of you like sciency stuff? Archeology? Astronomy? Human behavior research? Crunching numbers? All that's good. Engaging the mind is a wonderful thing. Sometimes putting your brain in neutral is good, too. That's why God invented Netflix. And chocolate chip cookies. But most of us, most of the time, like to be intellectually engaged. As Christians, we need to be thoughtful. That's what John 20 does. It intellectually engages us. Of all the things you can positively say about Christianity, the most important one is that it is reasonable. It makes sense when you start to look at what really happened. There is evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

First, there is ample extra-Biblical evidence of the historic Jesus. While

many question the Biblical claims about who Jesus was, there is no

question that he was.


As for the empty tomb, one New Testament commentator says this:

How did the preaching that Jesus was victorious over death ever gain credence if his corpse or skeleton lay in a tomb known to all? His enemies would certainly have brought this forward as an objection; yet in all the anti-resurrection argumentation reflected indirectly in the Gospels or in the 2nd-century Christian apologists we never find an affirmation that the body was in the tomb. There are Christian arguments to show that the body was not stolen or confused in common burial, but the opponents seem to accept the basic fact that the body can no longer be found. Even in the Jewish legend that a gardener named Judas took the body only to bring it back, there is a recognition that the tomb was empty. - Raymond E. Brown

Another piece of evidence is the changed lives of the disciples. Within 40 days of the crucifixion, these people went from frightened, confused, aimless men and women to courageous followers of the Risen Lord.


They're not afraid of being arrested or even killed. What happened? The resurrected Jesus Christ.


For John, the evidence for the resurrection was very powerful. When he went in and saw the empty tomb, things Jesus said began to click. He saw the clothes folded and arranged. So many things that Jesus taught him prepared him for this moment. The evidence was there. He saw and believed.


And so I wonder. What if it had stopped there? What if the first few verses of chapter 20 were all we had of resurrection evidence? They went in, and the clothes were there and the face cloth was undisturbed. If there was nothing after that, I think some people would say, "That's enough evidence for me. That's all I need to believe." But I think others would say, "No, that's not enough evidence. I need more than just what I can imagine from the linens."


We rejoice that Jesus didn't leave it there. So far we have seen evidence

for our mind. But the resurrected Jesus also spoke to the heart. In other

words, what does the resurrection mean for me right now? What difference does the resurrected Christ make in my life? How does he touch my heart?

How does he know me personally?


That's where we come to Mary Magdalene. John may have been the first to believe, but Mary was the first to see the resurrected Lord. This has soaring implications. Mary recognized the Risen Christ. She wasn't expecting to see him.


Have you ever had a moment when you saw somebody you weren't expecting to see? Many years ago, our family was on vacation at a very popular and crowded vacation destination. Think Florida and mice. We ran into a family we knew from back home. Neither of us knew the others' vacation plans. And even if we did, with that many people, how are you ever going to run into each other? But we did. Totally unexpected. Has that ever happened to you?


It was nothing compared to Mary's recognition scene. It slowly dawns on

Mary that Jesus, the very one she is weeping for, is right there and he's

alive.


As we look at verses 10-15, think about the first odd thing you notice:

Then the disciples went back to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They 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.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus 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."

What do you notice? Right…Mary doesn't recognize Jesus at first. All kinds of explanations have been floated.


First, it could be because of her grief and tears. The word translated as

"weeping" in verse 11 comes from the Greek klaiousa, which means "uncontainable, audible grief." Perhaps her vision is clouded by the tears and the convulsions of her body.


Second, it could be her focus. The last thing she's expecting to see is Jesus. She is more focused on her grief and the tomb and the task at hand, anointing his body for burial.


Third, it could simply be a by-product of the time of day. It's early. Faint

light. Not only does grief cast shadows, but things literally happen in the

shadows of morning.


Whatever the reason, Mary didn't initially see the resurrected Lord when he was standing there, ready to give her hope.


Here's where we're going to stop. All Mary knows at this point is that the tomb is empty. I want us all to be thinking about the empty tomb. On the surface of things, the empty tomb is a great thing. But it's not an empty tomb we worship. We worship the Risen Savior. Don't ever let anything… your challenges or hardships or heartaches or disappointments…whatever your empty tomb is, don't let it distract you from the Risen Lord.


Next week, we'll see what happens when Jesus calls Mary by name. What happened in your life when Jesus called you by name?

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