Updated: Mar 31, 2020
This is the end of the story. John had been building toward this moment his entire gospel. Every story, every interaction, every teaching of Jesus, everything Jesus has said have been stepping stones to chapter 20. And John has been there every step of the way. The path has led to the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. John was an eyewitness to everything we're going to be reading for the next few weeks. First, some questions: How long was Jesus on earth in his resurrected body? Approximately how many people saw the resurrected Lord? Next, some answers: Jesus was on earth 40 days in his resurrected body. Over 500 people saw the resurrected Lord. It wasn't a few here and a few there, and then he was gone. Jesus was here for more than a month, seen by at least 500 people. Jesus appeared first of all to Mary Magdalene. Then, as Matthew 28 reports, he appeared to a couple of women who were returning to the tomb. So it appears Mary and these other two women had become separated and they saw Jesus at different times. Later in the day Jesus appeared to Peter…the disciple who days earlier had denied knowing Jesus. As we'll later see, the resurrected Lord talked to Peter about the struggles he was facing. Jesus also appeared to two disciples who were walking the road to Emmaus later that day. There were many appearances that first day. Then, that night, Jesus appeared to all of the disciples, except for Thomas. Then, a week later, he appeared to all of the disciples with Thomas. Then he went up to Galilee and appeared to seven of the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. Then a short while after that, Jesus appeared to around 500 believers on a Galilean mountainside. What do you think that worship service was like? After the 40 day earthly period, he appeared to Paul in Damascus, to Stephen when he was martyred, and then, at the end of the Bible, to John on the Island of Patmos. There are a wealth of resurrection appearances in the historical record. The resurrected Jesus is alive. He makes himself known in people's lives. What we'll be looking at is the difference these resurrection appearances made in people's lives. What happened in them when they saw the resurrected Jesus Christ? Chapter 20 begins with a question. Will Jesus' body be in the tomb? The answer to that question wasn't just relevant 2,000 years ago. It is relevant to your life today. What John talks about in chapter 20 speaks to our lives today. The resurrection power of Jesus is still working in people's lives. Some of you have issues with a relationship or relationships right now. It happens, right? Because he lives, Jesus speaks into those places. But here's the most important thing to understand about that. Since you're the one with the issue, Jesus is going to change you. He may or may not change the other person, but his primary push is to change you. To change the disposition of your heart. Even if it's a toxic relationship, the primary change happens with you. Some of you have attitude issues you're working on this week. Have you ever had a bad attitude or sour outlook on a current situation? Maybe it's not something you'd admit to anyone but you know you need help with it. Perhaps some of you have a few questions about your faith. Maybe you're a little bit wobbly. You wonder if faith is making a difference in your life. That's okay. Most people go through seasons like that. The resurrection power of Jesus Christ speaks into all of these places. All of these questions find answer in the empty tomb. As we look at how the empty tomb challenged the life of Mary Magdalene, we are going to see how Jesus can make a difference in our lives. Let's begin with verse 1: Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the empty tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Detail #1: Early, while it was still dark. According to how the day was broken up, this means sometime between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. The Greek word indicates it was the daybreak watch. So very early. While it's still dark, Mary goes to the tomb. She needs to make sure all the spices were in the right places for the proper burial care of Jesus' body. Since Jesus died on Friday, and they couldn't do anything on Saturday - the Sabbath - Mary had to wait until Sunday. You can imagine how anxious Mary is to properly prepare Jesus' body. So as soon as she can, she rushes to the tomb. Detail #2: It was the first day of the week. This seems like a small detail, right? Sunday is considered by many to be the first day of the week. It was the same 2,000 years ago. Right here, in verse 1, we see why Sunday is the most important day of the week. We worship on Sunday because it was resurrection day. So we start our week with worship. That's always a good thing. Most Christian worship happens on Sunday. Now, that doesn't mean Christian worship can only happen on Sunday. Some people, because of their work schedules, cannot worship consistently on Sunday. There are larger churches that provide opportunities for worship outside the Sunday matrix. I sometimes wish we could do that. Most churches, in most places, worship on Sunday, the first day of the week. Mary knew something big had happened. Detail #3: The stone was removed. The literal translation of the stone had been taken away gives the sense of having been "tossed aside." There's no rolling away of the stone here. Sometimes we have the image in our minds of the guards standing there while the stone mysteriously rolls away. John doesn't tell us how it happened. He does tell us that it was removed. That's all. Removed. By the power of God, the stone had been taken away. When the stone was tossed aside, it was tossed aside for a specific reason. It wasn't tossed aside so Jesus could get out. In his resurrected body, Jesus went through his burial clothes. Jesus could enter a room in his resurrected body without going through a door. I don't understand anything about resurrected bodies, but I know what the Bible says Jesus did. Are you with me on that? Jesus was probably out of the tomb before the stone had been taken away. So why was the stone taken away? To let us in. To let the disciples in. To let Mary in. So they could see that the tomb was empty. That's the whole point of John 20…the empty tomb. Everything in the first 19 chapters of John builds to the empty tomb. And the empty tomb is the exclamation point on what Jesus did on the cross. More on that later. But what is unique and revolutionary and unprecedented in human history is the empty tomb. We worship Jesus Christ because he left the tomb behind him. We don't worship an idea or a philosophy. We worship a Savior who is alive. The stone was removed so we could see inside. Here's something you might want to write down: Christianity isn't a philosophy…it is Jesus Christ who left an empty tomb behind him. Since we know the Easter story…since we sing songs about it with such joy in our hearts and voices…we have a hard time adjusting our minds back to what it was like for those first followers of Jesus. Their thoughts were anything but joyful at this point in the story. Mary goes to the tomb and sees that the stone has been taken away. Verse 2 says: So 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."
What do we know right away? Mary thinks the body has been stolen. Or at least moved to another location. That's where her mind is at right now. Resurrection is the farthest thing from Mary's mind. She, like others who will subsequently hear of the empty tomb, think something devious has taken place. She's not feeling joy right now. Who knows what the Romans are up to? Perhaps it was tomb raiders. How horrible it must have been for Mary, thinking that someone she loved had his body stolen, desecrated in death. Grave robbing, almost unheard of today, must have been a possibility thousands of years ago. As recently as the early to mid-1800s, fresh graves were robbed, the bodies sold to medical schools for study and surgical practice. In fact, in 1876, an attempt was made to steal Abraham Lincoln's body from Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. The grave robbers intended to hold it for ransom. An unintended consequence of the bungled attempt led to the Secret Service staff dispatched from Chicago to guard Lincoln's body, which in turn led to the Secret Service protecting the Office of the Presidency. Mary has to wonder, is this some bungled attempt to frighten or alarm the followers of Jesus? The disciples, too, must have felt at a loss to explain the empty tomb. I think we can understand some of what they were experiencing. Many of us have faced the death of a loved one. There's the shock. The disbelief over what's going on. The general feeling of hopelessness. It's natural. Those are natural responses to tragic loss. It's disbelief at what's going on. As the resurrection slowly dawns on Mary and the disciples, how will they apply it to their lives? When you think about the resurrection, how does it animate your life? Notice again how Mary said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb." The truth is right in front of her…she just can't see it yet. That picture leads us to what we're going to do next week. Begin thinking now about how you see the truth of the resurrection animating your life. As a believer in Jesus Christ, what does the empty tomb mean to you? We're not talking about convincing an unbeliever that the resurrection really happened or that Jesus really is alive. What I want us to spend the next week thinking about is how the resurrection speaks truth into: My Family Life. My Job. My Personal Life. The Way I View the World. When I'm Worried. When I'm Depressed. When I'm Feeling Defeated. How does the empty tomb renew those areas of my life? How does the empty tomb transform the way I think of things that are of utmost importance to me?