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Seeing is (Not Necessarily) Believing A Sermon for Easter Sunday Morning

March 31, 2024

John 20:1-18


 

This is a synopsis, or quick review, of the sermon for Easter Sunday morning, March 31, 2024.  I am only hitting the highlights of the message, not reproducing the entire sermon.


First Scripture Reading:  John 20: 1-18

We often have a temptation to think or say, I wish I had been there, when we hear a heroic story from the Bible, or from history.  How things might have been different if I had been there at the garden when Jesus was taken by the guards.  I would have stood up against the mob.  I would like to have been His defense lawyer before Pilot.  I would not have shouted “crucify him!!” had I been in the crowd.  I would have understood when He arose that it was always prophesied He would do so. 


For one thing, we have “hindsight” which has been said to be 20/20.

But in reality, if we were there, we would have reacted just like they did.  When Peter took on the arresting mob with one fishing knife, Christ stopped him.  And then everyone ran away, to save their own skin.  Three days later, when the women came telling of seeing angels at an empty tomb, they were dismissed as having hallucinative visions.  Even seeing is not necessarily believing.

Let’s put ourselves in the sandals of Peter, John, and Mary for a few minutes this morning.  We know Peter best.  An impetus, “lets get it done” personality style.  His “do first and think later” attitude did not stop him from taking the lead.

 

John is much more mild mannered.  He sat at the place of honor, to the right of Jesus, at the last Passover supper.  He styles himself “the one whom Jesus loved,” to show his humility, and still show he was an eye-witness at Jesus’ tomb.


Mary Magdalene is much lesser known.  She was a Jew yet from the predominantly gentile port-city of Magdala, a synagogue-less city on the Northwest shore of Lake Galilee.  Jesus had cast seven demons out of her.  Nothing in Scripture verifies the legend she was a prostitute, a view often preached about her from ancient times on.  She may have been a soothsayer or witch before conversion, leading to her being a woman of independent means.  She was one who occasionally traveled with Jesus, and contributed to His expenses out of her own goods (Lk 8:2).   She seems to be a leader among the women who followed Jesus, as her name often appears first in a list of women’s names.


Now on to our story.  In John’s report, Mary Magdalene left for the grave just before sunrise on that first Easter Sunday morning.  The other Gospels report multiple women coming together with her.  As they arrived at dawn, they saw an angel come down and roll the stone away, as the soldiers stood “as dead men” as they watched the same event (Matt 28:1-8).

While the women were headed back to the upper room to tell the disciples what had happened, and the soldiers had headed to the High Priests to report the event (Matt 28-11-15), Mary Magdalene found Peter and John, somewhere.  Perhaps they had risen early and were drawing water for morning washing or preparing breakfast.  She reported that the tomb was empty, but not really believing her own eyes, claimed that someone must have removed the body.  This despite seeing angels, and the fact that a contingency of guards was watching the tomb 24/7.


Peter and John headed to the tomb, by running.  Most grown men did not run in Ancient Palestine, unless the event absolutely required it.  This event did!  John, the younger of the two, arrived first and peered into the tomb.  Impetuous Peter showed up moments later and ran all the way into the tomb.  It was empty!!  What did this mean?  Had someone taken the body out?  If so, who?  How would they have gotten around the guards?  It took two or three men to roll the main rock door out of the way.  Who would have done that?  Dumb founded, John stood outside the empty tomb.

As Peter ran in, John followed.  Then they “saw.”  The word for John looking into the tomb (v 5) implies glancing or peering at something.  After he entered the tomb, he “saw” or “took special note of” the grave cloths. 


The ancient form of binding a body which was to be buried was done universally in nations which believed in resurrection.  The body needed preserving as long as possible.  The body would be laid out on a special table and, beginning at the toes and feet, would be wrapped in a series of overlapping strips of cloth 3-4 inches wide.  The scripts would be wrapped all the way to the shoulders and back to the waist, where it was tied off.  The arms were wrapped on to the sides in a way that, if the body were alive, it could not move to unwrap itself.  The head was covered with a stocking resembling a modern sky cap, minus the eye and mouth holes.  It too was woven into the bandages at the shoulders.  


If the body had been snatched, the cloths would be gone too.  If the snatcher had unbandaged the body, the strips would be all piled up in a heap.  But yet the strips were all laid out, in order, with the head cap in place.  How could this happen?  Only by the body raising right through the grave cloths.  Christ arose through the grave cloths and then through the stone door.  The angel opened the stone door, not to let Christ out, but to let the women in to see He was risen.

Peter and John saw and believed (v 8b).  They were now convinced He had risen and were soon able to see that even the OT had prophesied that it would happen.

Mary, however, stood outside and wept.  “Where have they taken the body?  I want to give it a proper burial.”  Two angels appeared to speak to her.  But she was still blind to what her eyes were telling her.  People who are dead don’t get up and walk away.  Even the angels had not convinced her of the truth.


Outside the tomb she saw a man.  Through her tear-soaked eyes, she thought he might be the cemetery caretaker.  “Please sir, tell me where He has been taken.”  Jesus answered, “Mary.”  She then realized it was Jesus Himself.  She was the first to see Him alive, and in the flesh, after the resurrection.   She then cried out “Rabboni,” Aramaic for “my teacher.”  Jesus then proclaimed, “I am going to My Father and your Father, My God and your God!!” 


Perhaps today there are some here who have been seeing, but not believing.  “Resurrection Sunday” is the one constant Holiday (Holy Day) in Christianity from the beginning till now.  We see it as a day to dress up, to eat a dinner with the family, to enjoy each other’s company.  But have we stopped to realize the significance of the grave cloths?  Christ has suffered for our sins, and now has risen to prove God was satisfied with His sacrifice for our sins.  Do we see and believe it?  Or is this just another holiday when we enjoy each other and continue our lives as if Christ had never come?  Today let us carefully remember the “reason for the season,” the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and how it personally effects our relationship to God.    

 

God Bless.  

CH Jim Odell

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