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(John 20:1–18) Surprise!

(John 20:1–18) Surprise!

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in John
Ref: John 20:1–18

After hearing of the agony of Christ's crucifixion, it's wonderful to finally come to the good part! Without the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, there would be no "good news!" There would be no Gospel.



(John 20:1-18)

A family was watching the life of Christ film entitled "The Greatest Story Ever Told".  One of the children in the family was deeply moved.  As Jesus journeyed to Calvary, tears rolled down her cheeks.  She was absolutely silent until after Jesus had been taken down from the cross and put into the tomb.  Then she suddenly grinned and shouted:  "Now comes the GOOD part!"  Now comes the good part! Indeed it does.

After several sermons on the agony of Christ's crucifixion, it is wonderful to come to the good part. . .for without the literal physical resurrection Jesus Christ - there would be no "good part" - there would be no "good news".

For one thing, the resurrection is the foundation or basis for our faith.

Turn with me to I Cor. 15.   Without the Resurrection:

the gospel would be meaningless

Turn to I Corinthians 15:1  "Now I make known to you (I draw your attention to; like a teacher wose students are told to "focus here") the gospel which I preached toyou, which also you received in which also you stand. 2. By which also you are saved, if (since) you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

Paul is saying - hold fast to these cardinal truths, otherwise, believing will be imptiness; a mere religous excercise amounting to nothing.

What are we to hold on to?  3. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also recieved, that Christ died for your sins according to the Scriptures  4.  And that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day! 

Just how important is Christ' resurrection to the gospel?  Paul wrote in Romans 10:9 - If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved."

Without the resurrection, forgiveness of sins would be hopeless

Look back at I Cor. 15:17 - And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; and you are still in your sins.

It wasn't enough for Jesus to die for our sins - He had to rise from the dead - proving that his payment for our sins had been accepted by God. 

The empty grave was God's receipt - the payment had been accepted!

Without the resurrection,  our  present life would be joyless

verse 18.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  19.  If we hape hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

In other words, you cannot really enjoy life until you are ready to experience death.  And you are not ready to experience death until you've been saved by the conqueror of death - the resurrected Christ.

That makes sense - imagine if you were told you were going to die tonight at 10:00 p.m.  You had no hope for life beyond - you had never heard of Jesus Christ - you didn't know anything about a future heaven.  What kind of mood would you be in right now - how about 5 minutes to 10:00?!  I guarentee you'd be lousy compnay.

According to Scripture, if Christ didn't destroy death, you can't enjoy life.

Paul says, in effect, if Christ is good for us only until He died, then we are to be pitied.

How I pity a man like like Thomas Jefferson, a brilliant co-author of our own Declaration of Independence.  He disbelieved anything miraculous, as did many intellectuals of his day and ours.  He cut them from his Bible and upon his death, his cut up version of the gospels was published, called, "The Jefferson Bible".  It ended with the last words of John 19:42.  Therfore on account of the Jewish day of preparation, becuase the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.  

End of verse, chapter, book - end of the Bible - what joyless despair.

Without the resurection, godly living would be fruitless.

Turn with me, or simply listen to John's recording of Jesus' words in his gospel account: John 14:12.  Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greather works than these shall he do; becuase I go to the Father. skip to verse 16. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever - that is the Spirit of truth.  skip to v. 26.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.

Did you notice the condition for the coming and indwelling of the Spirit?!  The resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ - If He goes up, the Spirit will come down.

If Jesus doesn't go up, the Spirit will not come down - and the divine comfortor who will build into our lives the fruits of love joy and peace will be just another empty promise from just another false dead Messiah.

No wonder Paul wrote, in I Cor. 15 - this is the heart of the good news - that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and that He was buried and that He was raised on the third day.

Without the resurrection, our future lives would be emptiness

Look back a vew verses to John 14:1  We've studied this passage in detail, but let me make another point or two in relation to the resurrection of Christ.

1.  Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. 

2.  In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for.

Let's drive the point home:  If Jesus Christ was lying to his disciples here, He's lying to us about the future.

Whatever He said He'd do after His resurrection is obviously not being done if He's still did!

One other point here:  If Christ didn't rise again - He can't return again.

 3.  AND IF I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, ad

receive you to Myself that where I am, there you may be also.

Jesus makes it very clear that He's our passport and our transportation!

If He didn't ascend to the Father, then he can't reutrn again and take us to heaven.

In fact, the whole concept of heaven is now up for grabs too!

I still laugh every time I hear the well known story of the paratrooper who was making his first jump - it was essential, at 20,000 feet, to place total trust in the instructor - for fear usually took control.  As he stood in the doorway of the plane, ready to jump, the instructor shouted, "After you jump, count to 10 slowly, then pull the chord - you're chute should open - if it doesn't, count to 5 and pull the emergency chord - it never fails - your parachute will open - when you reach the ground, there will be a truck waiting for you.  So he jumps - counts to 10 - rather quickly - and pulls the chord - nothing happens - he quickly counts to 5 and pulls the emergency rip chord - nothing happens - as he plummets past his fellow soldiers who are floating earthward, they hear him say, "Yea, and I'll bet that truck won't be down there either."

He has every reason to doubt - the first things haven't happened - so why should this poor fella believe the last thing will happen?!

You understand what's at stake - no resurrection - no gospel - no forgiveness of sins - no present joy - no future hope - but there's one more I'll mention:

Dr. David Strauss, an unbelieving skeptic even acknowleged "That the resurrection, is decisive for the whole view of Christianity."

Now, becuase the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the critical point which separates Christianity from everything else, and which validates Christ's claims, there has been and still is a battle over this great doctrine.

There are scholars, so called, who speculatge that the grave of Christ is still occupied.  I've provided in your notes the name of a book that would be fascinating reading for you by one of my favorite apologetic authors.  

The belief that Jesus tomb is unknown or that the wrong one was identified.  This would mean that the women went to the wrong tomb; Peter and John ran to the wrong tomb; the Jews went to the wrong tomb, the Roman guards were stationed at the wrong tomb and Joseph of Arimathea forgot which tomb he'd put Jesus in, even though it was a new tomb and he was the owner.

Other theories include the spiritual resurection - that a ghost came out -

a spiritual vapor Christ - who amazingly was able to eat fish later on and show his hands and feet to doubting Thomas.

Then there's the scholarly hallucination theory - best explained by J.M. Allegro's book, The Sacred Mushroom adn the  Cross in which he alleges that Jesus was originally a code name for an ancient halllucinogenic mushroom used by people who were called Christians - they ate the mushrooms and had the same hallucinations.  Frankly, I think Mr. Allegro ate one to many mushroom.

I like what Paul Althaus wrote, from Germany's University of Erlangen; "The resurrection could not have been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as a fact."

So then . . . . there are the theories that believe the tomb was empty but  the body was stolen by the disciples - amazing that Peter was too cowardly to speak for a living Jesus, and nine other disciples fled the scene in fear, but now he and the others will become courageous martyrs on account of the fact that they have a dead Jesus hidden away somewhere.

Was his body moved by authroities?  Well, all they had to do was produce the body and the case against Christianity would have been undeniably closed.

Dr. Cassels writes this about the theorists:follow this carefully, I love this statement "The Amazing thing about all these theories is that they accept as much of the recorded gospels as they find convenient,

then ignore or repudiate other parts of the same documents which contradict their notions.

Let me give you an example - I've had different people say to me, "I don't believe there is such a thing as hell."  I always respond by asking, "Do you believe in a heaven?"  Oh yes, they often say.  "Good, where did you learn about heaven?"  "The Bible" they respond.  "That's right; and did you know that the Bible refers to hell more than it does about heaven?  Now how is it that anyone, who lives nearly two thousand years after the Bible was completed can say that what it says about heaven is true, but what it says about hell is false?"

My friend, the record of scripture is clear - Jesus Christ is alive - and he can forgive your sins and give your life purpose and fruitfulness and take you home one day to heaven - but all of that hinges upon John chapter 20.

Let's find out what it says!

John 20:1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.

Now if John's biography of Christ were an ordinary biography, there would be no chapter 20.  Death - burial, finh!

But Jesus was no ordinary man!

As I rehearse Biblical case for the resurrection, we need to understand from John's gospel that John is recording eyewitness accounts - therefore, as in any courtroom case, what the eyewitness saw is of utmost importance.  You could circle the words related to seeing some 8 times in these 18 verses.

He makes special mention of three things that he believed would be sufficient to encourage the faith of the believer and challenge the faith of the unbeliever . . . remember, both people then and now are excercising great faith.

Observation #1 - Mary saw the stone was moved and thrown off track.

According to verse one, Mary saw something rather unusual - something that our English language doesn't describe nerarly as vividly as the greek language.

Now you need to understand that the cusomary burial cave would have a groove dug along the entrance with a declining angle.  A large circular stone would be cut and moved by many men or with the help of pulleys and donkeys until it stood on its side in the groove above the entrance. 

A wedge or smaller rock would be used to keep the large stone from rolling into position until they were ready.  It was common for such a stone to weigh as much as one ton.

Matthew tells us that an angel moved the stone away . . . if you check Marks' record, he informs us that the women, who were with Mary - or who had come later than here were discussing among themselves, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance." 

Now John uses an interesting word in verse one -

it's the word "airo" which literally means seperated from.  Arndt and Gringrish's lexicon translates this verb -  "to pick something up and carry it away."

The amazing thing that they would all see is that the stone was not simply rolled up the incline and then wedged so that it would not roll back down - it was rolled up and away from the entire cave - seperated by some distance as if some mighty push had disloged it from it's groove.

Luke's gospel also used a compound word that meant that the  stone was rooled so far up a slope that it was seperated from - "a distance from" the tomb. 

There had been a display of strength!  That 1-2 ton stone had been thrown aside by divine strength.

And don't ever forget that the stone was thrown aside like some pebble that Sunday morning, not to let Jesus out - but to let the world in - to see that, indeed, the tomb empty!

ALMOST EMPTY . . . that is . . . for Jesus had left something in there that would further confirm something supernatural had taken place.

Let's make a second observation - have your pencil ready to unerline three words. . .

John 20:3.  Peter therefore went forth, and the other disciple, and  they were going to the tomb.  4.  And the two were running together, and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter, and came to the tomb first;  5.  And stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in.  6.  Simon Peter therefore also came; following him, and entered the tomb; and he beheld the linen wrappings lying there.  7.  and the face cloth, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.  8.  So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb entered then also, and he saw and believed.

My second observation is simply this - Peter and John saw the graveclothes were undisturbed.

Three times and three different greek words are used to describe the way John and Peter saw the evidnece left behind.

In verse 5 it says "And stooping and looking in, he SAW the linen wrappings lying there"

The word is from blepw - which means "a casual glance"

John peeked in and saw the graveclothes and then waited for Peter.  Peter comes huffing and puffing and doesn't stop to peek in - verse 6 tells us he entered the tomb; and he BEHELD the linen wrappings lying there.

I imagine Peter and Joh are catching their breath - and while there in the tomb, Peter is staring at the clothes.   This word is qeorew - "to observe carefully".   Theoreo is the greek word that gives us our word theorize - to look closely - to visually dissect.

Just what is Peter looking closely at - what does he observe?!

Well, look back at verse 6b. again, "And he beheld the linen wrappings lying there  7.  and the face-cloth which had been on His

head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.

This is an incredible sight - I'll tell you why!

Henry Latham wrote at the turn of this century - he documented eastern burials that went all the way back to the time of Christ.  His documentation matches perfectly with John's description.

Latham observed that the bodies were wrapped in linen cloths in such a manner as to leave the face, neck and upper part of the shoulders bare.  The upper part of the head would be covered by a cloth that had been twirled about the head much like a turban.

As the body was wrapped, the overlapping edges of the linen would be coated with spices - some dry and some made from a gummy sticky substance that would cause the linen to stay in place as they wrapped the body.  Remember, nearly 100 pounds of spices were used!

The end result would look a lot like our imagination pictures an egyptian mummy - the only difference would be the face would not be covered but the head would be wrapped with a covering that looked like a turban.

Is that how Jesus was prepared - let's read again, 6b. again, "And he beheld the linen wrappings lying there  7.  and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.

The grave-clothes were not disheveled and disarranged.  They had not been torn apart by a resucitating Lord - they had not been ripped off by grave-robbers.  They were lying there, literally, "still in their folds".

After three days and nights, the spices had begun to harden - when the disciples entered the tomb - they were struck immediately by by what one writer described, "the graveclothes, in the form of a body, slightly caved in and empty - like the empty cocoon of a caterpillar. 

Imagine - stepping inside the tomb - seeing the linen...a few inches away the headpiece - use hand! 

So, if you had been in there at the moment at which Jesus was raised from the dead - would you have seen Jesus stir - stuggle, sit up, unwrap his linen burail clothes??!!   No - that would have been a resusitation, not a resurrection, and the linen would have been scattered everywhere.

Had you been there you would have seen Jesus one moment and the next, the Lord's body disappears and the grave clothes shrunk somewhat, leaving the linen looking like an empty cocoon after the butterfly has flown away.

This is why verse 8 is so powerful, "So the other disciple who had first come to the  tomb entered then also, and he saw and believed."

This third reference to "seeing" is the greek word oraw - it means to see and to comprehend   No wonder - seeing that empty shroud would make a believer out of just about anyone.

A casual look - a theory - understanding belief.

Ladies and gentlemen - just how do you see Christ's empty tomb?!  Oh, you're not there physically, but you're listening to the inspried record of evidence. . .how do you see that almost empty tomb?!!

-Do you give it a casual glance - "Oh yea, it's empty . . . so it           hasn't made a difference in my life."

-Are you in the process of theorizing - you're interested, curious      but still undecided.

-Or do you see with understanding with the eyes of faith - do          you believe.

Observation #3 - Mary saw the Lord and was the first to tell.

John 20:10.  So the disciples went away again to their own homes.  11.  But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping, and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb:  and she beheld two angels in white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying.  13.  And they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?"  She said to them, "Becuase they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him."  14.  When she had said this, she turned around, and beheld Jesus

standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.  15.  Jesus said to her, "Woman why are you weeping?  Whom are you seeking?"  Supposing Him to be the gardner (you know it's hard to see through tears isn't it), she said to Him, "Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away."

Can you pause long enough to feel with Mary.  This whole paragraph is overflowing with her sorrow and love.  She had come back to the tomb; she had taken her message to Peter and John, and then must have been left behind in their race to the tomb so that by the time she got there again, they were gone.  So she stands here alone, weeping - sobbing literally.  So overwhelmed with grief, she doesn't even become startled by the presence of angels; she doesn't recognize Jesus - "Just tell me where My Lord is. . .please."

(The first time Jesus had called her "woman". . .now. . .) 16.  Jesus said to her, "Mary!"  She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).

Now evidently Mary hugs Jesus - most likely she falls at his feet and clutches them as her body shakes with joyful sobbing.

You know, when I see Jesus I'm not quite sure what I'll do - neither do you.  Will we say "hello!" , Will we shake His hand, give Him a hug; will we fall on our face, will we hug His feet - I don't know - but what a wonderful thing that will be when our faith is exchanged for a face to face meeting with our Savior.

17.  Jesus said to her, "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren, and say to them, "I

ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God."

At first this struck me as a cold rejoinder to Mary's joy.

D.A. Carson, a Greek scholar has taken all the nuances of this verse in it's original context and languange and hasexpanded the translation to read: "Stop holding on to me as if I were about to disappear permanently, for I am not yet ready to ascend to My Father.  This is a time for joy and sharing the good news, not for clutching me as if I were some private dream-come-true.  Stop clinging to me, but go and tell my brothers that I am in the process of ascending to my Father and your Father. . .I want them to know the good news too."

You might notice Jesus doesn't say, "I'm returning to our Father and our God"  but "my Father and God" and "your Father and God."  While there is shared intimacy, Jesus Christ has something we don't have.

You see, Jesus has a unique relationship to His Father/God by means of his divine nature - we have a special relationship to our Father/God by means of divine grace.

And so Mary is the first person to dry her tears for joy!

I find it interesting that the first witness of the resurrection of Christ was a woman.  According to the custom of Christ's day, a woman was not allowed to present evidence in a court of law.   The rabbinic teaching of that day is summarized by the cruel, uncaring belief that "it is better that the words of the Law be burned than be delivered to a woman." 

It will be Christianity which will give women dignity and honor.  It will be the teaching's of Christ's apostles that will pick up women from under the sandals of men and cause them to be heirs together with Christ.  While the role of women and men in the church are different, the value of women and men to the cause of Jesus Christ is absolutely the same.

It's interesting that the first person to see the resurrected Christ and be told to go and testify to others was not a man, but a woman -why?!  Perhaps this was God's way of saying -  this is a message, not of law but of grace.

The Savior was alive.

And did you notice that He didn't rise from  the dead, and then march into the temple to confront the hypocritical, religous leaders - see to it that Caiphas were Annas were royally embarassed and then exhiled; He didn't make a mad dash to the praetorium and say to Pilate, "I told you I was telling the truth."  He didn't go stand in the center of Jerusalem and bring down a plague on all those who had earlier shouted, "Crucify Him, Crucify Him." 

He doesn't do that today, to all those who scoff and rejecct.

Instead He met a woman whom, years earlier had been a demon possessed woman of the streets.  He had healed and forgiven years earlier.  Now He calls her by name and then He told her to go and tell the others.  What better person to tell the news - the day of grace had come.

A  Pastor named Ed Ross told the story of his three‑year‑old, Nicole, was as anxious for Easter to come. . .Nicole had picked out a new dress and Mom had given her a new white bonnet.  As they stopped at a store to buy her a new pair of shoes to go with her outfit, she once again said, "I can't wait for Easter, Daddy!"  I asked her, "Do you know what Easter means, honey?"  She replied, "Yes sir."  "Well, what does Easter mean?"  In her own sweet three‑year‑old way, she raised her arms andwith a big smile on her face, she said, "Surprise!!!" 

From the human perspective, what better word could sum up the meaning of  the empty tomb.  Surprise!  Surprise death!  Surprise sin!  Surprise weeping disciples!  Surprise modern mankind, He's alive! 

Will you see Him and believe; and if you have believed, will you tell the news to someone else!


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