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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
April 24, 2011
The Empty Tomb
Matthew 28:5 (NASB) “And the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6 “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.”
And so it was that the most exciting news in all history was announced to the women who had come to Jesus’ tomb to complete the burial rites. Jesus was no longer there for He had risen from the dead just as He had said He would.
The resurrection is the pivotal point of human history. All those who were righteous in times previous looked forward to when their sins would be paid for and the curse of death would be broken. All those who have been righteous since that time have looked back to this event as the assurance of the promise that their sins have been paid for and death has been conquered.
The Apostle Paul made it clear in 1 Cor. 15:17-19 that without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is no hope. “and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” But we are not people to pitied, but people to be envied, because as Paul states in verse 20, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.” Our hope is not a wish, but a confidence assurance based in the promises of God. Christ has been raised from the dead and so shall we.
It should be no surprise that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the if not the most attacked claim of the Bible. Intellectuals scoff at it and pagans deny it, but perhaps the greater tragedy are those that give lip service to it, but remain oblivious to the ramifications of it for their lives do not change. Turn to John 20 as we look at the Apostle John’s account of this most wonderful event.
Mary at the Tomb
Again we must point out that John writes his account of Jesus’ life 30-40 years after Matthew, Mark and Luke. He expects that his readers will be familiar with those accounts of Jesus’ life including the details they give concerning Jesus’ resurrection. As we go through John’s account, I will weave in some of these details from Matthew 28, Mark 16 and Luke 24.
John 20:1 (NASB) “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. 2 And so she ^ran and ^came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and ^said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”
It was now approaching Sunrise on the first day of the week – our Sunday. The Jews did not name the days but simply counted them from what was to them the only truly significant day, the Sabbath. Jesus had now been in the grave for three days. Remember that any part of a day was counted as the day in that culture. Friday – day 1. Saturday – day 2. Sunday – day 3.
It has been about eleven hours since the Sabbath ended at dusk and now it is early morning. John points out here that it is still dark when Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb. Mary Magdalene had a supreme devotion to Jesus ever since He had cast seven demons out of her. From the other gospel accounts we know that several other women – Joanna, Salome and Mary, the mother of James, were also coming to Jesus’ tomb and would arrive just as the Sun came up. Except for Joanna, these were women that are specifically mentioned at being present when Jesus was crucified.
Mary and these women were coming to the garden to look at the grave, and according to Luke, had also come with more burial spices that they had prepared. Mark’s account records that as they had walked to the sepulcher they had been wondering who would roll the stone away that blocked the entrance to the tomb. This was an act of love and devotion, but it was also an act that shows their unbelief. It is possible that the disciples had never related anything to them about what Jesus had said about being raised from the dead on the third day, but this seems improbable. They have not come to the grave of Jesus to see if He was resurrected, but to anoint His body with more burial spices as a beautiful act of their devotion to Him. Their concern about getting the stone rolled away for them was short lived for God had rolled away the stone for them.
Matthew 28:2 records that a severe earthquake occurred when an Angel from the Lord came and rolled away the stone that blocked the entrance into the tomb. The exact timing of it cannot be determined, but it appears that it occurred before even Mary arrived for the stone was already removed when Mary got there (John 20:1).
Why did God have the angel roll the stone away and cause an earthquake? First, take note that Matthew 28:2 says it was a “severe” (megaV / megas) earthquake. When such an earthquake occurs, I can assure you as someone with personal experience of such earthquakes, that everyone is wide awake! This earthquake ensured that any claim that would be made later that the guards were asleep could not be true. It also became the means by which God broke Rome’s seal. No matter how great and glorious man’s power may seem to himself, it is nothing before God. Any man would have been very afraid to break the seal of Rome, for to do so would be to risk death at Rome’s hand, but the seal was no concern to God. God broke the seal because Rome’s power, as all human power, is inconsequential to God.
But why have the Angel roll the stone away? It would not have been to let Jesus out. As the various post-resurrection appearances of Jesus demonstrates, His resurrection body was not bound by the same material space limitations that you and I are. He was able to appear in a room full of disciples without the door being opened (John 20:19), and yet He could be touched and could eat (John 20:27 & 21:12-15). Comparison of the various accounts implies that Jesus was already out before the stone was rolled away. The stone was not rolled away to let Jesus out, but to let the women, and later the disciples, in!
The presence of the angel also took care of the guards that were present. Matthew records that “the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.” That indicates that they were so afraid they passed out. They later return to the city and report to the chief priests, but for the present, they are immobilized.
Mary Magdalene appears to be the first one of Jesus’ followers at the tomb. John records here that she came to the tomb while it was still dark and that when she arrived the stone was already taken away. John does not record whether she actually looked into the tomb, but her response and report to Peter in verse 2 indicates that whatever she did see convinced her that Jesus body had been taken away. Perhaps the bodies of the guards were still lying there passed out. If that were the scene, it would have led a reasonable person to think that some strong group of people had overpowered the guard and stolen the body. She was quite distressed and ran until she came to Peter.
John records that he was with Peter, referring to himself as “the other disciple whom Jesus loved.” Though John is an old man when he is writing this about 60 years after the event, he is still enraptured with the fact that Jesus loved him.
When Mary runs into Peter and John, she blurts out her conclusion that “they,” some unknown group of people, “have taken away the Lord, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”
From the other gospel accounts we find that the angel of the Lord had rolled away the stone and was sitting down on top of it when the other women, Salome, Joanna and Mary, the mother of James, arrived at the tomb at sunrise. The angel was the divine answer to the concern these women had about who would roll the stone away for them. Matthew, Mark and Luke record that the angel announced the resurrection of Jesus to these women – “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.” The angel also instructed them to go tell the disciples about it.
Since Mary was at the tomb while it was still dark and the other women did not arrive until sunrise (Mk. 16:2), it is apparent that she was there alone before the other women arrived. Her inclusion of “we” in her report to Peter (vs. 2) indicates she was still at the tomb when the other women arrived. Since John does not record anything about Mary Magdalene seeing this angel and her response indicates she believed Jesus body had been taken away, it would seem that either Mary left the tomb before the angel appeared or was so distraught that she did not understand anything the angel said if she had been present.
Peter and John at the Tomb
We can only imagine the emotional turmoil Mary must have been in when she found Peter and John. Verse 3-10 records their response to Mary’s report.
John 20:3 (NASB) “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. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 10 So the disciples went away again to their own homes.”
Both disciples start out, but John is the faster of the two and arrives at the tomb first. But John is also more timid than Peter. The scene would be intimidating. The stone is rolled away from the tomb indicating Mary’s story is true. Who would have stolen Jesus’ body? Was this some sort of plot by the chief priests? Where were those men now? If the guards are still unconscious and their bodies are still present, then the scene would have been even more intimidating. John stops at the tomb entrance and bends down to look inside and he can see the linen wrappings lying there, but he does not go in.
Peter is the bold one and upon his arrival he goes past John and into the tomb. He also sees the linen wrappings, but also notices the face cloth which was lying rolled up in a place by itself. Since Peter was now inside the tomb, John also enters. He also sees what Peter sees and the truth suddenly strikes him.
Up to this time, John points out in verse 9, the disciples did not understand the Scriptures that Jesus must rise again from the dead. Even though Jesus had said it to them many times, they did not understand it. Mark 9:31-32 records what their response had been to Jesus’ teaching about this – “For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.” 32 But they did not understand [this] statement, and they were afraid to ask Him.”
Students are still the same way. They would rather remain in ignorance than ask a question about something they do not understand. This is something most teachers eventually learn and live with. Students will often pretend to know rather than ask a question and risk being thought stupid. Eventually the real stupidity of remaining ignorant is exposed, and teachers hope to teach the lesson then that they had hoped their students should have learned earlier. The disciples had been taught about the resurrection many times earlier, but the truth of it is just now dawning on John as he looks at the linen wrappings and the rolled up face cloth there in the empty tomb.
The other gospels did not record this event, but it was of special interest to John since he was present and what he saw was proof of Jesus’ resurrection. The fact that the linens were present and the face cloth so carefully rolled up was evidence that shouted loudly that Jesus’ body had not been stolen. Thieves would not have unwrapped a body before stealing it, especially when that body was inside a tomb with a Roman seal on it. They would be risking death to break that seal. If Jesus’ body had been stolen, the thieves would have been in and out of the tomb as quickly as possible, but the linen wrappings and the face cloth by itself carefully rolled up lying there demonstrated there was no hurry. We do not have an exact account of the events of Jesus’ resurrection. We do not know if Jesus unwrapped Himself or an angel did it for Him, but the presence of the grave clothes proved there was no hurry and the One who had been in them no longer needed them. John was now beginning to believe the evidence before Him. Jesus rose from the dead.
Peter and John now leave the tomb and return to their own homes. This was no longer to hide, but to share the news with the others. From the other gospel accounts, it would appear that the other women had at first fled from the tomb very frightened and unwilling to say anything to anyone (Mk 1:8), but along the way back to Jerusalem, Jesus appeared and greeted them and they took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. Jesus then said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they shall see Me.” These women then did return to the disciples and told them what they had seen, but did not believe it (Mt. 28:9,10; Lk. 24:10,11).
It is while the women are on their way to the disciples that the guards who had been at the tomb make their way back to Jerusalem and report what had happened to the chief priests. Their response again exposes their religious hypocrisy. They had no concern at all about the things of God, for if they had, the report of the earthquake and angel rolling to stone away would have caused them to fall on their knees in repentance, or at least investigate further and find out for themselves if Jesus had risen from the dead. Instead, they seek out a way to cover up the truth so that their positions of authority as the religious leaders of Israel would not be threatened. They form a conspiracy to bribe the guards to lie about what had happened and say that the disciples stole Jesus’ body while the guards were asleep. The chief priests were desperate, yet this silly story continues on. The silliness of the story is revealed by 1) The guards were not allowed to sleep on duty and were at great risk if that happened which is why as part of the deal with them the chief priest had to promise to keep the guards out of trouble. 2) How could the guards remain asleep with the earthquake and all the noise made as the rock was moved? 3) If the guards were asleep, how could they have known the robbers were the disciples? 4) If the guards had been awakened to have seen the robbers, why didn’t they stop them? It would be very difficult to escape an armed guard while trying to carry a dead body away. The only reason the story was made up and that it would still be repeated today is that men do not want to believe the truth. The ramifications of Jesus being raised from the dead are more than sinful man wants to bear, for if it is true, then they will be held accountable for their sins by a holy and just God who is all powerful.
Mary sees Jesus
The care and comfort by our Lord is seen in the next event that John describes in verses 11-18. 11“But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; 12 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, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”
Mary appears to have followed Peter and John who had run on ahead. By the time she arrives back at the tomb, Peter and John have already left. She is still distraught. All she can think about is that Jesus’ body has been taken away. She arrives at the tomb and stands there crying, but then stoops down and looks inside the tomb. She sees two angels, one on either side of where Jesus’ body had lain, but has no recognition that they are angels or that there is even anything strange about them being there. Her answer to their question about why she was weeping reveals that her only thought was about Jesus’ body. They do not answer her, for another is now present with them that can better answer Mary’s dilemma.
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 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.” 16 Jesus ^said to her, “Mary!” She ^turned and ^said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).
We are not told how Mary became aware of the presence of someone else in the tomb. Perhaps she heard something, or perhaps she noticed a shadow in the light coming through the entrance. Whatever the cause, Mary turns around and sees Jesus, but does not recognize Him. It is too far from her mind that Jesus could be alive, so even though she hears Jesus speak as He asks her, ““Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?,” she does recognize Him. It should be noted that Jesus asks “whom” Mary was seeking and not “what.” Mary was searching for a body, but Jesus question directed her to look for a person.
Mary assumed that this man must be a gardener or caretaker of some sort, so she presses him with her concern. Perhaps he is the one that has taken away the body, so she pleads for him to tell her where Jesus’ body has been laid and she would take care of it. Her only concern is finding Jesus’ body to take care of it. She turns away from Him. It is not until Jesus calls her by name that she finally recognizes that it was Jesus standing in front of her. She has been addressed by her name in her native tongue and responds to Jesus in her native tongue, “Rabboni.” John translates this word as meaning, “teacher,” for the benefit of his non-Aramaic speaking readers. However, this is not the common word for teacher, “Rabbi,” but one reserved for only a few special Rabbis of high rank such as Gamaliel. It was often used with reference to God.
Mary has been so concentrated on finding Jesus’ body, that she is overwhelmed when she recognizes Him as being alive. Her response is to grab Him and hold on to Him, much as she must have done to Lazarus when Jesus had raised him from the dead. She would have been holding onto Jesus much the way we might hold onto our children or a loved one after we have been afraid for their life or safety and we do not want them to leave us again. Jesus has to correct her on this in verse 17.
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.'”
The New American Standard and New King James translations here give the sense of what Mary had been doing. Jesus was not objecting to being touched. Jesus did not object to the other women taking hold of His feet and worshiping Him (Mt. 28:9), and Jesus would invite the disciples to touch Him to prove to themselves that it really was Him in flesh (Luke 24:39). But Mary was clinging and so Jesus commands her to stop it. He also gives her the reason.
Jesus had not yet ascended to the Father. He was not going to be staying, but there would be a time in the future when they would no longer be separated. Jesus first had to ascend to the Father, and He wants Mary to return to the disciples to communicate this to them, but notice what else Jesus says here that shows the relationship He wants communicated to the disciples.
Earlier in John, Jesus had referred to Lazarus as “our friend”(Jn. 11:11), and then to the disciples themselves as “friends” (Jn. 15:15). Now Jesus calls them “my brothers.” He also refers to God the Father as “my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.” Jesus is standing before Mary after being raised from the dead which is a very non-human thing to have happen. Mortal humans do not die and then come back to life three days later. Jesus is stressing His humanity to them. What had occurred to Jesus was the hope that was being given to them. They would be like He is. “Brothers” are of the same family. That is our hope.
If Jesus alone conquered death that would be great and wonderful, but of little value to us unless He could enable us to do the same. By calling the disciples “brothers” and saying, “My Father and your Father, and My God and your God,” Jesus stresses to them that they have a new relationship with Him. They are of the same family. They will share in the same inheritance. Romans 8:17 states we are “joint heirs” with Jesus.
This does not mean they are same substance, for it is “My Father and your Father, and My God and your God,” not “Our Father and Our God.” Jesus is son by nature, but they are sons by adoption (Gal. 4:5). Jesus’ relationship with God is as a member of the eternal trinity, but they would share in an intimacy with God they had not known before. This is the same hope that is given to all who place their faith in Jesus for salvation from their sins and follow Him. Jesus said in Matthew 12:50 that “whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” We also can be adopted into God’s family (Romans 8:15; Ephesians 1:5; 1 John 3:1).
Jesus wants Mary to understand this message herself and to transmit it to the disciples. So Mary did stop clinging to Jesus, and we can be sure that it was with joy far greater than the despair she had been feeling, for verse 18 records, Mary Magdalene ^came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and [that] He had said these things to her.”
Next week we will examine the response of the disciples when they finally see the risen Christ for themselves, but for this week, what about your own response. If you do not yet have the assurance of being in Heaven with Jesus, please understand that Jesus’ promise can be yours. You can be His brother/sister. Talk with one of our leaders after the service about how you can be forgiven your sins and adopted into God’s family.
Even if you do have that hope, how often do you walk around in despair at the problems of life? Like Mary, you are weighed down by difficulties and heartaches. Stop looking for a corpse, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and that changes everything. Yes, there are still troubles and trials in this life, but there is now a hope that transcends this life that makes those difficulties of little concern. Paul, as much as he did suffer in so many ways, said this in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Peter, who also suffered many things said this in 1 Peter 1:6-9, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 that the proof of your faith, [being] more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”
Let us be careful that we do not let the cares of this world, of which there are many, cause us to forget our hope eternity. Mary was looking for a corpse, but found the risen Christ – what about you?
Sermon Notes – 4/24/2011
The Empty Tomb – John 20:1-18
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ______________ point of all human history
1 Corinthians 15:17-19 Without the resurrection, there is ________________
Our hope is not a wish, it is a confident ___________because Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead
Mary at the Tomb – John 20:1-2
Mary arrives at the tomb while it is still ____________. The other women arrive at sunrise
They come with ______________ to finish the burial preparations
There was a severe _________________ when the angel rolled the stone away from the tomb
The earthquake ensured everyone was ____________ and it broke the Roman seal on the tomb
The stone was rolled away to let ________________ , not to let Jesus out
The guards were so ____________ they “became as dead men”
Mary believed someone had taken Jesus body and __________ until she came to Peter and John
The other women saw the _____________ and were told that Jesus had risen from the dead
Peter and John at the Tomb – John 20:3-10
_____________ gets to the tomb before Peter, but does not go in until after Peter arrives and goes in
They had not _____________Jesus’ previous teachings that He would rise from the dead – Mark 9:31-32
The rolled up linens in the tomb showed there was _________- opposite of what a thief would have done
Jesus Reveals Himself To Mary – John 20:11-18
Mary returned to the tomb and talked to two ________________
Mary then talked to Jesus, but thought He was the __________________
Mary recognized Jesus when He called her by _____________, then she clung to Him
Jesus did not object to being _____________- others did (Matt. 28:9) and He invited it (Luke 24:38-39)
Jesus told Mary to stop _______________for He had to ascend to the Father first
Jesus now refers to His followers as members of the same ___________- “My Father and your Father”
They did not believe until they saw _______________ risen from the dead for themselves.
Jesus’ Enemies – Matthew 28:11-15
The ______________ returned to Jerusalem and reported to the chief priests
The chief priests showed no concern for the things of __________or truth, but only in their own positions
The guards were ______________ to say that they fell asleep and the disciples stole Jesus’ body
1) Falling asleep on post was punishable by ___________. The priests had to protect the guards
2) How could the guards stay asleep through the ________________and the stone being moved away?
3) If the guards were asleep, how would they ______________ what happened to Jesus’ body?
4) If the guards had woken up and seen the thieves,
why didn’t they ___________ them?
Jesus’ tomb was found ______________- what effect does that fact have on your life?
Do you believe fabricated stories and _____________Jesus’ resurrection from the dead?
Do you remain ________________ demanding God meet your standards of evidence?
Do you remain weighed ________________ by the circumstances that surround you?
Do you live in the transcendent ____for the future in God’s love & promises proven by the resurrection?
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