Cadet Sam Tim – “Jesus is Alive! You better believe it!
How many of you have heard of a fisherman that comes back to say that they got a fish “this big”? Or the golfer that claims that they got “a hole in one”? And, you are saying, “Yeah, right, I don’t think so.” Human beings are naturally sceptical. When we hear someone make a fantastic claim, part of us wants to believe it but a part of us still remains sceptical.
I am sure that you can all remember when someone told you a story that seemed too farfetched to be real. The Easter story is one of those stories that can be hard for some people to believe.
You may even know of someone who struggles with the notion that Jesus died and was raised on the third day. In fact, some of you here today may not be sure about the whole Easter story – if you are, you are not alone.
The good news is that we are not the first group to have doubts about the resurrection. Even the disciples had trouble believing the story when they first heard about it and they had spent 3 years following Jesus!
Today, we are going to look at the account of the empty tomb recorded in John 20:1-18. We will look at the resurrection story from the point of view of Mary Magdalene and John and Peter. Each started from a position of grief and unbelief, but all came to believe that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. By looking at the journey each one took, we will probably see pieces of ourselves in each of them.
Mary Magdalene was a close follower of Jesus. He had rescued her from the power of seven demons and she is recorded as being with Mary, the mother of Jesus, near the cross while Jesus was crucified.
Think of how heartbroken she must have been on that Easter morning. This man that she had followed, was now dead. In her final act of devotion to him, she had set out to go to his tomb to prepare his body with spices. Imagine her shock when she arrives to find the stone not in front of the tomb!
Verse 1 states, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.”
In those days, people were buried in small caves with stones rolled in front of the entrance. The stones would have acted similar to our gravestones today – they marked a person’s final resting place. Thus, seeing the stone removed from the entrance would be like going and seeing someone’s gravestone moved or knocked down.
Put yourself in Mary’s shoes – what would be your first thought? Shock? Confusion? Anger that someone had defiled Jesus’ tomb?
Verse 2 says, “She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” The Message Bible described Mary Magdalene as “breathlessly panting” when she ran to the two disciples. Answering her pleas for help, the two disciples immediately set off towards the tomb. She follows them back, but arrives much later at the tomb.
As she stood outside the tomb crying in verse 11, she bent over to look into the tomb and then she “saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
She could have wondered to herself, ‘why are these people asking me such a question when they are seated right where Jesus’ body was. Don’t they understand the severity of the situation!?’ But she answered “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him.”
She then sees a man who she assumes is the gardener and she implores him to tell her where he has moved Jesus. It wasn’t until he called her by name that she recognized him as being her Lord.
Reading over this section, one can wonder: why did Mary not recognise Jesus at first? The most likely answer is that her grief blinded her to recognizing Jesus’ presence right in front of her. Often times, we fail to see Jesus in our life and our community because we are so consumed with grief and sorrow that we don’t sense his presence right in front of us. We are expecting to find Jesus ‘one way’ but he comes to us in another way. Mary was expecting to find a dead body, not someone alive.
What are those things in your life right now that are making it hard for you to see Jesus?
Mary did not give up looking for Jesus, even when faced with what seemed like a very stressful and frightful ordeal. One can imagine the joy and total relief that she must have felt when she finally realised that she was standing face to face with Jesus who was not dead but alive.
A story is told of how nearly 20 years ago at the height of operation Desert Storm, Ruth Dillow received a very sad message from the Pentagon. The message stated that her son, Clayton, had stepped on a landmine in Kuwait and was killed. Ruth later wrote these words, “I can’t begin to describe the grief and shock. It is almost more than I could bear. For three days, I just wept. I expressed anger and loss. For three days people tried to comfort me but nothing worked…the loss was simply too great.” But three days after she received that message the phone rang. The voice on the other end said, “Mom, it’s me. It’s Clayton. I’m alive.” Ruth said, “I couldn’t believe it at first. But then I recognized his voice and realized he really was alive. The message was a mistake.” She said, “ I laughed, cried, I felt like turning cartwheels because my son who I thought was dead was actually alive.”
On that first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene travelled from intense grief to intense joy when she realized and believed that Jesus was alive.
Next, we will look at Peter and John’s response to the empty tomb.
Peter and John
Peter and John (referred to in our text as ‘the other disciple, the one Jesus loved’) had spent three years being part of Jesus’ inner circle. They had travelled with him, been taught by him and seen him perform countless miracles. Imagine their intense grief and pain when their Lord died on the cross. All their hopes, their dreams, would have come crashing down around them.
In the midst of their grief on that Easter morning, Mary Magdalene comes running up to them, panting, saying something about the Lord being taken away. Imagine for a second that you are Peter and John and you see this woman running to you in a state of panic insisting that Jesus’ body has been moved – what would be your first response? Would you dismiss her as simply delusional? Would you feel anger that someone had moved his body without permission?
As stated earlier, they both immediately started running towards the tomb. The only problem is that Peter was not a fast runner, (he was good at other things but running apparently was not one of them) as the other disciple, John, who we are told was a little bit younger, got there first.
However, even though he got there first, John did not actually go into the tomb to see things for himself. In verse 5 we read that “he bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.” We are not told of why he did not go in. Some commentaries have indicated that he did not go in because as a Jew, he did not want to come in contact with a dead body, which will make him unclean or maybe like me, he was afraid of dead bodies.
However, hot on his heels comes Peter. And, in true Peter ‘jump in with both feet and think of the consequences later’ fashion, he immediately goes inside the tomb. Verses 6- 8 says, “Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.”
While reading verse 8, two phrases jump out: “finally” and “he saw and believed”. We don’t know exactly why John didn’t go in right away; but this word, “finally”, shows us that he decided to let go of whatever was holding him back from going into the tomb. The second (and most important) thing is that when he finally went in, He saw and believed.
He saw the grave linens neatly folded, he saw the empty tomb, and he believed that Jesus had risen, he was not in the tomb any more. One can hear John shout out “He is risen” and Peter respond “He is risen indeed.”
Sadly in our world today, there are still some people who do not believe that Jesus has risen from the dead. They will prefer to go with the story that someone came in the night and stole the body of Jesus and took Him to an unknown place.
One man, Albert Henry Ross (who wrote under the name Frank Morison) set out to demonstrate that the resurrection was a myth. However, during the course of his research, he came to be convinced that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. In his book, Who Moved The Stone?, he pointed out that none of Jesus’ enemies and opponents of the newborn Christian Church could deny the disappearance of Jesus’ body from the tomb in which He had been buried. Despite having every religious and political incentive to do so, neither the Jewish religious authorities who condemned Him, nor the Romans who crucified Him, were able to produce Jesus’ body. But they didn’t because they couldn’t.
Peter and John both saw and both believed that Jesus had risen. What about you? Do you believe that Jesus has risen?
Back in 1840, a doctor in Vienna noticed that the midwives in the maternity hospital where he worked had a much lower mortality rate among their patients than the doctors. He suggested that the doctors wash their hands after each patient and wear different clothes when they performed autopsies from when they worked with patients. His suggestions resulted in a massive decrease in the death rates. The simple act of handwashing had a profound effect on the hospital. Sadly, his suggestions were viewed as an attack on the doctors and he spent the last years of his life in a mental institution, discounted as a madman. It wasn’t until 30 years later, in the 1870s, when his suggestions became common practice among hospitals. The concept of bacteria – tiny organisms that can’t be seen by the naked eye – being responsible for illness and disease had at one time been dismissed as ridiculous. However, we now know that handwashing can have a profound effect on reducing the level of transmission of illness and disease.
Bacteria exists; it is real. Whether you believe in it or not doesn’t change that. However, if you take the truth to heart and wash your hands, your chances of getting sick are greatly reduced.
Likewise, whether we believe it or not, the tomb is empty and Jesus has risen from the dead. However, when we choose to believe and take the truth to heart that Jesus is alive and still active in our world today, our lives will be transformed. One Bible commentary argues that “the tomb was open not to let Jesus’ body out but to let the disciples and the world see that He arose.” We cannot meet Jesus until we discover and believe that he is indeed alive, that the tomb is empty.
Where do you see yourself today? Were there aspects to either Mary Magdalene’s or Peter and John’s experiences that sounded familiar to you?
In our world today, there are many people who started the race to the tomb, but when they got near, became weary and decided to stop halfway instead of going all the way to see things for themselves. Or they allowed their grief to prevent them from seeing Jesus standing right in front of them.
In John 11:25-26 Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” Do you believe this? Do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead? How would your life be different today if you lived as though you truly believed that Jesus is no longer in that grave – that he has conquered death itself? Because the truth is that Jesus is alive; the tomb is empty. When we believe that Jesus is alive, we can take our concerns to Him.
 The Bible Knowledge Commentary pg 342