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Easter sermon blog: Believing is seeing?

March 2, 2016

 

John 20:1- 31

It was all over for Jesus’ followers. Their leader was dead.

They had followed him, some of them, for three years. They had hung on his every word and action. They left everything to follow him. Jobs and security and the comforts of family life.

  • High hopes

They had high hopes of Jesus.

Andrew told his brother Peter “We have found the Messiah!”

Philip told Nathanael “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote”.

Nathanael said to Jesus “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.

Nicodemus greeted Jesus as a “teacher who has come from God”.

The Samaritan people recognised him as the “Saviour of the world”.

Martha, through her grief acknowledged “You are the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world”.

Simon Peter boldly stated “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.

They had high hopes of Jesus.

  • Finished

They were often puzzled by his words and actions, but he had come to rescue his people. Surely he would turn their world upside down and restore their nation to its glory.

But now he was dead.

And his last audible words for those who stayed within earshot:

“IT IS FINISHED!”

“Yes”, they thought, “It’s certainly finished. It’s all over now”.

What was that 3 years all about?

They thought he was the one, but now, their minds in a whirl, they must have thought, “we got it wrong!”

Jesus was dead and buried. His body placed in the tomb by 2 secret disciples, Joseph and Nicodemus.

And after the darkness of Friday it was now the Sabbath. The day for religious worship. For one day, for the Jewish religious leaders at least, Jesus was forgotten. For those who played their part in Jesus’ execution there was a day to be religious.

And while the disciples grieved, there was nothing more they could do today. Their world had fallen apart. Their friend and inspiration was gone. But they had to wait for Sunday morning to at least do what they could.

He was their friend they loved him, but did they wonder “what’s the point?”

Did they even think “He was just a man. We fell for his lies”?

At best, was his life and teaching going to continue to be an inspiration to them, even now he was gone?

  • Mary and the empty tomb

It’s still dark on Sunday morning, and Mary Magdalene was off to Jesus’ tomb. Mary’s life had been transformed by meeting with Jesus. He had thrown demons out of her. He had stepped into her dark, painful world, and had set her free.

No wonder she followed him.

And so she set out for the tomb. The gospel of Mark tells us that she was not alone. A group of ladies walked together. Mary herself, Mary the mother of James, Salome. Were these among the ladies who we are told supported Jesus’ ministry financially?

Mark also tells us why they went to the tomb. To anoint Jesus’ body. Although he also notes that they wondered “How are we going to get the stone away from the entrance to the tomb?”

The stones used were often slid into a groove which sloped downwards so would have taken some strength to push it back uphill along the groove.

But they went. Perhaps as their final act of respect and friendship.

But something amazing happened that morning.

Something that would change Mary and Peter and John and Thomas and his many followers, that day and in the days that followed, and down the centuries. Something that changes us. That can change you and me.

And for the most part it is the reaction of those different people to events of Easter Sunday that we look at together today. And how we will react.

Puzzling events.

Frightening events.

Emotional events.

The only problem that the ladies could think of as they walked was NOT a problem! The one practical obstruction to their work was gone. The stone was rolled away!

Were there spirits lifted that some kind souls had sorted this for them?

Or were their hearts in their mouths? What was going on?

We are not told that they looked but plainly they did, for as Mary ran to Peter and John (the other disciple), she reported that the body of Jesus was missing. The ladies had no idea where he was, but he was gone.

Already grieving, this turn of events throws them into turmoil.

Perhaps like Mary, there is an emptiness in your life right now. Jesus isn’t part of things. You are alone, grieving, scared, confused. What is life all about? Perhaps Mary felt all or most of those things.

  • John and the empty grave clothes

There was a lot of running going on that morning. Perhaps this was where the Sunday early morning run originated. Mary ran to Peter and John. And now the two men race to the tomb.

John is fitter and quicker. Perhaps he is the younger of the two. He arrives at the tomb first. He stoops and sees the strips of linen once wrapped around Jesus’ body.

Peter comes along huffing and puffing after him, but like a good runner he bursts through the finishing line without hesitation and he is in to the tomb. Peter is never one to hold back!

He sees the strips. But he also sees the cloth that was around Jesus’ head. If someone had stolen the body then surely the strips would have gone with him. It is as if he has stepped out of his grave clothes. Who would have taken the trouble to unwrap the body?

Finally John is beside Peter in the tomb and he sees. But not only are we told that he saw. We are also told that he believed. But what did he believe?> Did he believe what Mary had told him – that the body had gone – or did he come to realise something much more?

Interestingly John comments in verse 9 that the disciples still had not understood from the scriptures that Jesus was to rise from the dead, even though Jesus himself had talked to them about this often. John does not say what he believed but it seems likely that he believed at that moment that Jesus was risen.

Peter and John had seen something more it seems than the ladies had. They did not just see the emptiness of the tomb. They saw the empty grave clothes.

In your own darkness and emptiness, perhaps you have heard a whisper that Jesus is alive. That your life can somehow be different because of this. That there is a hope for you this morning. For the tomb is empty and so are the grave clothes of Jesus.

So we have a mixture of thoughts surely.

Who has taken the body? And why?

Has Jesus risen from the dead? And where is he?

The disciples went home. They came, they saw, and they went home!

Had they seen all they were going to see that day? Did they even have a clue what to do next?

  • Mary, the angels and the gardener

Mary stayed. Her mind still in turmoil. The thought uppermost in her mind? “Where has the body gone?”

She looks into the tomb again as the day gets lighter. Are there any clues? Well as she looks she sees something that the disciples had not seen. Not the empty grave clothes, but 2 figures dressed in white. 2 angels John tells us, head and foot of where Jesus’ body had been laid.

“Why are you crying?”

Her thoughts are still the same as she replies. “They have taken my Lord, I don’t know where they have taken him”

Who were “THEY”? Was she thinking of the Jews? The Romans? Grave robbers?

It is then that something happens which is both amazing and strange. Mary sees Jesus standing before her as she turns, but doesn’t recognise him.

John had seen an empty tomb and empty grave clothes and believed. Mary had Jesus himself standing before her and didn’t know it was him.

He asks the same question.

“Why are you crying?” and;

“Who are you looking for?”

And with the risen Lord stood in front of her she continues with her story about Jesus’ body having been taken away. She thinks this is the gardener and wonders if he has had something to do with the disappearing body.

We might ask ourselves, why did she not recognise her Lord. The one who meant so much to her, who had changed her life, the one she had followed. But John doesn’t tell us.

Was it her grief? Her tears obscuring her view? Did he in some way look different? This is not the only post resurrection appearance where he was not recognised. Did he in some way obscure his appearance?

It took one word to change everything.

One word to provide Mary with all the answers.

One word. As it grew lighter that day, one word made all the lights come on.

“Mary”. As Jesus spoke her name she knew. This was him. Her teacher.

Jesus knows each of us by name this morning. He knows your situation. He knows your history, just as he knew Mary’s story. He speaks to you this morning and he speaks to you by name. He is alive. And he loves you. He can fill that emptiness in your life. Why are you crying? He knows.

If, unsurprisingly, she wanted to hug him, Jesus discourages her. “Not now. I’m not leaving yet.”

“Go and tell the others!”

There is a time for us to spend time at Jesus’ feet in worship. But there is also that time to get up and tell others. Telling others is a call repeated throughout this passage.

Mary went again. I’m guessing she ran again! She told the disciples “I have seen the Lord!” She knew now.

  • The Disciples and the locked room

And that’s it now until the evening. The disciples are together. Have they continued to be together after they were scattered only a few days before?

Or have they gathered together on hearing the news from Peter and John and Mary? To discuss what was happening? What could be done? Where was the body? Or could he really be alive? “What are we supposed to do now?!”

They are not kept waiting. In fear the doors are securely locked. But the risen Jesus has no problems with such details. He is there. He is standing with them. Their fear rises.

No wonder he brings “peace”. Were they seeing a ghost? Did they too have difficulty recognising him? Has he come to get his revenge after they all deserted him?

If the resurrected body of Jesus looks different in some ways, there are some things that have not changed. He still bears, and he shows them, the marks of the nails in his hands and feet, of the spear in his side. This is him – the one who is dead but is now very much alive.

Interestingly when John is later give his vision of Jesus in Revelation, he is described as a figure of great glory and majesty, but also as a lamb who has been slaughtered. Even when Jesus is seen in all his glory, his death on the cross for us will never be a distant memory. Rather it will be a visible reality and source of constant worship, that he loved us enough to die for us.

Jesus loves you too. That is why he came into the world. That is why he died. So that your broken life could be made right again. So that your broken relationship with God could be restored. So that you would not have to suffer the consequences of all that is wrong in your life. This morning he offers you peace. Peace in your heart and mind. Peace with God. And he shows you the wounds of the cross. He did it for you.

As with Mary, Jesus gives his disciples a job. To go and tell others. To preach a message of forgiveness found in Jesus.

  • Thomas – seeing is believing

But we’re not finished for now.

There is one disciple who is not there. He is Thomas. Maybe he didn’t get the message. Thomas is an inspiring man, unfairly named “Doubting Thomas”. There are three incidents where Thomas is mentioned and you always know something great is going to happen when Thomas speaks.

One such occasion was the resurrection of Lazarus.

Without his honest questions we would not have had Jesus’ great statement “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”!

But we call him doubting Thomas because when the disciples who had all had the benefit of meeting the risen Jesus told him that Jesus was alive, he didn’t believe them.

Dead men don’t rise to life. On one level Thomas knew that was not true. He had seen what happened with Lazarus. But to be fair to him people don’t often rise from the dead. It isn’t an illogical or naïve thought to think that dead men don’t come back. He wanted proof.

And who could really blame him for that? He wanted to see what they said they had seen. Those marks.

There is nothing wrong with doubting. It is part of life and it is part of honest faith. Without doubt, we would not need faith. We can be honest about our doubts, but also need to allow our doubts to face up to the evidence. Doubt can be resolved. Thomas did not dismiss the disciples’ stories out of hand.

And so a week later, the scene is repeated, just for Thomas’ benefit. The room. The locked doors. Jesus standing among them. His peace.

He gives Thomas the opportunity to touch his wounds, but Thomas’ eyes tell him all he needs to know. Jesus is alive. He bursts out “My Lord and my God.”

Maybe like Thomas this morning you feel that you need Jesus to prove himself to you in some way. Ask him to do that. But look at the evidence. Jesus is alive. And Thomas is bang on when he recognises Jesus as Lord and God. His resurrection proves that Jesus is so much more than a good man.

Jesus’ life, teaching, ministry, death and resurrection do not call for us to admire and respect him. They call for us to follow him. To recognise him as Lord and God. To recognise that ultimately my life is his.

Jesus doesn’t finish there with Thomas. Thomas has seen and Thomas believes.

  • And you and I – believing is seeing

But there are others that Jesus has in mind. Those who down the centuries have not had the benefit of meeting a physical touchable Jesus, but nonetheless by the working of God’s Spirit in their lives have come to believe. People here this morning who know what it is to put their faith in trust in who Jesus was, in what he did, and in who he is and what he does.

For Thomas and Mary seeing was believing. For many more believing is seeing. Not a blind faith but a response to God’s love revealed to us through Jesus.

This morning our cry is “HE IS RISEN!” The call this morning is to recognise him as your risen Lord and God. When Jesus cried “IT IS FINISHED” that was not the end. It was just the beginning.

This could be your beginning.

Or this could be for you today a glorious Easter reminder that Jesus is alive and he is alive in you. Go and tell.

 

 

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