In the 20th chapter of John’s gospel we find the account of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. When Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished”, He did not mean that everything was done then. No, no! On the cross His suffering, His substitutionary atonement for His sheep was finished, but His work was not yet finished. The Christian faith is hinged on two facts:
(i) that Christ died for our sins, and
(ii) that He rose again for our justification (Romans 4:25).
Jesus could not remain in the grave. Jesus needed to rise from the dead. The resurrection would finish His work. It would finally vindicate Jesus who said that He was going to rise again after he had been killed.
When the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians, that confused church, which had forgotten the basics of the gospel, he reminds them, “3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared….”.
This is what is happening here, and so in chapter 20, we move from tears to joy.
Division of Chapter 20
1. The fact of the Resurrection [20:1-18]
a. The tomb is empty- witnessed by Mary Magdalene, Peter, John (20:1-9)
b. Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene (20: 10-18)
2. Further Proof of the Resurrection [20:19-29]
a. Jesus appears to 10 disciples (20:19-23)
b. Jesus appears to Thomas (20:24-29)
3. The Purpose of John’s Gospel [20:30,31]
Today we shall deal with the first 18 verses. We will do well to dwell on these significant moments, as Jesus appears to many as a proof of His resurrection.
1. THE FACT OF THE RESURRECTION [20:1-18]
a. The tomb is empty, as witnessed by Mary Magdalene, Peter and John (20:1-9)
"Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb."
All four gospels make mention of the first day of the week – being what we now call Sunday. The resurrection was the beginning of something new, and the Christian church would adopt this day as their day of worship. Remember, that Christ is always greater than the law. He completes the law, because He is the end of the law. He is the Gospel. He is the New Testament. In Him we are complete. And each Sunday that we meet to worship we remind ourselves of His completed work. We rest our anxious souls in Him. We have our souls restored by our Good Shepherd. We are reminded that this day is the promise of our eternal and heavenly rest (Hebrews 4:9-11).
And then, please note that John mentions the name of Mary of Magdala alone, whilst the synoptic gospels mention a plurality of women. They had come to apply the burial spices to Jesus’ body. Remember that Jesus was put into this tomb in haste because the Sabbath was beginning. How do we account for the discrepancies between the synoptic gospels and John’s gospel? Remember that these are eye witness accounts. As such they are selective. It is often actually quite simple to harmonize these accounts. In re-reading the text we note that Mary Magdalene went ahead to the tomb when it was still dark, while the others probably joined her when the sun had risen (Mark 16:2). Whatever the case may be, it is very clear that Mary Magdalene was very attached to the Lord Jesus. She had been forgiven much, therefore she loved much (Lk 7:47).
Mary Magdalene saw that the stone of the tomb had been rolled away and that the body was gone. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.
Peter and John ran to the tomb. John, being the younger, outran Peter, but Peter was the first to see inside the tomb. It is clear. Jesus’ body is not there. The linen was there. A specific point is made that the face cloth on Jesus head was folded up in a place by itself. They are clearly confused. They still don’t get that what Jesus said over and over again was true. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
Remember how often He had told them, that He was going to be betrayed, crucified, buried and that He would be raised on the third day. But they did not get it! This is one of these tough truths about us. Selective hearing! We hear what we want to hear. We are inclined to pick and choose what suits us from the Bible. The disciples, being true Jews, wanted a Messiah, a Deliverer, a king and a kingdom in the conventional sense (see Acts 1:6). Their understanding and desires could not accommodate a dead king. And so they heard Him speak about the resurrection, but they did not really hear Him. They did not know what to do with the resurrection. And that is true for us. But the more we let the Bible speak to us, the more we understand God’s character and His plan. It is hard to get to terms with God’s truth, because it does not fit in with our perceptions. It takes time and careful reading and meditation upon the Scriptures to see these things. In John 12:16 (cf. Zechariah 9:9), in the context of the triumphal entry, we have an example of something that the disciples did not understand then.
And thank God for the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In John 14:26, Jesus said, “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.” Thank God for the help that we receive from the Holy Spirit. If He does not open our eyes, we will not see the truth as it is in Jesus.
The empty grave and the grave clothes had an effect upon Peter and John: “He saw and believed.” It wasn’t entirely clear yet, but something began to dawn, and it was going to become clearer later…
10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.
b. Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene (20: 10-18)
Peter and John and the other women and disciples left the grave. This was all very perplexing. Matthew records that the tomb was guarded precisely so that the body would not be removed (Matt. 27:62-66). However, on Sunday God sent an earthquake and an angel, and we read that the guards became like dead men. And Jesus was raised from the dead. But poor Mary had no knowledge of this, for she had arrived after the fact, and she remained there weeping alone. As she wept, she looked once more into the tomb. Now she saw two angels, in white, in the tomb. They asked 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’. Then she looked around and saw Jesus standing there, but clearly she did not recognise that it was Jesus. Clearly, He appeared in a form that she did not recognize. Like the angels, Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking’?” She thought that he was perhaps 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’. She did not recognise Him. The same happens to the 2 disciples on the Emmaus road in Luke 24. The nature of the resurrection body of Jesus is a mystery to us. He is capable of adapting, just as angels are capable of appearing as men.
But when Jesus calls her by name, “Mary”, she recognises him instantly. She responds and calls Him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni’, which means teacher. And then Jesus said something which has perplexed many interpreters, ‘Stop clinging to me for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’.
Why does Jesus forbid Mary to cling to Him? It is clear that she is absolutely delighted. He clearly is not forbidding touch as such. In 20:27 Jesus permits Thomas to touch him. What is the difference here? He is saying is that He is no longer in that state in which He was before. He is in His resurrected state and soon He must ascend to the Father. And as such, the nature of their friendship can no longer the same. She cannot cling to Him. He is now resuming the glory He had before (John 17:5). He is ascending to His Father. He will always be with them, but no longer in the same localized presence. This is what makes us look forward to heaven, when we shall see our beloved Saviour face to face, when we shall be with Him forever. Brothers and sisters, one day we shall be changed. We shall receive our resurrection bodies and we shall dwell with the Lord forevermore. (1 Corinthians 15:50-53)
With this Mary is called by Jesus to announce the good news of the resurrection to the disciples. We shall consider this, God willing, next week as further proofs of the reality of the resurrection.
Today we have seen that the tomb is empty as witnessed by Mary Magdalene, Peter, John (20:1-9).
We have witnessed a dialogue between a very special disciple, Mary Magdalene and the resurrected Jesus (20: 10-18).
May the resurrection of Jesus fill you with hope and open your heart and longings to the greater things that God has in store for you. Amen.