John is writing this to skeptics and doubting Christians.
What does He give us? There are four very specific scenes. Scene number one is physical evidence. And the physical evidence is an empty tomb. Follow along as I read. “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw the stone that had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one that Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him!’ So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there.”
I want you to circle the word looked. I’ll come back to that later. So, “He bent over, looked at the strips of the linen lying there, but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and came to the tomb and he saw the strips of linen lying there.” Circle the word saw. I’ll tell you about that in a minute.
So, “He saw them lying there as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.” Put a line under folded up by itself. “Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. And he saw,” anybody have an idea what you’re going to do? You got it. Circle the word saw. “He saw and believed.” John’s commentary: “They still did not understand from the Scriptures that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”
Here’s the picture: Mary is someone who has lived a life of shame. She has, the historians call her a “scarlet sinner.” She had seven demons cast out of her. She was probably the lowest person on the social totem pole. And she came to have relationship with Jesus and she loved Him deeply.
When they buried Him, two Jewish leaders, along with some women, they did a Jewish burial, that they didn’t quite finish. They took strips of linen and you would put it around the body, you would use oil and aloe. And it took about seventy pounds. So from head to toe, He would be wrapped around. And then this napkin they called it, or this piece of linen would be over His face.
She gets to the tomb and the tomb was actually a cave. And in front of the cave, they would take a groove and it would go down about six or eight inches. And there would be a huge stone that looked like a huge wheel that they have carved out. And it drops down in and it covers the tomb. So moving that thing is unbelievable. Tons of rock. Mary loves Jesus. She wants to finish the burial. And it’s like, probably just before dawn where it is grey light and she wants to be there first. She gets there and it’s like, whoa! There are no guards, there is no seal, it is moved. So, she runs and gets Peter and John.
When they come, they run and John describes himself as the disciple that Jesus loves. And so he stops and he looks. And the word for look here in Greek is he just has a clear observation. It’s just, “I see.”
Well, then, Peter comes and Peter comes in. And then it says, “He saw,” and different word here is that he contemplated and he is beginning to grasp and observe something different is going on.
And here’s, remember the underlying, it was lying there, it was folded. When I think of the word folded, I think of folding sheets or something that is flat. This word means something in a sphere shape. What you need to understand is when they looked in at that tomb, if grave robbers would have stolen the body, everything would be gone.
If someone, or Jesus, would have unwrapped himself, it would have been in strips. When they looked at it, everything just how it was with this in a cylinder shape, except, like, the body evaporated. The last word for saw is this experience where you see something and that “aha” moment and you get what happened and John looks at it and realizes what happened was Jesus rose from the dead just as He promised.
So, the very first piece of evidence we get is physical evidence. It’s circumstantial, but it’s all that John needed. When he saw that, he remembered all the promises and he believed. The story goes on. We now move to the first witness. The first eyewitness of the resurrection will be a broken woman. “Then the disciples went back to their homes. But Mary stood outside the tomb crying.”
Literally, she is wailing. She is distraught. She is overcome with emotion. “As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and one at the foot. They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ ‘They have taken the Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put Him.’
At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t realize that it was Jesus. ‘Woman,’ He said, ‘why are you crying? Who is it that you’re looking for?’ Thinking He was a gardener, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him.’ And Jesus said to her, in Aramaic, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward Him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni.’” It’s a term of endearment, teacher, “The One who taught me; the One whose heart I was connected to.”
“And then Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to Me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.’ Instead,” He doesn’t say, “Go to the disciples.” Notice the change. “‘Go to My brothers and tell them, “I am returning to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.”’ And Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them everything that Jesus said.”
The other gospel writers tell us that she was overwhelmed with emotion and worship and she literally grabbed his ankles and began to worship and, basically, she didn’t know, for thirty-nine more days He is going to appear in a resurrected body multiple times to over five hundred eyewitnesses and basically says, “Mary, here’s the agenda, go tell the disciples.”
And so now we have an eyewitness. In a court of law, if there is an event or there is a murder, if you have an eyewitness that can clearly identify, it’s pretty strong. Here’s what is interesting. In the culture of the day, this is how low women were viewed. Unless it was an extreme case, a woman’s testimony would not even be allowed to come into the court.
So one of the greatest evidences that God wrote this book, by the Holy Spirit, by John is that if you were trying to convince people that this is true, the last thing in the world, the first eyewitness or any witness would be is a woman. But not just that. It’s a woman of all women, who, from the worldly perspective is valueless.
I don’t want to read into your life but I know enough about mine and most people that I am really close to, we all have shame. We all have private things that we have done that we are ashamed of, that we wish we hadn’t. And we feel like it just marks our life and our emotions.
And what Jesus was saying to this woman is: I don’t just forgive but you are going to be My number one spokesman. I value you and the greatest liberator on the face of the earth is Jesus Christ, as He says to this woman and she becomes the first eyewitness.
We now move on and we have the first skeptics, which, ironically, are His disciples. Talk about doubting. They have seen Him do miracles, walk on water, feed five thousand, feed four thousand. And, yet, they had preconceived ideas, But they were wrong.
No, the movement is going to die. All they know is He is dead. Apparently they must not believe much of what Mary said. You know how people can be. “She’s delusional. She probably wants to believe it so much but, you know, she’s a woman.” That was the culture.
And so something happens. Ten of the disciples are scared to death up in that upper room thinking “They got Jesus and we’re next.” Verse 19, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After that, He showed them His hands and His side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. And Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.’ And with that he said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ And He breathed on them. ‘If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’”
So, imagine these ten, up in this room, scared to death, thinking, It’s all over. And He just appears. And notice what He does. First, He comforts them. “Peace,” shalom. It’s not just a greeting. It’s, “May the goodness of God and all that He has for you be a reality.”
And when God speaks, He spoke the world into existence. When Jesus speaks, this isn’t a suggestion. It’s not a greeting. When He said, “Peace be with you,” every anxiety in their heart went, tchoo! It’s gone. So, He comforts them.
Second, He convinces them. “Okay, guys, come here. Go ahead. Examine Me.” The other gospel writers say, “Look, I’m not a ghost.” He ate with them.
Third, He comforts, He convinces, then notice, He commissions them. He said, “You’re here, self-focused and afraid. I left heaven. I came from the Father, fully man, fully God. I lived a perfect life. I died to pay for the sins of all people of all time because We love people and people have gone astray and are in rebellion. And so what I want you to know, the Father sent Me. Now, I am sending you with that same message. I want you to proclaim to everyone there is hope and there is life and there is forgiveness and there is peace and there is a real heaven, there’s a real eternity. Now, you are My witnesses.” And the movement starts.
Two billion-plus people today are celebrating the resurrection of the living God. And then He tells them, not that one person can say, “Your sins are forgiven and yours aren’t.” The context here is, “I am entrusting to you this message of the gospel and you are the leaders,
People will repent of their sin and their self-focus and receive Me and forgiveness and cleansing is going to occur.”
But we have a problem. We’ve got ten of the eleven disciples. One isn’t here. Now, I don’t know about you, but I have times of doubt and struggle and pressure like the next guy. And when I am really, really struggling or down or depressed or knowing that I need to draw near to God and I have a not-very-good attitude, I tend to not want to be around people. I don’t want to be around Christians. I don’t want to read the Bible. And I don’t want to come to church.
So this is a very big problem in my line of work. Now, what you do is you often choose to do the right thing, but the fact is is Thomas isn’t here. At a time when we need people the most, we make the worst decisions when we get isolated and self-focused and then our discouragement goes to depression, etcetera, etcetera.
But God is so patient. So we pick up the story. Verse 24, “Now Thomas (called Didymus),” literally, he was a twin. That’s just what it means. He had a twin brother, a twin sister. “…one of the Twelve was not with the disciples when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’”
These are your ten best friends, they are eyewitnesses. And so listen to his great faith response. “But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hands into His side,’” notice, emphatic. “‘I will not believe.’ A week later His disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’”
Ten guys are going, “We have been in this movie before.” Now, notice. “Then He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it in My side.’” You want to know what Jesus would say then and now to doubting Christians and skeptics in a very scary world? Stop doubting and believe! There is overwhelming witness! There is physical evidence. There are eyewitnesses. Now, two billion witnesses.
And He says to them, “Look at the evidence and I want you to trust and believe.” Now, notice, Thomas is slow. But when he believes, he really gets it; he’s all in. “Thomas said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” Notice the personal pronouns: My Lord; my God.
This isn’t, Oh, I’m going to start believing Christianity, or, I’m going to start trying to be a nicer person, or, I hope I’ll be more moral and try harder. No! This is the risen Savior wants a relationship. He is the CEO, Creator of the universe. And Thomas goes, “My Lord; my God. You are now the CEO of my life, my agenda, my heart, my future. I follow You.” History tells us that Thomas went as far as India in that very first century, to share this news.
And so the author then pauses and says, “I want you to understand very clearly why this book was written.”
“Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”
The whole goal was life. Now, I don’t know about you, because I didn’t grow up in church, but what does it mean to have life and how does it work? This same author, later, writes a short, little book to explain that. In chapter 5 of a little, tiny letter or epistle, in 1 John chapter 5 he says, “This is the record,” or, “This is the witness,” or, “This is the truth, that God has given us eternal life.”
Notice, it’s a gift. You can’t earn it. It’s a gift. Well, how does it work? “He that has the Son,” or, “She that has the Son has life. He or she that doesn’t have the Son does not have life.” You see, it’s not some intellectual belief, it’s not some moral or immoral lifestyle. Here’s the question. Do you have the Son? It’s relational. It’s the only question.
In fact, he goes on in the next verse to say, this isn’t like, Well, I hope someday, someway, verse 13, notice what it says, “I have written these things, who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
It’s an amazing thing to get on a plane and if it goes down, I’m not worried. It’s an amazing thing to go to Jordan or the Middle East, as I do at times, and preach or teach knowing that we are on TV there and people might know who I am and they like to kill people like me. You know what? I’m not trying to risk my life needlessly, but I’m not afraid because I know I have eternal life.
It’s not because I’m good; it’s not because I’m a pastor. It’s, are you ready for this? I have the Son. John would say this: “As many as received Him, Jesus, to them He gave the right to become children of God, Jesus would say, later, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock of every person’s heart. If you hear My voice and open the door, I will come into your life and I’ll live with you and direct you and change you.
So the question you need to ask is: Do you have the Son? And if you’re a follower, the question you need to ask: Does the Son have the position in your life so He can direct you so His promises can be effective?
Now, I have some thoughts that I had about what did I learn? I call it “Four timeless truths for honest skeptics.” And the first one is: Jesus reveals Himself to different people in different ways. It was one way to Mary, it was one way to Thomas, different for the disciples. And Jesus reveals Himself to different people in different ways today.
The second thing I have learned is that meeting the resurrected Christ totally changes your life. It’s life transformation. If there is no life transformation, I don’t know what you’re believing, but you don’t know Him. When you have the Son, He will change you.
Third thing I learned is that the evidence is overwhelming, then and now, that Jesus is alive. Write that down! What a difference! This isn’t religious stuff. He’s alive. What if it’s true? Just ponder it. What if you, as a believer, believed He is alive? What if you, as a skeptic, sitting in here, thought, He’s alive!
Finally, God’s desire is not a religious response but a real relationship that comes by faith.