Let’s begin with a prayer. Lord, we give You thanks for this morning and pray that You would guide our thoughts. In Christ’s name, Amen.
We are up to John chapter 20 in our study and we are considering the reality of the resurrection. That the resurrection is an essential part of the Christian message is evident throughout the New Testament. The resurrection chapter, in 1st Corinthians, is an extended illustration of that thought. In 1st Corinthians 15, Paul speaks of the Gospel, which He preached to them, and which he says, “I delivered to you,” verse 3, “as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” The argument is that the resurrection is a factual reality and that there are many witnesses who saw it, and on many occasions during the 40 days of appearances prior to His ascension to His Father, and that the resurrection is the basis, really, of our hope. He goes on to say in that same chapter, in verse 12, “Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.”
Then he goes on to describe that if Christ has not been raised, then, “Your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” I really find it hard to imagine how people profess to be Christian ministers and actually deny that there was a resurrection. They make it some spiritual thing, but it is difficult to see words being more plain and clear then what Paul outlines in 1st Corinthians 15. It is a worthless faith if Jesus really died and never came back. It is a worthless faith if it is just some symbolic idea. What kind of thing is that? Either He did or He didn’t appear to them. Either He was raised or He was not raised. Don’t give me some nonsense about some spiritual apparition or we can believe it in some sort of ‘faith’ way because that is not worthy of the dignity of the Christian faith.
The Christian faith stands and falls on the resurrection. It is the central theme in terms of our evidence and we see throughout the Apostolic preaching of the Gospel in the Book of Acts that it is the essential theme throughout that book. The resurrected Christ is the centrality of their sermons and messages. It is a foundational doctrine and it proves that Christ was the Son of God. In Acts chapter two, Paul’s great sermon on the day of Pentecost illustrates this very thing. In verses 32 through 36, it reads, “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.” Remember He is speaking this in Jerusalem, in the city where this resurrection took place. If it were, in fact, a false account, there would be too many witnesses who could controvert the evidence. If they could have produced somebody, the body of Christ, they could have immediately dispelled this allusion that Christ was raised and that would have eliminated the whole threat of Christianity.
They were fearful about that. They set guards at the tomb to prevent His body being stolen away. The interesting irony is that they played into God’s hands because by setting the guards there and actually sealing the stone, they actually made the case of the resurrection a great deal more powerful than it ever would have been if they had not. We know exactly what was going on there and the case is very strong. The three basic resources for the development of the evidence of the resurrection are these: The evidence of the empty tomb; the evidence that Jesus was really dead; and that He appeared again to His disciples on numerous occasions. A fourth one that is often used is the changed life of the disciples; how this band of men is now suddenly people who preach only a few weeks later with a tremendous boldness. We are going to see in John 20, in our account, that they are hiding and are afraid of getting caught.
Now, only a few weeks later, after the resurrection, there they are preaching boldly, in the very city of the resurrection. Paul makes it clear, in Romans chapter one that this is also the foundation of the Christian message. In verse three Paul says, “Concerning His Son, who was born a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.” He was declared to be the Son of God with power, and it was the resurrection that made that declaration clear. Furthermore, if you continue on in Romans, and turn to chapter four, verses 24 and 25, we see Paul speak about, “Those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” Again, this is central to the theology of the New Testament. Christ is also seen as the sanctifier, if you turn this time to Romans chapter six, and look at verses four through ten, Paul says the resurrection is actually the template, the exemplary, of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
As he says in verse four, “We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. If we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.” Then he goes on to discuss the implications of that and says, “Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death is no longer master over Him. The death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.” He is also seen, because He is resurrected, in Romans chapter eight, verse 34, as our interceder. “Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also interceded for us.”
So, Christ died for us, was raised from the dead, and now He is ascended to the right hand of the Father, and there He interceded for us, on our behalf. So, clearly, there is so much about this theme of the resurrection throughout the New Testament. One last reference I will give you contextualizing this is Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill, in Acts, chapter seventeen. Near the end of this sermon he speaks about the fact of, “Having overlooked the times of ignorance,” verse 30, “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
So, Jesus, he says, is going to be the judge of all men. Of course, when he speaks to the Greeks about the idea of the resurrection of the dead, you know their philosophy, it is pretty dualistic, “Some began to sneer, but others said, ‘We shall hear you again concerning this’. So Paul went out of their midst. But some men joined him and believed,” so those were the responses. Some sneered and rejected it, some said they would consider it some more, and others believed right away. I think a lot of people fit in that second category. I’ll be honest with you, it takes many exposures, multiple exposures, to this message before it begins to grip us and we understand its implications. It is so contrary to human reasoning. It is so counter-intuitive that you have to hear the Gospel many times before it begins to sink in. In my own experience, when I have taught, say, the Gospel of John, or the book of Romans, eventually little lights start to come on. Many involved can’t say exactly when it happened, but suddenly they realized they were believing it. Some people know exactly when they came to faith, others can’t tell you precisely when, but the issue is not to identify the moment, the issue is where you are in your relationship with Christ.
So, from the beginning, the enemies of the Lord tried to deny the historic significance of the resurrection. This truth was not understood immediately by Jesus’ followers, and we will see this very clearly as we look at this account. But, it will make a radical difference in their lives. In John chapter 20, we move from tears to joy. In verses one to eighteen in particular, and it begins, “Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved,” and I take that to be John himself, “and said to them, ‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid Him’.”
So, in the first two verses of John 20, then, we see that the women were planning to go to the tomb. Actually, if you compare this with the Synoptics, and turn with me to Mark chapter 16 for just a moment, there is a parallel passage here, but it reads a little differently. “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, and Salem bought spices so that they might come and anoint Him. Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. They were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb’?” It then goes on to describe what they did. And in the Lukan account, it is very similar as well. Those accounts in the Synoptics, namely Mark and Luke, indicate that there were several women who went. But, if you read John’s account, it only mentions Mary Magdalene. I think it is actually simple to harmonize those accounts because what we need to see is that Mary Magdalene evidently went ahead to the tomb and left before the other women arrived. What is one evidence for that? When the others got there, what was the situation, in terms of the sun? It said the sun had just risen. In the John test, it says it was still dark. My own view of the Gospels is that they can all be harmonized; though there are some tough passages, that’s why through the Lord God Almighty I try to break these down for you. Think of it this way if you will, God gave me a knife and I cut up the steak for you, or I cut the meat up for you so it’s easier to chew!
Now, they are challenged on the resurrection appearances, but, frankly, there are clear ways of harmonizing those accounts. For example, one mentions that there was an angel, our text, here, will mention two angels, at the head and at the foot. Well, if there were two angels, there certainly was one angel. It doesn’t say there was only one angel. The point is simply this; the emphasis in one of the narratives is on the prominent angel, the one who spoke. You see where I am going with this? If the one said there was only one angel there and the other said there were two, that is a contradiction. But there is no contradiction. Again, it is the sort of thing that really speaks for the evidence of the Gospel writers as first-hand narratives because, frankly, they were not in collusion with one another. It is the same kind of thing you would expect to see if there were four witnesses to an accident on a street and each witness was on a different corner. You would get four different interpretations but they would overlap in the center and you could figure out what happened. They would be truly honest people, reporting what they saw, and you would get different nuances to the same event. This is precisely what we see here in the Gospels.
Now, Joseph of Arimathea, we saw in John 19, as well as Nicodemus, had been forced by circumstances to prepare Jesus’ body in haste. If you go back to chapter 19, and look at verse 38, “After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away the body. Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.” They placed it in a new tomb that had never been used.
So, what we have is a rather hasty situation because they needed to bury Him before that Sabbath began, which was at sundown. A day went from sundown to sundown, and so they had to do it quickly and the women apparently wanted to complete the work and that is why they came early on the first day of the week after the Sabbath was over. They could not do anything on the Sabbath; it would have been considered work, so they waited until the first day of the week, which was Sunday. They came very early and on the way there they were wondering who was going to roll away the stone. They had no way to roll it open themselves. They were hoping the small band of soldiers would be there. Of course, when the earthquake began, the Roman soldiers ran off.
So, when the women got there the soldiers were gone, the seal had been broken, and the tomb was exposed because the stone had been rolled away. Mary did not go inside. Instead, she saw the open tomb and the text tells us that she ran to Simon Peter and, I take it, to John, and told them they had taken the body away. She assumed that someone had stolen the body.
So, Peter and John took a risk by running into enemy territory to return to the tomb. Look at verse three, “So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. The two were running together, and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings there, but he did not go in. And so Simon Peter also came following him and entered the tomb, and he saw the linen wrappings lying there.” This is an interesting detail, “and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. So the disciples went away to their own houses.”
The issue here is that they are confused. They still don’t get that what Jesus said over and over again was true. Remember how often he told them, especially as the time drew near, that the Son of Man is going to be betrayed, spat upon, and crucified, but He will rise on the third day. Recall with what clarity He did that, but the only part they wanted to hear was the stuff about the Kingdom. They selectively heard the things they did like and sort of let the rest go in one ear and out the other. We all do that; we all have the ability to be very selective in what we are hearing. We tend, if we are not careful, to remember in our own best interest. By the way, your memory is highly selective.
Once in a while I’ll go to a park and there I will reflect on where I have been and where I think I am and where I think I am going. I highly recommend getting away by yourself, out of your routine, for a day. It will do you enormous good, I promise. You will come a better understanding of yourself and your own journey in that one day than you would in several years because you are alone, with no TV, telephone, newspaper, no anything. It is just you and God in the natural environment. It is a powerful thing. The point is this, in spite of the many times Jesus told them, they couldn’t understand what was going to happen. I must say, as well, this was faith-based, but it was still not enough. It has to be based on the revelations from God. If you turn back with me to John chapter two, verse 22, it says, “When He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scriptures and the word which Jesus had spoken.” It is one thing to use evidence, it is another thing to use the authority of Scripture.
There is another example of this in John chapter 12, verse 16. Here it says, “These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him,” that is to say in the Hebrew Bible, “and that they had done these things to Him.” In this case, it refers to a prophecy made in Zechariah chapter nine, about Him coming seated on a donkey. Yet another example is John 14:26, “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.” There is a need, not just for empirical evidence, but to contextualize it in Scripture.
Verse 11, “But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping.” The other disciples had gone away to their own homes. She stayed there, but the others were confused. It was strange to them that He just disappeared. Remember that there was perhaps a hundred pounds of spices in His shroud, and it couldn’t be unwrapped with damage. It would have been like an empty cocoon. It was exactly in its place as if it had not been disturbed. There was no way the body could get out of there without leaving physical evidence. You see my point here? Obviously, it was the resurrection of Christ, not leaving a body behind, but the transformation of the old into the new. That is the radical change. Why would the disciples make such a fantastic claim? The fact is that the disciples had nothing to gain by making a fantastic claim about the resurrection. They had everything to lose. Furthermore, the Romans, who would have wanted to find the body, could not produce it. It is not a matter of fulfilling expectations. That is the last thing they expected. Even seeing the empty tomb, even seeing that the body had somehow disappeared without any physical evidence, they were still not quite sure what to make of it. They had not contextualized in the context of God’s revelation.
So, continuing on, “Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying.” Again, we have a movement from radical weeping and despair to joy. What we have here are angels that are very reminiscent of something in the Old Testament. What do they remind you of in the Old Testament? Do you recall, in Exodus chapter 25, when they were given instructions how to build the Ark of the Covenant, and then put the Mercy Seat on top of that, what went on top that Mercy Seat? Two Cherubim facing one another. My own view of this is that it is reminiscent of those two Cherubim and even specifically mentions where they were. One, it says, was at the head and the other at the feet. Here is the interesting analogy. The Mercy Seat is no longer there and instead, a new Mercy Seat has been provided. In other words, in this new Ark, if you can see the analogy here, Jesus is flanked by the angels and that is where the Mercy Seat of God is now and we now find forgiveness and satisfaction there. Remember when the tax collector asked God to be merciful to him? The word he used was ‘heliosmos’, which means be propitious (or indicating a good chance of success) to me. It is intriguing how that is.
So, we have a new Mercy Seat, in effect, which we see in this text. And so, they asked her a question, ‘“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’. When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.” Clearly, He appeared in a form that she did not recognize. “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking’?”
So, He asked her the very same question that the angels asked. “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 mistook Him for somebody else, maybe the gardener, and had no idea that it was her Lord. We see this elsewhere, don’t we? Remember on the way to Emmaus, He walks alongside two of the disciples and they don’t recognize Him? It is very interesting. He acted as if He was going to go further, but they invited Him in to eat with them.
So, at the dinner, when Jesus lifts up His eyes to heaven and breaks the bread in a characteristic way that was unique to Him, suddenly they realized who it was. He allowed Himself to be seen, and what took place? He disappeared, just like that.
So, He could manifest Himself, even in another form to those two disciples, as it tells us in another Gospel. In His resurrection body, He is capable of manifesting in any form He wishes because, in a very real way, that resurrection body is far more awesome than we might suppose. I invite you to compare, where John was leaning on Jesus’ chest in the Upper Room, and when John sees Jesus in Revelation chapter one, what happens? Now, he sees Him in heaven, not on earth. He sees Him in His true glory and he falls on his face like a dead man.
So, evidently, during His forty days of appearances, Jesus would not manifest His true glory and thus He could be confused for another person. But, when Paul or Saul was his name at that time, saw Him it was in the heavenlies. And, when John sees Him, what was his response? He saw something brighter than the sun. That is actually what His resurrected body is like, rather than just that of a mere man. He is capable of adapting, just as angels are capable of appearing as men. Or, they can also appear as these extraordinary beasts, with eyes and wings all around, and with fire and flame. I have told you this before, but one thing angels never appear as, never, is men with wings, which is the main way we represent them. I don’t understand how we got that so wrong. They are never men with wings. They are either men with bizarre features, or they are men, but they are nothing in between. Keep in mind, though, they are spiritual beings and so they don’t have a physical form. But in saying this how else do we represent them but as a figure with wings. Just know there is so much more that we don’t know than we do.
So, there is much to this, and to be perfectly frank with you, I am intrigued by the idea of the resurrected body. The older I get, the more interested I am on that subject. I find it to be deeply mysterious. In fact, I also have a question. Are our resurrected bodies going to shine as bright as the sun? I explored the idea of what that would be like and realized that in one respect it is recognizably similar but in other ways, it is radically and completely different.
So, let’s move on with the text. Recall that Jesus asked the question, “Why are you weeping?” She answered, and then Jesus responded, ‘“Mary’. She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni’, which means teacher. 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’. Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’, and that He had said these things to her.” I should point out something. The “stop clinging to me” does not mean that He could not be touched. If you recall, in verse 27, Jesus invited Thomas to reach with his finger and see His hands. What He is saying is not to cling to Him, because He is no longer going to be in the form He was in before. He is ascending to His Father, but will always be with them, just not in a localized sort of presence. That is what He saying.
In fact, I would invite you to see, in 2nd Corinthians chapter five, this very theme of how we no longer see Him as He was. In verse 16, “Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the Flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.” In other words, we once knew Him in the flesh, but we now no longer know Him in this way. We see Him now resurrected and sitting at the right hand of the Father. Paul goes on to say, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” By the way, one application of that is not to regard people as you normally would do; see them differently, as people who are going to be immortal beings. See them as God sees them and you will have a different attitude. Even the poorest person on this planet, even the most ignominious person, has a greater dignity than you imagine. Remember if you will the tale of the begger Lazarus sitting at the rich man’s gate so now you have the concept. Let’s continue.
My point here is that their sorrow is being transformed into joy and I want to say that the sorrow of a Christian must be different from the hopeless sorrow of this world. The verses I use for this are 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18, where he says, “We do not grieve as those who have no hope.” We may grieve, but we don’t lose hope. In fact, 1st Peter 1:3 says, “We have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” You now embrace a hope that is alive. It will never fade away and it will never die. All of us, I think, have embraced false hopes, have we not? Hopes that finally died on us shattered dreams; but here is a living hope that will never die, never be corrupted, and can not be taken away. That is a very powerful hope we have to contextualize life in this world. I think that we need the broader context, because, frankly, life is not easy. Most of you may have noticed this already. Life is not easy and there are many challenges and pitfalls but don’t just look at the story of life on earth as the whole story. This is preparatory for our eternal citizenship in heaven. This is as nothing in comparison for what God has planned for us.
So, I often quote that Romans 8:18 passage, where Paul says, “I consider the sufferings of the present time not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
So, the suffering is nothing. It is brief, but glory is eternal. Now, let’s move on with verse 19. We see that the disciples are moving from a sphere of great fear and now they are becoming more bold, more courageous. “So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said, ‘Peace be with you’. When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Let me stop here for just a moment. The news that Jesus had risen from the dead at first was spread with some hesitation, but then with greater enthusiasm.
There were five resurrection appearances of Christ on that very first day of the week if you put the Synoptic accounts together with the Gospel of John. He appeared to Mary Magdalene and we just read about that one in John 20. He also appeared to the other women and Matthew 28 tells us about that. He appeared to Peter, according to 1st Corinthians 15 and Luke 24. He appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus on that same day. Fifth, He appeared to the disciples, but without Thomas. On the next Sunday the disciples would meet again and this time Thomas would be in their midst. I want to point out something about this idea of the first day of the week. It has tremendous theological significance. My own view is that Sunday is not the Christian Sabbath. Many hold to that notion, but I don’t think it is right. The idea of Sunday being the Christian Sabbath is a theme that we see in Chariots of Fire when Eric Liddle said that he could not run on Sunday because it was God’s day. There is nothing that teaches this. As to the Sabbath, the Sabbath celebrates God’s finished work of Creation, as we see in Genesis chapter two.
So, He created the heavens and the earth and on the seventh day, what did He do? He rested. The seventh day is the Sabbath. But, the Lord’s day, the first day of the week. Commemorates Christ’s finished work of redemption.
So, everything is different. No longer do we just commemorate the Creation, now we commemorate the new Creation. So, the Lord’s day becomes very significant. God the Father worked for six days and then rested; God the Son suffered on the Cross for six hours and then rested.
Now, going back to the Sabbath in the Old Testament, the Sabbath was given, in the Hebrew Bible, as a day for physical rest and reflection and refreshment, both for men and for their animals. Guess what happened, though? The Jews, in their traditions, decided to turn it into a laborious day in which they had to assemble and worship and they turned it into a day of bondage rather than a day of blessing. Instead of being a day when they could have enjoyed one another, they turned it into a ritualistic system and it is not found in the Torah that this was required. The Sabbath was not repeated for the Church to obey. Nine out of the Ten Commandments are specifically repeated, but the fourth one is not repeated.
Now, there are people who hold different views on this, the Seventh Day Adventists hold very strongly that the practice of the Sabbath is required on Saturday. My own view is that it misses the theological implications of the resurrection and it is not something that I think can be demonstrated from Scripture. The early Church evidently met on the first day of the week. Turn with me to Acts 20:7, where it says, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them.” And if we look at 1st Corinthians 16:1-2, there is another hint about this. “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week, each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper so that no collections be made when I come.” This implies, again, that they would meet on that first day, just as the disciples met those two days.
So, in the earliest Church traditions, the Patristics (the branch of Christian theology that deals with the lives, writings, and doctrines of the early Christian theologians,) talk about how this was the case. You need to understand how radical this was for a Jew. For them, to no longer practice, the Saturday Sabbath is no minor thing. In fact, the only way I can account for it is the resurrection, because there is no way you could take a religious Jew and cause him to switch from the Sabbath to the first day of the week unless there was a clear warrant for it, namely the resurrection of Christ. Concerning the question about whether it is mandated in the New Testament, I don’t see any mandates, and furthermore, I see passages that indicate there are ways of understanding days and seasons that frankly give us latitude. Paul says in Romans 14:5, “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.” He is saying that some people will have scruples about a particular day and others will not. What he says is if you don’t have scruples, don’t judge those who do, and if you do have scruples, don’t judge those who don’t. See the idea there? This is a matter of freedom or liberty. Let’s look at another text as well. Turn to Colossians 2, and there is a similar theme. In verses 16 to 23, when Paul says:
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.” Colossians 2:16-23 (KJV)
In other words, don’t let anyone judge you concerning those kinds of things, especially the difference of the Sabbath and the Lord’s day. And let me clear up one more misconception, no, the church meeting on Sunday is Not a new concept recently started, Jesus is the one who started it by His resurrection being on Sunday thereby making Sunday His day, or the Lord’s day!
So, as here he’s writing to Gentiles. Having said all this, I want to back up and say something slightly different. I will say that there is a Sabbath principle that should be applied. That is to say, we all need rest and leisure. I believe there are different ways in which we do it. Each day should have a Sabbath moment if you stop and think about it because you can have ‘mini-Sabbaths’ at various times during the day. On a weekly basis, you have a longer Sabbath and you want to allocate a longer period of time for reflection and many people will associate that with going to church. You could have a different monthly conviction, or, have a quarterly conviction, or, annually, I think it wise for us to have even a longer time if you want to look back on the year just passed and reflect and anticipate the year ahead. That would be your annual Sabbath. Remember what they did, beyond the annual Sabbath? They went beyond that, didn’t they? Every seven years they were supposed to take an entire year off. They never did it, though, they never once practiced the Sabbatical year. Isn’t that sad? If only they had obeyed God, their lives would have been so much better. They couldn’t trust Him. They could trust Him for one day out of seven, but they couldn’t trust Him to provide for them for a whole year.
Now, is that the Sabbath principle was such that the land enjoyed its Sabbath. For 490 years they were in the land and refused to recognize the ‘one year in seven’. How many does that work out to be? 490 divided by 7 is 70 years. How many years did they spend in Babylonian captivity? 70 years, wasn’t it, and the prophet said, “The land will get its Sabbaths.” You see the point here? They tried to do an end-run around God because they thought God would not provide for them. The irony is that they actually made their lives much more miserable. Had they only listened, how much greater would His gift to them have been? Imagine, every seven years, a whole year off just to enjoy one another and to enjoy and reflect and practice the presence of God. Yes, there are certain numbers, 40 and 7 and 70 that are found throughout Scripture. The 40 days refers to the time Moses and Jesus spent fasting up on the mountain. You have the theme of certain numbers that God uses to show us He’s a sovereign God and He is always the same, we can trust Him.
So, of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. It seems to be a decisive period. Very often it can be a testing time. It is supposed to be 40 days of reminding about the grace of God and our reflection upon that. By the way, there originally another period than the 7th year. Every 7 times a 7th year was to be the Jubilee. All land was to revert back to its original ownership. You know they wouldn’t have done that. But, I digress. Going back to our text, in verse 19, Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you,” because He knew they were afraid. I want you to notice something here because it would certainly make me afraid. It says, “It was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors were shut where the disciples were for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood in their midst”
Now, how did He pull that one off? The doors were locked. He walked right through them. Or, another way of putting is that He just manifested Himself. Please let me propose this concept. The speed of light, it is the fastest speed anything can travel according to scientists, they have not found anything able to travel faster than the speed of light. This happens to be one of the ‘natural laws’ that God Himself has placed on this world, but those laws that God created, He is not subject to, His thoughts are much faster that the speed of light. So, would it surprise you if Jesus would be able to manifest Himself somewhere in less than a twinkling of an eye? Let’s continue.
Suddenly they look up, and there He is. You see the point here? That is why He said, “Peace be with you.” Continuing on, “And when He said this, He showed them both hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” In other words, now they knew. This was not some mere ghost or phantom they were seeing. Elsewhere He says, “A ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see that I have.” If you recall, in Luke 24, He actually eats some fish and bread with them, so that is pretty specific. A ghost doesn’t eat.
So, there is a lot of specific evidence. He assures them, and then in verse 21, He commissions them, “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you’.” This is parallel to the great commission in Matthew 28.
So, he is giving them a privilege and a responsibility of fulfilling His place in the world, and of Him living in us and through us to accomplish His work through His people. He is entrusting us, then, with His word, and he is entrusting us with His work.
Now, in verse 22, “And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.” Now, not only does He commission them, what does He do? He empowers them to fulfill that which they need to do. Without the Holy Spirit they would not be able to fulfill the commission, but now He empowers them. He does the same thing to you. He reveals Himself to you, He calls you, He commissions you, and then he empowers you. He gives you a particular purpose and function in this world. It is through the gift of the Spirit that empowers us that we are able to accomplish spiritual fruit, bearing spiritual fruit that will abide.
So, recall the breath of God in the first Creation, and what did that mean? By the way, keep in mind that in both Hebrew and Greek, the word for ‘breath’ also means ‘spirit’. In Hebrew, it is ‘ruwach’ and in the Greek, it is ‘pneuma’. The breath of God in the first Creation, what did it mean? What form of life was it? It was a biological life, a life that all people have until they die. But then, the believers would receive the baptism of the Spirit at Pentecost, and be empowered for ministry, and the breath of Christ in the new Creation means spiritual life. The spirit had dwelt with them in the person of Christ, but now He would be in them. John 14:17 talks about that. Looking at verse 23, Jesus says, “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”
Now, this is a complex verb structure and in reality, it should be translated in the following way; If you forgive the sins of any, their sins shall have been forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they shall have been retained. It is not to say that they provide forgiveness, because they don’t have that authority, but they can proclaim God’s forgiveness. There is a difference. They are not actually providing forgiveness, but they are proclaiming God’s forgiveness. They are still being given an authoritative position. Meaning they still will answer for what they have done on judgement day. Jesus said on the cross: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Since those who were killing him were deceived and did not understand what they were doing, Jesus asked God to forgive their sin. This implies very strongly that someday all will know the full extent of what they did. It will be at that time that repentance will come because no one will be able to deny their sin any longer. It says in Scripture that “For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”
In verses 24 and 25 we see “Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, ‘We have seen the Lord’. But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe’.”
Now, doubt is often an intellectual problem, isn’t it? But, unbelief, unlike doubt, is a moral issue. Unbelief is simply that you will not believe. Now it is more a matter of the will. Doubt relates more to the mind; unbelief relates more to the will. Doubt says I can’t believe, there are too many problems. Unbelief says I will not believe unless you give me the evidence I want, and on my terms. You see the difference? I have to say, in verses 26 and 27, I am amazed at what happens. “After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you’. Then He said to Thomas, ‘reach here with your finger and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing’.”
Jesus graciously stoops to our level of experience to lift us up to where we need to be. As a principle in life, He will often, in His grace, stoop down to raise us up. He doesn’t have to. He does the same thing with Gideon. Remember Gideon wanted to have it both ways, in Judges chapter six? I have actually heard people promote this as a good way of discerning God’s will. I don’t think the fleece idea is a good way of discerning God’s will. Gideon says to God, “If you deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken. And it was so. When he arose the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he drained the dew from the fleece, a bowl full of water.” But that wasn’t enough for him. “Then Gideon said to God, ‘Don’t let You anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, now let it be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground’. God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground.” Don’t lay out a fleece.
Now, God was gracious to him. He should have whacked him for that. He already said one was enough. He is much more patient and the older I get the more impressed I am with the patience of God. Two of the things that have really grown in my understanding is God’s sovereignty and His patience. I am truly amazed at that, I also have to learn from that.
Now, in verse 28 we see, “Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God’. Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed’.”
So, He accepts that worship. Finally, as we conclude our text, I want to suggest something about this. Everyone ultimately lives by faith. The issue is the object of your faith. Even the atheist walks by faith. Do you understand that? They cannot demonstrate their first principles. The issue is not how much faith you have, but what the object of that faith is. That is what makes the difference. That is why I use the analogy of the person who is terrified of flying and yet still gets on the plane; another person is quite used to it. One is fearful throughout the whole flight, and the other pays no attention. But, what happens to them? One had much faith and one had little faith. What is the outcome? They both get to the same destination. It wasn’t the amount of faith they had, it was the object of their faith. I recently saw Rain Man again, and I had forgotten how he refused to fly on a plane. The only plane he would fly on was Quantas because they had never had an accident. But, there was no Quantas going where he needed to go. You see the point here?
So, Tom Cruise, as his brother, Charlie, is forced to drive him across the country. Now he won’t get on the interstate because of the accidents there. They go on side roads all the way and stay in fleabag motels for days and days. The point is the issue of faith. You don’t have to have a lot of faith, but you have to have some if you are going to put it in a particular object. Anyway, to verses 30 and 31, “Therefore any other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” This is the purpose and this is the theme of this book. Faith comes from hearing, and from hearing the word of Christ. Salvation comes from faith, not seeing, and there are at least a hundred references in John alone on what it means to believe in Christ. The point is this, as we look at this concept, we see in John’s Gospel that in His word, His works, and His walk, He is who He claimed to be. He was either a deluded madman, or He was who He claimed to be. You have this marvelous exploration, where He offers the gift of eternal life. This is not a quantity of time, but a quality of life. That is what He is offering us. Lord willing soon we will complete our study of John.
Oh, I have also been asked this question. Yes, my own view about the shroud is that there is a lot of evidence for it, and the evidence is extremely impressive.
Let me close in a prayer. Father, we thank You for this time and we ask that You would guide us in our thoughts and in our desires and that we would seek You and desire You above all else. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Let’s summarize shall we?
1. Why did Mary Magdalene go to the tomb where Jesus was buried?
a) She wanted to see if Jesus was really dead.
b) She wanted to put spices on the body.
c) She wanted to talk to the gardener.
2. What did she find when she reached the tomb?
a) The tomb was open and empty.
b) Joseph and Nicodemus were anointing the body.
c) The enemies of Jesus had stolen His body.
3. What did Peter and John see when they went to the grave?
a) They saw soldiers and asked what had happened.
b) They saw the gardener and asked where Jesus’ body was.
c) They saw Jesus’ grave-clothes in the empty tomb.
4. When Jesus came to Mary in the garden, what did He tell her?
a) To stop crying.
b) To go back home.
c) To go and give the disciples a message.
5. What did Jesus tell the disciples?
a) They should hide.
b) He was sending them as the Father had sent Him.
c) They should go home.
6. What special help did He promise them for the work He was giving them to do?
a) He would pay them money to preach the gospel.
b) He would give them joy; they would never have sorrow.
c) He would give them the Holy Spirit.
7. In what way would they be able to save people from sin?
a) By forgiving sins.
b) By preaching the gospel.
c) By burning candles.
8. What did Thomas say when he saw Jesus?
a) “I don’t believe it.”
b) “You were right.”
c) “My Lord and my God!”
9. Read John 20:31 and fill in the blank. “But these are written so that you may continue to believe* that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him __________ by the power of his name.
a) you will be strong
b) you will have life
c) you will be happy
10. What is the purpose of John’s gospel?
a) To let us know that Jesus is the Son of God.
b) To tell everything that Jesus did.