From the House of The Nazarene. This will be a very in-depth deep-dive study of the Book of John.
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 just finished John chapter 19 and we are now are up to John chapter 20 in our study. 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.