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Sermon: John 20: My Lord and My God

Sermon Audio

Reading of God’s Word

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. 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.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.

Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”

Supposing him to be 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling 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.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20, ESV)

Introduction

You may be wondering why I have chosen to preach from John 20 on Easter Sunday given that we are in the midst of a study through the Gospel of John and have just finished chapter 6. You may be thinking to yourself, well Joe, aren’t you spoiling this text for us? What will we do when we come to it in the sermon series? 

Two things: One, I doubt you’ll remember the specifics of this sermon by the time we come to John 20 in the series. And two, I’ll approach the passage differently when we come to it again.  Today we are considering what John has to say about the resurrection broadly; we’re looking briefly at the whole chapter. When we come to John 20 again we will devote four or five sermons to it, looking at the text in much greater detail.

Notice that chapter 20 can be broken into four episodes. First, we are told of Mary Magdalene, and Peter and John, at the tomb early on the first day of the week. Second, We are told of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the angels, and then with the risen Lord, near the tomb. Third, we are told of Jesus’ appearance before his disciples in the evening on the first day of the week. And fourth, we are told of Jesus encounter with the disciples, but particularly, Thomas, a week later.

There is something to learn from each of these episodes. Actually, there is a lot to learn! For the sake of time I would like to focus in upon one thing: what each of these encounters teach us concerning what we have gained through Christ’s resurrection.

John seems to be primarily concerned in this passage to provide evidence in support of the claim that Christ has indeed risen. That is why he piles up story upon story. The other gospels provide other pieces of evidence – Jesus was seen in his resurrection, not by one man or two, but by many witnesses.  Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, recounts many of the resurrection appearances of Christ adding also that “he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:6, ESV) When we take all of the evidence into consideration we have very good reason to believe that Christ has risen indeed.

But the question before us is what does John say in his gospel? And more specifically, what does he have to say concerning what we have gained in Christ by his death and resurrection?

The first three episodes tell us of three things that have been gained through Christ’s resurrection. The last episode reminds us of how these benefits are obtained.

Christ, By His Resurrection, Has Conquered Death For Us

Let’s first of all consider verses 1-10 where we are reminded that Christ, by his resurrection, has conquered death for us.

The story picks up with Mary Magdalene at the tomb early in the morning. I think it is significant that Mary was among the last to stand at the cross with Jesus the night before, and she is the first to the grave on the following morning. Clearly she loved Jesus deeply. She was there before dawn. She was there when it was to dark to see. We might ask why she loved Jesus so much? Well, though we don’t know much about Mary, we know that this is the Mary out of whom Jesus cast seven demons (Luke 8:2). I’ve found this to be true, that it those who really understand how desperate the circumstance out of which Christ saved them who love him the most. It is those who know that they have been forgiven much who tend to love much. They have gratitude in their hearts, and they love and serve their Lord most fully in response. “Having received much, she loved much; and loving much, she did much, in order to prove the reality of her love.” (J.C. Ryle)

You and I have also been forgiven much. If we really knew it and believed it we would certainly love and serve our savior more.

When Mary arrived she found that the stone had been rolled away from the opening of the tomb. And so she ran to tell Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved (this, as you know, is how John refers to himself in his gospel).  When she arrived she said,  “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:2, ESV) Clearly she was distressed and assumed that the enemies of Jesus had raided the tomb.

Verses 3-10 are especially interesting in that they are written in a very personal way, being filled with specific details, which reveal something of the personalities of the two disciples. John, who calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, wants us to know that he outran Peter to the tomb that morning. That is something that a man would say, isn’t it? But upon coming to the tomb he admits that he was to cautious and timid to enter in. Peter, on the other hand, had a different temperament. When he finally arrived John tells us that he – bold, zealous, and impulsive as he was – immediately went into the tomb. John then followed his lead.

I ‘m happy for this personal touch. It reminds us that, though we may all be disciples of Christ, we each have unique temperaments. Though we believe in the same Lord, and though we confess the same truths, we are different people one from another. We approach life differently. We experience different emotions and see the world in different ways. There is a sweet reminder here that though we have Christ in common, and share the same faith, and have believed on the same gospel, we are also diverse. We ought to love one another, rejoice in our differences, and value the diversity that Christ has planted within his garden.

Now that these two were inside the tomb they made a most astonishing discovery. Christ’s body was gone. The grave cloths were laying there where Christ’s body had been placed the day before. The cloth which covered his face was neatly folded and set to the side. This would not have been the case if robbers came at night to steal away the body. Certainly they would have quickly taken everything. Even if they had taken the time to unwrap the body, the crime scene would have been chaotic, and not orderly, as it was.

It was after seeing the empty tomb that John says he believed. He confesses in verse 9 that, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” (John 20:9, ESV)

This really is an incredible confession. You would think that, after walking with Jesus for over three years, and after hearing his teaching concerning the fact that he would die and rise again, that they would have understood. But they didn’t understand fully until after he was risen. The same is true today. Some walk with Jesus for a long time before comprehending the true significance of what Christ has done. Walking into the empty tomb and seeing the grave cloths laying there in their place had a way of helping John connect all of the dots. It was then that he believed. It was then that he understood what it was that Christ had accomplished.

Let us pause for moment and really think about this. The tomb was empty! The grave cloths were left alone! A man was dead and in the grave and on third day he rose again!

Do you believe it?

The significance is this: death could not hold Jesus. He had the power to overcome death, our greatest enemy. And this Christ accomplished for all who would believe in his name, that we might live as he lives.

Christ, by his resurrection, has conquered death for us.

Christ, By His Resurrection, Has Earned For Us Eternal Life In The Presence of God

Let us also consider verses 11-18 where we are reminded that Christ, by his resurrection, has earned for us eternal life in the presence of God. 

Again, the story turns to Mary Magdalene. She was the last at the cross, the first at the tomb, and she was unwilling to leave the place where her Lord was last seen. She was weeping in confusion and grief. And, as she was weeping, she looked into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there. They asked why she was weeping, and she expressed her sorrow to them.

Verse 14: “Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be 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.’” (John 20:14–15, ESV)

At this Jesus revealed himself to her. He did so by simply saying her name. “Mary”, he said. And her response?  “She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher).” (John 20:16, ESV)

This should remind us of what Jesus said in 10:27:  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27, ESV) Though Mary did not recognize Jesus – perhaps because it was still dark, but more likely because he looked somewhat different in his resurrection body – she did recognize his voice. He called her by name and she responded in faith. This is true of all of Christ’s sheep – they recognize his voice.

Mary clung to him. Jesus’ words to her are interesting. He said to her, “Do not cling 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.'” (John 20:17, ESV)

Jesus warned Mary against clinging to him because he had to go away – he had not yet ascended. But he would soon go away to the Father.

Notice how Jesus described the Father as “my Father and your Father,” “my God and your God.”

This is significant. Jesus referred to the disciples as his brothers. His Father was their Father, his God was their God. Jesus was going to ascend to the Father, and the implication was that they too would one day be with his Father and his God, their Father and their God, for we are brothers and sisters in Christ through are union with him by faith.

Paul picks up this theme in his writings when he speak of Christ as the first-fruits. Jesus rose from the grave and ascended to the Father, not because he would be the only one to do so, but because he would be the first one. To be the first one implies that more will follow. Christ’s mission was to procure salvation – life eternal – for all who believe in him. This he has accomplished.

And this is precisely what Jesus is getting at when he says these words. He calls his followers brothers (sisters is also implied). They are united to him, bound to him, in the same family as him. He calls his God their God, and his Father their Father. The message that Mary was to take to the disciples was that Jesus had risen from the dead, and that he would soon go to the Father. The implication was that they too would see their God and Father as Christ would.

Christ, by his resurrection, has earned for us eternal life in the presence of God. 

Christ, By His Resurrection, Provides Us With A New Life And A New Mission

Let us also consider verses 19-23 where we are reminded that Christ, by his resurrection, provides us with a new life and a new mission. 

The disciples, we are told, were together in a room with the door locked because they were afraid of the Jews. That they were afraid is understandable! Their leader was just falsely accused, falsely condemned, beaten, and crucified. They undoubtably thought that they would be next.

Jesus came to them and stood in their midst. His first words to them were “Peace be with you.” Peace is what they needed – they were afraid. He comforts their frail hearts.

What he does next might seems strange to us. We are told thatJesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22, ESV) It is not that the Spirit was poured out upon them at this time – that would happen some fifty days later on the day of Pentecost – but Jesus commands them to receive the Spirit. And he illustrates the giving of the Spirit by breathing upon them. The greek word for Spirit and breath are the same.

What the disciples needed was the Spirit. They need power from on high. They need the Helper that Jesus had promised. The disciples needed to be baptized with the Spirit. Only then would they fully understand the significance of Christ. Only then would they possess the power and the peace needed to proclaim Christ to the unbelieving world.

And that is precisely what Christ commissions them to do. “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21, ESV) The church, with the apostles and prophets as the foundation and Christ as the cornerstone, is to continue the work that Christ began. Just as the Father sent the Son into the world to atone for sin, so too the Son sends his disciples to proclaim the forgiveness of sin through faith in Christ, to the ends of the earth. He will give the Spirit to them to empower them to accomplish that mission

Christ, by his resurrection, provides us with a new life and a new mission. 

All That Christ Has Earned For Us Is Received By Believing Upon Him

Let us consider lastly verses 24-28 where we see that all that Christ has earned for us through his death and resurrection is received by believing upon him. 

Here the story focuses upon Thomas. Thomas is known as doubting Thomas because of what transpires here.  Thomas was not with the twelve when Jesus appeared to his disciples in that room. He was a sceptic. He was struggling to believe. He chose to isolate himself. When the other disciples told him that they had seen the Lord he replied, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25, ESV)

Jesus meets Thomas in his place of weakness.

Verse 26: “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:26–27, ESV)

This happened eight days later, which, according the Jewish way of counting days, would have been the following Sunday. Jesus made a point of meeting with his disciples in his resurrection on Sundays, establishing a pattern for us. And when he appeared he said what he had said before – “Peace be with you.” I find that this is what people search so diligently for – peace – and yet it is so allusive. It is found in Christ alone.

And then Jesus directed his attention to his struggling disciple. Thomas, were he strong, would have believed with the others, but he was weak in faith. Notice that Jesus does not snub or neglect him. No he comes to him and ministers to him saying, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” He strengthens Thomas in his weakness. He lifts him up!

And what is doubting Thomas’ reply? “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20:28, ESV)

Now that is significant. He confesses that Jesus is his Lord, and he confesses that he is indeed his God. You and I ought to have the same opinion of Jesus. “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29, ESV)

Notice that Thomas was with the brethren on this Lord’s Day this time. There are many who struggle in the faith and they assume that they will overcome their struggles by getting away from it all and finding themselves in isolation from others. This is not the Christian way. The struggling Christian ought to remain in the fellowship. It is in the fellowship, particularly on the Lord’s Day, where Christ meets with those who are his and strengthens their faith.

Here, we are urged to, along with Thomas, believe in Christ.

All that Christ accomplished in his life death and resurrection benefits us nothing if we do not believe in him. 

It is here that John concludes with this most poignant statement. He writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30–31, ESV)

Conclusion 

Do you believe in him? Do you confess, along with Thomas, that he is Lord? Do you confess that he was and is the eternal Son of God come in the flesh, as he claimed to be? Do you trust in him alone for your salvation, for the forgiveness of your sins?

If not, then Christ’s death and resurrection benefit you nothing.

But if you do believe in him – if you know him truly, as he had revealed himself in time and through the scriptures, if you trust in him alone for salvation and have him as Lord –  then these things are yours: victory over sin and death, life eternal in the presence of God, new life now, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirt, and a new mission for your life. All of these things, and more, are yours in Christ Jesus our Lord. These things are received by faith in his name.

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