Easter Sunday Sermon – John 20:1-29
Good morning! If you do not already have your Bibles opened to John 20, then I invite you to turn there now. If you can grab a Bible, we are going to be looking at John 20, this morning.
Christ is risen; He is risen indeed! Today is Easter Sunday. Though it might not feel like it, with everything that has been going on, today is the day we celebrate Jesus rising from the dead.
Every year, the church that my dad pastors at has an Outdoor Sunrise Service on Easter Sunday morning. They begin the service at 8:00 am, which I always thought was so early as a kid. And I would need to be at the church even earlier than that if I wanted to get a seat, which wasn’t so bad for us, since we lived about a hundred feet away from the church. But throughout the service, the worship leader would say, “Christ is risen,” and then everyone else would respond with, “He is risen indeed!” And I always enjoyed that part of the service.
If you tuned in to watch our Good Friday Service, you may have noticed the somber atmosphere surrounding the events of Good Friday. Good Friday is the day when we remember the death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. It doesn’t seem very good. It doesn’t seem very hopeful. But as Christians, we know how the story ends, and we look forward to Easter Sunday with great anticipation for what it means for us. Christ is risen; He is risen indeed!
We have sung about it, and we have heard what the Scriptures have to say about it. We have been reading specifically from the Gospel of John, but in fact, all four Gospel accounts record this historic event. And that’s significant. We’re talking about four separate written accounts that provide sufficient evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
J. Warner Wallace is a homicide detective who applies the basic principles for solving homicide investigations to apologetic concerns, such as, proving the existence of God, the reliability of the Scriptures, and many other common objections to Christianity. And Wallace explains this point really well.
He says that when it comes to making a case in front of a jury, there are two types of evidence: direct evidence and indirect evidence. Now, there is only one kind of direct evidence and that is eyewitness testimony. This is someone who can tell you what happened because they were there and saw it. Indirect evidence, Wallace says, is everything else. Fingerprints, DNA, behaviours observed, statements the person made—all of these are indirect evidence.
Now, if we were wanting to make a case in front of a jury, that the resurrection of Jesus did actually happen, would we have enough evidence to make a case? And the answer, according to our passage in John, is yes.
Why does this matter? Because Christianity hinges on the resurrection of Jesus. If God did not raise Jesus from the dead, if the resurrection of Jesus is not true, then Christianity is a false religion, and we are still dead in our trespasses and sins, and we have no hope. That is the reality, if Christ has not been raised.
But we do have hope, and our trespasses and sins have been paid for at the cross, and Christianity is not a false religion, because Jesus has been raised from the dead. And we have direct and indirect evidence to prove it.
1. First, we have direct evidence. Look at verse 1. It says, “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.”
Matthew records that there was “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.” Mark records that there was “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome.” Luke records that there was “Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them.”
There were several women who reportedly saw the empty tomb, but do you notice who is recorded in each one of these accounts? Mary Magdalene. In Luke 8:2, it says that Mary Magdalene had been possessed by seven demons before Jesus healed her. And from that point on, she became a devoted follower of Jesus, even standing at the foot of the cross, as Jesus was being crucified.
Here, Mary Magdalene has followed Jesus all the way to the tomb. And it says that she saw that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance of the tomb, and she ran and told Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, whom we know to be John, and she tells them that “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
It’s possible that Mary thought that the Jewish leaders had come back and taken away the body of Jesus to do even worse things to Him. In John 20:15, Mary asks the person she thinks is the gardener, but who is actually Jesus, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” But all Jesus needs to say to her is, “Mary,” and she knows exactly who it is. And Mary goes and tells the disciples that she has “seen the Lord.”
And so, you have a confirmed eyewitness by four separate sources to the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus in Mary Magdalene. In this culture, if you were making up a story, but wanted it to be credible, you wouldn’t choose a woman as your first public witness. But then, you have Peter and John, who were the first to hear Mary’s testimony. And it’s interesting, given that Peter had just denied Jesus not that long ago, that she would go to Peter with this information.
We often talk about Peter’s weaknesses, but there is something to be said about him facing his fellow men after acting so cowardly. In fact, each one of the disciples scattered and abandoned Jesus in His time of need.
We have been doing an Easter countdown with the boys, this past week, where each day we look at a certain aspect of the Easter story. And on Tuesday, we looked at the arrest of Jesus and who was brave in the story. And really, the only brave person in the story was Jesus. He allowed Himself to be arrested and went with Judas and the crowd without a fight. But everyone else acted cowardly.
Peter grabbed his sword and cut of the High Priest’s servant’s ear when they came to arrest Jesus. One of the disciples ran away naked. They all abandon Jesus. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples are all together in one place with the doors locked. This isn’t exactly a very confident group of followers.
But it seems like Peter is still recognized as their leader. Essentially, the first half of the book of Acts is about how God used Peter to spread the good news of Jesus. At Pentecost, it would be Peter, who would call people to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and receive the Holy Spirit, at which point three thousand people respond. It would be Peter who would call out Ananias and Sapphira for lying to God. It would be Peter who would receive the vision to go and take the gospel to the Gentiles.
And so, Mary goes to Peter to tell him that the tomb is empty. And Peter and John rush to the tomb where the body of Jesus was laid. And I just love how Scripture records some of the most irrelevant information. Peter and John are running together, but then it says that John outran Peter and reached the tomb first. If you were fabricating this story, you wouldn’t include that information, because you would want to make yourself look as good as possible.
But John gets to the tomb first and looks inside. Then Peter comes, and as Peter never does anything half-hearted, he doesn’t just look inside, but he actually goes into the tomb.
And both Peter and John discover something as they contemplate the implications of what this means. The grave clothes are still there. If the Jewish leaders had come and taken away the body of Jesus, then why would they leave the grave clothes? Better yet, why were the grave clothes lying perfectly where the body had been and not just in a heap off to the side?
Again, Wallace helps us to think through the implications of this. He said that, when he first studied the resurrection of Jesus, he noticed that there were four pieces of evidence that he believed were true, but that he still needed to explain. And the four pieces of evidence were:
1. Jesus lived, died on a cross, and was buried.
2. The tomb was empty.
3. There were sightings of the resurrection.
4. The disciples’ lives were transformed by it.
Gary Habermas, a New Testament scholar, philosopher and historian, compiled over 1400 critical works on the resurrection written from both secular and Christian scholars, and discovered that almost all agree on these same points. But we still need to account for these pieces of information.
You might agree that Jesus lived, died on a cross, and was buried, and that the tomb was empty, and that there were sightings of the resurrection, and that the disciples’ lives were transformed by it, and not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. But you still need to provide an explanation that explains these pieces of evidence. And you will find that the most logical explanation that best explains all of these pieces of evidence is that Jesus really did rise from the dead.
This is the conclusion that John comes to, in verses 8: “Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.” John had come to the point, where he couldn’t explain away the pieces of evidence and was left with only one possible explanation.
Maybe this is what some of you are wrestling with. Maybe you have no problem agreeing with these pieces of evidence, but maybe the thought of a resurrection is too supernatural for you.
And if this is where some of you are at, then I just want to encourage you that you are not alone, even one of Jesus’ own disciples had trouble accepting the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
After Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, He appeared to the majority of the disciples. And Jesus showed them His hands where the nails had been and His side where the spear had been thrust. But there was one problem. Thomas wasn’t with them.
And Thomas might describe where some of you are at, this morning. After the rest of the disciples tell him that they had seen the Lord, he says to them, in verse 26, “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.”
Well, eight days later, when all of the disciples, including Thomas, were together in one place with the doors locked, Jesus came and stood among them. And He went directly to Thomas and said to him, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
And just then, Thomas believed. I mean, how could he not? He had seen the resurrected Lord with his own eyes. He had put his hand in Jesus’ scars. But then, Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Maybe we are skeptical of the resurrection, but with all of the evidence in front of us, we are truly without excuse. We have plenty of direct evidence. We have plenty of eyewitness testimony.
In fact, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, the apostle Paul writes, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
There were more than five hundred people who saw Jesus alive. That’s definitely enough direct evidence to make a case for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul even gives the names of all of these people. This was like the footnotes that we use today. If you wanted to confirm that what Paul was saying was true, you could go and check with the individuals that Paul mentions.
2. And so, we have plenty of direct evidence to confirm that the resurrection of Jesus actually happened. But secondly, we also have indirect evidence. Now, indirect evidence is everything else. Now, obviously, evidence like DNA and fingerprints might be difficult to find, but look at the statements that Jesus made.
In Mark 8:31, Jesus is telling His disciples “that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” He says the same thing, in Mark 9:32, that “the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” He says the same thing, for a third time, in Mark 10:33-34, that “the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
If we were to look at the statements that Jesus made, it shouldn’t surprise us then that it actually happened the way He said it would happen. But it’s even better than that. Look at John 20:9. It says that John believed, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” Also, the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, writes “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
Paul and John are referring to what the Scriptures say about Jesus rising from the dead on the third day. But what do the Scriptures say?
In Psalm 16:9-10, David writes, “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” This is later quoted by Peter in his sermon at Pentecost, in reference to God raising Jesus from the dead, thus loosing the pangs of death.
But Jesus Himself actually uses the prophet Jonah as an illustration of this. Jonah was the prophet whom God told to take a message of coming judgment to Nineveh, but Jonah goes in a boat in the opposite direction. So, God causes a storm to come upon them, at which point Jonah knows that he is the reason for the storm and suggests that they throw him overboard, which they do. And God appoints a great fish to swallow Jonah up and take him to Nineveh.
And in Matthew 12:40, Jesus says, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
I mean, it doesn’t get any more explicit than that. It shouldn’t surprise us that all of this happened just as Jesus said it would happen and just as the Scriptures, which were written hundreds of years earlier, said it would happen.
But it didn’t stop some from trying to make sure that it didn’t happen. After Jesus had been crucified and buried, in Matthew 27, it says that the religious leaders got together and wanted to make sure that the tomb was as secure as possible, setting up a guard of soldiers, because they remembered that Jesus had said, “After three days I will rise,” and they didn’t want the disciples coming and stealing away the body and telling everyone that Jesus had indeed risen.
But after Jesus’ resurrection, the guards, who were at the tomb, go to the religious leaders and tell them what happened, and it says that the religious leaders “gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, ‘Tell people, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.”
Now, isn’t that telling? Sometimes, we can have all the evidence in front of us, and still not believe. We can have the truth presented to us, and still reject it. In Matthew 28:17, as Jesus is about to ascend to heaven, it says that “when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.”
And that has always baffled me. How can you have the risen Christ in front of you and still not believe?
We’re talking about Someone who was clearly put to death by the Romans. They did a good job of killing people. They made sure that Jesus was good and dead before they took Him down off the cross.
We’re talking about Someone who was clearly buried. According to Mark 15:47, the women who came early that Sunday morning saw the tomb where Jesus was buried, so it’s not like they went to the wrong tomb. And the religious leaders made sure that the tomb was secure, because they didn’t want the body being taken away.
We’re talking about Someone who was clearly seen alive by more than five hundred people after the resurrection.
We’re talking about Someone whose resurrection changed the lives of His disciples, so much so, that they were willing to die for the truth that Jesus had risen from the dead. You don’t die for a lie.
And yet, even presented with the evidence, both direct and indirect, there were still some who doubted. Maybe this is where you are at, this morning. Maybe you’ve thought through all of the possible explanations, and they all seem to be leading you to the conclusion that Jesus really did rise from the dead, but maybe you’re holding back, because you don’t want it to be true.
One commentator writes, “We can neither understand Jesus nor help others to understand him, unless we take our hearts to him as well as our minds.”
If this is where you are at, then I just encourage you to come to Jesus with whatever faith you have. The evidence is here. The only hindrance to us believing in the resurrection is us. We need to believe in our heart what we know in our head. And so, I encourage you, if this is where you are at, this morning, to come to Jesus and He will give you rest for your weary soul.
And for those who have not seen and yet have believed, we can be encouraged that the resurrection of Jesus is true, and this gives us hope. We do not hope in Christ for this life only, but for the eternal life to come. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we who have believed in Him can be assured that, though we die, we too will rise from the dead on that day when Jesus comes again.
Colossians 1:18 says that Jesus “is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” When Jesus rose from the dead, He rose in victory over death. Death is not ultimate for the follower of Jesus, because Jesus, who is our life, has conquered it. There is now eternal life for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Do we believe this? Do we believe that the resurrection of Jesus is true? Not simply, do we know it to be true, but do we believe it to be true? Have we believed not simply with our head, but with our heart? Romans 10:9 says that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” If you have never done this, I encourage you to do this, today.
All of this hinges on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then this changes nothing. But if Jesus really did rise from the dead, like the evidence suggests, then this changes everything. And my hope is that we might grab hold of the truth of the resurrection, knowing that it is our ultimate hope in life and death.
We will either worship Jesus as the resurrected Saviour and Lord, or we will doubt Him. What will our response be to the resurrection of Jesus? Let’s pray…