Experiencing The Resurrection
Experiencing The Resurrection
Bible Passage: John 20:1-18
Experiencing the Resurrection
This week as I was reading the book of Acts for personal study, I became intrigued with what made the Early Church so distinct in the ancient Roman world.
You see, Rome was a nation built upon the foundation of fear. As long as the people feared Caesar, then he could keep and maintain power.
But what set Christians apart and made them offensive to the Roman government was not that they were proclaiming new information. Sure, their message about Jesus and his resurrection was unique and different. But I don’t think Rome really cared what people believed as long as people still respected their power and feared them.
But what made Christian’s a threat to society? What made the Roman officials say they were “turning the world upside down…” was that the information of the resurrection led to an entirely different experience of life.
A fearless life. A life categorized by generosity to the poor, charity to their neighbor, reconciliation among social classes and people groups. The complete overhaul of all of the norms of Roman society.
My point is this… what made Christians unique in their world was not just that they proclaimed to believe information about the Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, it was that they experienced his resurrection in a way that transformed them from the inside out. They left fear behind, and embraced hope instead.
This morning this is how I want us to understand the resurrection. That what God is really calling us to is not to know more information about the resurrection, but to experience the beauty and freedom of it for ourselves.
So let’s look at John 20:1-18 and consider Mary’s experience of the resurrection.
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. 2 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.” 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus'[a] head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet
they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 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.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 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.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,[b] “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 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.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
So let’s look at this text through the lens of three points.
First two are longer. Last one is super brief.
Point #1: The resurrection is an answer to our grief.
One unavoidable observation from this story is that Mary is not just sad. She is overwhelmed with grief.
It’s with grief that she approaches the tomb of Jesus on that Sunday morning. Other Gospel accounts note that she was carrying burial spices with her. A sign that she was showing up to the tomb expecting to address the smell of Jesus’ decaying corpse.
Her sadness grows when she finds the tomb empty. Thinking that someone has stolen the body of her Lord anxiously sprints to get help, and screams out to Peter and John in desperation.
And finally, as Peter and John finally depart from the empty tomb, Mary, still grieving and not understanding what is going on, stays to weep.
The presence of so much grief in this passage makes us ask the question. Where is grief present in your own life?
I had a seminary professor that used to start every class with this line. She would walk in, stand up by the lectern, look at us and say, “I got issues, you got issues, we all got issues. Let’s pray.”
We might have supply chain issues in our communities these days, but one thing that I know is not in short supply is grief.
We are a denomination that believes in total depravity. What that means is not that everyone and everything is totally bad and wretched.
It means that not one thing is untouched by the curse of sin.
There is no one who doesn’t have issues worth grieving. Broken finances, broken families, broken self-image, broken communities.
The fall is ubiquitous. And so is grief.
I think if the invention of internet, cable news, and social media have done anything it’s they have just made us all aware that things are not as they should be.
That even if your life is going pretty well at the current moment there are countless things to grieve. Especially lately. And if things aren’t going well in your life right now, then you know grief especially well.
BUT What I love about this story is that John paints this wonderful and beautiful picture of the resurrection right on top of the canvas of Mary’s grief.
He does this in order to show us that the resurrection is a direct response to our grief. That the Gospel is not some pie in the sky message that has nothing to say directly to your life.
The resurrection is God’s direct response to our grief.
I mean look at it. Before Jesus ever invites Mary to participate in the joy of the resurrection, he and the Angels meet her in her grief. They validate it by asking her questions. They sit in her sadness with her.
That’s who Jesus is in his very person. He’s a gentle savior. One who doesn’t ignore our sadness or tell us to suck it up. He meets us in it. He sympathizes with us. Because like Isaiah told us, in his incarnation he’s a man of sorrows, stricken with grief.
What this means is you can take your sadness, frustrations, and longing to Jesus. He will meet you with kindness and compassion. He isn’t expecting you to tell him sorry for crying. He just lends a shoulder to cry on.
He knows we all got issues, and he cares.
But even more than that, in his death and resurrection Jesus also came to do something about our grief. To give us hope on the other side of it.
Point #2: The resurrection is the reason for our hope.
I think we see two main reasons here in this story that Jesus’ resurrection allows us to maintain hope in the midst of our grief.
So first let’s look at Mary’s interaction with the angels in verses 11-13. It’s here we see…
Jesus’ resurrection gives us a reason to hope in God’s mercy.
In the midst of her grief, Mary desperately looks back in the tomb again, perhaps hoping it wouldn’t be empty like it was before.
And this time it’s not. She sees two angels sitting there, one where Jesus’ head would have been and another where his feet would have been.
Now I think to understand what is happening here we need some help with the Old Testament because there is significant imagery here.
In Exodus 25 when God is giving Moses instructions on how to construct the
Tabernacle. The place where God would dwell with his people. At the center of the tabernacle he tells him to build something called the arc of the covenant (a wooden box where God’ presence will be).
On top of that Arc there was to be a gold plate covering the arc with two angelic figures. One at both ends of the cover. This cover was called the “mercy seat” or “the place of atonement.”
The mercy seat signified that God’s presence was only accessible through his mercy in providing atonement for our sins.
During the time of the tabernacle, the blood of animals sprinkled on the mercy seat signified God had provided atonement.
As we know from the book of Hebrews, the mercy seat that was covered with the blood of animals in Exodus was just a shadow of what was revealed in its fullness right before Mary’s eyes.
Those angels. One sitting at both ends of where Christ laid dead. Communicated that in his death Jesus had become the atoning sacrifice for our sins. He had sat on the mercy seat, his blood providing atonement, so that all who trust in him could receive access to God’s presence.
Now what does this mean for us?
Ted Lasso, a character in a show I enjoy, once said, “There is something worse out there than being sad. It’s being alone and being sad.”
This is why the hope of mercy is so important for understanding how Jesus meets us in our grief. Because our greatest fear is not that we would be sad, but that we would be left alone in our sadness.
That would not be worthy of being comforted. That we do not merit the attention, care, and compassion that we long to have.
But Jesus spilling his own blood on the mercy seat reminds us that by grace, we can have full confidence in approaching the presence of God and asking him to comfort us. That him comforting us is not contingent on how good we have been this week or how much we have made up for our sins against him.
**In Christ, we might be sad. But we are never alone and sad.**
This brings me to the second thing we have reason to hope in. This one comes from Mary’s second interaction in this passage. Her interaction with the risen Jesus.
It’s here we see that the resurrection gives us a reason to hope in reconciliation.
This hope is one I fear that we don’t talk about enough. Many of my students were raised in faith communities that often reduced the Gospel to the good news that Jesus forgives your sins. That’s it. Full stop.
I’ll admit that this is fine news. It’s news we all desire and need to hear. But that is not the comprehensive Good News of the Gospel.
Think about it like this. Imagine you are doing premarital counseling with some students that were about to get married and you asked them, “What do you like about your relationship?”
And the guy looks at you and says, “Well, the thing I love the most about our relationship is how we are able to forgive one another and keep the peace.”
On the surface, that sounds like a good Christian answer.
But how do you think his fiance would feel about that? That the thing he likes THE MOST about the relationship is not about how much they enjoy conversation, how their personalities mix, how they take andtures and laugh.
But the thing he likes the most is how good they are at handling conflict.
Being forgiven is great! But being loved is really what our soul longs for.
And this is what the Gospel is! Jesus didn’t come just to forgive us. His peace accomplished through the cross was a means by which God could now love us, embrace, and enjoy us.. And we can love, embrace, and enjoy him.
Look at the passage. Mary turns around with tears in her eyes and Jesus is standing there. We aren’t sure why she doesn’t initially notice him. Maybe it’s because her eyes are blurry from tears or she’s just not expecting him, but after a brief dialogue… Jesus does something profoundly beautiful.
One commentator I read said that Jesus preached the shortest and most beautiful sermon in all of history to Mary.
It’s a one word sermon, and I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be this brief this morning.
But Jesus looks at Mary in all of her grief and sadness and simply says, “Mary.”
That’s it. He just calls her by name.
So simple but so profoundly beautiful.
Why is this so moving to Mary?
It made me think of a scene from the big hit show on Netflix Stranger Things. This show is a kind of throwback show dedicated to life in the 80’s that is about the beauty and power of friendship. In season 1 a group of middle school friends find themselves in the company of this really strange girl that looks about their age. She can hardly speak and the only way he can identify herself is by the number 11.
It turns out that she had been living in a research lab since a very early age, and was never really treated as a human. She was just a test subject.
But this group of friends takes her in, gives her a place to live, and there is a really powerful scene where the leader of the friend group, Mike, gives 11 a proper name.
He calls her “Elle.” When he does this, life comes into her eyes. No longer did she see herself as a subject to be tested. She was a human who was known and loved.
That’s just a small picture of what Jesus was communicating to Mary
here. He is saying to Mary, “You aren’t just forgiven and tolerated. Because I have defeated the power of sin and death, we are reconciled. By my grace, you are known and you are loved. In me you have a refuge and a hiding place.” The resurrection guarantees our hope of reconciliation.
And very practically what this means is that if you are in Christ everything’s going to be okay. The sovereign God of the universe that is reconciling all things to himself has not forgotten you. The one who is making all sad things come untrue is doing it with your name on his mind.
That’s why when Paul is talking about how all things work for the Good of those who love God in Romans 8 he roots that in our reconciliation. Romans 8:15, “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
His finished work beckons us to take advantage of the comfort he longs to give us.
Now let’s briefly look down to verse 17-18 for the last point.
Point #3: The resurrection is the fuel for our mission.
Like most encounters with Jesus, this one ends with a commission to go share the Gospel.
The reconciling work of Jesus means that we become agents of his reconciliation.
And Mary gladly and excitedly goes and does it.
As we come to a close this morning with Mary’s faithful response to Jesus in mind. I want to end with a question.
It’s a question I wrestle with personally and with students all the time.
How can you follow Jesus for the duration of your life without burning out? How can Jesus not just be a phase in our life and really be the substance of our life?
I think the answer to this question is rather simple if you look at the story.
A life of faithfulness in the mission Jesus calls us to is ONLY possible as a response to the transformative power of Jesus’s mercy, love, and kindness.
If you notice, Mary’s ministry was a reaction to Jesus’ ministry of love for her.
And what I think this means is that if we want to be resilient in our walk with Jesus, that means a lot of the time the most productive spiritual thing you can do is to stop trying to follow Jesus, and instead, sit down and receive his grace again, feel his comfort, and contemplate his endless love for you.
THAT’S WHY WE GATHER HERE AND THAT’S WHY WE GATHER STUDENTS ON CAMPUS
WEEKLY. WE DON’T DO THIS TO BE COACHED ON HOW TO ACCOMPLISH MORE FOR
JESUS. WE GATHER WITH THE DECIDED INTENTION OF BEING RENEWED AND
REFRESHED BY THE GOOD NEWS THAT JESUS INVITES US TO REST IN HIM. THAT HE
HAS ACCOMPLISHED IT ALL, AND
ANY WORK WE DO FOR HIM IS JUST A PRODUCT OF THE JOY WE HAVE FOUND IN HIM.
I’ll end with this. I am not really a tennis person, but over the past year I have for some reason read Andre Agassi’s memoir and I also recently watched King Richard, the movie about Venus and Serena William’s father.
What’s interesting is that if you were to compare their careers, Agassi and the Williams sisters were both phenoms in tennis.
But what these stories show is that their upbringings and motivations were totally different.
Agassi only played because his father made him, and even when he reached #1 in the world like his dad wanted all his dad said was, “You did what you were supposed to do.” It’s no surprise that Agassi experienced burnout. Because tennis couldn’t give him what he wanted, which was his dad’s love.
The Williams sister’s upbringing was the exact opposite. Sure, their dad pushed them to be great. He worked them hard. But they knew that his love was NEVER tied to their performance.
And what that produced was a joyful labor. Participation in a sport they loved while enjoying their father who loved to love them.
The Gospel is the reminder that our heavenly father is not a demanding task master. But a loving Father who is inviting us to rest in him and let his love fuel your purpose.
The invitation of this story is to experience this for ourselves. Let’s pray and ask God to help us do just that.