Christians meet together for worship and fellowship on Sunday morning because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week, and Christians have been worshiping on Sunday ever since. Throughout the centuries men have tried to honor their heroes by erecting lavish monuments. The massive pyramids of Egypt were built as resting places for the Egyptian Pharaohs; the glistening Taj Mahal in India is the tomb of an Indian emperor and his favorite wife. Lenin’s tomb in Russia’s Red Square is where the body of the Marxist leader is preserved by some mysterious process, and the burial vault at Mt. Vernon is the site of George Washington’s’ body. Jesus’ simple grave can’t compare with these costly burial places. But the tomb of Jesus excels all of these in the most important respect. It’s empty! He is not there! At the heart of the Christian faith is the claim that Jesus Christ, on the third day after His death on the cross, rose from the dead and is alive forevermore. No other world religion has dared to make such a claim about its leader.
I. MARY AT THE TOMB (verses 1-2)
Let’s look at what happened in John’s Gospel on the third day after Jesus’ death on the cross. In Verse l, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb very early on the first day of the week. Luke’s Gospel tells us that Mary was bringing spices to prepare His body for burial. She must not have known that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had already done so. Why did Mary wait until the third day after Jesus’ burial? The Jewish traditions taught that the soul hovered over the body of a dead person until the third day when it finally left. Friends and family were often in the habit of going to the grave up to the third day, when corruption was supposed to begin, in order to make sure that the person was really dead. The first thing Mary sees is the stone that had been rolled away from the tomb. The stone was a large disc-shaped stone that had been rolled down against the entrance to the tomb. It would have taken many men to move such a heavy stone away from that tomb. Mary must have been in a state of shock as she ran to tell Peter and John what she had seen. She tells them in verse 2 that “they have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid Him”. Notice that Mary says, “WE do not know”. Luke tells us in his Gospel that Mary was accompanied by Joanna and Mary the mother of James, as well as other women when she went to the tomb.
II. PETER AND JOHN (vs. 3-10)
After listening to Mary words, Peter and John have a foot race to the tomb in verses 3 and 4, and John wins. It’s interesting to see the differences between these two men. Verse 5 says that John looks inside the tomb, sees the linen wrappings, but does not go in. Peter, however, is bolder. He goes into the tomb, sees the linen wrappings lying there, and also sees the face-cloth rolled up in another place. In verse 8, John also enters the tomb, sees the linen wrappings and believes. What did John believe and why did he believe it? John believed Jesus’ promise that He would rise from the dead, and he believed when he saw the linen wrappings. The wrappings were strips of linen cloth. The spices placed between the wrappings were like glue, and they held the strips of cloth together. It was like a cocoon around Jesus’ body from His shoulders to His feet. Jesus’ glorified body somehow passed through those wrappings, leaving them flattened but still wound together. A little boy once said sadly to his mother. “I’m so disappointed! You told me that something beautiful would come out of that brown thing I picked up the other day, but when I just now looked at it, I found a hole in it and only an empty skin was left!” The mother said, “My child, you have looked in the wrong place for what I have promised. Come with me.” The mother took the boy back into the other room, and there, not too far from the empty cocoon, was a beautiful butterfly. It had perched on the window sill so that it could dry its wings in the warmth of the noonday sun. Jesus’ disciples did not understand that Jesus must rise from the dead in fulfillment of Scripture, so verse 10 says that they went away to their own homes, to go back to their old way of life. In much the same way these friends and followers of Jesus looked in the wrong place when they looked for the Savior.
III. MARY AND THE ANGELS (verses 11-14)
In verse 11 we find Mary Magdalene remaining at the tomb weeping, and then, when she looked inside the tomb again, she saw two angels sitting one at the head and one at the feet of Jesus’ empty wrappings. However, Mary did not realize that they were angels. In verse 13 they ask her, “woman, why are you weeping”, and Mary gives her reason. She says, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid Him.” Mark’s Gospel tells us that the angel on the right tells Mary: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified; He is risen; He is not here.”
IV. MARY AND JESUS (verses 15-18)
You can imagine Mary’s confusion in verse 15 when she turns around and Jesus is standing there. But Mary didn’t recognize Jesus, nor did anyone recognize Him. He now had a glorified body and His physical appearance was changed. Jesus asks her basically the same question that the angel asked her. Mary didn’t recognize Him until verse 16 when Jesus said her name. Then she recognized His voice and the way He always said her name. She calls Him “Rabboni”, which means Teacher. Jesus is not chiding Mary in verse 17 when He says to her, “Stop clinging to me . . . “. He is actually gently letting her know that the time is short and there is much to be done. Then, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives her a commission when He says, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they shall see Me.” Mary does so in verse 18.
If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, He would not be God. Our faith would be in vain and we would still be condemned for our sins. But Jesus did rise from the dead just as He said. J. Sidlow Baxter tells of a rumor which spread across Asia that the bones of Buddha had been discovered. These bones were paraded through the streets of India where millions gave homage. A Christian missionary watched the people prostrate themselves before the bones. Then he said to a friend: “If one bone of Jesus Christ were found, Christianity would fall to pieces. He was right. We serve a risen Savior, don’t we? The resurrection of Christ is mentioned 108 times in the New Testament, and it is the greatest miracle in the New Testament. For the believer, the cross of Jesus Christ closes the door to hell, and the empty tomb opens the gates of heaven. Andrew Blackwood makes this observation: “There is not a single pessimistic note anywhere in the New Testament after Christ’s resurrection.”
How does the Lord Jesus want us to respond to Him as a result of what He has done for us? How can we express our joy to our risen Lord? Colossians 3:1-2 says, “If then you have been raised up with Christ keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on earth.”
Near the end of Jesus’ public ministry, He said to His disciples in John 17:11 that it was His desire that “My joy might be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Even when He told them of His approaching death, He added in John 16:22, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”
Are you experiencing the joy of the resurrected Christ? Is He living and reigning in your life? May we experience that joy and peace every day of our lives. Let’s not let a day go by, or a waking hour go by without thinking about and thanking God for the death and resurrection of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ and sharing that good news with others.