But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
And they say unto her, “Woman, why weepest thou?”
She saith unto them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
Jesus saith unto her, “Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?”
She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.”
Jesus saith unto her, “Mary.”
She turned herself, and saith unto him, “Rabboni,” which is to say, Master.
Jesus saith unto her, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, ‘I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.'”
Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.
Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, “Peace be unto you.” And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.
Then said Jesus to them again, “Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.”
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said unto them, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace be unto you.” Then saith he to Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.”
And Thomas answered and said unto him, “My Lord and my God.”
Jesus saith unto him, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. (John 20:11-31 KJV)
In Romans chapter 4, Paul conveys the significance of the resurrection of Christ. He says, “[Jesus our Lord] was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Ro 4:25). The death of Christ was to atone for our sins, and his resurrection served to demonstrate that death itself was conquered and eternal life is given. It proves that Jesus’s sacrifice had completely satisfied the demands of divine justice and was accepted by God the Father.
It is impossible to believe in the Jesus of the Bible without also believing that he rose from the dead. To say otherwise is to proclaim another Jesus. It is to call God a liar. It is to deny the gospel itself. Paul said, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Ro 10:9). In 1 Corinthians 15, he defined the gospel this way:
I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV)
Jesus himself offered his resurrection as the irrefutable proof that his claims to deity were true. Time and time again, the Pharisees and other Jews demanded more signs from him. But he said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Mt 12:39-40).
“That’s it,” he said. “If you want proof that my claims are true, you’ll get it. You’ll see all you need to see when I die and rise again.”
Listen, the resurrection of Christ is the very heart of what we believe as Christians. To think otherwise is to deny both Christ and the gospel. It would render our faith utterly meaningless. In light of false teachers who denied the resurrection, Paul told the Corinthians:
If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. (1 Corinthians 15:14-19 KJV)
If Christ was not raised, we have nothing left. If he was not raised, his sacrifice must not have satisfied God. And if his sacrifice did not satisfy God, then we will die in our sins. There will be no resurrection of our own bodies and no eternal life. So to deny the resurrection is to deny everything.
It would also fly in the face of overwhelming historical evidence. If you have an interest in Christian apologetics, the resurrection is a good place to start because the facts are abundant. And if you lay out those facts for someone and they still refuse to believe, the problem is not a lack of evidence, but stubborn unbelief driven by a love for sin. Sinful people will make illogical arguments against the resurrection in an effort to evade accountability to God.
For instance, some critics have claimed that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. They say that he was probably in a coma, so he was actually buried alive. Then a few days later, he woke up and walked out of the tomb. Do you mean to tell me that professional Roman executioners couldn’t tell the difference between an unconscious man and a dead man? They were so convinced of his death that they didn’t even bother to break his legs which was customary. Furthermore, they thrust a spear into his side and out poured “blood and water” (Jn 19:34), signifying that he was, in fact, dead.
Of course, we could take it even further. I’d like to know how a beaten, crucified man survives for three days without food, water, or medical care. I want to know how he managed to free himself from the grave clothes he was was wrapped in, roll away a two-ton stone from door of the tomb, sneak past the Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb, and walk all the way to Emmaus on nail-pierced feet. It’s ridiculous.
Another theory proposed by critics is that Jesus was dead and his disciples merely hallucinated his resurrection. I guess they were so desperate to see him again that their minds started playing tricks on them. Well, maybe I could buy that notion if only one or two of them seen Jesus. Maybe. But according to Paul, more than 500 people saw Jesus alive after his death. He told the Corinthians, “Look, you can go talk to them if you want. Many of the witnesses are still alive.”
Perhaps the most ridiculous theory I’ve heard is that Mary and the other women actually went to the wrong tomb. First of all, Mark’s Gospel tells us, “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid” (Mk 15:47). They saw him buried with their own eyes. Second, that theory doesn’t explain Peter, John, or any of the other disciples who also saw an empty grave, not to mention a living Christ.
The theories go on and on and on. None of them successfully refute the reality that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died and rose again.
And what about the disciples? Perhaps the best evidence to prove the resurrection is the dramatic transformation of the disciples (namely, Paul). What in the world did these men have to gain from preaching the resurrection, which they did consistently? One moment, they were scared men fleeing for their lives. The next, they were boldly preaching the resurrection. Paul gave up everything to become a despised Christian, and for what? Ultimately, he received suffering and death. No sane person would have believed and promoted the resurrection of Christ without compelling evidence. There was nothing to gain from it.
Now as we turn our attention to the text in John 20, John writes about three post-resurrection appearances of Christ. First, he appeared to Mary Magdalene. Second, he appeared to ten of the apostles (minus Thomas). And finally, he appeared to all eleven of the apostles, giving Thomas special attention.
Jesus Appears To Mary Magdalene
First, we have Mary in verses 11 through 18. It’s interesting that Mary would become such a prominent figure at the resurrection of Christ. She’s barely mentioned before this time. The extent of what we know about her comes from Luke chapter 8 which says, “Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils” (Lk 8:2). Yet, Jesus chose to reveal himself to her before anyone else. Why? If nothing else, it shows us that there are no insignificant people in God’s kingdom. As Paul said, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1Co 12:13).
Well, after Peter and John left in verse 10, Mary returned and “stood without at the sepulchre weeping” (Jn 20:11). In the first part of this chapter, Mary had apparently been the first to arrive at the empty tomb. And when she saw that the stone had been rolled away, she feared that someone had broken in and stolen the body. So she immediately ran to tell John and Peter about it. They came and looked, and left.
Then, Mary came back. She stood there weeping uncontrollably. She was devastated. If the Lord’s death wasn’t bad enough, now someone had come and desecrated his grave by stealing his body. But Jesus wasn’t going to leave her in her sorrow. “As she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, And [saw] two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain” (Jn 20:11-12). They were in human form, so she didn’t recognize them as angels. Luke describes them as “two men…in shining garments” (Lk 24:4).
They asked her, “Woman, why weepest thou?” (Jn 20:13). It was a gentle rebuke in the form of a question. The time of mourning was over. Mary didn’t know it yet, but it was now time to rejoice. The sorrow of death was forever shattered by the resurrection of Christ.
Notice the reason she gives for her weeping: “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” She didn’t know that Jesus was alive. In fact, she was there to finish his burial preparations. But the body was gone, and now her grief was multiplied.
Look what happened (verse 14): “And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus” (Jn 20:14). You see, she had never seen Jesus in his glorified body. What she saw at this moment certainly did not match the bruised and bloody memory she had of Christ on the cross. Plus, she did not turn around expecting to see Jesus standing behind her. Of course, we also see in all four of the Gospels that Jesus somehow prevented people from recognizing him until he was ready to reveal himself. Needless to say, Mary had no idea who she was looking at.
“Why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?” Still confused, she answered, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away” (Jn 20:15). All she wanted to do was properly bury her Lord. If that meant she needed to single-handedly move the body, so be it. “Just tell me where he is,” she says.
And with a single word, Jesus opened her eyes. “Mary,” he said (Jn 20:16). Immediately, she turns around and excitedly says, “Rabbi.” Apparently, her natural reaction was to reach out and hold him. But Jesus stops her and says, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, ‘I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God'” (Jn 20:17). You see, in forty days, he would ascend back to his Father in heaven. It wasn’t time for her or the other disciples to cling to him. He needed to leave, and Mary needed to tell the others that he was, in fact, alive.
So, Mary, no doubt thrilled at what she’s just learned, rushes to find the apostles and tell them the good news. Sadly, they didn’t believe her. Luke’s account says, “[Her] words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed [her] not” (Lk 24:11). In other words, her claims were nonsense to them. They couldn’t believe it. They spent three years watching him perform the impossible. They saw him raise the dead on three separate occasions. But his own resurrection proved too much for them. They couldn’t believe it.
Paul said, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit” (1Co 2:9-10). He went on to write, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1Co 2:14).
Even the born-again person cannot comprehend the things of God until the Spirit reveals them. As strange as it may seem, the disciples could not grasp the resurrection of Christ, not yet. So as you and I attempt to teach other believers about spiritual truths of Scripture, we shouldn’t be surprised if they seem incapable of seeing what is so plain to us. Maybe God hasn’t given them understanding just yet. We have to be patient.
Jesus Appears To Ten of His Disciples
It should come as little surprise that Jesus would reveal himself next to his apostles (ten of them anyhow). It’s now the evening of the resurrection day, and all of the apostles are together except for Thomas. And where are they? They are behind locked doors. The KJV says, “The doors were shut,” but the original Greek means they were locked (Jn 20:19). They had themselves securely hidden away because they feared what the Jews would do to them. After all, the Jews tortured and crucified Jesus. Why should they expect any different? They likely sat on pins and needles waiting for the temple guards to show up any moment to arrest them. But something entirely different happened.
Passing right through the walls, there appeared Jesus in the flesh, and he said to them, “Peace be unto you.” According to Luke, “They were terrified and [frightened], and supposed that they had seen a spirit” (Lk 24:37). They thought they were looking at a ghost. So Jesus’s first words were intended to calm their fears.
But, of course, we could dig even deeper into this expression. Christ had just accomplished the greatest feat in human history. He made peace between Holy God and vile sinners. Romans 5 says, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Ro 5:10). “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ro 5:1). There is perhaps more to that expression, “Peace be unto you,” than meets the eye.
Well, to prove that he wasn’t a ghost, Jesus showed the disciples the wounds in his hands and his side. In Luke’s account, he said, “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Lk 24:39). It was really him, and the disciples rejoiced.
By the way, John doesn’t tell us that seeing his wounds did not fully convince the disciples. Jesus had to eat a broiled fish before they believed that he wasn’t a ghost. You can read that detail in Luke chapter 24.
So once again, Jesus says, “Peace be unto you,” and he proceeds to give them what we call the Great Commission (Jn 20:21). Of course, John’s version is a bit shorter than what we read in Matthew, Mark, or Luke. Suffice it to say, the resurrection was not intended to merely give the disciples comfort. They had a job to do. We have a job to do. And it is the resurrection that gives us the incentive to fulfill that calling.
Jesus said, “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” Don’t spend the remainder of your lives sitting on your hands, waiting for the resurrection of our own bodies. “No,” Jesus says, “go. I’m sending you out into the world just as my Father sent me.” In Matthew’s Gospel, he said, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” (Mt 28:19). What do we teach them? We teach them the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That’s our calling as God’s people.
We cannot be effective evangelists, however, without the Holy Spirit. Here Jesus said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (Jn 20:22-23).
First of all, let’s talk about their reception of the Spirit. Under the new covenant, the believer’s relationship to the Spirit is profoundly different than it was under the old. On the one hand, Old Testament saints were regenerated by the Spirit just like New Testament believers. On the other hand, the Bible makes it clear that the Spirit indwells and empowers believers in a new and unique way under the new covenant. So even though these men had already received the Spirit in one sense, they were waiting for an even greater outpouring of the Spirit. Of course, that supernatural outpouring began on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2.
Now, what about verse 23? “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” Another translation of this verse says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Was Jesus suggesting that the disciples would have the power to forgive sins? How could that be? Only God can forgive sins. Right?
What Christ was telling the disciples was that they had the authority to declare forgiveness of sins to those who believe the gospel and repent. In Acts 2, Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [or forgiveness] of sins” (Ac 2:38). When Jesus called Paul to preach to the Gentiles, he said, “I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins” (Ac 26:17-18).
It’s not that Christians have the power to forgive sins. We are, however, the means by which God’s people receive forgiveness. Paul told the Corinthians, “All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation…Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2Co 5:18, 20). In short, we can’t forgive sins, but we can point people to the One who will.
On the flip side of that, we have an obligation to warn unbelievers. Jesus once told some of the Jews, “If ye believe not that I am he [that is, the Christ], ye shall die in your sins” (Jn 8:24). Hebrews 10 says, “For if we sin wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth [put another way, if we reject the truth after we’ve heard it], there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation” (Heb 10:26-27).
Listen, there’s a reason people don’t believe the truth of Christ when they hear it. Jesus said, “Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep…My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish” (Jn 10:26-28). You see, the born-again person knows the voice of their Shepherd when they hear it. And if they don’t recognize his voice, then we have the authority to separate ourselves from them. That’s the basis of what Jesus taught in Matthew 18: “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 18:18).
We can’t forgive sins, but we can tell someone that they are forgiven if they turn to Christ and repent of their sins. If they refuse, all we can do is warn them of the judgment to come.
Jesus Appears To Thomas
Now in verses 24 through 31, Thomas, the pessimist of the group, shows up. The glass is always half-empty for him. I won’t take the time to look at these stories now, but John 11 and John 14 both show us that his outlook on things was typically negative. And he was no different here. He said, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20:25).
Well, eight days later, he had his chance. Jesus showed up again and said to Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing” (Jn 20:27). You’ll notice that no one had to tell Jesus about Thomas’s doubt. He already knew. He always knows what we’re thinking and feeling. Best of all, he cares about what we’re thinking and feeling. According to Hebrew 4:15, we have a sympathetic High Priest. So we’re told, “Come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).
Jesus came to Thomas in his moment of weakness and doubt, and he was willing to give Thomas what he needed for strength and comfort. And Thomas shouts, “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28). There were no more doubts in mind. He was standing in the presence of God himself.
But Jesus adds a caveat for those who read this story and think to themselves, Well, I want to see the wounds in Jesus’s hands. I want to touch them. My faith is lacking too. Why doesn’t Christ give me some irrefutable evidence? Well, to that Jesus says, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (Jn 20:29).
First of all, we can’t expect to be given empirical evidence. Second, we don’t need it, and here’s why (verse 30): “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (Jn 20:30-31).
We don’t need to see the signs and miracles performed by Christ because the written accounts of those things are sufficient. Paul said, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Ro 10:17). The Spirit can prompt someone to believe without seeing the miracles. God’s plan is for Scripture to be his delivery system for faith. And at the very heart of Scripture lies the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the cornerstone of our faith and salvation.
I’ll close with a passage from 1 Corinthians 15. Paul writes:
Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23 KJV)
Preached at Eureka Primitive Baptist Church (Chula, GA) on April 16, 2017