by Shafer Parker, FBB Staff Apologist
As some of you may know, I was a pastor before I came to work for FBB, and what follows is the heart of an Easter sermon I preached in 2016. The text was from John’s gospel, chapter 20, verses 1-10. For brevity’s sake I will not print the text here. Nevertheless, I suggest you read the passage first.
When I was a teenager my dad got in his old work car at about 11 p.m. to go to work. He hadn’t driven very far when all of sudden he felt something cold and hard press against the back of his head. His first thought was that a desperate criminal must have hidden in the back seat and was now pressing a gun to his skull. He tried to think what to do and even considered deliberately wrecking the car in order to surprise the murderer. But when nothing happened he slowly turned around and looked behind him, only to realize that earlier he had placed an axe behind the front seat with the axe head on the car floor and the handle leaning against the back seat. It was balanced in such a way that when he braked for an intersection the handle rocked forward and rested against the back of his head.
So to recap, my dad’s first impression was, “A murderer is holding a gun to my head.” But further investigation showed him it was something completely different.
Something like that happened with Mary Magdalene. She came to Jesus’ tomb and saw the stone removed. Something had gone wrong, that was certain, but unlike the other women who were with her (see Mark 16:1ff), she didn’t investigate any further. Instead, she leapt to a false conclusion. She ran and told the disciples that the Lord’s body had been taken from the tomb and “we don’t know where they have put him.”
Peter and John went to the tomb, but instead of standing on the outside Peter, followed by John, went inside and investigated. From what they saw they correctly concluded that Jesus had risen from the dead. John adds that they believed in the resurrection on the evidence, even though they still did not understand that the Old Testament taught the resurrection. Nor had they seen the risen Lord.
You may remember that in the gospel of John, Jesus criticized Thomas for declaring that he would not believe without visual and tactile proof that Christ’s dead body had been raised back to life (John 20:25). Jesus provided the proof Thomas demanded, but he then promised a special blessing to “those who believe without seeing” (John 20:29). Obviously the group that is specially blessed for having believed without seeing the risen Lord would include all 21st-century Christians. But what you may not have noticed until now is that Peter and John fit into the same category. Unlike us, they were privileged to spend many hours in Jesus’ presence after the resurrection. But like us, they believed in Jesus’ resurrection before they saw His risen body.
Peter and John saw plenty of evidence for Jesus’ resurrection that first Easter morning. First, there was the material evidence, including the stone rolled back from the doorway, the empty tomb itself, the folded and separated face cloth (sudarium), the linen shroud still stretched out where the body had lain (the sindone, Matt. 27:59), and the strips of cloth (othonion) that were traditionally used for binding a dead body’s hands and feet, as well as enclosing the myrrh and aloes that were part of Jesus’ burial preparation (John 19:39-40).
Evidence to Produce Faith
The evidence listed above logically demanded a miracle to explain it. Consider the options facing Peter and John. If the body had been stolen by those who hated the Lord, they would either have carried him away wrapped in all the coverings, or else they could have just ripped everything away and tossed it anywhere. If you’ve ever watched a detective show on TV then you know what a house looks like when thieves have trashed it—like a bomb has gone off inside. The tomb would have been the same.
But a skeptic may ask, “What if it was the disciples who stole the body?” Well, as John admits in today’s text, they didn’t even believe in resurrection. Stealing Jesus’ body to fake a resurrection was the last thing on their minds. Okay, but what if Joseph and Nicodemus, or someone else had decided to fake a resurrection? What if people who loved Jesus had stolen the body without telling the disciples? Well, even if they had done, they still loved Jesus. They would never have deliberately treated His body to the indignity of being stripped naked before moving it. Remember, the linen cloths were still in place, undisturbed, as though they had once wrapped a body that had simply passed through them.
So let me say it again, all the evidence observed by Peter and John pointed to a miraculous resurrection; in other words, in an instant the evidence took these disciples from no hope to belief in the fact of resurrection, the fact that Jesus of Nazareth, who died on the cross, had miraculously risen from death to life! John saw—not Jesus, but the evidence of the empty tomb—and he believed!
Investigation as a Christian Virtue
If you read a little further in John 20 you will find that Jesus soon presents himself to Mary and she too becomes a believer. But it is clear that she missed out on a blessing by not going into the tomb like Peter and John and investigating the matter for herself. Had she done so her sorrowing heart would have been immediately made glad.
So let me now reveal the purpose of this message. I want to challenge you to be more like Peter and John, in this instance, and less like Mary Magdalene. This Easter I’m challenging everyone who reads this to shuffle off your spiritual apathy and mental carelessness and rise to the challenge of diligently investigating everything that can possibly be known about the one human being who actually conquered death! If you do that your life will be blessed forever!
Think about it. The Internet is simply lousy with false promises: How to get a flat stomach in two weeks. How my sister-in-law is making $1,600 an hour and you can too. How to boost your energy. How to conquer joint pain. The secret to eliminate gall stones and kidney stones naturally. The secret to keeping your friends from talking about their gall bladders. Five secrets your millionaire neighbour isn’t telling you. Learn this one trick to look 35 again, and so on. The thing is, we know the people behind these ads are making money because if they weren’t they wouldn’t stay in business. Their promises are too good to be true; nevertheless, somebody keeps buying what they’re selling.
Here is the promise God makes to everyone. Regardless of how you proceed, if you sincerely investigate Him you will never be disappointed. Peter and John were not disappointed when they investigated Jesus’ tomb, and you won’t be disappointed either, no matter what you investigate about God.
God invites us to study His divine nature and character because He knows that only good things will be found there, things that will bless our lives forever. Listen to these words from the Passion Translation’s version of the book of Proverbs, chapter 2, “My child, will you treasure my wisdom? Then, and only then, will you acquire it. And only if you accept my advice and hide it within will you succeed. 2 So train your heart to listen when I speak and open your spirit wide to expand your discernment—then pass it on to your sons and daughters. 3 Yes, cry out for comprehension and intercede for insight. 4 For if you keep seeking it like a man would seek for sterling silver, searching in hidden places for cherished treasure, 5 then you will discover the fear of the Lord and find the true knowledge of God. 6 Wisdom is a gift from a generous God, and every word he speaks is full of revelation and becomes a fountain of understanding within you.”
Remember Mary Magdalene; You cannot adequately understand anything about God if all He gets from you is a glance. During this Easter season, commit to the risen Lord that you will dig deep in understanding Him and His ways. If you do this, and stick to it, endless blessings are bound to follow.