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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:God uses the sight of the empty tomb to create faith in the resurrection of Christ.
Text:John 20:1-9 (View)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 26
Psalm 19:3-5
Psalm 16:1,4,5
Psalm 40:1,2
Hymn 29

Reading: John 20
Text:  John 20:1-9
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus,


We sometimes say, “Seeing is believing.”  Or sometimes, “I have to see it to believe it.”  For many people, seeing and believing go together.  If they can’t see something with their own two eyes, they won’t believe it.  This is easy to understand, even for the younger brothers and sisters.  If I tell you that tomorrow I’m going to give each of you a million dollars, what would you think?  You know that I’m an honest person, sure, but you also know that I’m not so wealthy that I can give every person here a million dollars.  You might say, “The pastor is kidding, or maybe lying or maybe mistaken.”  But maybe, just maybe you would say, “I’ll wait until tomorrow and see what happens.  If he gives me the million dollars, then I’ll believe it.”  You have to see it to believe it.  Seeing is believing, especially when we’re speaking about something that’s very difficult to believe.  We find the same thing in our Bible passage for this Easter morning.  In this passage, God uses the sight of the empty tomb to create faith in the resurrection of Christ. 


The resurrection happened on the first day of the week, on a Sunday morning.  The Lord Jesus had been crucified, dead, and buried on Good Friday.  As we heard on Friday morning, our Saviour actively and willingly gave up his life for us.  After saying, “It is finished,” he gave up his spirit and died.  Afterwards, his body was taken to the tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea.  Joseph carried the body of our Lord there together with Nicodemus, the man who had visited Jesus by night back in John 3.  Together they wrapped Jesus’ body with linen and spices and placed him in a fresh tomb in a garden.  By the way, notice how the story of our redemption begins in a garden in Eden and comes to a glorious climax in a garden just outside of Jerusalem!      


And now it was very early on Sunday morning.  The sun had not yet come up.  Mary Magdalene was a friend of the Lord Jesus.  She went out to the tomb where he had been laid, joined by a couple of other women.  The nearest family members would have stayed at home mourning for seven days.  But friends and more distant family were often known to visit tombs within the three days after the burial.  And so it is here.  In her devotion to Jesus, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb, not only to pay her respects, but also to place more spices on his body.  Spices were used to mask the smells associated with decomposition.


When Mary arrived at the tomb, something caught her eye.  There were no Roman soldiers there.  The Jewish leaders remembered Jesus’ words about his resurrection – that he would rise from the dead after three days.  They thought that his disciples would steal his body away so they had gone to Pilate to ask for a guard on the tomb.  Now, those soldiers were nowhere to be seen.  Not only that, but someone had moved the giant disk-shaped stone that was the door for the tomb.  The tomb was wide open.  Mary right away jumped to the logical conclusion:  someone had come along and stolen Jesus’ body.  She went running to Peter and John and told them what she saw.  Mary made the assumption that either the Roman soldiers or the Jewish leaders must have taken the body – why we don’t know, maybe they put him in a criminal’s grave – but nevertheless, the fact is the body is missing and nobody knows where he went!     


Note the way that Mary speaks here.  She says, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”  She recognizes that his body is an important part of his identity.  This reflects the Biblical understanding of who we are as human beings.  We are made up of both material and immaterial parts.  Our bodies are just as much a part of who we are as our souls.  That’s why we treat human bodies with respect, both in life and in death.  And the resurrection of Christ’s body proclaims to us that he is a complete Saviour – that he saves everything about us, not just the immaterial, but also the material.  Not just the soul, but also the body.  The Lord Jesus has victory over sin and he has victory over death, which is a consequence of sin.  He has victory over the grave, the grave where our physical bodies will be laid after we die.  The victory he accomplished in his body is our victory and some day our physical bodies will share in his resurrection.  The grave ultimately had nothing on him and it will have nothing on us.  Indeed, we can shout it out:  where, O death, is your sting?    


What do Peter and John do when they hear the report of the missing body?  Well, they don’t take Mary’s word for it.  Like it or not, a woman’s word was not worth all that much in that time and in that culture.  Peter and John had to go and check it out for themselves, just to be sure.  They might have done so at any rate.  So, they jump up and start running for the tomb.  John runs faster than Peter and gets there first.  But he doesn’t go inside.  He simply stands on the outside looking in.  He sees the pieces of linen cloth that were used to wrap Jesus’ body, but the body is nowhere to be seen.


Then the slow-poke shows up.  When Peter comes, he goes right into the tomb.  He wants to know exactly what’s happened.  Peter enters the tomb, looks intently, carefully examining the scene and he sees the pieces of cloth too.  He also sees the cloth that had been around Jesus’ head sitting there all neatly folded.  Why is it important for John to note that here in his gospel?  Well, that means that nobody had stolen the body, not grave robbers, not Roman soldiers, and certainly not Jewish leaders.  If anyone of them had come and stolen the body, they wouldn’t have left things so neat and tidy.  They would have taken the body along with all of the cloths wrapped around him. 


There are those who say that Jesus only appeared to be dead on the cross.  They say that when he was placed in the tomb he was still alive, though perhaps just barely.  And then the resurrection was not a real resurrection.  But that doesn’t explain how Jesus could have taken these burial cloths off of his body.  Those cloths would have been tightly wrapped around his entire body – if he hadn’t been dead when he arrived at the tomb, he would probably have suffocated after his body wrapped for burial.  This “swoon theory,” as it’s sometimes called, also ignores the fact that crucifixion was nearly always a deadly punishment.  The Jewish writer Josephus had three friends who had been crucified and then taken down alive from their crosses.  They received medical attention and even then two of them died.  To survive crucifixion was virtually impossible, especially if you’d had a spear pierce your side. 


Jesus was truly dead when he was placed in the tomb.  And now, the cloths that had been wrapped around him were sitting there, and the head cloth neatly folded like a towel in a hotel bathroom.  There was no sign of a grave robbery.  Something else must have happened to Jesus! 


Finally, John also steps into the tomb, entering the room cut out of the rocky hillside near Jerusalem.  John now sees what Peter sees.  He knows that Jesus’ body has not been stolen or moved.  Something else has happened, something wonderful!  The light goes on for John.  Right then, he remembers what the Lord Jesus had told them.  John remembers how Jesus had said that if the temple was destroyed, in three days it would be built again.  Jesus was referring to himself, to his body.  John remembers how Jesus said just a couple of days ago that he would go away and then come back again.  Christ had taught the disciples that the Old Testament had said that it had to be this way. 


In the NIV, verse 9 says, “They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”  A better translation is, “For up to that moment, they had not yet understood the Scripture that it was necessary for him to rise from the dead.”  In other words, standing there in the empty tomb, this is the turning point for John and Peter.  Now they see and believe and understand.  

They understand now and believe what the Old Testament had prophesied about Christ and his resurrection.  When John says, “Scripture” here in verse 9, he’s referring to the Old Testament.  Think of Psalm 16 and how that psalm speaks of God’s Holy One having a body that is secure, a body that will not see decay.  Think of Psalm 40 and how that psalm speaks of the king being lifted out of the pit, being given a firm place to stand and live.  Think of Isaiah 53:11, “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied...”  Or think of a prophecy like Hosea 6 which speaks of Israel being restored on the third day to live in God’s presence.  The Lord Jesus is the fulfillment of that prophecy and all the others like it.  The Lord Jesus was the fulfillment of the mother promise in Genesis 3:15, the one who would have victory over the serpent, over sin, and over death.


The Lord Jesus had to rise from the dead.  Why?  Well, think back to the connection again between sin and death.  According to Paul in Romans 6, the wages of sin is death.  Christ bore the curse of God against sin.  He became sin for us, as we heard again on Friday.  He paid the price in full – sin was dealt with in exactly the way that God demanded.  So it follows that death could not retain its hold on the Saviour.  Scripture teaches that death had to let go of him because sin had been vanquished.  Because sin is vanquished, death must be also.  Victory over sin must entail victory over death.  Loved ones, that’s part of the gospel for us too because through faith, we share in Christ’s victory.   


John saw the empty tomb and this was God’s instrument to open his eyes – he believed.  He believed that Christ had risen from the dead, fulfilling what he himself had spoken, and what also what the Old Testament had said about him.  This new faith is not defined in any meaningful way.  John simply describes it as belief:  he saw and believed. 


In fact, one of the remarkable things about this passage in John is the way in which the gospel writer simply lays out the facts.  Elsewhere in this gospel, there’s a lot of depth and a lot of interpretation that takes place, a lot of theology, you could say.  But here in this passage, the gospel just gives the straight facts.  The emphasis here is on the historical reality of what took place.  On that Easter Sunday morning, at a specific time and place in real history, the heart of Jesus Christ began beating again.  In real history, the lungs of the God-man began expanding and contracting again.  On Easter Sunday morning some 2000 years ago, suddenly the neurons in Jesus’ brain began firing again.  He came back to life.  And his disciple John saw and believed.


Later in John 20, the Lord Jesus spoke with his disciples.  One of the things he said can be found in verse 29.  When the Lord appears to Thomas and his doubts are put to rest, Jesus says, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Loved ones, we have not seen Jesus after he has risen from the dead.  Unlike Mary, Peter and John, we haven’t seen the empty tomb.  That’s not a bad thing!  Our Lord Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  There is a blessing for those who do not see Jesus or the empty tomb with their eyes and yet still rest and trust in him, still believe that he is the risen Saviour who has victory over sin and death.  God will bless us when we believe in Christ without seeing that he is alive today and sitting at God’s right hand. 


Why is that?  Because God wants us to trust him.  God wants us to trust what he says in his Word.  You see, brothers and sisters, in our text God is putting a question to us this morning:  are you going to believe me, just because I told you?  God is asking us this morning:  how much do you trust me?  How much do you trust what I have revealed to you in Scripture? 


Of course, we all want to see the Lord Jesus some day.  We will.  If we believe in him as the risen and victorious Saviour, we will see him, either when he comes back or when we die.  But for today, God gives us the Bible.  If you want to know all about Jesus now, search the Scriptures.  When you do that, when you read and study the Bible carefully from front to back, and believe what it says, you will see Christ revealed.  The entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is about him.  Believing in him, trusting what the Word says about him, that’s it all true, not just for others but also for you, God promises to add his blessing.  Your heavenly Father’s heart of love will always be directed towards you.


Do you need an illustration?  Think of God’s people in the church at Rome in the days of the apostle Paul.  They had never seen the empty tomb.  They had not seen the risen Christ with their eyes.  All of that took place in a land far away about two decades ago.  But they believed the gospel message, they confessed Jesus as Lord and they believed that God had raised him from the dead.  Paul says in chapter 10 of his letter to this church that with such a confession, and such a faith, God would certainly give his blessing.  He would bless them with the imputed righteousness of Christ, with justification, with salvation, with every spiritual blessing.  Paul says, “Anyone who trust in him will never be put to shame...the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him...”  And if God did that with the Roman Christians in the days of Paul, he will certainly do the same with us today.      


Scripture tells us something that is hard to believe:  somebody who was dead for three days came back to life.  And to make things even more difficult to believe:  he is still alive today almost 2000 years later.  That human body that rose from the dead on Easter Sunday morning continues to exist as a real, physical entity.  Jesus Christ rose from the dead!  We can’t see if it is really true, at least we can’t see it with our physical eyes.  We can’t see the empty tomb.  We can only read the Bible.  The Word of God tells us about the empty tomb.  The Word of God tells us that Christ Jesus rose victoriously from the grave.  Fellow believers, we must continue believing what the Bible says.  And be assured that Christ is right:  we will be truly blessed for believing what we cannot yet see with our eyes.               


Let us pray:


Heavenly Father,


We praise you for your inspired and infallible Word of truth.  We thank you for the witness that it contains to Christ’s victory over sin and death.  We adore you that we have a risen Saviour and we thank you that his victory is also ours.  We pray for your continued help and grace, that we would always believe your Word and trust you.  Please help us to do that with your Spirit and for your glory.  In the risen Saviour we pray, AMEN.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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