The Empty Tomb – John 20:1-10

The Empty Tomb

Nick Esch, 11/4/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

In John 20:31 John says that the things he’s written in this Gospel, “are written so that [we] may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing [we] may have life in his name.” So he wants us to see the truthfulness of who Jesus is and what He has done, and for us to come to saving faith, and grow in our faith, that we may have life in Jesus’ name, or eternal life… And remember how Jesus defines eternal life in John’s Gospel; in John 17:3 He said, speaking to the Father, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent…” So then, putting all of this together, the Gospel of John was written so that we would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God—that He is our Lord and Savior; and that we would have life in His name—true eternal life, where we know the triune God, where we are in eternal joyous communion with God… This eternal life starts now and goes on forever, getting better and better for all eternity… So John wants us to have this now, to grow in this now, and to enjoy it forever… And this all comes from rightly believing and then believing all the more…

In John’s Gospel he’s never calling anyone to take some sort of blind leap of faith… The whole Gospel is put together so that we would rightly weigh the evidence and then believe… John never calls us to lay aside our minds and just trust God; he wants us to rightly see Jesus based on the truth and the facts… He wants us to come to the logical conclusion that Jesus is God, that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus is our Savior; and to repent and believe… He wants those of us who already rightly believe in Jesus to be strengthened in our faith, and to be so gripped by who Jesus is and what He’s done that our lives are transformed… And that’s my hope for us today… That we would see Jesus more clearly, that we would believe more intently, and love Him and be amazed by Him all the more, and thus be transformed… So with that aim, look with me at John 20:1-10.

Context

We have walked through the narrative of the cross… We’ve been through Good Friday… Because we have sinned against the one true God, we have been rightly brought under condemnation, and separated from God in His grace… But, because God is gracious, and because in His kindness He has loved us, He sent Jesus to save us… Jesus came and took on flesh, and then lived the perfect life that we have failed to live, and on that Good Friday all those years ago, He died the death we deserve to die… Truly God and truly man—our perfect representative and Savior, He took on our sin and took on God’s wrath, and died in our place on our cross… And after dying, as we have seen, He was given the burial of a King, and placed in a new tomb not far from Calvary… He died and was buried on Friday, Saturday was the Sabbath, and now it’s Sunday; which brings us to our passage…

John 20:1–10

In verse 1 we read, “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.” The first day of the week here is the same as it is for us: Sunday… And afterthis Sunday everything changed… For the disciples the day they sat apart especially for the Lord moved from Saturday to Sunday; which shows a shift from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant… After the events in our passage, Scripture refers to Sunday as the Lord’s Day, because this is the day that our Lord and Savior, King Jesus rose from the dead… So it isn’t just Easter that is Resurrection Sunday, but every Sunday; and every Sunday is the Lord’s Day—the day we gather with God’s people and read God’s Word, pray God’s Word, sing God’s Word, and sit under the preaching of God’s Word; a day of realignment, rejuvenation, and rejoicing in the Lord… A day where we especially seek to serve God and His people… And that all began on this day, roughly 2,000 years ago, when Mary went to the tomb of Jesus…  

Now we’re told that she went to the tomb early, while it was still dark; and this is a bit odd because, in the culture that Mary is in, it wasn’t safe for women to be out and about while it was still dark… In verse 2 we can see that she wasn’t alone, because she refers to herself and others with her; and the other Gospel accounts tell us that there was a group of women with her… But John seems to be drawing special attention to her for a reason. It seems that Mary was the first to reach Jesus’ tomb and see that the stone had been rolled away… But more than historical fact, it seems John is sharing Mary’s heart with us… You see, she was there early on Sunday because she loved Jesus… She was in grief… She was in pain… Her heart ached… And so, though it didn’t make much sense to go to the tomb in the dark, it’s almost as if she couldn’t help but go…

Have you ever been in that state?… Have you ever lost someone, or been so covered up in grief and despair that you didn’t know what to do, you just knew you had to do something?… I remember after my dad died, sometimes I would go drive by where he worked; I don’t know why… I never stopped… I never had a goal for going; I just went… My dad and I didn’t have the best relationship, but I loved him, and it hurt to lose him… And so I found myself doing things like that… Well Mary here has now made her way to Jesus’ tomb… According to Mark, Mary and the women with her were coming to anoint Jesus’ body, which had already been done, but they were grieving, and they loved Jesus, so they went…

Mary especially loved Jesus and was amazed by His grace… According to Luke 8:2, Jesus had delivered her from seven demons… Now I don’t know what exactly that looked like, or how she was suffering before He delivered her, but if it was anything like the other people in the Bible who are demon possessed, it was life saving and life transforming… No doubt, Jesus is His love and grace, made such and impact on Mary that she could not help but love Him and be devoted to Him… And that is what John is showing us here; that Mary with such love and devotion for Jesus, goes to the tomb before the sun rises…

Beloved, I wonder how your heart is for Jesus… Do you remember what life without Jesus was like? Do you remember what it was like to be without hope and without God? Do you remember what it’s like to be so caught up in sin, and so covered up in shame that you don’t even know what to do with yourself? Perhaps you don’t… Perhaps God has so blessed you that He saved you at an early age, and kept you from engaging in deep sin… If so, praise God! But have you not seen others who have wrecked their life with sin? This world is filled with examples of such things… For me personally, I remember all too well what life is like without Jesus; I remember all too well what it’s like to live in the muck and the mire of my sin, and I never want to go back there… And neither should you… And as we look at who Jesus is, how He’s loved us and gave Himself for us, and saved us from sin and shame, and has literally saved and transformed our lives, we should be moved, like Mary, to love and be totally devoted to Jesus… Our hearts should be amazed by grace and gripped by love for our great God and Savior, King Jesus… That should be the posture of every Christian… So, is that where you’re at? That’s where Mary was? How’s your heart for Christ?

Now look at verse 2; there we’re told, “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.’” So her broken heart breaks even more as she becomes convinced that they (the Jewish leaders no doubt) have taken the body of her Lord and Savior… Not knowing what else to do, she runs back to Peter and to John (he’s the disciple whom Jesus loved), and with great distress, she shares this information with them… She clearly had no expectation or hope of Jesus rising from the dead on the third day… She clearly didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about when He taught the disciples about His resurrection… She just knew that Jesus loved her and that she loved Jesus… And now she doesn’t know where He is…

When Peter and John hear this they immediately, in panic and distress, head for the tomb. In verse 3 and 4 we read, “So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.” Both disciples are full on sprinting; and though Peter is always a bit more eager than the other disciples, John’s a bit younger than Peter and makes it to the tomb first… And when they get there they find that the tomb is not completely empty… We often speak of the empty tomb as being part of the proof of the resurrection, but the tomb was not totally empty…

In verse 5 we read, “And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.” John, perhaps out of reverence, doesn’t enter into the tomb, but looks in from the entrance. And what he sees are the linen cloths that Joseph and Nicodemus anointed with myrrh and aloe and wrapped around Jesus, only they’re no longer wrapped around Jesus. After John peeks in Peter catches up, and as is typical of Peter, he doesn’t stop at the entrance like John, but goes all in… In verses 6 and 7 we read, “Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.”

So Peter jumps right in there, as he often does; and he sees what John sees, but a bit more… He sees the linen cloths lying there, like John sees, but he also sees the face cloth separated from the other cloths… Now, this is a little easier to see in the Greek than in English, but what the text is telling us here is that the linen cloths that were wrapped around Jesus are basically exactly where they were when He was in them in the tomb… The cloths are lying in the tomb in a specific way—as if they were still wrapped around Jesus, only they are now lying flat because of the weight of the myrrh and aloe on them… When the text says they were lying there, in the Greek it’s implying they were lying there in an orderly fashion—the way they were when they were on Jesus… That is, all except the face cloth, which was higher up on an elevated stone (acting as a pillow as it were), that didn’t have the amount of myrrh and aloe on it that the other cloths did, and so it still looked filled out a bit… When it says it was folded, it’s not saying that it was folded nice and neat like a towel, but that it had shape to it: no doubt, the shape of Jesus’ head and face…

So how could this be? If Mary’s right, and the body of Jesus has been stolen, the grave robbers would of most likely left the linen cloths on Jesus, because that would’ve kept away the smell… But, let’s say for argument’s sake that they took the linen cloths off of Jesus, why in the world would they have laid the cloths back down in the manner in which they were on Jesus in the first place? I mean that would’ve been incredibly time consuming, and hard to do… It’s not typically in a thief’s nature to tidy up after stealing… I remember my first car, which was actually a beat up old pick up truck… I loved that truck… But the thing had a shower curtain for a back windshield, and the door locks didn’t really work… So I tended not to keep anything valuable in it, except for the music (the CDs) that I carried around with me… Well, one day I was parked in downtown Atlanta, and when I got back to my truck, despite the fact that a thief could’ve opened my door, or pushed in the plastic that was acting as a back window, someone had broken my passenger window and had stolen my CDs, and left my truck in disarray… There was stuff everywhere… They left this huge mess… And that’s pretty typical of thieves… They don’t tend to tidy up; they tend to make a mess…

So it’s highly unlikely the grave robbers left the linen cloths behind, especially in this fashion… And the disciples, Mary included, seem to be utterly clueless about the resurrection, so this doesn’t seem to be their doing either… What seems to have happened here is a resurrection… A legit resurrection in glory, with power… There seems to be a contrast here to Lazarus, whom Jesus raised in John 11. Jesus brings him back from the dead, and calls him to come out of the tomb, and Lazarus comes struggling out because he is bound by the linen cloths he was buried with… And Lazarus was not raised in glory like Jesus is; for he died again… But Jesus rises from the dead never to die again… He defeats death… He gets up from the grave in His glorified resurrected body… As we’ll see, later on when Jesus appears to the disciples he seemingly walks through walls, and enters into locked rooms without using the door… And likewise here, He seems to somehow pass through His linen cloths, leaving them the way they were… You see, this is not a resuscitation, where Jesus comes back to life but will die again… No! This is a true resurrection into glory… Passing through walls, passing through linen cloths, or whatever, is no big deal for Jesus, because He is the risen Lord in glory…

In verses 6 and 7, it says Peter saw all of this; he saw the linen cloths and all in just these right ways… And the Greek word used for saw or see here is different from the word used for saw in verse 5 and verse 8… The word that John uses to describe what Peter did, or how he saw Jesus’ not so empty tomb, is the word θεωρέω, which is where we get our English word theory or to theorize from… And that’s what Peter is doing; he’s theorizing… He’s looking, seeing, and working things out in his head… He’s gazing upon the tomb, taking it all in, and trying to put it all together… “Where’s Jesus?… Why are the cloths like that?… How come there’s no mess if Jesus’ body was stolen?… Why does everything seem to be in such order?…” He’s beginning to figure it out… The evidence is pointing him to the resurrection… I mean think about it… Is it just my house where clothes are always all over the place?… I mean, when we change clothes, they don’t come off of us perfectly, and fall into some neat order… I can’t even get my kids to put their dirty cloths into a laundry basket, let alone put them into some neat order… Yet, this tomb is in perfect order…

Now look at verse 8; “Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed…” So now John goes in and fully sees what Peter sees… But the Greek word used for saw or see here is different from the one used to describe Peter… This time John uses the word εἴδω, which means to see and to understand and realize, to recognize and to know… In other words, John took in the scene and he knew that Christ is risen, He is risen indeed… It says, “he saw and believed…” He got it… He examined the evidence, and came to the conclusion that Jesus is risen from the grave…

It wouldn’t make any sense for the Jewish leaders to take the body of Jesus; especially to take it and leave behind his grave clothes… Nor would it make any sense for anyone else to do that… Some say that the disciples took Jesus’ body; but as we can see here, they clearly were not expecting a resurrection… As verse 9 says, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” They had not yet come to understand Jesus’ teaching or the Old Testament’s teaching, that the Messiah must rise from the dead… Yet, they’re accused of doing all of this and putting together this elaborate scam… But, their very lives show that this isn’t the case…

From this moment, things begin to change in Peter and John, and all of the disciples, especially after Pentecost, to where they are willing to lay down their lives for the gospel, because they believe in the resurrection… They believe with all of their heart that death does not get the last say; so they live and minister in such a way that they show that they have no fear of death… Indeed, most of them lose their lives for the cause of Christ… Why would they do this for a lie? Why would this so-called lie, embolden them to live and die for the glory of Christ? The answer: it wouldn’t… They wouldn’t joyfully lay down their lives for a scam… Therefore, by looking at the evidence before us, we must conclude, as they did, that the resurrection is not a lie… It’s gospel truth! Jesus is alive! That’s the only thing that makes sense of the New Testament, along with the whole of church history…

We need to see the risen Christ with the same gaze that John has here—an εἴδω gaze, that sees, understand, recognizes, knows, and believes… It’s a gaze with conviction… We need to meditate, consider, and ponder the resurrection the way Peter does here, and allow the beauty and the truth of the gospel to calm and grip our hearts… You see Peter and John ran franticly to the tomb in an a panic, but after seeing the empty tomb with the eyes of faith, in verse 10 we read, “Then the disciples went back to their homes.” It’s just this calm little statement; like after all of that they just stroll calmly home… But no doubt they went back to their homes with great joy to spread the amazing news of the resurrected Lord… If Mary or any of the other disciples had a heart of love and devotion for Jesus before the resurrection, can you imagine what they were like after the resurrection?…

If Jesus is alive that means that He truly is the Son of God in the flesh… If Jesus is alive it means that He is truly mighty to save—that He has atoned for the sin of everyone who will repent and believe… If Jesus is alive it means our debt has been paid: on the cross He took the punishment for our sin, and in rising from the dead He justified us… If Jesus is alive that means there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… If Jesus is alive then sin and death have been defeated… If Jesus is alive we have nothing to fear, not even death itself; fear has been replaced with hope… The resurrection changes everything…

Conclusion

Beloved, as we see here, and as we’ll see even more so in the weeks to come, all of the evidence points to one great truth: Jesus is alive! And this great truth transformed Peter and John from panicked and confused, to calm and confident—from troubled to joyful… When they saw the truth of the resurrection their faith was strengthened, and their lives were transformed all the more… And beloved, this is exactly why John wrote this Gospel: to see people come to saving faith, and to see people grow in their faith… He wrote it, “that [we] may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing [we] may have life in his name.” And the very reason Jesus can give life in His name is because He Himself is alive…

If we will truly look at the truth of the resurrection with the gaze of conviction that John has here, we’ll see that this changes everything… Paul understood that… That’s why he said if the resurrection wasn’t true then our life and faith are in vain and we are most to be pitied… He assumed that the resurrection had turned the life of every Christian upside down… He assumed that because Jesus lives that every Christian was therefore living for Him, come what may… And that’s exactly how we should be living… So why aren’t we? Beloved, Jesus is alive! The grave and death are conquered! He broke our bonds of sin and shame… Beloved, if the resurrection isn’t true than none of this matters; but if Jesus is alive, than nothing else matters as much as that… If Jesus is alive than everything we are and everything we do should be impacted by this truth… And beloved He is risen… Our Rock and our Redeemer lives, so may we live for Him…