Have you ever had one of those special days that had lots of anticipation, excitement and build up to it? You just couldn’t wait for it to get here! Last day of school . . . Vacation or Trip like Disney World, Cruise, etc. . . . Graduation . . . Prom . . . Wedding Day . . . Birth of a Child . . . First Job . . . Career Change . . . etc. Today is one of those days. Easter is the most anticipated, most exciting day in the life of a Christ-follower. Without a victorious and resurrected Savior there is no Easter. Without Easter and an empty tomb there simply is nothing known as the Christian faith!
Have you ever heard the phrase, “That is a Game Changer!” A game changer is something that radically changes the way things were going before that something happened. Easter is a Game Changer! Easter is one of those days that changes everything! All the great religions of the world, apart from Christianity are about “Do.” “Do this and you might go to heaven,” “Do that and you might find nirvana,” and so on. Christianity is all about “Done.” God has taken care of your salvation through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He cried out, “It is finished!” He purchased your ticket to heaven at the cross. He finished the process when He rose from the grave to show us He has won and is not defeated by death.
Go to the grave of any other leader of any other world religion and you will find the remains of a dead body. With Christianity we find an empty tomb! Easter gives us hope in the face of despair. It gives us victory in the face of defeat. It gives us power in the face of powerlessness. Easter changes everything! When we go back to that first Easter morning what Jesus’ followers experienced at the empty tomb set in motion changes within them that would forever change the world around them.
Right after the crucifixion the disciples were all huddled together behind locked doors hiding afraid they might be next on the list to be crucified. What they saw that morning transformed them into men and women who were not afraid. They were unashamed from that point forward to proclaim their faith in Jesus. An example of this transformation is Peter and John later in the book of Acts. “13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. . . . 19 But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.’” (Acts 4:13,19-20).
On that first Easter morning there were several of Jesus’ followers who ventured out of their self-imposed prison to visit His tomb. In John’s biography, he lists Mary Magdalene, Peter and John. What they saw that morning set in motion a life transformation that would transform the world forever. We call it the empty tomb! Jesus had resurrected and He wasn’t in the tomb but the tomb wasn’t totally empty. There were things in there that were proof Jesus had risen from the grave.
There were other women who went to the tomb that day but Mary Magdalene is the one John lists because she was the first to get there. It says she went “while it was still dark.”( John 20:1). This means she was there between 3:00am and 6:00am. There was a reason Mary was so eager to go to Jesus’ tomb. Jesus said the person who has been forgive much will love much. Mary had been forgiven of a lot. Mary Magdalene was also known as “Mary of Magdala.” She was the Mary in Luke 8 who was tormented by demons and Jesus was the only one who could and did set her free.
When Mary arrived at the tomb she saw the stone had been rolled away and she obviously thought of the obvious. She made an assumption based on the external evidence. Assumption is the tone of voice you put to an e-mail or text that might or might not be true. Assumption is the motive you attach to someone’s silence . . . “They didn’t call me back or write me back.” An assumption is where we take a few facts and fill in the blanks. She saw the stone rolled away so she immediately thought Jesus’ body had been stolen.
She said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’” (John 20:2). She says, “They” (John 20:2). Who is the “they” she is talking about? We really don’t know but it’s probably like when you say, “Well, you know they say . . .” She probably didn’t know the “they.” But she did know people who had it out for Jesus like the Pharisees, Romans, etc. Basically she is forming an opinion. Mary is saying, “Based on what I see I know what has happened. They have stolen His body.”
Grave robbing back then was a common crime. It had become so common that Emperor Claudius made a law of capital punishment for anyone caught robbing a grave. If a grave was robbed . . . If a body was moved . . . If a stone meant to seal the tomb had been moved it was capital punishment. Mary comes, she sees and she assumes. She is connecting the dots, but she is totally wrong. In her panicked and emotional state she runs to find the disciples to tell them what she has seen. Peter and John don’t waste any time. They fly out the door running toward the tomb. “The other disciple” (John 20:4) is John’s way of talking about himself in second person. I think it is funny that John mentions himself as the “other disciple” beating Peter to the tomb. Why would John mention this? Just so he would be known throughout history as the one who beat Peter. “I beat Peter! I beat Peter!” Maybe but I really don’t think so.
I do think I know why John might have beat Peter to the tomb. Peter was loaded down with guilt at this point. Since the last time Jesus and Peter were together Peter had denied Jesus. Even though he told Jesus, “I will never deny you,” he denied him three times. Peter has mixed emotions about going to the tomb. He wants to go but yet he doesn’t want to go. His emotions are all over the place right now.
When they finally get to the tomb look at the different responses. Mary looks at the situation and makes the wrong assumption He has been stolen. Peter looks inside the tomb and is puzzled by everything. John looks inside the tomb and based on what is there it says, “he saw and believed.” (John 20:8).
In the English it says several times they “saw.” But there are different words used for this word in the Greek. When Mary saw and John saw but didn’t go inside in John 20:1 and John 20:5 it is a word that means “take note of.” In John 20:6 when it says Peter saw it means “to study because something unusual has caught your attention.” When John goes inside the tomb and “saw” in John 20:8 it means “to see with understanding and comprehension.” John looked at what was in the tomb and it all made sense to him. He looked at the evidence and said, “It all makes sense. There must have been a resurrection. I believe.”
I said earlier Jesus had resurrected and He wasn’t in the tomb but the tomb wasn’t totally empty. So what was in the tomb? What was it that they saw inside the tomb that caused John to believe? “6 He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.” (John 20:6-7). Literally, he saw the linen cloths lying in their folds undisturbed and in order. They were not in disarray or piled up. They were neat and orderly just like when the body was in them . . . but the body was gone!
What would we have seen if we had been there at the moment Jesus was raised from the dead? What we would not have seen is this. We would not have seen Jesus open his eyes, sit up and begin to struggle out of the cloths. That would have been a resuscitation and not a resurrection. That would have been as if he had recovered from a “swoon”. Some people have falsely put out there what is called the “swoon theory.” It means that Jesus really didn’t die on the cross. He “swooned” or “passed out” just giving the appearance that He had died.
Then when He was put in that cold tomb, He was shocked back to life. Think about how much that doesn’t make sense. Beaten like He was beyond recognition, nailed to the cross, having a spear thrust into His side, taken off the cross after all that time and wrapped up in all that cloth like a mummy. Then Jesus would have the strength to break free from all the linen cloths and roll the stone away from the entrance. Sound logical?
It simply doesn’t make sense but what John saw showed him that Jesus did resurrect from the grave! It showed him that Jesus’ body wasn’t stolen. Something about the grave cloths drew John’s attention. First of all, they were all there. Because what grave robbers would steal the body without the linen cloths? They would steal the body and if they wanted to they would ditch the clothes somewhere else.
Also, the clothes were undisturbed. The word John uses is a word used to describe things that are carefully placed in order. John noticed there had been no disturbance in the tomb. Also, had it even been possible they would have thrown the grave clothes into a pile in the corner. They would not and could not have kept them intact like John saw them.
One glance at these grave clothes was proof to John that there had been a miraculous resurrection. It wasn’t a stolen body and not a “swooned” resuscitation. It was a resurrection! What you would have seen that morning had you been in the tomb at the very moment Jesus resurrected from the grave would have been this. It would have been almost like His body being vaporized and transformed into something new, different and wonderful! Jesus passed through those grave clothes like He would eventually pass through walls and closed doors. What the disciples saw was everything in order, but the body was gone. Jesus was resurrected in a resurrected body!
John would have probably explained it all to everybody else like this, “Don’t you see? No one has move the body or disturbed the grave clothes. They are lying there exactly like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea left them on the eve of the Sabbath. But the body is gone. It has not been stolen. It has not been moved. Clearly His body must have passed through the cloths to leave them like they are now. Jesus has definitely risen!”
One of the last verses in this passage can be confusing. it says earlier that John believed. Then you read where it says they did not understand the Scripture. “9 . . . for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” (John 20:9). In that moment they knew the stone was rolled away. They knew the tomb was empty of a body. They knew the grave clothes and face cloth was still there intact and orderly just like they had been with His body inside. At that moment what they believed was based on their experience. But when John is writing all this he then knew the Scripture and was able to put it all together.
Look At The Evidence. During that first Easter morning and ever since that day Christianity finds itself “on trial.” As with any case when it goes to court, the evidence is presented, testimony is given and a verdict is given. The first disciples found the evidence. Jesus’ body was obviously gone but the grave clothes were undisturbed. The face cloth had been carefully folded by itself. It stands to reason the body had not been stolen because the grave clothes would not be left undisturbed. After all He had been through Jesus didn’t just “swoon” or “pass out” and then wake. Besides that He couldn’t have pushed the grave stone from the opening.
Once you look at the evidence then Let It Change You. From that point forward you have followers who were cowards become bold in their faith. After what they had seen, experienced and put together with Scripture, they were forever changed. So much so that they were willing to face beatings, torture, and even die as martyrs for what they “had seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20). I ask you, “Who would die for a lie?” People will not die for a lie, but people will die for conviction and truth! I would not die for a lie, but I will die for a truth that has changed my life forever!
Just like the disciples that first morning we have all come to an empty tomb today. Maybe you came out of curiosity. Maybe it’s skepticism that brought you here. Maybe guilt drove you here. Maybe emptiness motivated you to come and check all this out. Maybe it was belief that got you here. Whatever the reason, you are here! That is why you came. We have the evidence. We have the eyewitnesses giving testimony. We have the changed lives of the disciples that transformed them and motivated them to sacrifice their lives. The question that remains is, “How are you going to leave?”
Are you going to leave still checking it out?
Are you going to leave believing?
Are you going to leave convinced and changed?
Are you going to leave unashamed and ready to share?