We have come to a momentous day in all of redemptive history. Jesus had predicted that he would be mocked, flogged, and crucified and also raised on the third day (Matthew 20:19). Jesus had told his disciples this on many occasions. After the vision at the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus told his disciples not to speak of these things “until the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Matthew 17:9). Jesus told them that the sign this generation would receive would be the sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:39; Luke 11:29). But the disciples did not understand these things and did not expect resurrection once Jesus died. Who would believe in resurrection? No one who has any rational thinking would go around expecting a resurrection. This is important to observe as we study this account. The resurrection is not a story made up because the disciples expected Jesus to rise. John 20 will show us that no one expected the tomb to be empty on the third day.
The First Day of the Week (20:1-10)
The scene opens that it is the first day of the week. This is important to observe. No gospel records that this is the third day, which is what we would expect to read. God wants us to think beyond the third day and understand that it is the first day of the week. It is Sunday. It is because Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week that we read the first century disciples gathering on the first day of the week. This is why the Lord’s Supper is on Sunday, not on Friday. This is why Jesus is remembered on Sunday. Sunday was the day of the resurrection. We do not remember the Lord in worship and the Lord’s Supper on Saturday because we do not want to have to get up early on Sunday. Sunday is the gathering day for God’s people. We may worship God other days along with Sunday, but not to the exclusion of Sunday. The first day of the week is the day that changed the world.
Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb early in the morning. She comes with other women according to the other gospel accounts. Notice in verse 2 Mary says “we” so she is including the other women in this experience. But Mary Magdalene represents all the women who have come to finish the burial of Jesus. The burial was done in haste before the Passover. So Mary comes to finish the preparations for the body of our Lord. However, when she comes to the tomb she sees that the stone was taken away. Seeing the stone taken away, she goes to Peter and John. Notice what she says. She does not say that the Lord has risen from the dead just like we thought or just like Jesus predicted. If this story was concocted by the disciples, then this is what they would have written to spread their hoax. Notice that Mary does not believe a resurrection has occurred. Rather, she says that someone has moved the body, probably thinking it was the Roman soldiers or Jewish leaders.
With this news Peter and John run to the tomb. John outruns Peter and stoops down to look into the tomb. All that is in the tomb are the linens that were wrapped around the body of Jesus. John does not go in. He can see all that he needs to see from the doorway. Peter arrives to the tomb and immediately goes in. He also sees the linen cloths lying there. He also sees the face cloth, but it is not with the linens that were used to wrap the body. The face cloth is folded up and is sitting by itself. The picture given to us is not a body stolen in haste, for if you were robbing a grave, you would not take the time to unwrap a body so they could carrying a dead body. The picture is that of Jesus unwrapping the cloth that covered his face, folding it back up, and setting it on the stone slab. Now that Peter is inside, John also goes inside with him (20:8). Please notice verse 8 carefully. John “saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” John believed. But a point is made that not all the disciples are believing because they did not understand that resurrection was to occur.
John is making the same point that he has made on many occasions throughout this gospel. Seeing does not cause belief. Jesus has been performing many miracles before the people’s eyes, yet many did not believe. Seeing a sign does not generate belief. The same is true even for the empty tomb. Notice why John says that the disciples did not believe. It was not that they did not believe because they did not see the evidence. They saw the evidence. They saw the empty tomb. Why did they not believe? They did not believe because “as yet they did not understand the Scripture.” What does Romans 10:17 teach? Faith/belief comes by hearing and hearing from the word of Christ. Faith does not come by seeing. We have made such a mistake in thinking that we would believe if we could only see certain things. When Jesus told the story about the rich man who was in torment, the rich man thought that if Lazarus was sent back that his brothers would believe. Abraham shattered that thought telling him that even if one were to rise from the dead they would not believe. They have Moses and the prophets. If you have God’s word then that is all you need to believe. In fact, it is the only thing that will cause faith. We know this is true because we see another Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, risen from the dead by Jesus. Yet the Jewish leaders try to kill Lazarus rather than believe. They cast a blind man out of the synagogue rather than believe that he had been healed. Seeing never produces faith. Understanding the scriptures produces faith.
Brethren, if we want to have greater faith in Jesus, you do not need to see something to have that greater faith. You do not need to see answered prayers. You do not need to see something special. You do not need to see a miracle. You need to understand the scriptures. This is our goal for every gathering we have: understanding the Scriptures. Open the word of God and understand what God is saying for this is the only way we will have faith in the Lord.
Jesus Appears To Mary (20:11-18)
The disciples go back to their homes, but Mary remains at the tomb weeping. It seems to her that the body has been moved or taken and now a proper burial for their Lord cannot be completed. While weeping she stoops to look into the tomb. Inside she sees two angels in white, sitting on the very slab where the body of Jesus previously had laid. The angels ask her why she is weeping. She answers that they have taken the body and she does not know where that have laid his body. Now, here is the awesome thing: she is looking in the wrong place. The tomb is not the place to look for Jesus. She turns and notices a person standing behind her at the entrance of the tomb, but she does not recognize that it is Jesus. She thinks it is a gardener for this tomb area. Jesus asks Mary why she is weeping and who she is looking for. Mary does not really answer these questions but simply blurts out that if he has taken the body away, please let her know so that she can retrieve the body. Again, there is no expectation of resurrection.
Then Jesus simply said, “Mary.” Then she turns and says to him, “Teacher.” The gospel is again teaching us what we saw with Peter and John. Mary did not believe because she saw Jesus. She saw him but did not know it was him. But she heard him and then she knew it was the Lord. This goes back to the teaching Jesus gave earlier that is recorded in this gospel: “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:3–4 ESV). Hearing the words of Jesus is all you need to believe.
Mary immediately clings to the feet of Jesus. One can imagine that she is not going to let go of her Lord and Savior. But Jesus tells her to let go of him because he is not staying. Jesus is not back for good but is still going back to the Father. This is the message Mary is to take back to the disciples. “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” How amazing! Jesus is not simply ascending to his Father, but to your Father and to your God.
Because Jesus has died and risen from the dead, we share in the glorious privilege to be able to call the Lord our God and Father. We did not have the right to this before. We were condemned by our sins and separated from our God. Remember how this gospel began:
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11–13 ESV)
With the resurrection of Jesus we are given the right to become children of God. We are now born of God through Jesus who has died and has risen for our restoration and reconciliation. Once again Psalm 22 is fulfilled in this event.
I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him. (Psalm 22:22–24 ESV)
Mary goes to the disciples and announces, “I have seen the Lord!” You can also can be given the right to be called children of God. You can call the Lord your God and Father. The scriptures are the faith you need to believe. There is nothing more you need to know or see. Jesus lives and is calling for you to belong to him. Receive his mercy and grace by turning from your sins and being immersed in water for the forgiveness of your sins today (Acts 2:38). Be born again. Be born of God.