Jesus Is Alive!
Passage: John 20:1–31
Jesus is not dead; he's alive!
By the time the Cubs made it to the World Series in 2016, even people who have no interest in baseball had suddenly become fans. I know because I was one of them. Even though I can’t remember ever choosing to watch a baseball game on TV in my life, I stayed up until after midnight to watch the final game of the World Series. Even though I don’t like baseball, I wanted to see if they could do it. And when they did, I was excited. I asked people the next day about it. I almost bought a Cubs t-shirt at Walmart. It was an event that hadn’t happened in a century and I wanted to be a part of it.
There’s this well known moment when the Cubs players ran to the middle of the field to celebrate with each other. They had won!
How does it feel to be on a winning team? How do you act when you are part of a winning team?
But not everyone felt this way. The Indian’s fans looked up at the scoreboard with disbelief and disappointment Their team had lost.
These two pictures carry so much emotion. One is the excitement and joy of a win. The other is the disappointment and sorrow of a loss. Winning and losing create big emotions in us. And sports aren’t the only thing that bring out this level of emotion in us because we can feel like we are winning or losing in lots of ways.
I think joy and peace are two emotions connected to winning. Before the victory, you are focused, serious, working hard, and the outcome has not yet been determined. The players on the field are focused and the players on the bench are leaning forward in anticipation, perhaps with a leg bouncing in stress. You aren’t at peace because you don’t know how it’s going to end. You’re not rejoicing in the victory yet. But after you win, now you can have peace because the outcome has been determined. You can celebrate with joy the victory won. You can relax.
In life, I find a lot of times that my feelings of joy and peace can go up and down a lot. If things went how I wanted them to go today, then it feels like a win and I have joy and peace. But if they didn’t, it feels like a loss and I lack joy and peace. My joy and peace go up and down based on my circumstances.
Sometimes my peace goes up and down based on how other people are treating me. When everyone seems to be happy with me, I am at peace. When everyone is pleased with me and likes me, I can relax because I have won their respect and appreciation. But I can have a lot of fear if I am afraid people don’t like me or are upset with me because I did something wrong or said something wrong. I’m afraid I’ve lost their respect or appreciation.
Sometimes my joy can be attached to my performance. If I’m doing a really good job, I feel joyful and happy and excited. I’m winning at life. If I feel like I’m doing a bad job as a husband, as a father, as a pastor, as a witness to Christ, as a disciple of Jesus, as a friend, then my joy can go down because I am losing.
When you think about your life, which of these pictures best describes it?
This week we celebrate Easter in our Final Words for Following Jesus series in the last chapters of the Gospel According to John. On the night when Jesus knew he would die, he tried to prepare his disciples for his death. He assured them that it was for their good and that they would see him again. But they still didn’t take it well, which is understandable and Jesus knew they wouldn’t be able to fully grasp what he was saying. After all, he was telling them that he would die and then come back to life. Who does that?
What I find interesting about the stories of Jesus’ resurrection is the dramatic change in how the disciples are feeling. When they think Jesus is dead, they are sorrowful and afraid. They think Jesus lost and so did they. When they see him alive, they are filled with joy and peace because they realize Jesus won! Everything he said about himself and what he would do was true!
The difference for them between a life of sorrow and fear and a life of joy and peace was realizing Jesus was not dead but alive. And if he is alive, he has overcome everything that causes them sorrow and fear. The same is true for us
The big idea that summarizes today’s passage is this: Jesus is not dead; he’s alive! Jesus is not dead; he’s alive!
Let’s go on this emotional journey with them starting in verses through 1-10 when they discover the empty tomb.
Discovering the Empty Tomb (John 20:1-10)
Have you ever had your hopes set on something that didn’t work out? Have you ever been searching for something, thought you found it, then ended up being disappointed? Whatever you were feeling then, multiply it by ten and then we are starting to feel like these men and women who were following Jesus in the 1st century. Their whole life, they had been waiting for the Messiah to come. Because of their disobedience and unfaithfulness to God, they were in exile. The land of Israel was a privilege and they forfeited that privilege. Now even though they were living in their own land, they were under the occupation of the Roman Empire. A foreign nation ruled them. But God said that one day, he would return to them and he would send a King to free them from oppression and set up his kingdom on earth in Israel.
They waited for centuries. In Jesus’ time, they had been waiting for almost 500 years. Then Jesus came on the scene, spreading a message about the good news of God’s kingdom. He walked around talking with the authority of a king and demonstrating the authority of a king with God’s power behind him: healing the blind, healing the deaf, healing people with diseases, casting out demons, calming storms with a word. Could this be the Messiah? Could this be God’s king who will set up God’s kingdom on earth in Israel? Could this be the Christ?
Many thought so. The men and women in our passage today certainly did. As Jesus made his way to Jerusalem this last time, it seemed like the moment had finally come when he would begin to lead people as a King. He would lead Israel to overthrown the Romans and they would finally have their land back. Instead, the week ended with Jesus betrayed by one of his closest followers, rejected by the religious leaders of Israel, and nailed naked to a Roman cross. The words “King of the Jews” were written above his head, but they were written to mock him rather than as truth. Then Jesus died. Breath left his lungs. Blood stopped pumping through his body.
If the Cubs had lost the World Series, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference to me. I had been a fan for like a week. But for those who had followed them their whole lives and watched every game, the loss would have a greater impact. Jesus’ closest disciples were the lifetime fans. Their families told them about the Messiah coming. Their religious leaders told them about the Messiah coming. Their Sunday school lessons talked about the Messiah coming.
Imagine you think you’ve found him and then gave three years of your life following him around because you thought he was the King everyone was waiting for. You thought God was going to do something special through him. You trusted in him, put your hope in him, and thought he would lead you to victory. But then he was killed by the very people you thought he would defeat. Now you are sitting on the sidewalk with blank, disappointed stares. You are staring up at the scoreboard and you’ve lost. You can’t believe what has happened. That’s your emotional state.
In verses 1 through 10, we see three disciples discover something they didn’t expect. Jesus died on Friday, then on Sunday, the first day of the week, we are told that Mary Magdalene came to his tomb early while it was still dark. She found that the stone had been rolled away from the mouth of the tomb! Without even looking in, she ran to tell two of Jesus’ other disciples, Peter and John, who wrote this gospel and refers to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. She tells them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
Peter and John begin running toward the tomb. John outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked inside. Jesus was given a traditional Jewish burial with linen cloths wrapped around his body. When John looked inside, he saw those clothes lying in the tomb without a body. Then Peter pushed passed him and actually went inside the tomb. He saw the clothes as well then saw the cloth that was on Jesus’ face lying folded up by itself.
John then went inside and saw everything Peter was seeing and we are told he believed. To unbelieving eyes, this is just confusing. Who opened the tomb? Where’s the body? Why’d they take the linen cloths off and leave them? Why’d they take the time to fold up the face cloth? To John, he’s starting to put the pieces together. He believes that Jesus left this tomb alive. None of them are yet fully understanding what the Old Testament said about the Messiah rising from the dead.
I always think it’s worth pointing out that the 1st century disciples are not so grief-stricken and gullible that they will believe anything if it makes them feel better. When Mary sees the tomb open, she doesn’t tell Peter and John, “Jesus is alive!” She tells them someone has taken Jesus’ body out of the tomb and moved it. Some people say she went to the wrong tomb. But without her leading them, Peter and John run to the same tomb. Did they all get it wrong?
Then we are given all these minute details. Peter started out in front as they ran to the tomb but then John outran him. The linen cloths were lying there but the face cloth was folded up by itself. Who cares? Why are we being told this? Unless of course we are hearing the testimony of an eyewitness telling us his vivid memory of running to the tomb and then finding the tomb empty.
In verses 11 through 29, we hear about three times Jesus appeared to his disciples alive.
Encountering the Risen Jesus (John 20:11-29)
In these three appearances, we see the emotions and state of mind of the disciples dramatically change. They are feeling sorrow, fear, and doubt. But seeing Jesus alive changes all of that.
First, Jesus appears to Mary in verses 11 through 18. Peter and John returned to their homes but Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. She stooped to look in and saw two angels, messengers of God, wearing white. They asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Her answer in verse 13 is: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” She thinks Jesus is still dead but is just dead somewhere else.
Then she turned around and saw Jesus standing there but didn’t recognize him. A consistent detail in all of Jesus’ resurrection appearances is that he isn’t recognized at first. He looks the same but there is something different about him that causes even his close disciples not to recognize him.
Jesus asks her the same question the angels asked her. “Woman, why are you weeping?” Then adds, “Whom are you seeking?” She’s weeping because she thinks Jesus lost and that she lost Jesus. But Jesus all along said that their weeping would turn to joy because they would see him again.
Then verse 15 says: Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Then Jesus says one word to her: “Mary.” Now she recognizes him. She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” which means “Teacher.” We are reminded of John 10 when Jesus said that his sheep know his voice and he calls his own sheep by name. “Mary.” If you are Jesus’ sheep, he knows your name and he calls you by name.
It seems that Mary responds by wanting to cling to Jesus in some way, perhaps to his feet in worship. But there is work to be done: Jesus sends her as a messenger. Jesus is resurrected, but he is going to be returning to the Father. He sends Mary to tell the other disciples that he is alive.
The big idea that summarizes today’s passage is this: Jesus is not dead; he’s alive! For Mary, that turns her sorrow into joy. This is not a time to weep as if Jesus has been defeated. Jesus is alive! He is victorious! He has overcome the world! Go and tell the others.
In verses 19 through 23, Jesus appears to some of his closest disciples. Verse 19 tells us they were in a room with the doors locked because they were afraid of the Jews. The religious leaders and others who were against Jesus had him crucified so what was going to happen to them for following him?
Even with the doors locked, Jesus suddenly stood among them and greeted them with these words, “Peace be with you.” They are full of fear about what others will do to them but Jesus wants them to have peace. They are living in the fear of defeat. Then Jesus showed them his hands where the nails held him to the cross and his side that was pierced by a spear to make sure he was dead. Then they were glad. They had joy because they see Jesus alive.
But again, there is work to be done. Verse 21 says:
21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:21-23)
Just as the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sends his disciples. But they need the Holy Spirit. He told them that once he returned to the Father, he would send them the Holy Spirit. This breathing on them symbolizes the outpouring of the Spirit that will come later in Acts chapter 2. He sends them to proclaim the forgiveness of sins. It’s not that they are the ones who can give out forgiveness, but as they proclaim the good news that Jesus died for our sins and rose again as Lord, they also proclaim, “Repent! And believe the good news! Turn to Jesus to be forgiven!” In doing that, they tell people how to be forgiven and how to stay unforgiven.
Our big idea is this: Jesus is not dead; he’s alive! For these disciples, fear turns to joy and peace and then Jesus sends them on a mission. The work does not stop with him. Jesus puts the Holy Spirit in them to continue his work through them.
Lastly, Jesus appears to all of his closest disciples in verses 24 through 29. Look at verse 24.
24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:24-25)
Thomas was not there at the last visit and he wants to be convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt. He not only wants to see the mark of the nails on his hands, the other two guys crucified beside Jesus had those. He wants to see the mark of the spear on his side. The other two guys had their legs broken to finish them off and so did other people who were crucified. But Jesus was unique. Jesus had his side pierced to make sure he was really dead. Thomas wants to see that.
Thomas gets what he asks for. Look at verses 26 through 29:
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:26-29)
Thomas has to wait eight days. What did he think about in those eight days? Perhaps he was putting the pieces together: “If Jesus really is alive, that would mean so many things! It would mean he is not only my Lord and King, my Messiah, it would also mean he is my God! He’s the Son of God in the flesh!” When Jesus again appears to them, he blesses them with “peace be with you” and invites Thomas to touch the scars and tells him, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
If Jesus is alive, Thomas’ confession should be what we all say about Jesus: My Lord and my God! If Jesus is alive, then he is who he said he is and he is the One who was with God in the beginning and who was God.
Our big idea is: Jesus is not dead; he’s alive! For Thomas, “Jesus is not dead” means “he is my Lord and my God!” Jesus turns his doubt into faith in who Jesus is.
In verse 30, John writes:
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
John wants us to believe right along with Thomas. That’s why he wrote all of this down.
The key to joy and peace is trust in Jesus. If we don’t have a Thomas moment, we can’t have peace and joy. If we will not believe in Jesus as our Lord and our God, then we will not experience peace and joy. We need to stop doubting and start trusting.
What you think can defeat you or has defeated you has power over you. When we let our circumstances and the world determine our joy and peace, we give it power over us that Jesus set us free from.
We have a tendency to offer ourselves as slaves to an enemy Jesus has defeated. So often we surrender to a defeated enemy and let it put the chains back on us. We willingly return as victims to the one Jesus defeated.
When we let what other people think of us determine whether we talk about Jesus, we put the shackles back on. When we live as if sin is just a normal part of life, we put the shackles back on.
What are you afraid to lose that Jesus has already won for you?
So often we surrender to a defeated enemy and let it put the chains back on us. We need to attach ourselves to Jesus as the source of our joy and peace.
If you were to go ziplining, you’d climb way up in a tree and stand on a platform. If you fell, it would not be good. And if you were just standing on the platform, it would be scary and you’d have to really pay attention to keep yourself safe. But when you zip line, you have a harnessed around you that is attached to a cable that keeps you from falling. The fall is still there, but you are not in danger of falling anymore because you are kept safe by something else.
When we are attached to Jesus it means someone else is keeping us safe. It’s not up to you. The danger is still there. You are just safe from it. Sometimes we truly are committed to Jesus and attached to him but we are still cowering and holding onto other things. Even though we can’t fall, we are still afraid of falling so we curl up, scared. We don’t trust him to keep us safe. Jesus calls us by name to stand up confident and find that we are safe.
Then he doesn’t only want us to look out and see that we are safe, he wants to send us as he has been sent. When you are zip lining, you don’t just stay on the platform looking down. You step off the platform and go zipping across a wide open space where there is no platform. All that is holding you up is what you are attached to. But you realize you don’t have to hold yourself up. The zip line holds you and you can have peace and enjoy the ride.
Jesus wants to send us into the world trusting him to hold us up and keep us safe. We are attached to him and he won’t fail us. We can have peace and relax and not worry. And we can enjoy the ride of following him and telling others about him. If we want to experience peace and joy, at some point we have to step off what we are trusting in and put our weight on Jesus and trust him to catch us.