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Do You See?

April 9, 2023 |Do you see?|John 20:1-18

JD Cutler

Encounters with Jesus have been our focus during this season of lent.

Starting with Jesus' encounter with Satan in the wilderness immediately after his baptism and continuing through, we have highlighted various encounters. Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the blind man outside the temple, Martha when he raised Lazarus here brother, and last week we looked at his crucifixion. His death on the roman cross.

If he were any normal man we would expect his encounters would have stopped there, right?

But as we gather this morning, as we have proclaimed through our songs, he is no normal man, and although he died, he now lives, amen?!

Because he lives, even after his gruesome death and burial, we find on that first day of the week, after his death, fresh and new encounters with his followers. This morning, we are going to look at the first encounter the risen Lord had with one of his followers. And it was a woman named Mary, distinguished from the other Marys in scripture by the addition of her hometown, Mary Magdalene.

Before we get into this encounter, we need to ask, who was Mary Magdalene?

She is a figure that seems to appear out of nowhere in John’s gospel, first mentioned in his account of the crucifixion, where she is one of three Marys at the cross.

John 19:25-27 (ESV) but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

If it was not for the synoptic gospels, we would not know much else about her, but from them we can begin to put the pieces together of who she was.

Matthew tells us that she, along with other women, had followed Jesus from Galilee.

Mark tells us a bit more about these women, who had encountered Jesus in Galilee and not only followed him but ministered to him and they had come up with him to Jerusalem for the passover.

Mark and Luke tell us more about how she came to be a follower of Jesus when they tell us that Jesus had cast from her seven demons. Luke adds a detail in his account by telling us that they ministered to Jesus out of their means. Mary Magdalene was one of many women who followed Jesus and helped support his itinerant ministry of preaching out of their own pockets.

This is an important detail because what leads to this encounter is that Mary and some of the other women are coming to the tomb to further anoint the body of Jesus after having prepared the spices and oils on the Sabbath. We see even in his death, she remains a loyal follower, intent on serving Jesus anyway she can, even if it is this last act of honor in anointing his body.

We see even in his death, she (Mary) remains a loyal follower, intent on serving Jesus anyway she can, even if it is this last act of honor in anointing his body.

We find her encounter with Jesus, which includes an appearance by two other disciples, Peter and John.

John’s narrative, as you will see, revolves around what these men and women saw on that first Sunday morning.

As you read the text, look for the words saw, look, and seen.

John 20:1-18 (ESV) 1 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. 2 So 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.” 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. 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. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” 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.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

9 times John uses verbs to indicate what was seen or to describe the act of looking. Hold on to that detail as we look at this encounter because we will come back to it at the end. But for now, let us examine what was seen in this narrative and ask the question, what does it mean?

What did Peter and John see in the tomb?

After Mary’s report that the stone had been rolled away and Jesus’ body had been taken, these disciples ran to the tomb, with John letting us know that he was the faster of the two. John never names himself in his gospel, but refers to himself as the one whom Jesus loved. It is in these little details that we see that the gospels are eyewitness accounts and not just stories made up after the fact.

An interesting note is that this isn’t the last time John is first in his narratives, but Peter always seems to rush past him. Here at the tomb and later when Jesus appears to them on the shore when they are fishing. John recognizes Jesus first, but then Peter jumps in the water and swims to the shore before anyone else.

In our text, John is the first one to see the inside of the tomb, but Peter is the first to go in.

That little interesting detail aside, What do they find?

Understand that the tomb was carved into the side of a rock, much like a cave, and a large stone was rolled over the opening to seal it. The stone has been rolled away, in the other gospels we are told that a great earthquake is responsible for this, but here we are simply told that it has been rolled away leaving the tomb open.

Traditionally, there would have been something similar to a shelf cut into the side of the tomb for the body to be laid.

In Jewish burial traditions of the time, the body would have been wrapped in linen strips used to hold the anointing oils and spices to the body, with the head being wrapped, or covered, separately.

What they should have found is exactly that.

We are told by John, that after jesus died, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, two previously secret followers of Jesus out of fear of the Jews, had asked for the body of Jesus and had wrapped Jesus’ body with a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds, four times the normal amount and enough for a king’s burial, and using linen clothes with the spices, bound the body of Jesus.

John stoops down and looks into the cave, by the light available, he sees the linen cloths lying there but he doesn’t go in. Peter catches up and runs in and he takes a closer look. He sees the line clothes lying there, but because of his closer proximity he sees how they are lying there. The linen strips are lying in a neat pile and the head wrap is lying where it should be apart from the linen strips.

This seemingly small detail has huge implications for what happened in that tomb while it was sealed.

If Jesus' body had been taken- no one would have taken the time to not only unwrap the body from all of its wrappings, but more than that to neatly lay them back on the burial slab. It just wouldn’t make any sense. It would have taken too long and increased the risk of being caught. Especially since we find in scripture that it was guarded by Roman soldiers.

On the other hand, graverobbers would have taken the valuable spices and left the body. Considering these two views, it is unlikely that anyone had been in this tomb before Peter and John.

If Jesus had resurrected merely bodily, like Lazarus- or as some deniers of the resurrection say, is that Jesus did not die but simply passed out and somehow, trained Roman guards couldn't tell the difference and neither could those that wrapped him up and he simply revived in the tomb.

Either way, let’s assume either he revived or was resurrected bodily like Lazarus, who unwrapped him?

Right? No way could someone unwrap themselves from these linen clothes, Lazarus could’t much less with the amount of wrapping and spices that had been applied to the body.

What does the witness of the burial clothes tell us?

That this was no ordinary resurrection.

Which by the way sounds a little oxymoronic doesn't it? The resurrection of someone who is dead doesn’t exactly seem normal does it? But in Jesus' ministry, it was not uncommon. He had raised the widow’s son, Jarius’ daughter, and as we saw two weeks ago, his friend Lazarus was brought back to life after three days in the grave. As wild as it sounds, resurrection was not abnormal with Jesus around.

As wild as it sounds, resurrection was not abnormal with Jesus around.

But take Lazarus’ resurrection for instance, in it grave clothes play a role as well.

After Jesus commands them to roll the stone away and he calls out to Lazarus to come out, we find these words.

John 11:44 (ESV) 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

This is what we would expect in a bodily resurrection. A once still heart pumping blood again, once breathless lungs drawing air again, but the state that it was in would be the same, in this case, still wrapped in burial cloths.

No, this was no ordinary resurrection. Jesus was resurrected in a glorified body, able to pass through the burial clothes, leaving them laying there perfectly in place. Jesus was not just bodily resurrected but fully resurrected to eternal life.

This is what scripture says in Colossians 1:18 (ESV) 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

Or in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 (ESV) 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

The firstfruits is an agricultural term indicating exactly what it sounds like, the first to be harvested, with the implication, of course, that more would come in due time. What Peter and John saw in the tomb was evidence of the resurrected Lord, even though, as John says, even though he believed it, he didn’t fully understand what that meant yet. From what he saw in the tomb, he believed something miraculous had happened there.

What did Mary see in the tomb?

After Peter and John left, contemplating what all of this meant, Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. Convinced someone had stolen the body of her beloved teacher and she couldn't even pay her final respects. It is amidst these tears she now ventures a look inside the tomb, stooping down and looking in the same way John did. We would expect her to see the same thing, the linen cloths lying there, but instead she sees something altogether different. There on the slab where Jesus had lay until early this Sunday morning are two angels.

Angels played an integral part in this first Easter. When we harmonize the gospels we see that an angel rolled away the stone, causing the guards to fall out in paralyzing fear, we see that same angel or angel(s) addressing what we gather as the rest of the women who continued to the tomb as Mary Magdalene ran back to the disciples.

Now when Mary looks in she sees these two angels and they ask her why she is weeping.

Notice that she is so grieved by what she thinks has happened that the sight of angels doesn’t even seem to register with her.

Now for the second time she repeats all she can think of, someone has taken the body of Jesus and she doesn’t know where it is.

She turns from them and sees something else, which we will get into in a moment, but before, let us not pass too quickly over this small detail.

12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.

You would be forgiven for not recognizing the rich symbolism here, since we are not all overly familiar with the Jewish temple system, but see if you can see the picture from these verses.

Exodus 25:17-22 (ESV) 17 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. 18 And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. 21 And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.

It was the mercy seat where once a year, on the day of atonement, the high priest would sprinkle blood for his own sins and the sins of the people. Last week we saw the significance of the veil that separated the holy place and its tearing signifying that God’s presence would no longer be confined to a place, but all worshippers in spirit and truth would have access to the presence of God through his Spirit. Here we see a living picture of the mercy seat, but no blood of bulls or goats have been sprinkled here, but the very blood of the lamb of God.

Here we see a living picture of the mercy seat, but no blood of bulls or goats have been sprinkled here, but the very blood of the lamb of God.

This is a picture of what the author of Hebrews says in chapters 9 and 10 of the book of Hebrews.

Hebrews 9:11-26 (ESV) 11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

His death was no ordinary death, it was the death of the sinless, perfect lamb of God, an atoning and substitutionary death that makes salvation possible for all who believe.

One more note of the beautiful picture here before we move on.

In the mercy seat, the type and shadow of what we have seen in christ’s tomb, the cherubim were facing each other, concealing the mercy seat, overshadowing it, essentially indicating the way to be shut, now, in the living picture of the mercy seat, the angels are facing outward indicating that the way into God’s presence is now available.

No, this was no ordinary death. Jesus Christ died in your place, in my place, for the sins of the world, and by his blood we are forgiven, fully and finally.

What did Mary see outside the tomb?

Let us pick back up the narrative, after her encounter with the angels, she turns and sees a man.

Our scripture says, she supposes is an ordinary man, possibly the gardener, or the grounds keeper of this burial sight.

Whether jesus is concealed from her, as in the case of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus or her grief and tears keep her from fully looking into the face of this stranger, we do not know, but we do know she did not realize this man standing before her was the same Jesus she was looking for.

He asks her the same question the angels did, but adds "Whom are you seeking?” To which she repeats for the third time some semblance of the same words. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

One quick note, I want to point out that I find interesting before we move on.

The first time she says it to the disciples she says-

“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

The second time she says it this way to the angels-

“They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

The last time, to Jesus himself she says-

“Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Notice the movement, we have a problem because we don't know where his body is, then I have a problem because I do not know where his body is, and finally, I will take responsibility to deal with his body if you will just tell me where it is.

She has moved from fear, to grief, to determination.

She is hopeless that she will not be able to properly honor the Lord and she will take full responsibility for caring for him if she can just find him.

It is at this moment, Jesus says one word. Her name. Mary!

It has been said that the most precious words a person can hear is their name, and we can imagine in this moment the truth of that flooded over Mary as her mourning turned to joy, her despair to delight, and her fear to wonder.

Here before her stood her Lord and more than that he had called her name.

She responds by exclaiming in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” to which john adds a note of translation for us (which means Teacher).

This is a title of reverent respect as a follower and disciple of Christ, probably what Mary regularly referred to Jesus by.

But it is in what Jesus says in response to her joy that we want to examine here.

“Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Scholars debate on exactly what Jesus may mean here, but in my opinion, Jesus is teaching Mary something about their relationship on this side of the resurrection.

You cling to me because you have desperately desired my presence over the last few days. You have often wept at the idea of never sitting again at my feet and hearing me teach, you have thought about how things would be different if I hadn't come to Jerusalem and I was still with you. Here I stand, but you must understand that I am not long for this world, I must finish my mission, I must now ascend to the Father and take my rightful place at His right hand.

But, I am not just returning to my father, but because I am going and because of my death and resurrection, he is now your Father, he is now your God, as he is for all those who are my brothers and sisters.

...because I am going and because of my death and resurrection, he is now your Father, he is now your God, as he is for all those who are my brothers and sisters.

'This was no ordinary resurrection, this way no ordinary death, and I am no ordinary man.'

Here stands the risen, living, Son of God and for all those who believe in me, after my ascension, will be able to call God their Father because of their relationship to me.

No, this was no ordinary man. This is Jesus, risen and alive, conqueror of death, sin and the grave, alive now and forevermore.

Jesus would go on to show himself to many more followers as the risen, living Lord in the coming days before his ascension, but here, with Mary, he tells her that he is going to go to the Father’s side, completing his mission to redeem mankind and save them from their sins.

We have looked at what these followers of Jesus saw on that first Easter morning, but for a moment, let’s examine what John says about how they saw. I mentioned in the beginning of our time that he uses seeing verbs 9 times in this encounter, but what is lost in our English translations, as good as they are, is that the Apostle John uses three different verbs to describe the act of seeing, each with a slightly different meaning which helps us understand what he is trying to show us.

There is the normal verb for ‘to see’ used in Mary seeing the stone rolled away and John leaning down and seeing the graveclothes.

This describes the normal idea of seeing something with our eyes.

But when Peter rushes in and sees the graveclothes, John uses a different word, from which we get our word to theorize. The word means “to wonder regarding something’s meaning.” Peter looked on the graveclothes and thought about what he was seeing.

This is the same word for Mary's initial viewing of Jesus when she thought he was the gardener. She wondered if maybe he had taken the body of jesus. It is the same word for when she sees the angels, she doesn’t just see them, she wonders what it could mean.

But there is a third word here for see, the one used when the bible says that John saw the graveclothes and believed. This word carries the idea of “to see with comprehension and understanding”. John understood that Jesus had risen from the grave based on what he saw in the tomb.

The final use of this word is when Mary testifies to the disciples, I have seen the lord.

The idea is that she went to the tomb grieving, saw all the evidence and wondered what it could mean, but after speaking to the risen Jesus, she understood and comprehended what that meant. Her savior lived!

Let me ask you a question, how do you see the resurrection this morning?

Presented with the evidence of a living savior, do you just see it? That is to say, you see the bible says it but it doesn't really mean anything to you?

Or do you see it? That is, are you wondering what it could mean that this Jesus, crucified and buried, was resurrected? Are you wondering what that means for you today? Or are you wrestling with the implications of it?

Or do you see? That is do you understand this morning that because jesus died for you, your debt has been paid, because he has risen, that payment has been accepted, and because he lives, he is the way to the Father so that you may not only have your sins forgiven but be brought into a relationship with the one true God by faith in the name of Jesus?

This third way of seeing is what the bible says our faith rests on. Knowing that Christ died for you and yet he lives as your intercessor and the mediator of the new covenant.

My prayer this morning is that if you haven’t ever seen this way, that today will be the day God gives you eyes of faith to see the risen Lord and that you would surrender your life to him as the only way to be forgiven and saved.

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