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Do You See What I See?

March 31, 2024|Do You See What I See|John 20:1-18

JD Cutler

Click here for the sermon audio

There is a Christmas song that we sometimes sing around that time of year that says ‘do you see what i see?’ This simple song revolves around what was seen, heard, and experienced on that wonderful day that Christ was born. 

Verse 1 says. 

Said the night wind to the little lamb:

"Do you see what I see? Way up in the sky, little lamb Do you see what I see? A star, a star, dancing in the night,  With a tail as big as a kite, With a tail as big as a kite"

It goes on in verse two to ask "Do you hear what I hear?

In verse three, "Do you know what I know?

In the final verse, the king is depicted as saying, "Listen to what I say!

In this progressionary way the singer is directed to reflecting not only on what was seen and heard, but what it means as well as the implications of the birth of Christ. 

I mention that Christmas song because while we often think about the experiences of the first witnesses to Christ’s birth, we celeberate nativity scene, we reflect on the shepherds’ encounter with the angels, we think about the visiting wise men. But we usually don’t give the same attention to the experience of the first witnesses to his Resurrection, which is what we turn our attention to this morning, as we ask, do you see what I see?

Open your bibles to John chapter 20. Each of the gospel writers give us various details about that first Sunday, but John’s narrative, as you will see, revolves around what these men and women saw on that first Sunday morning. 

As we read the text, listen for the words saw, look, and seen. These words depicted their experiences on that first day. 

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. 

In total, from verse 1 to 18, John uses verbs to indicate what was seen or to describe the act of looking 9 times. 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 we see and what do we hear?

The first thing we want to look at is…

Peter and John at 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?

Let’s talk a little about first century Jewish burial practices. A tomb in this day would have been an area carved into the side of a rock face, much like a cave. Pictures from around this time show a few steps down leading into a small rectangle opening and there was usually a groove cut into the ground in front of the tomb and a large round stone placed in it that could seal the tomb for obvious reasons. 

Upon reaching the tomb, we see that 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.

From what we know of the Jewish burial customs from archeology and historical writings, the burial took places in two stages. Inside the tomb there would be a shelf or bench carved into either one wall or multiple walls. This is where a loved one would be placed for a year, wrapped in spices and clothes. After a year, their bones would be collected and placed in a carved stone or wooden box and placed in a place carved into the wall. A tomb was often used as a family tomb where generations would be buried. 

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. 

Which is exactly what they should have found that Sunday morning. 

We are told by John at the end of chapter 19 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. 

Matthew tells us that this was a new tomb that Joseph of Arimathea had prepared, likely for himself close to where Jesus was crucified. Joseph has chosen to give his tomb up for his Lord. But, as it turns out Jesus just needed to borrow it!

So these two disciples reach the tomb, John first. He 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. There have been various theories given for why the tomb was empty, but all of them fail to account for the burial clothes that Peter and John see.  

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 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. 

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. Lazarus needed someone to remove them to let him go. 

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

But 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. 

Do you see what I see? An empty tomb and discarded grave clothes because something miraculous has happened early on this Sunday morning. The next thing we want to look at is…

Mary at the tomb.

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.” 

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.

The mercy seat sat atop of the ark of the covenant, or testimony, that residing within the holiest of holies, behind the second veil within the tabernacle. 

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. We are told in the passion narrative that at the death of Christ the veil that seperated the holy place was torn from top to bottom, signifying that God’s manifest 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, now, three days later, 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. Do you see it?

Here is a picture of the reality 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.

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.

His resurrection was no ordinary resurrection and 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.  Maybe we should stop saying the empty tomb and start saying the glorified tomb. It was here that Mary saw the truth that this Jesus had died and by his blood, make the way possible to come to the Father. 

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. This is why we sang earlier

Your blood has washed away my sin

The Father’s wrath completely satisfied

Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table

Jesus, thank You

So far we have looked at what Peter and John saw inside the tomb, what Mary saw inside the tomb, the last thing we want to look at this morning is…

Mary outside the tomb

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

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.’” 

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, the sweetest sound in any language, 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 by her name. 

She responds by exclaiming in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”, which is an aramaic rendering of the Hebrew word Rabbi, or great one. 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. 

It’s a beautiful moment of revelation for the bereaved and grieving Mary, and from what Jesus says, she also grabbed ahold of him, most likely falling at his feet as the other women did who encountered him in the garden that day. 

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. 

Well Mary, “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, listen to what he says 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. 

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. Do you hear what I hear?


No, this was no ordinary man. This is Jesus, risen and alive, conqueror of death, sin and the grave, alive now and forevermore, and if you are his, you have a Father and God in Heaven. 

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 ultimately going to go to the Father’s side, completing his mission to redeem mankind and save them from their sins. In the coming days he would show that he was no longer bound in his humanity although he retained it. He would miraculously enter locked rooms and move from place to place supernaturally, and yet he would eat with them, he would invite them to touch his nail scarred and spear pierced wounds, but he was no longer like them. 

Let’s pick up the final verse of our text this morning. 

18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

I have seen the Lord. 

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. This moves us beyond the realm of just seeing to contemplation of what is seen.

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. 

This is the final word that John uses of 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! Mary moves through these various types of seeing until she declares the same truth we celebrate this morning. Jesus is alive!

 Mary moves through these various types of seeing until she declares the same truth we celebrate this morning. Jesus is alive!

So friends, let me ask you a question, what do you see this morning?

Presented with the evidence of a living savior, do you just see it? That is to say, you simply 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? Has your mind been challenged to contemplate a risen Jesus?

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. 

Here is what I know, that the Holy Spirit is still revealing Jesus to men and women today, moving them from seeing things about Jesus to seeing him as the risen, life-bringing, salvation accomplishing, grace giving, mercy extending, savior of the world!

I know that he is my savior and I know  that he can be yours. 

I have listened to him when he says, “Come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

I have listened to him when he says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

I have listened to him when he says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

And finally, I have listened to him when he says, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Everyone who looks on the Son and believes. This is the cry of Easter. 

Do you see what I see? An empty tomb 

Do you hear what I hear? His disciples shout ‘He lives!’

Do you know what I know? He is the savior of my soul.

Listen to the King. Look to me and believe

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. 

Let us pray. 



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