Good morning Journey Church.  What a wonderful morning to worship the risen Savior with you!  Thank you for being here and worshipping with us today.

We’ve been studying the book of John these past few months and today we wrap it up with the thrilling and unexpected conclusion.  See on Friday night we read about Jesus being arrested and sentenced to die for crimes he did not commit.  We read about him being hung on a cross until dead and then placed in a tomb before sundown on Friday.

That’s the end of the story, right?  Jesus was a failed revolutionary leader.  Disenfranchised disciples end up hiding in a locked room for fear of their lives.  Back to fishing for the disciples trying to make sense of what the previous three years of ministry with Jesus.

And so the reader might think that’s the end of the story.  But no.  Friday turns out to be a countdown.  Like a NASA Countdown – instead of starting with ten nine eight…  it starts with three.  Friday was three.  Saturday was two.  Sunday was one.  Then liftoff!  The tomb rolls away like a NASA launch and Jesus walks out of the tomb.  Risen.  Alive!  He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Now I imagine there are some of you out there who might be skeptical.  Who might be thinking to yourself – you people really believe this, don’t you?  How quaint.

Imagine getting a phone call from an unknown number on your phone, and receiving a message saying, “This is so and so from the state treasurers office and I just want you to know that we have $763,000 dollars waiting for you here in my office from unclaimed property, and yeah, so, why don’t you give me a call and we can figure out how to get the money to you.”

How many of you – show of hands – would think – this is a total scam?  Hands up?  How many of you would be highly skeptical, perhaps?  Okay – but how many of you would be like – it’s worth a phone call to check out?  Because if it’s true, then it might change your life!  Right?    Well it turned out that it was true for a man in South Carolina last year who was informed that he was the rightful heir to that money.

The reason I bring it up?  You might be highly skeptical that Jesus really died and was buried and rose again.  But if it’s true?  Well it changes everything.

We’re going to finish our study of John today by reading through chapter 20.  And we will see three things.

  1. We see rational responses from the disciples. They respond as skeptically as you would.
  2. We see an intensely personal savior.
  3. We see a wonderful invitation.

First- let’s note the rational responses from the disciples.  But I want to show you that even Jesus’ disciples were at first skeptical.  And we will see John singling out four individuals who responded to the resurrection exactly as you would have responded.

It’s like John wants us to understand that doubt is normal.  We all started with doubt.  All of us in this room who are believers once doubted.  That’s normal.

Check it out.  First – we read about Mary Magdalene.

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

Mary was a woman who had at one time been tormented with demons.  Jesus healed her and changed her life and Mary followed Jesus and loved him dearly.  So the deal is that Jesus died on Friday afternoon and his body was prepared but hastily because sundown was approaching and that meant the beginning of the Sabbath.

Work was forbidden by Jewish law and so they want to do more work to bury Jesus with all the care he deserved.  But they had to wait until sunrise on Sunday morning.

So at sunrise Mary is on her way – she will not wait one minute longer than she needs to.  People who have been forgiven much tend to love much and Mary loved Jesus greatly.

But she gets there and – the tomb has been unsealed – the stone rolled away – and the body of Jesus is gone.

How does Mary respond?  I’ll tell you what she doesn’t do.  She doesn’t  start singing She doesn’t sing “Up from the grave he arose!”  No – her first inclination?  Someone has taken his body out of the tomb!  She doesn’t say He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Mary responds rationally.  As rationally as you would have.

Mary was not just the first witness – she was the first skeptic.  How does she respond?  She assumes that someone for some reason stole the body of Jesus.

Because she was rational.  And it’s only rational after seeing someone die on Friday, and buried on Friday, and missing on Sunday?  Only rational to assume someone stole his body.

So she runs and tells the disciples – and Luke tells us she told all the disciples but only Peter and John went.  The rest didn’t believe her.  Or were hunkered down in their locked room.  They weren’t leaving.  But Peter and John were Jesus’ best friends.  Off they go.  How do they respond?

Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. 

Now the story moves briefly to Peter and John.  And what do we find?  Two rational human beings trying to figure out what was going on.   Sometimes people in 2018 like to feel superior somehow to people in the year 33 AD and the say things like, These people were easily deceived – they were naive.  These people in ancient times were given to superstition.

Those people were so naive – so superstitious.  Okay – Mister “knock on wood”.  Okay – be careful with that mirror, mister enlightenment.   Hey anyone want to fly on flight 666 on Friday the 13th?  We’ll be flying right over the Bermuda triangle.  Just step right under this ladder and we’ll get going.  It’s okay – you’ll be fine because you will be clutching your lucky rabbits foot.

Okay person with a rabbits foot keychain.  You have a rabbits foot – the chopped of foot of a rabbit decaying in your purse – tell me again how superstitious they were in the first century?  Those rubes!

Don’t get caught up in this idea that just because we are born two thousand year later that somehow it automatically makes us more intelligent or wise.

But what do we see here in these first century people that doesn’t sound completely rational?  Here’s Peter and John trying to put the pieces together in their head, right?  If Jesus isn’t here, then what happened to him?

If it were grave-robbers – then why would they take the time – if they are stealing the body to disrobe him and neatly fold up his clothes.  And then they’d leave behind the valuable things – the clothes, the incense.  The Romans had soldiers posted to prevent any type thing happening so they wouldn’t do it.

If the disciples stole his body then why?  Why would they strip him of his clothing and carry his naked body?  Is that any way to honor your leader?  And where would they take it and why?  What was the financial motivation for such a thing?  It just wasn’t making any sense to them. 

You can almost hear the gears turning in their head as they are trying to sort it out.  And then it strikes John first.   

 8 Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— 9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 

After eliminating all other possibilities, it begins to dawn on them that Jesus must have risen from the dead.

It’s worth noting that Peter and John came to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead without ever having yet seen him.  They believed based on the evidence before them.

I mention that because some might say – well they all say Jesus with their own two eyes – it was easier for them to believe.  But Peter and John surmise that Jesus must have risen.  They don’t see him with their own eyes until later that night.

19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord!

But John isn’t done yet ministering to the skeptic.  He has one more story to share – about Thomas. Let’s pick up the story…

24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

You’ve got to love Thomas.  Here is all of his friends telling him they’ve seen the risen Jesus and Thomas is like, “Nah.”  I saw them stick the spear in his side.  I saw them nail him to the cross.  I’m not buying it.

The disciples – the founders of our faith – responded just as you might have.  With a healthy dose of skepticism.

But – they were willing to listen to the evidence.  They weren’t unmovable.  They weren’t against believing.  And so now – let’s look at how Jesus responds.  And we read about a loving and personal savior.

Let’s look at Mary first.  How does Jesus respond to Mary?  What changes her mind?

11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

Notice how gently Jesus appears.  She is grieving.  He isn’t trying to scare her half to death.  He gently comes alongside her.  And I don’t know why at first she didn’t recognize him.  Maybe tears in her eyes – he was now in a glorified body and so perhaps there was some slight differences in his appearance.

She certainly wasn’t expecting to run into the living Jesus.  It’s not until she hears him call her by her name.  That voice – it’s Jesus calling to me.  I recognize the voice and she takes a careful look at who she thought was the gardener.  And Realizes it’s her savior.

I just love that Jesus chooses Mary to be the first person on earth to see him risen from the dead.  Jesus could have chosen anyone to reveal himself for the first time.  He could have walked into Pilate’s palace and picked up an apple and asked – “you like apples?”

But instead he appears to Mary.  Isn’t it wonderful?  Of all the people on earth God could have chosen to be the first witness – he chooses a formerly broken and hurting woman who had her issues.

What does this tell us?  It tells us that salvation is not earned by an impressive pedigree or theological degree, or reputation or standing.  It tells us that the gates to Jesus’ kingdom has been thrown wide open – that whosoever will may enter through faith in Jesus.

Now honestly, there were points in history where the fact that Mary was the first witness was used by skeptics to dismiss the resurrection.   In the first century women’s testimony was considered unreliable and so a critic in the first century and for many centuries afterward would say – “You’re religion is based on the testimony of a hysterical women grieving at the tomb?  She probably had the wrong tomb!”

But let’s be real here.  Doesn’t the fact that Mary is the first witness lend credibility to the historical reality of the event?  I mean, if John were going to make up a story about the resurrection, why would he – like all the Gospel writers – have a woman as the first witnesses?  Unless that’s exactly as it happened.

Jesus addresses Mary personally.  Jesus is a personal savior.  He cares about each person individually.  He knows all about you and loves you and likes you and invites you to into the life you’ve always wanted.

What about Thomas?

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

Go ahead Thomas – feel the wounds – put your fingers here in these nail holes – you saw them being made.  You remember.  See this wound Thomas – you saw it.  You were there.    And yet – Jesus isn’t condemning him for his doubt.  He doesn’t shame him.  No tsk tsking.  Jesus simply says – here’s the evidence.  You’ve seen enough.  Now believe.

And Thomas replies, 28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

So how does John end his gospel?  By highlighting people with rational responses.  By showing that Jesus is a personal savior.  But he isn’t done.  He is going to end this chapter by extending a wonderful invitation.

And I love how John puts this – it’s almost like you are watching a movie and Jesus looks in to the camera to deliver this next line to me and you.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

Have you, like John and Peter, seen enough evidence to draw a conclusion?  Are you ready to make a verdict?  Are you ready to believe without seeing him?  Blessings await you.

Are you ready to celebrate Easter as a believer for perhaps the first time?

So what is Easter?  Easter is the proof of purchase – it’s the receipt – God validates the claims of Jesus as being the son of God who came to take away the sins of the world.

Throughout the book of John we read Jesus making outrageous claims about himself, outrageous unless gloriously true.

I am the way the truth and the life?  I am the good shepherd?  The resurrection is God’s way of saying – Yup.

The resurrection is God’s seal of approval upon Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.  As Jesus died – his last words were – it is finished.  He offered himself as a sacrifice for all of our sins for all time.  And the resurrection is God’s way of saying – Yup!!  It is finished.  Jesus paid the penalty for sins.

That’s why we celebrate.  That’s why our hearts rejoice today.  We are free indeed!

Jesus lived and died and was resurrected three days later.  And he knows you and likes you and promises to be your good shepherd if you would only believe.

You can discover a God who promises to transform and change us and make us into different kinds of human beings.  People who naturally and easily love others.

As Jesus rose from the grave, he brings new life to us through faith.  The old has gone.  The new has come.         He is risen.  He is risen indeed

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