He is risen!

He Is Risen!
A Message on John 20:1-18
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 17, 2022
By Doug Wintermute

John 20:1-18 (NRSV)

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed 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 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who 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 returned to their homes.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other 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 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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 Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because 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 she told them that he had said these things to her.

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Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s Easter!

Jesus being resurrected from the dead and the tomb being empty on Easter morning is at the very center, the very foundation, of our faith. It is a non-negotiable. It is to me, without doubt, the most important event ever in the history of all time. Period.

One of the primary sources that informs our faith is the Bible. We have the Holy Scriptures, inspired by God, written by people through the Holy Spirit, that is the very word of God.

We have the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, that provides us not only with a history of the Jewish people, God’s chosen ones, but informs our faith with prophecies and wisdom that gives us such great insights into God’s love for his people.

We have the New Testament, including the four gospels written by those who knew Jesus, who heard him teach, watched him heal and perform miracles, and traveled with him, giving first-hand accounts of the events of his life and his teachings.

We have the epistles, letters written by disciples and apostles, to provide guidance and encouragement to those who were Christ followers, those establishing and worshiping in new churches trying to figure out what it means to be a follower of Christ.

We have the book of Revelation, written by John, describing his vision of things to come, of the last times, informing our faith that Jesus will indeed come again and that heaven will come on earth.

But it all revolves around Easter. Easter is the sun of our spiritual solar system, the nucleus of our faith atom.

So why is Easter so important?

First of all it is the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy, proving that Jesus was the Messiah, the long awaited savior of Israel. For example, Isaiah 53, which tells us about the “suffering servant,” especially verses 5-6: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Second, it proves the divinity of Jesus, that Jesus was/is truly God. Humans are born, new lives that come into the world. And humans die, they cease to live. Our bodies cease to function. We no longer breathe. Our hearts no longer beat. The blood that constantly flows through our circulatory system stops. Life is no more.

But Jesus says in John 10:30, “The Father and I are one.”

If Jesus were only human, if he were only a nice guy that was a prophet, one who had great insights but was still only human, then the tomb wouldn’t be empty. Jesus was 100 percent human, and one hundred percent God. And while our human minds may find that difficult to comprehend, we have to remember that what is impossible for humans is possible for God.

Dead people stay dead. There are people who come near death, who have what are called “near death experiences,” but not for three days. Jesus was dead, there was no doubt about that. Roman soldiers at the time were very proficient with crucifixions. They had plenty of practice and knew what they were doing. And they were good at it. The spear in Jesus’ side while he was still on the cross left no doubt as to his physical state.

If Jesus were only human, his body would have still been in that grave on that Sunday morning. The women would have found someone to roll away the stone sealing the tomb, treated the corpse with spices, wrapped it in more linen, and then the tomb would have been resealed.

But praise God that’s not what happened. Jesus’ resurrection from the grave proved that he really was/is the Son of God. It’s not some magic trick or slight-of-hand, merely the impression that Jesus’ dead body came back to life. No. Mortals can’t do that. But God can. And only God can. That proves that Jesus is God.

And one more thing I think the resurrection of Jesus informs our faith with is that it gives us hope. It fills us with hope. Easter is about hope.

It does so because through Jesus’ resurrection we are given something that is much bigger and powerful than a promise. We are given a covenant, a binding and lasting agreement between humans and God.

As humans we like to think pretty highly of ourselves. We’re at the top of the food chain. We have knowledge and understanding of even abstract concepts. Some of us even understanding calculus and trigonometry and weird math that mixes letters with numbers. (I am not one of those people, by the way.)

As humans we are confident in our abilities to be self-sufficient. We can take care of ourselves. To use bad grammar, “We don’t need nothin’ from nobody.” We are in control of our own destinies.

And we think that until something comes along that metaphorically hits us in the solar plexus and knocks the breath out of us and brings us to our knees. Things like losing a job. Things like the death of a loved one. Things like a heart attack, a diagnosis of cancer or dementia or some other disease. Things like war. It’s at those moments that we realize that as humans, although we may be at the top of the food chain, we are not as strong as we think we are.

We need a savior. We need hope.

Jesus gives us that hope. Jesus IS that hope.

Jesus is that hope, and we know that because of the love he showed for us. Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross and suffer a cruel and horrible death, one that we as sinners deserve but one which he took on himself so that our sins could be forgiven and then we, being pure, can be reconciled to God.

Romans 5:8 tells us, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”

When we accept Jesus Christ as our savior, when we make that covenant pledge through baptism of water and the Spirit and through the affirmation of our faith, we share in Jesus’ resurrection. And are given the promise that no matter what happens to us in this world, something better is coming.

If you read about prisoners of war and some of the gruesome things they experienced, one of the key factors in determining if an individual survived or not was whether or not they had hope. Hope was the thing that kept them going.

As followers of Christ we have hope. The empty grave on Easter morning fills us with hope, a hope that is not only assured, but given to us through a covenant oath of blood. And God keeps his promises.

We are a resurrection people. We are an Easter people. Let us live not in a state of fear or cowardice, but boldly living and loving the way Jesus did. Let us face the future not with anxiety and timidness, but with a spirit of joy and exuberance knowing that even though we may not know what the future holds, we can rest assured that we know who holds the future. God will be there with us.

In the scripture we read today from the Gospel of John we find Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb and getting the shock of her life. Jesus was no longer dead. He was risen.

Mary didn’t know what it meant. Mary didn’t know the details of how it happened, or why it happened. She didn’t know what it meant for her future. There were so many unknowns, so many things she didn’t know.

But one thing she did know. “I have seen the Lord.” And that gave her hope.

My challenge to you this Easter Sunday is to “see the Lord.” To live like Mary Magdalene as an Easter believer, full of boldness and courage knowing that God’s promises are kept. We don’t have to know the details. Our faith bridges that gap. The empty tomb, the greatest event the world has ever known, gives us hope to do things not humanly possible.

The tomb is empty. He is alive. We have hope. Praise God.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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