Today: [John 21:] He is Not Here. He is Risen! In John 20 we experience with Mary Magdalene and the disciples the incredulity of Jesus’ resurrection. He lays no longer in the grave. Mary thinks He is the gardener when she sees Him. The disciples are cowering in fear, unwilling to believe Mary when she declares the risen Lord. Thomas insists that he will not believe without the most unequivocal evidence. To all of this Jesus makes Himself known to them in unquestioned proof of His resurrection to His Father and now to our Father as well.
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[Jhn 20:1-17 KJV] 1 The first [day] of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. 2 Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. 3 Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. 4 So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. 5 And he stooping down, [and looking in], saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. 6 Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, 7 And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. 8 Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. 9 For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. 11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, [and looked] into the sepulchre, 12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. 14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. 16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. 17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and [to] my God, and your God.
In chapter 20 of John, we find the disciples in hiding and Jesus’ earthly body left by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus in a borrowed tomb. After the Passover and the high Sabbath, Mary Magdalene comes very early to the tomb while it is still dark. She just can’t stay away. This man who impacted her life and saturated her with the love that came straight from the throne has transformed her life, giving her hope beyond all reckoning. The disciples where are they? Jesus’ mother no doubt is sequestered at John the beloved’s house. The sword that the angel warned her of in the beginning has pierced her through, and the pain is unbearable. Jesus siblings no doubt knew that His body still needed necessary preparations to be completed have found something else to do. They knew it would come to this and are thinking more of themselves and their future, then caring about the incomplete funeral rites over their eldest brother Jesus. But Mary Magdalene cannot stay away.
In the darkness, she makes her way down the path, and in the dimmest morning light, she sees to her confusion that the stone is rolled away from the tomb’s entrance. She is mortified and in terror, not knowing what has happened but certainly thinking that the soldiers appointed to guard the grave place have removed the Saviors corpse thus denying her the opportunity to honor his body with her loving carefulness. She runs away, stumbling and gasping in fear, her sandals left behind her, her clothes torn by the thickets and branches of the garden. Knowing where the disciples are in hiding, she makes the only choice that makes sense – to wake up Peter. Peter, the Big Fisherman, bombastic, a man of action, he will know what to do. They have stolen the body Peter, she tells him, and we do not know where they have laid Him.
In the dawning, John wakes at the commotion, and as he followed Peter to Pilate’s judgment hall, he now rises to his feet and runs with Peter to the garden tomb. Peter is strong and swift, but John’s passion and utter longing for one more glimpse of the Master outruns Peter and arrives to look into the tomb. Stooping down, John peers in, and to his questioning eyes, he sees the winding clothes that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus has wrapped the body in. This was strange. Why would the soldiers take the care to unwrap the body before stealing it away?
Peter, only a few steps behind John pushes him aside and joins him to look within. They see something else that would have wholly confounded them. Apart from the winding cloths laying there in the niche where the body of Jesus had laid, they saw the napkin that was wrapped carefully around His head, lying apart by itself. Why would this be mentioned? What was it that made this so noticeable? If you knew the preparation process, you would know that the resins and spices involved in preparing this cloth to be wrapped around Jesus’ head would have soaked through the cloth and in just a few hours hardened to a stiff shell around Jesus’ face. This is what was so different. The cloth set aside from the other wrappings, lay there intact, in the shape of Jesus’ head, sitting like a helmet in the niche where Jesus lifeless body was interred. It hadn’t been torn off or unwound. The resin-soaked cloth had hardened and made the cloth a perfect cast of the death mask of Jesus. It now lay intact, defying the understanding of the disciples as to what this could mean. We are in a position to know. This is Jesus. He is known to pass through solid objects and to invisibly avoid angry crowds seeking to lay hands on him and throw Him off a precipice. We know that when He reveals himself to the disciples in a few hours, He will pass through locked doors and appear suddenly among them. What does this sight of the napkin so arranged mean? It means that when Jesus resurrected, the angels attending didn’t loose him from the graveclothes such as happened at Lazarus’ tomb. Jesus is now in a glorified body. He came to resurrection life and simply sat up, his body passing through the napkin on His face and the wrappings of His body and was no doubt then clothed with garments of shining white in which He appears later wearing in the presence of the 11 remaining disciples.
The disciples don’t understand what they are looking at. They can’t imagine why the Romans would handle Jesus body in this way if in fact, it was they that stole it. They walk away, shaking their heads, leaving mary at the sepulcher weeping. She just can’t stay away. With the two disciples not standing to obstruct her view of the interior of the tomb, Mary looks in herself. She sees something that John and Peter didn’t see. The graveclothes are there, and the napkin is there as described by there are also two angels, sitting at either side of the burial niche, looking directly at Mary as the tears stream down her face. Before Mary can say a word, the angels rise to their feet asking why she is crying. What a telling action on the part of these angelic messengers. It is their immediate response to the presence of human suffering to speak words of comfort and consolation. She doesn’t register quite what is going on but blurts out in anguish and exasperation that they have taken her Lord, and she does not know where He might be. She turns away in incredulity and sees Jesus standing in front of her but does not realize it to be Him. He asks her why she is crying, the same question as the angels. Mary thinks He is the gardener and perhaps this gardener witnessed what the soldiers did with the body. Her face is buried in her hands as she looks away from who she thinks is a stranger and Jesus simply utters one word that brings instant realization:
Her world at that moment, in fact, the whole world for all humankind is transformed at the uttering of her name. The Master lives. Life itself stands before her. Divinity in the flesh, resurrected from the brutality of the crucifixion is calling her name, softly, lovingly. His first response is not to announce His victory, but to comfort this one who loved Him so well. Mary unthinkingly casts herself at His feet. Jesus steps back, raising His hand to caution her not to touch Him because He had yet to ascend to the Father. Do you realize that He has yet to finalize the last details of His earthly task? For all He has gone through and the great triumph that He has accomplished, He cannot leave His followers in anguish. He must tell them; He must send word and Mary, who could not stay away is there to take His message to the disciples.
“Go to my brethren and tell them that I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God…”
What a consummate statement of redemption. The way is now made manifest. Jesus is now not only the singular Savior but the firstborn of many brethren. No longer are the heaven brass to men crying out to an austere God. The path to the throne has been made open by the liquid love of the shed blood of Christ. As He ascends, He is leaving the way open for you and me to follow Him and to be seated with Him high above all principalities and powers!
[Jhn 20:18-31 KJV]
18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and [that] he had spoken these things unto her. 19 Then the same day at evening, being the first [day] of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace [be] unto you. 20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them [his] hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. 21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace [be] unto you: as [my] Father hath sent me, even so, send I you. 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on [them], and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: 23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; [and] whose soever [sins] ye retain, they are retained. 24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. 26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: [then] came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace [be] unto you. 27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust [it] into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. 29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed [are] they that have not seen, and [yet] have believed. 30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: 31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
Mary comes to the place where the disciples are gathered and excitedly informs them of all that she saw. Their initial reaction is unrecorded, not being worth John’s effort to make a note of it. They are distraught. They are confounded. All is despair and heartbreak. Mary’s words fall inert on their ears. They wait in numb disbelief as the day wears on as they cower behind locked doors, wondering if they will die next at the hands of their brethren the Jews. Suddenly in the stifling stillness of that crowded room, Jesus appears, greeting them with “Peace be unto you…” We still don’t know what their initial response is. They are dumbfounded. Perhaps this is a disembodied spirit? Jesus steps up and invites them to examine the wounds of His now resurrected body. He has gone and returned from the Father. They can touch Him now. Mary can touch Him now. You and I can touch Him now. Can you see Mary at that moment, at His feet? Kissing the nail scars there. She doesn’t care what the men are saying or thinking. The Master has come. She can pour upon Him all her adoration.
Jesus gathers the disciples behind those locked doors that He breached with His glorified body and breathes on them. Can you imagine the intimacy? He calls them to Himself and holding each of their faces in both hands, breathes upon them the gift of the Holy Ghost. Do you think they fainted to the floor when He did this? Can you imagine the experience of that moment? The scent of Jesus’ garments and the aroma of His breath on your own face? If you had been there, you would not have been left out. You haven’t been left out. As Jesus breathed upon these disciples, He breathes upon you and I every day of the world: Receive the Holy Ghost!
Looking upon them, Jesus declares that now, whomsoever sins they remit are indeed remitted. Apostolic authority is forthcoming in their lives now. Things are different than before. They are more than learners; they are representatives of the throne!
Thomas was not among the disciples when Jesus appeared to them. He does not believe. It must be a lie, a cruel lie. He angrily denounces them and insists that he will not believe at all unless he handles Jesus wounds and sees for himself. The disciples don’t know what to do with Thomas. He doesn’t believe, and they cannot convince him. Nonetheless, Thomas stays with these what to him are now silly zealots for eight days. Jesus appears again, and Thomas gasps in realization, declaring “my Lord and my God!” Jesus chides him softly for his unbelieving heart and encourages them all that it is more blessed to believe when not seeing than to demand empirical proof of the miraculous things Jesus has now opened their lives to.
Having now appeared to Mary and the 11 and Thomas, there were many days to pass that Jesus kept showing up and giving proofs of His resurrection. He wants them to know beyond questioning the reality of the Redemption He has brought them and the redemption that He has brought not just to them but you and I as well.
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