Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
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Why Does the Resurrection Matter?

John 20:1-18

 It is the story of the resurrection, a story that we have heard many times.  And maybe it has lost some of its impact because we’ve heard it so often.  But you know what?  It’s still a story about a man rising from the dead.  That’s not the kind of thing that happens every day.  So maybe it can still hit us.

 What does it mean?  Why does it matter? Is it just a curious story, an unusual event?  I don’t think so.  I think it’s the most significant event in all of human history.  It is nothing less than the assurance that all of God’s promises in Jesus Christ are true.

 It began early on a Sunday morning.  By our reckoning of time, it was only two days after Jesus’ death on the cross.  But in the Hebrew reckoning of time, a partial day was counted as a full day, so this was the third day, as Jesus foretold.  

 Mary Magdalene was on her way to the tomb.  Mary is a remarkable character in her own right.  In a time when women were often a second thought at best, she was a notable character, a leader among the followers of Jesus.  The gospels tell us that she was released from an evil spirit by Jesus.  Tradition says that she was a prostitute.  At the very least, she is a remarkable example of how the grace of God transforms lives.

 We know from the other Gospels that she was not alone that morning.  But John only mentions her because she was the leader and the main actor among these women.  

 They were coming to anoint Jesus’ body for burial.  Normally that would have been done on the day of his death, but there was not enough time.  And Saturday was the Sabbath day, when no work could be done.  It was very typical in their culture to practice very intense mourning when a loved one died.  Often mourners would not eat or work or bathe or even read the Scriptures for the first week of mourning.  Normally, only a rich person would be anointed for burial.  Jesus was not rich and neither were most of his followers.  But such was their love for him that they bought the spices to anoint his body.  

 When they come to the tomb, which was actually a “family crypt,” a small cave where all the members of a family would be buried together, they find the stone that covered the entrance rolled away.  And Jesus’ body was gone.

 They run to tell Peter and the “disciple Jesus loved,” which is almost certainly the author John.  Overcome by their strong emotions, probably anger at what they think is a

final desecration of Jesus, Peter and John run to the tomb.  They investigate, and find nothing.  Then they go home.

 Mary Magdalene is alone at the tomb.  And she was therefore given the privilege, the honor of being the very first person to see the risen Christ.  But she didn’t believe it yet!  Jesus came to her and said, “Why are you crying?  Who are you looking for?”  

 Jesus had been buried in a garden where there were a number of such family crypts.  Mary thought that Jesus was the gardener, there to tend to the grounds.  And maybe for some reason, he had moved the body.  “If you’ve taken him, tell me where he is, so I may get him.”

 Consider the love of Mary.  On the way to the tomb, we’re told in the other Gospels that she and the other women wondered how they would move the stone that covered the entrance.  Most of those stones weighed about 800 pounds.  But even though they didn’t know how to get in, they were still going to tend to his body.  Now Mary is alone, and she thinks his body has been moved.  And she says, “I’ll go get him.”  Her love was such that she didn’t care how she would do these things.  She was determined to do them because she loved Jesus.

 And then he speaks her name, and finally she’s able to recognize him.  “Master,” and though it’s not said in the text, apparently she fell to his feet and clung to him.  Finally she had him again, and she was determined not to let him go.

 Jesus says something a little bit odd, “Do not cling to me because I have not yet ascended.”  Why does Jesus say that?  A few possible answers have been suggested.  Some think that Jesus implores her not to cling to him because she has an important task to do.  She has to go share the news that he’s alive.  Others think that it’s a reassurance to Mary that she doesn’t have to cling to him.  He has not yet ascended, so she will see him again.  Some think that maybe “cling not” is the wrong translation.  The Greek word meaning “fear not” is almost the same as “cling not.”  I’m not sure what the right understanding is, but I think Jesus is assuring her that she will see him again.

 And then she goes to share this good news.

 Why does it matter?  What’s so important about the resurrection?  

Well, without the resurrection, just what would we be following?  Without the resurrection, we would only be following the teachings of a dead man.  And there would

be nothing special about the Christian faith if that were true.  The Muslims follow the teachings of a dead man, Mohammed.  The Buddhists follow the teachings of a dead man, Buddha.  The Mormons follow the teachings of a dead man, Joseph Smith.  But we follow a living man, the man Jesus Christ.

 The resurrection matters because it is the assurance that all of God’s promises in Jesus Christ are true.  If Jesus rose from the dead, just like he said he would, then can we not trust him to keep all of his other promise to us?  

He said that if we believed in him, and trusted him, and followed him, and obeyed him, then we would have eternal life.  Without the resurrection, how would we know that’s true?  He promised us that through faith in him, our sins would be forgiven, and that he would give us the Holy Spirit, and that he would be with us forever through the Holy Spirit.  Without the resurrection, we have no way of knowing if those things are true.  We could believe in his death on the cross, and hoped that it saved us, but we just couldn’t know for sure unless he rose from the dead.  

The resurrection, and the ascension, establish a new identity for the Church, the followers of Jesus.  And the Ascension is an important part of that.  Jesus’ resurrection is not a complete story without his ascension into heaven.  The story is only complete when the God who descended to earth and took on human flesh also ascends back into heaven to the right hand of the Father.

Through him, we have a new relationship with God.  Jesus says to Mary, “Tell my brothers, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”  In Christ, we have a new identity.  We are brothers and sisters of Christ.  We are children of God.  We come before him with the confidence the security that only children could know.  

This new relationship is only made possible by the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.  Through his death, we are atoned, restored to right relationship with God.  Our sins are atoned for, covered by the blood of Christ.  The same Spirit that brought Christ back from the dead now lives in us because Christ sent him to us after he ascended.  

The Gospel of John, more so than the other Gospels, emphasizes the intimacy between Jesus and the Father.  And the Gospel closes with the good news that through him, we have the same intimate relationship with God.

All these things are available to us who believe.  Do you believe in the resurrection?  

It’s okay to have doubts.  Our Gospel lesson begins in doubt.  Even after hearing the news that Jesus was alive, many doubted.  

Peter and John went to the tomb to investigate.  Regardless of what Jesus said about his resurrection, at the moment they doubted.  They ran to the tomb to look for themselves.

Something that’s not obvious in an English translation of the original Greek is that there are three different words for “looking or seeing” in this passage.  The first is the verb BLEPO, meaning to look or glance.  John came to the tomb, and took a BLEPO, a glance inside.  Then Peter went in and had a look around.  This time the Greek verb is THEOREO, meaning to observe carefully.  He observed carefully the linen cloths, still there as if Jesus had simply passed through them.  It didn’t make sense.  Why would someone take the body and leave the cloths so nice and neat?  He observed, but didn’t know what to make of his observations.  And finally, John went in and he saw and believed.  This time the Greek verb is HORAO, meaning to “see and understand.”  

There is most definitely a progression.  First there is doubting.  Then there is thinking, pondering.  And finally there is acceptance.  

It’s reasonable to say that this is a pattern for most of us.  Who of us would believe the first time we heard that a man rose from the dead.  But if we examine the story, if we consider the power of God, we can come to the faith to accept the resurrection.  And the last step is to live life in the light of the resurrection.

If Jesus rose from the dead, we follow a man, a man who rose from the dead and promised the same to us, not just some teachings.  If Jesus rose from the dead, then we can trust him to keep his word.  If Jesus rose from the dead, then through him we can come to God as children, loved and accepted.  

Does the resurrection matter?  Yes, more than anything else.

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