Sermon from John 20:1-31, preached on Easter Sunday, 21 April 2019.
Bible Readings: (OT) Psalm 16:1-11 / (NT) John 20:1-31
I. Jesus’ resurrection declares the bestowal of His peace
II. Jesus’ resurrection entrusts us with His mission
III. Jesus’ resurrection prompts our growth in faith
In June 1815, almost exactly 204 years ago, a war that greatly affected the history of Europe was ended. It was the war between the British army led by the Duke of Wellington and the French army led by Napoleon Bonaparte. Wellington’s army defeated Napoleon’s, so a message was sent out to the British Isles with these words, ‘Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.’ However, as it was transmitted via semaphore chain – that is, a system of communication using signal flags – the message was interrupted by fog and only the first two words were transmitted. So the message delivered was ‘Wellington defeated’ instead of ‘Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.’ Until the full message was delivered sometime later, it dreaded many on the Isles and there was nothing glorious with that message.
But the message we hear from John’s Gospel is truly glorious. We hear this: “I have seen the Lord!”, meaning, ‘Christ is risen from the dead, and the death is defeated at the empty tomb!’ This message I want us to focus on this Easter Sunday morning.
But I wonder whether this message has somehow missed its full meaning in the process of hearing and understanding and living it out in our life. So, if this glorious message has lost its excellence and inspiration, thus, anyone misses its power and beauty in his/her life, like that broken message the people on the British Isles heard two hundred years ago grieved them, then, the glory of this Easter message must be recovered now. This message delivered firstly to the ears of those disciples in Jerusalem, then, to our ears cannot lose its excellence because this is not a mere, ordinary message, but the declaration of the glorious victory achieved by the King and Lord of the universe. The victory message emanated from Waterloo was blogged and jammed by fog, but this victory message spread from Jerusalem cannot be disturbed by anyone or anything because it is about the eternal Lord and King’s eternal victory.
So, if your reception and understanding of this victory message of Jesus the risen Lord isn’t in line with its true meaning, if you find the message you’ve known since your first hearing of it has been somehow tainted with anything of your worldly concerns or its principles, now is your time to recommit to what it teaches, thus, reclaim this glorious message of Jesus’ victory through His resurrection and have its full power in your life.
I. JESUS’ RESURRECTION DECLARES THE BESTOWAL OF HIS PEACE
So, what does the message of Jesus’ resurrection tell us? Firstly, it declares ‘the bestowal of the Lord’s peace’ upon all who believe and abide in Christ. This ‘peace’ is completely different from any form of peace the people of this world know. It’s perfect, eternal and complete whereas peace of this word is broken, temporal and incomplete.
Its Hebrew equivalent is ‘shalom.’ The OT people of God greeted each other with this word, ‘shalom,’ looking forward to entering God’s salvation at the end of time and wishing the same for others. This peace is not just stress-free, constant smiling face and humming a song kind of state; this peace is a considerably richer notion of wholeness, health, security, well-being and salvation for eternity. Isa. 32:17 explains ‘peace’ as ‘shalom’ in these words: “the effect of righteousness will be peace and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.” Simply put, if righteousness and quietness and trust in their full and eternal sense were melted together in a furnace, ‘peace’ would be the glittering outcome. Ps. 85:8 adds to this description, saying that what God speaks to His beloved children is peace. Its closest illustration could be a mum’s whisper of love to the ears of her infant baby sleeping peacefully. This peace is the man’s desired state of harmony and communion with God. A typical example of this is what Peter the apostle said to Jesus on a mountain top where he and other two disciples had seen Moses and Elijah appeared and talking with Jesus; there, he said this, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If You wish, I will make three tents here, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Bestowal of such peace upon the children of God is declared by and through Jesus’ resurrection. Three times, the risen Lord who appeared to His beloved ones greeted them with this ‘peace’ – in vs. 19, 21 and 26 – saying, “Peace be with you!”
How are we certain of the bestowal of the Lord’s peace? What is the proof of this peace bestowed on us who believe? The answer is the risen Lord Jesus who appeared to and stayed in the midst of His disciples. Seeing Him, all disciples were glad or ‘overjoyed’ or ‘rejoiced exceedingly,’ like the case of Peter on the mount of transfiguration.
In a sense, we all know by experience what this ‘peace’ Jesus has bestowed on us through His resurrection is. An example is this; when we come to worship service on a Sunday, sometimes we don’t feel like coming. But as the worship service begins and you listen to the piano and cello leading the congregation in singing of praises, your heart is getting warmer, slowly in the beginning, but later, your whole heart is filled with joy of worshipping the Lord and bowing in prayer, pouring out your heart to God in Jesus’ name, and when you finish singing the final hymn to God, your eyes glitter as does your soul. That’s a shadow of this peace Jesus has bestowed on you and me through His resurrection. Other times, when you read the word of God, when you pray and seek the Lord’s attentive ears and gracious helping hand, when you’re surrounded by your believing brothers and sisters, you have this peace in and around you. So you and I often say, ‘I want to be here; I want to spend more time with the Lord and all who love Him!’ When we say something like that, we’re saying the same words as Peter’s, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If You wish, I will make three tents here, one for You and one for [me] and one for [these my dear Christian brothers and sisters].” Simply put, ‘I want to be with You, Lord Jesus!’
There’s at least a couple more proofs that assure of the bestowal of this peace. One is, Jesus’ emphatical description of our intimate family relationship with Him and the Father. As He spoke in v. 17, we’re Jesus’ brothers – siblings – and God is our Father as is Jesus’. Listen to His words: “go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’” Jesus’ resurrection is the culmination and conclusion of His work of making us God’s children. So, no longer do we crave and long for remaining on a mountain top in a tent because we’ve already been adopted into God’s family and it’s a terminal, unalterable, final fact! We’re in Jesus’ peace and His peace is bestowed on us through His resurrection! “Peace be with you,” the Lord declared!
Another proof is Jesus’ newness in His resurrection. People were unable to recognise the risen Lord unless He revealed Himself to them. Mary Magdalene was crying at the empty tomb as in v. 11. She spoke with two angels who appeared and sat in the empty tomb. Then, turning around, she saw Jesus standing there. But, Mary did not know that it was Jesus; she thought He was the gardener. If the Lord hadn’t called her name, “Mary,” so lovingly, she would’ve kept asking the risen Lord the same question, considering Him as the gardener, ‘Sir, where did you put His body?’ There was a strange ‘newness’ with the Lord risen from the dead who is the ‘firstfruits’ of all who would rise from their sleep at the last moment.
Two disciples of Jesus experienced the same on their way to a village named Emmaus. As they were walking, the risen Lord appeared to them, drawing Himself near and walking with them. Lk. 24:16 tells us this: “But their eyes were kept from recognising Him.” How could this happen? It would be rather impossible for them to not recognise the Lord because they had spent three years together with their Lord. But, all the way to Emmaus which was about twelve kms from Jerusalem, they could not recognise the Lord. Having arrived their destiny, they entered into a house, sat together around a table, saw Him blessing and breaking the bread and giving it to each of them, then, finally their eyes were opened, and they recognised Jesus! Jesus did not appear in a different shape and voice, but He was in a different realm, in the realm of His new and complete and eternal peace, while the disciples were not – they knew not of Jesus’ peace but of this world. But, when Jesus’ heavenly peace was bestowed on them, their eyes were opened as did Mary Magdalene’s by the empty tomb. So Mary and those disciples alongside all others rejoiced exceedingly in the peace bestowed on them. This is the peace Jesus spoke of earlier in Jn. 14:27 in these words, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
As we know that Jesus rose from the dead, as we know for certain that He lives, we must not forget that we’re grabbed by His peace and His peace will never leave us now and eternity! This is why joy is the basic mood of Easter on which our Lord greeted and still does to us all, “Peace be with you!” Are you in peace with the Lord Jesus? Are we covered and saturated with the Lord’s peace? The Easter message urges anyone who is not, to recover this new, complete, perfect and eternal peace that has already been bestowed on all followers of Jesus at the moment of His resurrection.
II. JESUS’ RESURRECTION ENTRUSTS US WITH HIS MISSION
Jesus’ resurrection also means that He has entrusted us with His mission. As you contemplate this 20th chapter of John’s Gospel, you’d easily find this prominent theme of entrusting the Lord’s mission to His disciples and, through them, to us.
Jesus’ word in v. 17 is the first proof of this. I believe that many Christians have been somewhat puzzled with this verse where Jesus told Mary not to cling to Him because He had not yet ascended to the Father. Puzzled, people usually ask questions like these – ‘Did He mean that something was incomplete with His resurrection body, so Mary could not touch Him?’ Or ‘Was there any undisclosed character of the resurrection body?’ But, questions like that miss the point entirely. The risen Lord Jesus meant that there was more important thing to do than just physically clinging to Jesus. What is that important thing? Going to the ‘brothers of Jesus’ – that is, all followers of Jesus who were ignorant of the Lord’s resurrection – and telling them the truth about Jesus’ rising from the dead.
This is supported by what the Lord says to His disciples in a moment later. Having appeared to them and proven His identity by showing His hands and side, He said to them in v. 21, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.” Mary to those disciples and the disciples to the mission for bringing Jesus’ ‘other sheep’ from the world to their true Shepherd.
The Lord’s entrusting us with His mission is not a burden at all, but a great privilege. “As the Father has sent Me,” says the Lord, “even so I am sending you”! Isn’t it an assignment with absolutely great privilege? We who are mere human beings are assigned to the task Jesus the Lord had received from His Father and carried out in His life on earth! As Jesus revealed the Father’s wisdom, power and desire in His words and deeds, we’re to do the same in this world! This is a notion too noble for us to even contemplate. But this is plainly entrusted to us. If it was entrusted to Mary Magdalene who had previously been enslaved to seven demons, it doesn’t seem impossible for you and me to be entrusted with the same mission. If the doubting Thomas was found among those entrusted, it seems quite plausible for you and me found in this great multitude of Christians in our generation entrusted with this mission. Christ assured us of His possession of all authority over the whole world, so He commands to go and deliver His message! If Jesus’ resurrection is true to you and me, this mission entrusted to us by Him is also true!
As Mary went away immediately, rather than remained clinging to Him, and told the disciples this glorious message, “I have seen the Lord!”, as the two disciples who had met the risen Lord on the way to Emmaus, stood up immediately and came back to Jerusalem and delivered the same message to other disciples, as the doubting Thomas first heard of Jesus’ resurrection by the others who had met him earlier, as all disciples did embrace their entrusted mission to the world, we too must carry it out with great joy, beginning from where we’re now, starting from those who are close to us. Why? Because Jesus is risen and we’re entrusted with delivering this message, ‘I have seen the Lord!’, to everyone around us. This is the light we cannot hide under a basket, but let it shine before others, so that they may see and find the risen Lord and Saviour.
III. JESUS RESURRECTION PROMPTS OUR GROWTH IN FAITH
The last point I want us to see is that Jesus’ resurrection prompts our growth in faith. This is a profound teaching because, firstly, if anyone misses or misunderstands Jesus’ resurrection, he has no faith that saves. No matter how firmly that person knows about Jesus’ birth and life and ministry, or even His death, but if an understanding and comprehension of His resurrection is missed, all that knowledge gives him no benefit whatsoever. Our Lord’s rising from the dead gives a true light to His birth and life and ministry and death. This is why the apostle Paul firmly says in 1 Cor. 15:14 and following that, if Christ has not been raised, then the message of Jesus’ gospel preached is in vain; our faith is in vain and futile and, furthermore, we are of all people most to be pitied. No wonder why Mary couldn’t recognise Jesus at once; no wonder why all disciples mourned, and those two on the road having spent so long hours walking together with the Lord could recognise neither His face nor His voice. All, by then, had no understanding of their Lord’s resurrection! So, as proved by those disciples of Jesus, knowing and firmly believing Christ’s resurrection completes our faith.
Also, the deeper we believe in the risen Lord Jesus, the greater will His blessing be for us. Hear the Lord explaining this in vs. 27 and 29 in these words: “Do not disbelieve, but believe. … Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Moreover, the risen Jesus breathed on us and sent us the Holy Spirit who teaches us all things our Lord said and taught. Without His rising from the dead, this could’ve never happened to us and we would’ve remained still in sin! What a blessing Jesus has brought to us through His victorious and glorious resurrection!
On this Easter morning, we look back the first Easter morning and what happened there. Most residents of Jerusalem were ignorant of what was happening at a grave site. Some might have heard the noises of a couple of people running hurriedly in that early morning. But altogether they had no idea of what was declared. Despite their ignorance and indifference, this glorious message of Easter was declared, “I have seen the Lord!”, “He is not here, for He has risen!” The whole universe shook by the sound of this declaration and the whole heavenly hosts prostrated, seeing the glory of this message. Soon, all followers of Jesus responded to this glorious message of Easter and, in faith, rejoiced exceedingly in the risen Lord and Saviour Jesus.
Although Christ’s kingdom expands rapidly, we still find many people in this city and nations who are ignorant of and indifferent to this glorious message of Jesus’ resurrection. With this insight, two challenges we face; firstly, every one of us must recover the glory of the Easter message in our life and have its full power, and, secondly, every one of us must deliver it to others, knowing that this message deepens our faith and adds blessing upon blessings in Jesus’ name. ***