Walking Into the Resurrection

Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on the Festival of the Resurrection, April 20, 2014.  The gospel text is John 20:1-18.




Dear Friends in Christ,


Here is a simple truth about our Christian faith: If you understand and believe that Jesus died and rose again for you, you have the very heart of all that is necessary for faith.   If we go all the way back to the weeks and months after Jesus ascended into heaven, almost 2,000 years ago, we learn that witnessing and sharing the good news centered on the last week of Jesus’s life,   especially his death on the cross and his resurrection on Easter morning.  Bible scholars tell us that  Matthew,  Mark, Luke and John  originally were much shorter, containing only the accounts of Holy Week.  It was  later in the first century that these writings were expanded to include more about the life and ministry and teachings of Jesus.


If you were here on Good Friday evening, you  heard the account from John’s Passion Narrative about all that happened to Jesus in Holy Week,  right up to his death and burial.  Today we get to hear the rest of the story, according to John.  Now we concentrate on the good news of resurrection and who the first witnesses were.




John presents 3 witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus: Mary, Peter and John.


A close reading of John tells us that Mary went to the tomb twice and perhaps 3 times that morning.  Most likely she was there with the women who brought spices but couldn’t get in because of the rock covering the entrance.  She then went back and saw the rock rolled away  and thought grave robbers had struck and she ran to report this to Peter and John.  Later she returned and had an encounter with the risen Jesus.


Let’s follow Peter and John to the tomb.  They both ran but John gets there first.  The gospel writer John implies a good sized tomb, one that you probably walked into, perhaps down a few stairs.  This was a tier tomb, meaning there was room for mourners inside and niches for bodies.  Most likely, John went into the tomb far enough to see the linen wrappings, but he did not go into that section.  Peter finally arrives (I picture him as huffing and puffing) and he boldly goes in where the body of Jesus had been and sees the linen wrappings and the cloth that had been covering Jesus’s face.  John tells us: the other disciple went in and saw the same thing  Peter saw and he “believed”.  Peter does not seem to believe yet that Jesus was raised.  And these two returned to where they were staying.


Now comes Mary on her third trip of the morning.  Mary is Mary Magdalene.  Luke tells us that Jesus had healed her of “seven demons”.  She was forever grateful and joined the band of women who accompanied Jesus and the 12 disciples on their journeys.  Luke tells us that these women actually funded Jesus and the disciples out of their own resources (Luke 8:2-3). 


Some want to speculate that Jesus and Mary were actually married.  I don’t think so.  I do like the words her character sings in Jesus Christ Superstar:


            I don’t know how to love him

            I’ve been changed, yes, really changed

            In these last few days, when I’ve seen myself

            I seem like someone else.


Mary also saw that the tomb was empty and she sees two angels sitting where the body had been.  But she doesn’t understand.  Then she encounters Jesus outside and thinks he is the gardener.  It is only when he calls her name, “Mary!” that she knows it truly is Jesus and she exclaims “Rabbouni!”, that is “Teacher!”


Here is what happens next that makes all the difference for us today:  Jesus told her to go and tell the good news of his resurrection to the disciples.  John writes ‘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.


Remember John’s account that Peter and the “other” disciple went into the tomb and it was the “other” disciple who saw and believed.  We think the gospel writer is being modest here.  Most Bible scholars figure this was the gospel writer John himself who first saw and believed.  This gospel account is part of his personal witness to the resurrection of Jesus.




I like the imagery of the steps leading out of the tomb.  God could have left Jesus dead.  Peter and John and Mary could have stayed in the tomb and not ascended those steps to go out and tell others.  You and I could choose to not ascend those steps and share the good news as witnesses of the resurrection.


My challenge to you this day is to boldy walk up those steps into Resurrection.  Let God use us today (you and me) to tell the good news of Resurrection and New Life. 


He is risen!

He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!