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Death Is Defeated

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

Gospel of John: Life in Jesus’ Name
John 20 – Death is Defeated

I am going to mention two numbers. Just two. And for the majority of you in this room—perhaps 2/3 of you or more—these two numbers will provoke some memories.
Those numbers are: 9-11. 9-11 marks September 11, 2001, when two jets were crashed into the World Trade Center. And the buildings collapsed.
I remember many details of that day. I was standing in the lobby with some other people, and we had rolled a TV out there to watch it. I watched the Towers collapse, and with my former engineering mind on, I was unbelieving. I thought, “No, a building like that cannot collapse. What I’m seeing cannot be true.”

There are events in our lives—especially trauma—that can be burned into our brains like that.

Last week we looked at Chapter 19 in John’s Gospel. The account of the Crucifixion. For the followers of Jesus—John, Peter, Thomas, Mary Magdalene—that day would have been a 9-11 kind of day. Disbelieving. In a daze. Shocked. Afraid.

“What is happening? Our Messiah—or so we thought—is dying on a cruel cross. He has been taunted and hated and ridiculed. Now he is dead!” Then a courageous Jewish leader named Joseph took Jesus’ bloodied, battered, tortured body down from the cross. He wrapped it in linen cloths with some burial spices, and he placed it in a tomb. That day of horror and dashed dreams was a horrifying day burned onto their minds and hearts. They would never forget that day.

If John’s Gospel ended there, the story may not seem that exceptional. Sure, it was a cruel death, but millions of people have died cruel deaths. And billions of people have died in human history. Just in the United States alone, on the average someone dies every 12 seconds.

But the story is exceptional because of who died. The Word of God. The Creator. The Son of God sent from heaven to earth.

And the story is exceptional because there is another chapter. There is another part of the story. And instead of a 9-11 kind of day, the next chapter is the reverse: it is…. an 11-9 kind of day.

It is the day that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

John 20

We are near the end of a series going through the Gospel of John. Next week is our last Sunday on this. One of Jesus’ 12 disciples named John wrote an account about Jesus. Who he was, what he said, what he accomplished. Gospel = “good news.” It’s the Good News about Jesus, as penned by John.

So turn to the Gospel of John. Chapter 20.

As you are turning there, I will introduce myself. My name is Brad Barrett, one of the pastors here. I am a life-long Iowan. I came here from Sioux City. Only 180 miles northwest of here. Apparently I am not as daring as some of you. Some of you have come to Ames and Iowa State from the other side of the world. 5000 miles 6000 miles.

Let’s go now to this magnificent story. To John 20.

In my opinion— and I dare you to disagree with me—the day of Christ’s death is the darkest day in human history. Without comparison.

And in my opinion, that Resurrection Sunday is the brightest day….the most glorious day…in human history. And that Sunday will be surpassed only by one future event: the Second Coming of Christ. On that day, he will come to earth to rescue his followers and usher them into glory. And to bring wrath and judgment on all who have rejected him.

John 20 (ESV)

Now we pick up the next scene in these extraordinary, history-making hours.

John 20:1–31 (ESV)
1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.

The first day of the week is the day after the Sabbath, so Sunday. By Jewish reckoning, this would begin at sundown on Saturday and continue until sundown on Sunday. In vs. 1, it seems to be early morning on Sunday since “it was still dark.”

Mary Magdalene is prominent in John’s gospel. First, a word about her. She became a follower of Jesus after he cast out seven demons from her. Imagine being enslaved and tortured—perhaps for years—by seven demons. And then she becomes one of the most well-known followers of Christ.

As an aside, all of us should take note of this. Jesus did not come for the religious elite or for the morally superior. He came for the sinners. The sick in heart and mind and soul. He was rightly accused of being a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.” If you have a troubled past, take heart. Take heart. Jesus stands ready to save you and to transform your life.

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.”

Robbing of tombs was not uncommon in the first century world. The tombs would be robbed for jewels and other wealth that could be stolen and sold. So Mary’s assumption of “grave robbing” is an understandable assumption (since none of the disciples understood Jesus’ earlier prophecies of him rising from the dead).

Then who is this “disciple whom Jesus loved”? This expression is used 5 times in this Gospel, and a strong case can be made that it is the author, John. I love this description. “The disciple whom Jesus loved.” I admire John to know Jesus’ love so well that he can easily describe himself that way: “I am loved by Jesus.”

3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb.
4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.
6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there,
7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.

Such detail is given here. From chapter 19, we know Jesus’ body was wrapped in linen cloths and laid in the tomb. Now Peter and John see that cloth lying where Jesus’ body was. And the cloth over his face was folded up in another place. This is hardly the work of grave robbers. The linen cloth was valuable, so they wouldn’t leave that. And if someone wanted to steal his body, I would assume they wouldn’t unwrap it. This is evidence that Christ rose from the dead.

8 Then the other disciple, who had 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.

What actually did John believe?
1. Maybe he believed, like Mary had told him, that the body was gone.
2. Maybe he had his first shred of evidence that Jesus had risen.
In either case, neither he nor Peter understood the prophecies in the Scripture of the resurrection. But in a matter of hours and days, most of it would finally be clear.

10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.

Mary had had a busy day. She had been to the tomb, saw no body. Then she ran back to the city of Jerusalem to tell Peter and John. Then apparently she followed them back to the tomb. Peter and John went home. She is there at the empty tomb crying.

12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one 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.”

Two angels there indicates this is no grave robbery. God has invaded the situation with his power.

14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

She didn’t recognize Jesus.
1. Either the tears kept her from recognizing him.
2. The Lord kept her from seeing, as happened that day to two disciples going to Emmaus in Luke 24.

15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”

She doesn’t recognize his voice.

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.”

The tomb had a garden around it, so it’s understandable there might be a gardener there.

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

Somehow she realizes its Jesus, risen from the dead. Her horrific 9-11 type of day has just had the greatest reversal in history.
That Jesus is alive is impossible, it seems. It’s like the World Trade Center—after collapsing—rises back out of the rubble days later. It simply doesn’t happen. But it did.

And Jesus was not merely resuscitated into his old body. His body was brand new. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians that the earthly body is as different from the resurrected body as a SEED is as different as the PLANT it produces. The weak becomes powerful. The mortal becomes immortal. The dishonorable becomes glorious. The earthly becomes heavenly.
Something is fundamentally different about Jesus’ resurrected body. It is like nothing we have ever seen. And better than we could ever dream of.

17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for 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.’ ”

Why did he want Mary to stop clinging to him? (Perhaps she had fallen to the ground and was clinging to his legs.)

Then he tells her he has not ascended into heaven yet. And he has an assignment for her: Go back to the disciples and tell them that he is ascending soon. He is going to his Father and theirs. To his God and to theirs. He is identifying his intimate relationship with both the Father and the disciples and their intimate relationship with the Father. They are children of God. That God would make rebels and sinners and enemies into his children is one of the most profound truths in the Bible.
If you believe in Jesus, you should be very, very glad.

There is something quite noteworthy here. The risen Christ chose to make his first appearance to this woman. In this Middle Eastern culture back in the first century, a woman’s testimony was not normally admissible in court. A woman’s testimony was not highly regarded. Yet the risen Christ chose to appear to her first. What an honor and glory for her!

18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

We don’t know how the disciples responded, but it’s not hard to imagine they doubted her.

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

Its 10-12 hours later on Sunday. They are in someone’s house. The doors are locked because they are very afraid. The Jewish leaders killed Jesus, so what prevents them from killing his disciples? But that doesn’t stop Jesus in his resurrected, eternal, glorified body. He appears behind locked doors.

He says to them beautiful words that they desperately need to hear: “Peace be with you.” Jesus was blessing them with peace. They needed it.
1. They were terrified of dying.
2. Jesus somehow magically appeared behind locked doors.
3. Jesus appeared! He really was alive. Mary was right!

It seems to me they would have mixed emotions:
• Guilt and shame over denying Jesus just 2-3 days earlier, and over doubting Mary.
• Excitement and joy. They could not have imagined this moment….although Jesus had told them it would happen.
John’s says in vs. 20, “The disciples were glad.” This means they rejoiced greatly. But it seems to me that no single word could express their emotions right now. Their 9-11 nightmare kind of day, was not only over, it was completely reversed. The bad and the horror and the injustice was turned on its head into the greatest imaginable good and glory. God’s Son had been brought back to life. For the first time since the curse upon mankind in Genesis 3, death and the curse had been reversed.

21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

He repeats himself, perhaps to ensure they believe that they are at peace with God.

22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

He breathed on them. Why? To me, this is reminiscent of Genesis 3 when God first formed man’s body. There was no life until God breathed a spirit into the man, and he was alive. Jesus seems to be breathing their new life in him.

Then he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” It doesn’t seem they received the Spirit until 50 days later at Pentecost. So perhaps this is a symbolic act of what is to come soon.

Finally, he says something that seems strange: “If you forgive, they are forgiven. If you don’t, they won’t be forgiven.” What does he mean? We know that only God can truly forgive our sins against him. It seems possible that Jesus is speaking about their mission: As he sends them out into the world, they are going to carry this Gospel Message. If people believe their message, they will be forgiven. If people reject their message, they will not be forgiven.

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.
25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Thomas is so emphatic. “I will never believe unless I can see and touch.” Thomas gets a bad rap, often called “Doubting Thomas.” But really I don’t see him as any different from the others. They truly didn’t believe until they saw Jesus.

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

Once again they are locked away. Once again Jesus mysteriously appears. Once again Jesus blesses them with peace.

Now he turns directly to Thomas.

27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus could have severely rebuked him. Instead he graciously gives Thomas a chance to actually touch him. To feel the wounds. Yet, it truly is Jesus, risen into an eternal and glorified body. And a physical one.

29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

These words seem to be for us, we who follow in the generations after Thomas and Peter, who will never have the chance to see all these events. The horrifying 9-11 day on Friday, and the glorious “11-9” day on Sunday. To all who never had the chance to see Jesus and touch him, Jesus offers a special blessing. “Blessed are those who have never seen, yet they believe.” That kind of faith is beautiful. God-honoring. Glorious. And Jesus promises to bring blessing on us for it.

Life in Jesus’ Name

The last two verses are recognized by Christians over the ages as a purpose statement by John.

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;
31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John’s Gospel rightly makes much of Jesus’ signs. And his purpose in writing all this is that we might believe that he is the Son of God, and that God’s plan of deliverance for all who are dead but would believe.

The resurrection is the greatest of all signs, and this moment marked a turning point for the disciples. We must know and believe these signs and all the other remarkable words of Jesus, his claims, his power. We must know and believe that God the Father sent his Son according to his eternal plan to rescue sinners from death.

The resurrection is the final and the ultimate confirmation that Jesus truly is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one can come to the Father in heaven apart from him.

What Now?

So then how does/should all this impact us?
With the truth of the Resurrection before us, what should we do? How should we think? How ought this to change our lives?

Many of us in this room are believers in Jesus Christ. We have believed, and we are born again. And we have found “life in Jesus’ name.”
Yet I suspect most of us—perhaps ALL of us—at times are like Peter and John and the others. We doubt. We are not that different from Thomas. We can’t see, so at times—though we hate to admit it—we’re like Thomas: “I will not believe unless you prove it!”

God has proven it.
• We have dozens of eyewitnesses.
• We have the time-tested record of the Scriptures.
• We have the Holy Spirit testifying in our hearts.
• Millions of people over the centuries have staked their lives on these claims, and found them to be true.

We need to simply let the facts sink in. Consider it. Ask God to help you believe it. Like the man whom Jesus confronted with his unbelief. The man cried out, “I do believe, but help me in my unbelief.” (I have prayed that simple prayer dozens, maybe hundreds, of times.)

Often what is in our way of simply believing is our pride. We somehow want to do it all ourselves. We want to figure life out ourselves. We simply need to humble ourselves. Admit we are not God. Admit we do not have answers in ourselves for eternity.

Also, I suspect some of us in this room are skeptics. We simply do not believe that Jesus is who he claims to be. And we feel we simply cannot believe that he rose from the dead into immortality.
Let me say this to you. Even if you’re skeptical, questioning if the resurrection is true, you should WANT it to be true. For in the Resurrection, the curse of death on mankind, and the deterioration and brokenness of all things has been reversed. And the hope of a life that never ends is laid out before us. You should WANT it to be true, for the Resurrection is truly the Best News on the Best Day in human history. Without question.

We all should stop doubting. Rest in the God of truth. And believe.

The Resurrection is a promise to us of hope. Hope that in Christ all things will be made brand new. All broken, shattered things—our bodies and our souls—will be made utterly, gloriously new. Our bodies will be resurrected. This earth will be resurrected.

When Jesus comes back to earth a second time, all things will be made brand new. He said:
Matthew 19:28 ESV “Truly, I say to you, in the new world…the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne…”
The “new world.” The renewal of all things. Jesus insisted that his return will be with such power that the very material world and universe will be purged of all decay and brokenness.

This gives us hope. In all the pain of life… the Chaos… the 9-11 kind of days, we can have hope.

Author Tim Keller said this.
“The biblical view of things is resurrection—not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had but a restoration of the life you always wanted. This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater.”

I am a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. (The books, not the movies.) Just after the climax of the trilogy The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee discovers that his friend Gandalf was not dead (as he thought) but alive. He cries,
“I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself! Is everything sad going to come untrue?”
The answer of Christianity to that question is—yes. Everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.”

We should have hope and rejoice in life. New life. Life in Jesus’ name. We were dead. Lifeless in our souls before God. But when we believe in Jesus Christ, Jesus told us we will be born again. We will be given new life. A life in us that never existed before.

John testifies of “life in Jesus’ name.” When he speaks of “life,” his words are glorious, more glorious than we can imagine.

Life in Jesus’ name is more than a place called heaven. Yes, it includes the destination of heaven. But what makes heaven “heaven” is the One who resides there. The One who created all things. Life in Jesus’ name is fundamentally about a Person named Jesus. His name is Messiah. Lamb of God. Bread of Life. Living Water. The Resurrection and the Life. He is the One who died but is now alive forevermore.

To be honest, sometimes the impact and significance of the resurrection doesn’t hit me. I know it should, but I have trouble grasping on a heart and emotion level. But these simple words, “life in his name,” are radical, wild, and dream-worthy, yet so true and glorious and eternal.

Jesus’ resurrection is proof of our hope….our hope that a new day is coming. A new world in the presence of our Creator and Savior. This is our hope.