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The Best Day of Our Lives (John 20:1-18)

Happy Resurrection Sunday! We are going to take a small break in our Healthy Church series, to stop and remember why we are doing what we are doing. Paul says if Christ did not rise again, we are of all people most miserable and we are dead in our sins. But praise be to God that Christ rose triumphantly over the grave, putting death to death by His death!

What would you say has been the best day of your life? I have a few. I would say the day I met Christ or my wedding day or the days my kids were born and Ordination Day. What would make a good day? A day you went to bed and said, “That was a good day.” A day you get a raise or a promotion? A day the kids all behaved? The day your last kid got potty-trained? Graduation Day? A day you brought someone to Christ? A day you got to share the Gospel? A day of vacation? New Years Day? Friday? Thank God it’s Friday? I wonder for believers if the best day in our lives in light of history really is Resurrection Sunday?

Today I want to look at the power of the resurrection for us today. Some of us come today thinking our best days are way behind us because of what is going in in your life. Some of us are looking out the window thinking our best day might be coming soon, though you’ve been waiting forever, it seems like. Often we look back at Christ’s resurrection with gratitude and look ahead to our final resurrection with hope, but what difference does the resurrection of Christ make for us today as we live in the “already, but not yet” aspect of life? What does the resurrection mean for me today as I face fears about my future? What does it mean in light of my singleness? What does it mean when I am anxious about my children or my finances? How does it change my loneliness? My hopelessness and despair? My heart that has become so weary?

Let’s look at a woman named Mary Magdalene and her amazing encounter with Jesus on this Resurrection Sunday and glean some truth for us today. What does it mean to live in light of the resurrection? First of all,

I. Our best days with Christ are still ahead of us (vv.1-10)

Notice the text starting off with “on the first day of the week.”  It is interesting that all the Gospel writers referred to the day of Jesus’ resurrection this way rather than as the third day after His death.[1] Resurrection Sunday means a new beginning. Resurrection Sunday is the New Year for our soul. So Sunday morning after Jesus died, Mary Magdalene shows up at the tomb. The other Gospels tell us that other women were with her, but John wants to highlight Mary Magdalene. Who is she? By the way, she is not the prostitute who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair (Luke 7:36-50). In the Passion of the Christ she is portrayed as the woman in John 8 who was stoned for adultery. The text doesn’t say that her name was Mary either. The only thing we know is that Jesus casted out seven demons out of her (Luke 8:2). Today she would be classified as a mental patient.

Now typically in that day, “the dead were wrapped in linen swaddling clothes containing dry spices and were placed on their backs, without coffins, in tombs. Moreover, they were not completely wrapped…the face, neck, and upper part of the shoulders were left bare. Typically, corpses were wrapped with their arms folded cross-like across their torso. The head was wrapped separately, with a cloth twirled about it like a turban.”[2] The head cloth was to make sure the mouth was kept closed.

Typically people would come to mourn at the tomb and put spices on the body out of respect. However, when Mary gets there, the stone is removed. So she runs and tells Peter and John and we see how she is processing this. “Someone’s robbed the grave! Did Joseph of Arimathea move Him?” Peter and John go and look themselves. No one is thinking, “Huh. He did say He was going to be raised the third day.” How many times did Jesus say, “I’m going to be raised the third day.” No one believed Jesus.

If I was making this story up, I wouldn’t paint the disciples this way. I would have them waiting by the tomb confidently trusting in His promise and Word. They don’t believe His Word. The crucifixion had crushed them all deeply and they were hanging on to the sorrow of the past and the Jesus of the past.

The apostle John, probably the youngest, outruns old slow-footed Peter to the tomb. In the next chapter, it is Peter who jumps into the water and swims ashore when Jesus shows up. As messed up as these disciples were, I envy their quickness to run to Christ. Then there is all this talk about the grave clothes in verses 5-7. Why?

Well, if you were going to steal the body, you were not going to take the time to strip it off carefully and then fold the head cloth neatly in an orderly fashion. Actually the cloths and spices were expensive. You would take those things with you. So what was Jesus saying? No one stole my body quickly in the middle of the night. I got up out of the grave and even had time to fold my clothes! The other time this word “face cloth” is used, it is in the story of Lazarus’ death in John 11.

One commentator notes,

“When Lazarus came forth from the tomb, he was still wrapped in his grave clothes (John 11:44). He would need them again, for he would die a second time. When Jesus came forth from the tomb, he left his grave clothes behind, because he would never need them again. Death no longer held any power over him.”[3]

John realizes this and believes. Jesus is alive! Nothing can stop Him. He has even put death to death.

If death cannot stop Him, what makes us think He cannot help us with our insecurities? If death cannot stop Him, what makes us think our bitterness and self-doubt can? What makes us think our past can stop Him? Some of us are still clinging to the past, whether past sins we feel guilty about or past walks with Christ where we experienced Him in great ways. Those are good things to reflect on, but we cannot live driving our lives looking at the rearview mirror. There is a reason the windshield is much bigger than the rear-view mirror. Try to get to your next destination by just looking at your rearview mirror. You will crash! Did He rise again to leave us powerless and hopeless?

ImageThen why do we live our lives that way? Are you a “rearview-er”? Do you catch yourself thinking or saying, “If only…” “Man, those were the good ole’ days.” The Lord had to rebuke me with this. I often tell single people, “Enjoy it now man. Once you get married…” or I tell young marrieds, “Enjoy it now man. Once you have kids…” What am I saying? I’m saying, “Your best life is now.” Is that why Jesus rose from the dead? If He’s alive, my best days are yet to come with Him.  It wasn’t just a conference back in 1997 or the time I got saved or when Living Hope was smaller…the Resurrection tells me God is not done with me yet! He’s not done with my marriage yet. He’s not done with unbelievers in my family. He’s alive!

Tim Keller shares a story of a minister was in Italy, and there he saw the grave of a man who had died centuries before who was an unbeliever and completely against Christianity, but a little afraid of it too. So the man had a huge stone slab put over his grave so he would not have to be raised from the dead in case there is a resurrection from the dead. He had insignias put all over the slab saying, “I do not want to be raised from the dead. I don’t believe in it.” Evidently, when he was buried, an acorn must have fallen into the grave. So a hundred years later the acorn had grown up through the grave and split that slab. It was now a tall towering oak tree. The minister looked at it and asked, “If an acorn, which has power of biological life in it, can split a slab of that magnitude, what can the acorn of God’s resurrection power do in a person’s life?”

Keller comments, “The minute you decide to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord, the power of the Holy Spirit comes into your life. It’s the power of the resurrection—the same thing that raised Jesus from the dead…Think of the things you see as immovable slabs in your life—your bitterness, your insecurity, your fears, your self-doubts. Those things can be split and rolled off. The more you know him, the more you grow into the power of the resurrection.” Look at the deadness in your life. Look at the anger. How is that going to be turned into forgiveness? Look at the insecurity. How is that going to be turned into confidence? Look at the self-centeredness. How is that going to be turned into compassion and generosity? How? The answer is that the dead stuff gets taken over by the Spirit of God. What are your immovable slabs in your life? He is alive and working! Our best days with Him are still ahead of us because our worst day is already over 2,000 years ago.

II. Our best days with Christ comes by grace to see Him clearer (vv.11-16)

Look at Mary here in this story. She had forgotten God’s Word. She’s looking for a dead body. She’s looking high and low for Jesus. She won’t go home. She’s taking on the gardener. She’s confused. She’s very loving and passionate, but she’s really blind to spiritual reality. If Jesus had just stood by and waited for her to come to her senses, He would wait forever. She’s completely blind.

Right now she believes she’s in the middle of a disaster. Notice she sees angels! Not even Peter or John gets that. Angels in front of her and Jesus Himself standing next to her breathing down her neck and she feels alone. She’s about to be made one of the most famous people in all of the world and she feels devastated and abandoned. When she finally talks to the Lord, she thinks He’s the gardener…an enemy…”Have you taken the body?” She has no idea that God is working and it is the end of the world.

I love the way He comes after her. He has to break in. He doesn’t say, “You’re so dumb. Didn’t I tell you this? Sit there and cry. Work hard enough and keep searching and figure it out. I’ll wait here.” He comes after her gently but very purposefully. Notice his question in v.15. “Whom are you seeking?” Interesting. The Jesus she seeks is not the real Jesus. The real Jesus here gets accused of stealing the body. She has no idea that what she wants is not what she needs. A dead Jesus means she is lost forever and we are lost forever.

Living in light of the resurrection means that though we will often be blind to what God is doing, Jesus will be faithful to break in and show us Himself. Peter Larson says, “Despite our efforts to keep him out, God intrudes. The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. Jesus entered our world through a door marked “No Entrance” and left through a door marked “No Exit.”[4]

He may not break in and give us explanations. He may not always break in change our circumstances. But the resurrection tells me that He will always break in to make Himself completely available to you and show you what you really need is the resurrected Jesus. Not your version of Jesus, but the real Jesus.

Not the “Aladdin’s Lamp” Jesus.[5] You know, you just really need Him because you need that new job. New car. New and improved spouses. Your wish is his command. And what’s more, he conveniently reenters the lamp when you don’t want him around. Not the “Rabbit Foot” Jesus. His specialty? Getting you out of a jam. Need a parking place? Rub the redeemer. Need help on a quiz? Pull out the rabbit’s foot. No need to have a relationship with him. No need to love him. Just keep him in your pocket next to your four-leaf clover. Not the “Let’s Make a Deal Jesus.” For 52 Sundays a year, I will come and sit and do what you want me to, as long as you give me what is behind Pearly Gate #3. Not the “Employer Jesus”—I’ll be holy, do my quiet times, give my money and you owe me x, y, and z. These are not the Jesus’ that you ultimately need.

He is the Redeemer of the New Testament. We need the one full of truth and grace. We need the one who can say, “Who is there to condemn you?” to the adulterous woman (grace) as well as “Go and sin no more” (truth). Not just the One who comforts the afflicted, but the One who also afflicts the comfortable. That Jesus is available to you when you look for Him. The one who doesn’t want to a helper of your life, but life itself. The one who doesn’t want to be your spare tire, but the steering wheel itself.

The resurrection means that He, the real Jesus, is available to you. He will never forsake you. And it is all by grace. Notice the order of revelation here. It is not, “Teacher!” “Hi Mary!” But “Mary!” then “Teacher!” And who gets this revelation? A pillar in the community? An apostle? A man? No a former mental patient, a female one at that, is the first ambassador of the gospel.

By the way, Jewish men prayed every morning thanking God that they were not born a woman. No woman’s testimony was even allowed in court! If the Gospel writers were making this up, they would in no way use a woman to be the first witness to the resurrection. The only possible reason for the presence of women in these accounts is that they really were present and reported what they saw. The stone has been rolled away, the tomb is empty and an angel declares that Jesus is risen. Moreover, there has to be some explanation for how the cowardly group of disciples was transformed into a group of leaders. Many of them went on to live sacrificial lives, and many of them were killed for teaching that Jesus had been resurrected. Can you see that salvation is by grace alone? Jesus uses a woman, not a man in a patriarchal society and a former demon-possessed woman and not a pillar in the community. It doesn’t matter your gender, your class, your record or your record.

II. Our best days with Christ comes with new responsibilities (vv.17-18)

The resurrection doesn’t just mean He just pulls us in closer. He always pulls us in to send us out. Notice what He tells Mary in v.17. Why does Jesus say, “Don’t cling to me?” Some have said it was because He was holy that He says, “Don’t touch me!” But He tells Thomas a few verses later to touch him, so that can’t be it. I think in effect was to say, “This (the physical contact) is not My real presence for the church. A new relationship will begin with My Ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church.”[6] Sometimes we think, “it would be great to hug Jesus physically on the earth,” but we got something better. Once He ascended, the Holy Spirit now comes down into our lives and the sense of His love that will come into your heart is greater than if Jesus was on the earth that you can see once in a while.

Jesus will live in your heart forever and through the Spirit. Through the Spirit, He will cling to us. Notice also, “my Father is your Father, my God and your God” and go tell my “brothers.” It doesn’t say, go tell those no-good miserable deserters that I want to see them and boy, am I gonna…! Go, tell “my brothers.” This is a new relationship of grace.

A new relationship with me means new responsibilities. She is the first ambassador for the Lord. And what is she announcing? “I have seen the Lord!” In one sense, that is exactly our responsibility as well. Tell the world that we have experienced an encounter with the Living Christ.

Conclusion

Mary is such a lover isn’t she? Last one at the cross, first one at the tomb. Why? She experienced His grace. If you said to James and John, “It’s so great that you are His disciples.” They may have said, “I know. Our mom hopes one day we will be on the right and on the left.” But if you told Mary that, she would have been like, “I know! Do you realize I used to walk these streets half-naked, controlled by evil forces, hurting myself?” Do you realize His grace in your life? Where would you be if Christ had not saved you? As Annie Dillard once said, “I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and rung.”[7] We can say the same thing. I didn’t know who I was until the day Jesus Christ picked me up and rung me.

He has saved us and is not done with us. Jesus is alive and our best days are ahead of us because our worst day is already behind us. At infinite cost to Himself, Jesus died on the worst day of history, on a bad Friday, to turn our Bad Fridays into Resurrection Sundays. And one day, He will come again. We shall see Him. And our worst days will be swallowed up and transformed…and every day will be the best days of our lives.

There was a Christian lady who was diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. So as she was getting her things “in order,” she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. The woman also requested to be buried with her favorite Bible. Everything was in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the woman suddenly remembered something very important to her.

“There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly.

“What’s that?” came the pastor’s reply.

“This is very important,” the woman continued. “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”

The pastor stood looking at the woman, not knowing quite what to say. “That surprises you, doesn’t it?”, the woman asked.

“Well, to be honest, I’m puzzled by the request,” said the pastor.

The woman explained, “In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main courses were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, “Keep your fork.” It was my favorite part because I knew that something better was coming…like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance! So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder, “What’s with the fork?” Then I want you to tell them: “Keep your fork. The best is yet to come.”[8]

 


[1]Constable, T. (2003). Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Jn 20:1). Galaxie   Software.

[2]Hughes, R. K. (1999). John: That You May Believe. Preaching the Word (453). Wheaton, IL:

Crossway Books.

[3]Harris, W. Hall III. “Exegetical Commentary on John 20,” http://bible.org/seriespage/exegetical-commentary-john-20 accessed 29 March 2013.

[4]As quoted in www.preachingtoday.com accessed 30 March 2013.

[5] Taken from Lucado, Max (2002). Six Hours One Sunday (65).  

[6]Blum, E. A. (1985). John. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), . Vol. 2: The Bible Knowledge

      Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck, Ed.) (342–343).

Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[8]As mentioned in http://www.angelfire.com/fl5/keywest0/TheFork.html accessed 30 March 2013.

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