Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.
The DEEP

Seeing is Believing

The race to the empty tomb

John 20:1-10

 

“Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

 

Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.

 

It is all darkness.

In the predawn moments of the early morning hours one notices the little things, the small noises of the night time before the creeping of the dawn.

A solitary bird chirps in the tangled leaves of the arbor in the courtyard.

The clop of hooves and the squeak of wheels from a donkey cart out in the empty street.

Aside from these noises there is nothing. Even the dogs are asleep in the city, having barked and yelped their midnight chorus into a leg-twitching silence where they chase  dream rabbits and fight over invisible bones.

The darkened room should be filled with the normal sounds of human slumber–but there is no noise. In place of gentle breathing or even rumbling snores of the two unemployed fishermen there is only an anxious silence.

It has been a long two days for John and Peter, disciples of Jesus. Sleep has evaded both men as they replay the events of the past hours over and over in their minds. The trauma of the arrest of their teacher, the sham of the kangaroo court and the agonizing, unspeakable torture and death of the One whom they had followed so long play like a horror movie behind their eyes.

Jesus, the Nazarene, their rabboni–their friend–is dead. 

John turns to the large man on the floor, propped on the against the wall, and sees the tray of stale food. “Eat something, Peter.” 

Peter is a haunted man. The events following the passover meal are a blur but he knows one thing: he bears a searing guilt that cuts into the marrow of his bones. Peter, cephus–the “Rock”–betrayed his teacher not once, but three times, and recalls the pained gaze of Jesus as their eyes met across that crowded courtyard. The sweetness of that passover meal is gone and food is like ashes in his mouth. Peter does not respond.

It is all darkness.

Suddenly the rustling slap of feet in the street and a frantic knocking at their door.

The soldiers! At last, the two disciples have been discovered and betrayed, and now the armed men who pursued them in the garden have returned to arrest them and drag them to their own fate of death on a cross!

The table of food is upended as Peter hoists himself up and John scrambles for the door. Before it can be blocked a figure bursts in: a figure in linen and not of armor. Not a hulking man but a slender woman. It is Mary! 

Come quickly! She says…

Do you remember the day that you first believed? Do you remember the hour? Maybe you do–a church meeting or worship service, in the presence of a friend or person who really loves you, or at a “mountain top” moment of personal searching when it all came together for you and your soul felt freedom and grace wash over.

The conversion of St. Augustine was like this. As a young man he pursued a search for truth through philosophy and Christianity seeking relief for his troubled soul, awash in guilt for his sinfulness in the eyes if a holy God. 

In his Confessions, Augustine recounts that, one day, in his agonized spiritual wrestling as he walked in his garden he heard a Childs voice on the other side of the wall repeatedly saying or singing tolle lege, which in Latin means “pick it up and read, pick it up and read.”

In Augustine’s hand was a copy of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Thinking this a sign from God, he opened it to a random place and it fell to Romans 13:13-14:

13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.–Romans 13:13-14

Upon reading these words, Augustine’s heart was broken and he:

“…had no wish to read more and no need to do so. For in an instant, as I came to the end of the sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded into my heart and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled.”–St Augustine, Confessions

The emptiness of Augustine’s heart became like the cell where Paul and Silas were imprisoned, flooded with holy light. 

Or maybe your conversion was that of a covenant child, or one who had known of and been exposed to the colors and lifestyle of Christianity for years or decades but never truly tasted the sweetness of the love of Christ until that moment when it all came together.

This described the conversion of St. Patrick. The 16-year-old son of an official in late-Roman Britain, Patricius was kidnapped from his home by human traffickers and sold into slavery in Ireland. There, on the remote, windy hills of northern Ireland, Patrick struggled to adapt from a world of privilege to one of a slave and a shepherd. Abandoned and alone he recalled the faith of his youth and began to pray earnestly to God. 

God answered Patrick’s prayers and His spirit kindled the fire of faith within him. God brought Patrick home–only to commission him to return to the very land of his captivity to “walk among” the Irish people he had been forced to serve–now as God’s holy servant.  

To be present at the conversion of a sinner to the saving love of Jesus Christ or simply hearing the personal testimony of another believer can be of the sweetest things about being a Christian. In the words of Amazing Grace: 

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed! –John Newton

[Check out this version of the classic hymn by Alan Jackson, or the a capalla group Pentatonix]

Here in chapter 20 of the Gospel of John we see the coming to full faith of not just a sinner and a heathen–but that of  John himself. After three years of following Jesus through the dusty hills and towns of Galilee and Judea as one of His Twelve Disciples, John has an experience that finally shows him the truth of the One whom he has been following–and his life is forever changed. 

It begins with the arrival of a heartbroken friend:

“Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”–John 20:1-2

Mary Magdalene and the disciples are a dispirited bunch. This is the lowest ebb for them. Forgotten are all of the promises of Jesus of His suffering, death and resurrection. Maybe they had begun to slowly understand that He was going to His death in Jerusalem–that the Triumphal Entry was Jesus committed to ride on to die.

Was this really what Jesus meant by it all? Surely it was not supposed to be like this! So brutal, so final.

Mary Magdalene has been a follower of Christ now ever since He cast out the seven demons that had been possessing her (Mark 16:9). She and the other “Marys”–Jesus’s mother and Mary, wife of Clopas (John 19:25)–mourn Jesus at the foot of the cross and  later anoint and prepare His body with embalming spices. She comes to the tomb not expecting a risen Lord but a shut and dead grave.

Jesus’s missing body and the gaping tomb betray to her not a fulfilled promise but a sickening dread that her savior’s body has been stolen.

Grave robbers have been a common scourge for centuries and no less so in the first century. In AD 50 the Emperor Claudius issued an edict to make tomb robbing a capital offense–some say as a response to rumors of resurrection centering on an obscure religious sect in Palestine. 

John and Peter hear Mary’s anguished words and are galvanized into action. The two bleary-eyed men, the sturdy Peter and the nimble John, leap past Mary and out into the street as they begin a foot race to the tomb in the garden of one of Jesus’s followers, Joseph of Arimathea: 

Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first.–John 20:3-4

Peter and John run. In the early light of morning they leap gutters, are hissed at by startled cats, and dodge workers heading to begin the day’s labor. John is faster and soon outpaces Peter who begins to falter. John arrives at the garden, passes through the gate and stops at the entrance to the tomb. He is dumbstruck by what he sees:

And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in.–John 20:5

This is no grave robbery. This is something far more incredible. The cloths are nearly folded. The smell of incense and spices drifts through the opening of the cave. Nothing is disturbed–except the empty space where Jesus’s lovingly-tended body should be.

Suddenly, huffing and puffing, Peter arrives in the garden. His pounding feet crush plants and trip over border stones. He sees the other disciple but does not hesitate–and shoves beneath John’s bracing arms to enter the tomb:

Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself.–John 20:6-7

As Peter looks frantically into the corners of the sparse room, a light begins to dawn in the heart of John. Could it be? Is THIS what Jesus meant? A sudden, wonderful joy begins to flood into every corner of John’s person as the truth of three years’ of Jesus patiently telling His confused disciples that this is what would occur. It all suddenly makes sense:

 8 Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.–John 20:8-9

John has been with Jesus for over three years. Ever since that day when John the Baptist had seen Jesus and proclaimed “Behold the Lamb!”–he had followed. John had witnessed the miracles–the water turned to wine, the lame man lowered through a ragged hole in a roof, the feeding of thousands of people with a few loaves and fishes.

John has seen it all–and yet now he can truly believe. 

Has your life and coming to true faith in Christ been like this? Have you waited and worshipped long years for it all to make sense? It is astounding how someone could walk and live in the physical presence of Jesus for so long–and not see it all coming together as He said it would. 

Yet, how much do you struggle in your walk with Christ, seeking to discern God’s will for you? Maybe you are someone who can simply push all his chips forward and say “I believe” no matter what may come–or maybe you are someone who feels that your faith is continually tested. Loved ones die. A once-promising career becomes a bitter slog. Children stray and marriages suffer. 

Are you still waiting to see Jesus at work in your life–the evidence of His glory in your ordinary world? Look no further than John at the empty tomb. It is there that all of the promises of the ages come together and the Light of the World overcomes the darkness of sin and death. 

This is a watershed moment for John and Peter. So much so that less than 50 days later, Peter is fiercely preaching the resurrection at Pentecost:

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— 23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; 24 whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.–Acts 2:22-24

What keeps you from Jesus, from seeing the glory of His resurrection? 

Is it a lifestyle that you cannot let go?

Is it boredom as you disengage from service and fellowship to pursue this world?

Is it a bad experience in a church long ago that you cannot forgive and let go?

In the words of Michael Card’s song “What will it Take:”


What will it take to keep you from Jesus
Keep you from heeding His call
The simple excuse of a heart that is hard
A reason that's nothing at all


And how long before
You stop with your reasons
Take your defenses away
It's only a lie
That keeps you from following
Don't let it stand in your way 

What will it take to keep you from Jesus? From seeing and believing His call for your life?

 

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The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/community

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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