Scripture: John 20:1-18
He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!
This one statement has been the most divisive phrase in all of history. What one believes about this phrase has the potential to affect their lives today and for ages to come. One phrase. This one phrase turned the most powerful empire of all time completely upside down. This one phrase divided a nation with an existence that traced its roots to the beginning of time. One phrase.
Words, phrases, ideas can affect how we observe life. They can inspire us to take action, or they can cause us retreat. Words can hold great power but only when there is something to back up the words. This one phrase “He is Risen!” is three simple words. These three words changed the course of history, not only for a small nearly insignificant costal province on the frontier of the Roman Empire, but it changed the course of history for every nation, race, and person that has ever encountered them. Because behind these three words hold within them the most dreadful or most inspiring truth. What one does with these three words changes everything. They can insight anger, inspire hope, cause confusion, or understanding. Three little words that cause us all to have to come up with an answer to the question, what happened to Jesus?
On the day we now call Good Friday Jesus was hung on a tree. He was put there because what he said threatened to disrupt the balance of power. For the religious leaders his words caused people to turn away from their teachings so they were losing their prestige and influence over others. They were losing the wealth people provided them through offerings and fees, their very livelihoods and status in the community were threatened. For the Romans, Jesus was a nuisance that threatened peace because many that followed him wanted to start a war for independence. This threatened the governor who was already under scrutiny by the Emperor not only because this province on the far eastern boarder of the empire was rebellious but also because this governor was recommended to the post by a person that was found to be a treasonous traitor. This governor did not want trouble, he wanted order and to keep order he would use whatever means necessary, even death. Even if he knew that the one condemned to die was an innocent man.
On the second day, all of Israel worshiped God as they celebrated their festival. But there were some that were not in a celebratory mood. The darkest day for mankind is Holy Saturday, the day that the hopeful king lay in a tomb. Darkness falls on the earth. The light of God dims and the revelation to man is snuffed out and sealed behind a rock. All hope is lost. They once cheered Jesus as their king yet quickly that celebration turned completely around, and now the king is buried. The religious leaders go on with their rituals; the roman leaders feast over a rebellion thwarted, and the followers of Jesus lock themselves behind closed doors.
This is where we find Mary on the third day; it is not a day of celebration for her. In her mind all is lost. The only thing left is to perform the customary ritual and seal her hope and salvation away. Not that long before she had seen this man walk up to the tomb of her brother and call him back from Abraham’s bosom into the light, yet this man who could heal the blind, cause the lame to walk, this man that could feed the multitude, and raised the dead is now laying on a rock slab wrapped in linen. The dreams of a king and a kingdom wrapped with him. It is truly a dark day.
She approaches the tomb; she approaches to mourn the loss of a dear friend. She approaches to say the customary prayers and rituals, but something is wrong. The stone that sealed the opening was moved. She stops knowing that this is not right and her day got even darker. Someone had opened the tomb. This is a very distressing thing that we often gloss over. The Hebrew culture does not take the desecration of graves lightly. I remember a few years in Wichita, a group of vandals enter the cemetery where the local Jewish population buried their loved ones and began to vandalize the grave markers. The resting place of their loved ones was disturbed and as a result the people of the community re-mourned the passing of each individual. They opened the graves and buried the vandalized stones, and place new markers. They again performed the funeral services for every disturbed grave. To disrupt the dead is painful for the community. There are customs to be upheld even if the person that has passed beyond the veil is seen as a criminal. Something was wrong the body was disturbed. So she runs to find the others.
Imagine the distress of Mary, of Peter, and the other disciple (the one Jesus loved). What could have possibly happened? Who would have been so disrespectful to disturb the body of their friend, a friend that was executed in a way contrary to their laws? They ran to the tomb, they ran as if their very life depended on getting to it as soon as possible. And they find a mystery. The body is gone but the grave clothes were still there.
This is a mystery because the grave clothes are not exactly easy to remove. When Jesus called out to Lazarus, Mary’s brother, who was dead and buried for four days he was bound hand and foot in the grave clothes. These were strips of cloth soaked in myrrh, aloes, and spices. They were tightly wrapped and stitched up so that the body could be contained for a later ceremony when the bones were moved into bone boxes.
There is another oddity the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head was not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. This cloth was Jesus’ Tallit or his prayer shawl. This is a very important piece of cloth; its literal meaning is little tent, it represents the idea that all of Israel cannot enter into the tent of meeting so they each enter their own little tent as they near the tent to worship. It is used to cover their heads when they pray, which forms the prayer closet that Jesus referred too in his teachings. Under this little tent a couple is united in marriage. This Tallit is placed over the body when it is buried because it is where the man’s connection to God happens. This Tallit was placed away from the burial clothes and carefully put to one side.
If you saw this what would be going through your mind? The clothes were empty but undisturbed the stitching still intact. The prayer shawl, Jesus’ prayer shawl, which they had seen every day for the past three years, was carefully and respectfully folded as if used and then laid down. John saw this mystery and believed but what was it that he believed?
He is risen? What would it take for you to believe? The disciples though they heard what Jesus had taught did not fully grasp the meaning of what was happening. It was a mystery. Why was the shawl laying separate? Why was it not taken with the body, if the body was taken? Who would take the body and why would they want to? Nothing made since. Mary stood outside the tomb weeping because in desperation and sorrow that is really the only thing a person can do well. She bent down and looked inside the tomb, and she saw something amazing. She saw two angels and they asked, “Why do you weep?” Imagine that. She just saw the two disciples enter and leave and no one else yet here are two beings just standing there. She told them her sorrows and then she turned away only to see a man standing behind her. He too asks, “Why do you weep?” Mary again tells the same story, explaining why she is so full of sorrow. She had lost everything; her entire life was devoted to Jesus now she cannot even visit the body. She turns away again and Jesus looks at her and calls to her by name. “Mary!”
He is Risen! What would it take for you to believe? What would that belief cause to happen if you truly lived as if you believed? It took one word for Mary. It took one little tent for John. What would it cause in your life if you truly believed? For Mary in a split second her tears of sorrow were dried up as she screams in sheer joy “Rabbouni!” In a moment John knew that, the relationship between God and man had changed. The tent of meeting, the prayer closet, or the shawl that was representative of the place where God could meet with mankind was laid aside and God was with us.
He is Risen! In a moment the darkness of Saturday has passed into light. Hope has been restored into something beyond our wildest dreams. The bonds of death cannot hold him. And God is with us! What will it take for you to believe in your own life?
For me it took a baby in my arms. That belief continued when I was lead to go to Ukraine. I did not have enough money to go on my own yet in a couple short months I was on a plane heading over the ocean. That belief continued to grow when a guy who stuttered when nervous and would rarely speak in private let alone in public lead classes of a hundred students and spoke freely. It continued to grow as God gave words to speak and began to call me to teach and preach. That belief brought me here to Kansas City and I am seeing that power of the Risen Christ working all around me. Have I experienced a miracle? I do not know, but what I do know is that the love of God took a guy heading into a life of hopelessness and gave him something greater. It began and it grew, it has empowered and it has shown me things I never thought I would see. What would it take for you?
He is Risen! Death could not hold Him in its clothes and the tent could not contain his glory. He came bursting out of tomb moving that stone of separation and he spoke to the sorrowful woman that lost her greatest friend. He inspired the disciple to experience God in a brand new way. He called a sinful, shy, stuttering man to preach His gospel. What will it take for you to seek Him as not only a teacher but also a friend, not only as a far off story of ages past but a current reality?
Jesus took on our humanity in every form: He lived a complete life for us and with us as He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, He grew up experiencing childhood and adolescence, He had a career and he left that career to minister. He lived a life of prayer, worship, and ministry as He withdrew to solitary places, made it His custom to meet at the synagogues, and healed many diseases. He sat down and spoke with the Samaritan women who lived a life of divorce and cohabitation, He did not condemn the one caught in adultery, and He touched the leapers and made them clean. He got angry over injustice and He wept for His friends and his nation. He gave His life for us because we would rather justify our own actions instead of truly living for with God, and He lay in that tomb that place removed from all life and love, dead. But death could not keep Him bound.
He knows our sorrow, our pain, our temptations, and He overcame them for us and through His life, death, burial and resurrection He offers us a new life and restored hope. He is risen! What will it take for us to believe? And what will happen if we lived as if we really believed that He is risen indeed?