It’s Resurrection Sunday! Easter morning! The tomb is empty! The stone has been rolled away! Death has been conquered! Satan has been defeated! The presence, power and penalty of Sin have been eradicated!
Jesus has risen! He has risen indeed! We have much to celebrate today if we have trusted in Christ as our Savior. We are going to be in John chapters 11 and 20 today. Let’s begin in chapter 11:
1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
In these opening verses we learn that Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s brother, has become deathly ill. Make no mistake, Jesus is not mistaken when he says that this illness doesn’t lead to death but is instead meant for the glory of God. When he says that this illness doesn’t lead to death he means that it doesn’t lead to eternal death. Physical death is scary for most of us but what is even scarier is an eternal kind of death that results in eternal separation from God. The thing that all of us need to hear is that our souls are eternally safe.
It’s the same word that Mary essentially heard from Jesus earlier after she came to him as a sinful woman and anointed his feet with perfume, kissed them and dried them with her hair. Regardless of where you come from or what deep dark sin has you buried in the grave, Jesus has the power to transform your life for all of eternity. We need to hear this word of eternal assurance from Jesus and we can hear this word if we’ve trusted in Christ as our Savior. Can you hear these words of assurance today? I pray you can. Look at verses 5 – 16 with me…
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him. 16 So Thomas, called the twin said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
It’s interesting to me that John tells us that because Jesus loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus that he actually stayed two days longer. He delayed the instant gratification of running right over to his friends’ house to heal Lazarus because of his love for his friends. Waiting for Jesus to show up isn’t a sign of his displeasure or inability to do a miracle or to hear our prayers; it’s actually a sign of his deep love for us as he teaches us to trust him in the unknown.
Now his disciples can’t believe that Jesus would go back to the town where the Jews had tried to stone him but Jesus reminds them that his work needs to be done while it’s still daytime. And in these verses Jesus makes it clear that although Lazarus has died, he has designed this period of waiting for the good of his followers so that they might believe.
It’s no surprise here that Thomas is so sour. Thomas has a history of struggling to believe. I can empathize with Thomas because I struggle to believe too. Especially when it seems like my circumstances are as final as something like death; especially when the waiting seems to drag on and on and on. Look at verses 17 – 27 with me…
17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
This portion of the text is fascinating because in it we catch a glimpse of what it means to believe in Jesus. We don’t believe in Jesus to make our lives here on this earth better than they were before. We trust in Jesus because he is the essence of the resurrection unto eternal life. Sometimes, we like Martha, think that if Jesus would have just shown up earlier, then our present circumstances would be relieved.
But the reality here is that Jesus is much more concerned with eternity. Do you believe that Jesus holds the power over Satan, Sin and Death? That’s the question that continues its drumbeat all throughout this gospel. Do you believe in the Jesus who holds the keys to eternity? Martha says she does believe.
28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
There’s always a skeptic in the room. And honestly, I can be really skeptical too. I get a rebate offer in the mail and I immediately begin to wonder what’s in the fine print. Someone promises to be there when I need them the most and I wonder if they’ll really be there when the going gets tough.
Skepticism isn’t always a bad thing. In this case the Jews are skeptical because they wonder why Jesus didn’t just stop the momentary suffering and keep Lazarus from dying.
But here’s the thing, Jesus wasn’t behaving in some callused and emotionally disconnected way. He was deeply moved by his grief over Lazarus’ death and his sisters’ pain.
This is really helpful to know that Jesus isn’t a far off god who doesn’t intimately feel our pain and our fear. Look at verses 38 – 44 with me…
38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Catch the flow of these verses with me. Jesus is emotionally moved by what has happened. His friend has died. His friend’s body is in a tomb with a large stone in front of it. There’s the nasty stench of death inside that grave. Jesus asks the people to remove the stone. He reminds Martha that she has made a statement of faith. She has already said that she trusts that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
So Jesus prays and asks his father to answer his prayer and then he cries out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus wakes up from his death sleep and comes out of the grave and Jesus tells everyone around him to release Lazarus from the bonds of his grave clothes. There is therefore now no condemnation (no imprisonment) for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).
Scholars throughout the years have connected this story to what happens the moment that Jesus saves us and we believe in him. Jesus finds us rotting and stinking in the graves of our sin. He calls out to us as his Spirit gives us a brand new beating heart. Our new hearts respond in faith and we walk out of our graves and the Body of Christ (empowered by the same Spirit) helps us to loosen the shackles of our old grave clothing.
Pause here for a moment and let this story bring new meaning to Ephesians 2:1 – 10
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
If you have believed in Jesus today then you and I are just like Lazarus; we once were dead because of the deadly sin-virus; we were rotting in the grave of our sin; unable to do anything to bring life back to our dead hearts.
But God in his rich mercy, love and grace called out to us; he gave us brand new hearts before we could even respond to his voice (so that we have no reason to boast). And then we ran out of that grave and we’ve been following him ever since!
Is this you today? Do you believe today? Can you look back and see your empty grave? Have you believed upon the name of Jesus for salvation, forgiveness and eternal life? With those questions in your mind, turn your attention to chapter 20 and follow along with me…
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. 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.” 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. 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. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.
How cool is it that the same “Mary” who finds Jesus’ grave empty was also the same “Mary” who witnessed her brother Lazarus walking out of his grave?
Jesus specializes in empty graves! And it’s precisely the proof of empty graves that help us to believe. Like Peter and John in this text and like Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, it’s the proof of empty graves that remind us of the assurance and the hope that we have in Christ Jesus.
It’s in the proof of resurrection that we encounter Jesus; just like Mary in the following verses.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look inside the tomb. 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.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” 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.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 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.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” – and that he had said these things to her.
I am absolutely convinced that what we need the most (whether we’ve walked with Jesus for years like the disciples or have just begun to walk with Jesus); what we need the most is an encounter with the risen Jesus. The Jesus who is alive; the Jesus who has defeated Death, destroyed the power, presence and penalty of sin, and claimed victory over Satan.
We need an encounter with this Jesus when we are facing the pain and agony and suffering of this life. This is where Mary is. She’s weeping because she believes that Jesus’ body has been stolen.
But things are not as they seem. Jesus meets her in her pain and her loneliness and her fear and she becomes the first person to testify to the resurrection power of the Lord.
Where do you need the Lord to encounter you today? What do you believe has more power than Christ today? What causes you to shrivel back in fear? Look at verses 19 – 23…
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. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 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.”
The reality of this text is that Jesus brings absolute supernatural peace to our momentary fears. Because of his work at the cross and the empty grave we have peace with our Father in Heaven which means that we are now sent with the message of peace and forgiveness.
Sin holds no power over those who have trusted in Christ. Satan can’t touch those who have trusted in Christ. The grave holds no threat for those who have trusted in Christ. This is real peace.
What more does the world around us need? We’ve spent so long having our hearts shaped by false messages of peace: get this truck and you’ll have peace, get this job and you’ll have peace, get this new spouse and you’ll have peace, etc., etc.
But the reality is that eternal peace with Jesus is what we all long for deep down inside. But it’s hard to believe isn’t it? Enter Thomas the cynic again in verses 24 – 25…
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.”
Once again, I really empathize with Thomas. He wanted proof. To Thomas, seeing is believing. He wants rock solid proof that Jesus is alive. Who can blame him?
We live in a world that doesn’t come through on its promises. We need something we can actually trust. And it’s not that Jesus has a problem with this, Jesus is just fine with proving his power to anyone who truly wants to know the truth.
The question that we must think about is this: Is seeing believing or is believing seeing? Look at verses 26 – 29 with me…
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.” 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!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Eight days later! Once again, Jesus isn’t interested with immediate gratification. Jesus has no problem letting us wait it out for a bit if we are struggling to believe. In my mind I want folks to believe right now. But Jesus has his timing and it’s much better than mine.
Maybe Thomas’ cynicism needed to be whittled down with all the buzz going around about Jesus’ empty grave so that he would be even more humbled when Jesus showed up in power and glory.
It’s true that everyone who believes without seeing is blessed but the bottom line is that Thomas believed. Have you believed? Have you witnessed the power of Jesus in your life? Has he been there all along and you’ve just been looking in the wrong places?
My prayer today, is that Jesus would show up and prove himself to you and that you would encounter the risen Christ because when you encounter the risen Christ you have no other choice than to believe.
This is the essence of John’s entire gospel. The final verses of our text have been identified by most scholars as the central text of John’s gospel. Look at verses 30 – 31 with me…
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.
If you have believed in Christ today then you have trusted in the One who holds the keys to eternity. You and I can celebrate together according to Romans 6:5 – 11 because…
If we are “united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
The two stories we’ve looked at today teach us that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
The stones have been rolled away!
Death has been conquered!
Satan has been defeated!
The presence, power and penalty of Sin have been eradicated!
Jesus has risen! He has risen indeed!
And the graves are empty! – Amen!