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John

Words of Christ

John 20

All my life I have been accustomed to seeing the words of Christ in red letters. It’s as if he couldn’t speak without scarlet ink. There is a reason for this. The words of Christ transcend all other words. It is our privilege to examine those words in this lesson.

1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

10Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

17Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

19On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

26A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

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

Words to the doubter

It may seem out of order, but let’s take care of Thomas first.

Reasonable man

Thomas is like most people – he’s a reasonable man who believes in what he can see, feel and touch; the rest take a little more proof. So when he hears this story, what is his reaction?

  • Likely enough, his reaction to the women is to dismiss them entirely. Women were kept apart in this society, and I suspect Thomas took the typical view that they were just too flighty to be regarded as serious evidence.
  • With his fellow apostles matters were different. Here are men with whom he has worked ceaselessly for three years. The tale they tell seems incredible – but they had the evidence of the empty tomb. Thomas wants the same kind of evidence.

Thomas, in short, accuses his fellows of wishful thinking. Today, wishful thinking belongs to those who are sure the resurrection did not happen – because it’s scientifically impossible (which is true.) From the testimony of men like Thomas our faith grew.

“Put your hand…”

It is a serious fact: among the great religions of the world today, only Christianity invites you to examine the facts of its founding. It is no accident that Christianity is strongest in Western civilization, with its emphasis on science and technology. Why? Because Western civilization, until recently, held to the model that there could be only one truth. There was no concept of “As long as you’re sincere, that makes it true for you.” As we have thrown away the God on whom we built this civilization, it is no wonder that we turn to the mystic reality shaped by our own opinion.

Christianity, moreover, is the only religion that invites you to examine its results. The Christ who heals the broken heart, mends the tortured soul is still with us. His effects can be observed – unless, of course, you like wishful thinking.

Because you see, you believe

Thomas is a jewel of a man. He goes from being the skeptic to the highest proclamation of faith: “My Lord and My God.” We should note that greater faith produces greater blessing. When Thomas walked in, he doubted. When he saw, he came completely to the top. It is just this sort of examination of the evidence that produced the men who changed the world.

Words of Comfort

We turn to the words used to comfort.

“Woman, why are you crying?”

It is a remarkable fact that Mary evidently never puts the dots together and notices these two guys as angels. So her conversation doesn’t really make a lot of sense. She bends over to look inside the tomb, and sees two men (to her) sitting at either end of the place where Jesus was laid. This, somehow, is just one more remarkably unremarked fact of the morning. She tells us what’s in her mind in two statements:

  1. “They” have taken him (Jesus’ body). “They” means the priests and Romans who set a guard over the grave; the ones who appear to have all the power. That Christ might be the stronger has not crossed her mind.
  2. “I don’t know” what they’ve done with him. It’s not like they should have moved the body; she’s puzzled.
Speaking to Jesus

There is one consistent theme to Mary. She simply is not going to believe in the resurrection. It’s not even a question of faith and doubt to her. She was there at the Crucifixion; she saw him die.

So when she turns around with tears in her eyes and confusion in her heart, she thinks the man behind her must be the groundskeeper. This man would be in a good position to know where they put him.

Notice that Jesus asks her two questions: the first is the same one the angels asked. But the second is more specific: “who are you looking for?” The former is simply inquiring into her feelings; the latter is an offer of help. We would do to remember this at the next funeral. Mary now turns toward this offer of help – it is the human thing to do.

“Mary”

In that one word is wrapped up so much love and care. In that word, the blurred figure of the gardener says that he knows her and loves her. Evidently her ears now heard what her eyes could not see through her tears. It is great comfort to know that our Lord knows us by name – and knowing all about us, he still loves us. The Cross changes everything.

Words of Change

If you are like most Christians, you cherish the times of “mountain top” experience. There is a thrill at being so close to Christ. One of the difficulties on the mountain top is that we live in the valley below. So it is here with Mary. In one golden moment she has seen the risen Lord – and she is not going to let go of him. You can almost picture Jesus gently prying her loose. To relieve her fear of letting go, he tells her that he has not yet ascended – which, of course, means that he soon will. But not yet, Mary, not yet.

Go and tell

Everything changes because of the Cross and the Resurrection. See how Jesus sends this woman:

  • She is to go to his brothers. What a change in our relationship to God! Before the Cross we needed the system of sacrifices and priests; now we are the priests, like all believers. What a change, also, in our relationship to each other – we are now all brothers and sisters, part of the family of God.
  • She is to tell them that he is returning to his Father. Mission accomplished, he is returning. That very obviously implies that he came from heaven, a fact which is revealed in his Ascension. It also implies that they have only a little while before he does, forty days, to be specific. During those days, Christ will heal the divisions, soothe the hurts and restore the position of his followers, preparing them for the Great Commission.
My Father and Your Father, My God and Your God

The phrasing hearkens back to the Old Testament, where Ruth told Naomi that she would not go back, but would continue with her, saying “your gods shall be my gods.” It is a moment which is touching in its pathos; it is a moment rewarded by God.

The same feeling is ours; Jesus returned to God – the same God that I worship. He and I are brothers; I am the joint heir of the kingdom with Jesus Christ.

Words of Mission

“Peace be with you”

Considering the lives of the Apostles, this seems somewhat out of place. If there is any one thing their lives didn’t have from the world’s point of view, it’s peace. So of course this means the peace with God and in God that we have even though the hurricane swirls around us. Why such peace? So that we might be one body, the church.

This peace affects us in many ways. Not the least is in the weapons we choose in life. To accept the peace of God you must use his weapons of spiritual warfare – the love, joy and peace of God being among same. We are sent out – but we are sent in God’s way, not in man’s.

“As the Father has sent me…”

There is something thrilling about this; as God the Father sent Jesus out to seek and save the lost, so are we sent to seek and save the lost. We share the same mission with him.

  • If we share the same mission, we must use the same weapons. Christianity is not a religion of conquest, but of triumph.
  • If we share the same mission, we share the same spirit – the Holy Spirit. Here, well before Pentecost, the Spirit is given to the disciples.
“If you forgive…”

This passage has been exploited over the years. It has a simple meaning. We have the same mission as Christ; we are to use the same weapons that Christ used – and one of those weapons is the powerful one of forgiveness. We are given the same authority that Christ has! By the Holy Spirit in us we can bring forgiveness to those who have offended us. If we do, then such a person is forgiven both on earth and in heaven.

But there is more: we, as the church, are given the responsibility (and therefore the authority) to forgive as Christ did. We are privileged to send someone out forgiven, and forgiven completely, by God. It is no light thing. What he’s telling us is simply this: God is willing to forgive those who are willing to repent. He needs hands, feet and voice to bring this message to the world. He uses ours.

There is an awestruck attitude when a Christian teaches the Resurrection. Such a teacher is holding in his hands that which is far too high and holy for him. Were it not for the command of our Lord, those who understood this best would talk of it least. But our Lord does command it, and therefore we should be bold to do it.

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