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Sunday 21 April 2019: Easter Day

What Do You See?

John 20:1-18


By Darren Blaney

Pastor at Herne Bay Baptist Church

and Stephen Brockett

One of the preaching team at Beacon Church, Herne Bay, a house church within the Relational Mission network


Context: a mainly middle class, evangelical Baptist Church, in a sea-side town in Kent, with 75 members and a reasonable spread of ages, although more in the 60+ range (in keeping with the area)

Aim: to challenge the hearers present about what they ‘see’ when they think about the Empty Tomb on Easter morning. Hence an evangelistic message, albeit gentle.


[It would be useful to display a drawing or painting of the Empty Tomb in the background whilst the message is preached.]


What do you see in your mind’s eye when you think back to that first Easter morning? What do you see when you think of the Empty Tomb?


The Darkness of Good Friday lingers …

The passage this morning is all about seeing. What people saw, and what they didn’t see. Indeed, in these 18 verses there are no fewer than 14 words that directly or indirectly refer to looking at or seeing. As we listen to this retelling of the events of that morning, John wants us to think about what we see. He wants to know what you see.

We are told in verse 1 that it was still dark. In part that’s a reference to the fact that Mary set off before dawn. But for John it’s probably also a reference back to John 13:30, where we are told that as soon as Judas left to betray Jesus ‘it was dark’. We are still in the darkness of those events, of betrayal, and false trial, or crucifixion and death. And darkness doesn’t make seeing easy.


Their journeys and our journeys

First, Mary came, and she saw the empty tomb (v1). But she didn’t really ‘see’, she didn’t see and understand. She assumed that someone had moved the body (v2). Mary is like those for whom there must be an alternative explanation. There are many people like that today. They are devoted people, good people. Yet there is no resurrection hope in their lives, no resurrection power to transform them. The tomb is empty, yes, but someone must have moved the body. After all, Jesus is dead. We all know that, don’t we? Is that what you see?

Then there is Peter. We are told about him racing with John to the tomb (v3-4), a little detail that adds to the authenticity of the account. When he reaches the tomb he goes inside, and he sees the evidence (v6-7). What an odd sight it is – no grave robber bothers to remove the grave clothes and fold them up neatly. Who has ever heard of burglars that tidy-up after themselves! And besides, the description reads as if the body has magically moved through the clothes, leaving them undisturbed like a shell. Peter sees, but he doesn’t understand. He knows something has happened. But he doesn’t know what. Peter is like those of us that believe something happened, but we don’t know what. Is that, perhaps, just like you this morning, when you look?

Then John, whom I believe to be that ‘other disciple, the beloved disciple’ of v2, enters the tomb. And we are told (v8) that he saw and he believed. He saw the empty tomb, the linen clothes apparently undisturbed with no body inside them, he saw the head cloth folded-up separately, and he believed that Jesus had risen from the dead.

That is what John wants for us to see, for you to see. That is why he includes every vivid detail that he remembers – the race with Peter, hanging back at the entrance before entering, the details about the grave clothes – he wants you to see what he saw that first Easter morning and he wants you to believe what he believed. Jesus had risen from the dead.

As an aside, what of that curious verse 9 – they didn’t understand the Scripture? John is saying in effect, ‘it was a surprise to us, his rising from the dead. We weren’t expecting it. We thought it was all over. But if we had only known our Bible better we would have realised this had to happen. It was God’s plan all along.’ Do you realise that? That Jesus’ death and resurrection were planned and predicted by God hundreds if not thousands of years earlier in the Old Testament?


Finally seeing through the Darkness

Lastly, our reading reaches its climax in v11-18, when Jesus Himself appears. To begin with, Mary is still complaining that someone has moved the body (v13). Then she sees Jesus but doesn’t see (v15), thinking Jesus to be the gardener. You have to admire the honesty with which the disciples tell of their own ignorance and mistakes! Then Jesus calls her by name (v16), and she recognises Him. She returns to the disciples with the news ‘I have seen the Lord!’ (v18). Indeed, she had seen him, heard him, spoken with him, even held him. Her journey started in darkness, expecting to anoint a dead body. Her journey ends in the bright light of resurrection, as she meets a risen Lord. And that is the journey that John wants you to make this morning too. As you look at the tomb John wants you to move from darkness to light, from despair to hope, from looking for a corpse to meeting your living Lord.

What do you see?

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