April 17 Sermon Resource


Main Text: John 20:1-18

Accompanying Text: Psalm 118:21-29


Paul underlined the primary importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (ESV).

“What would you do if you had conquered death, had entered into a new physicality that was so self-organising that it was no longer subject to decay, and you could move freely through time and space?  March on Rome?  Deal with the evil empire? Expose the wicked corruption of the wealthy who have become rich by exploiting the poor?

Jesus does none of those things. He leaves them for others to work on. Jesus goes for a personal meeting with a close friend.  Everything else can wait for now.  You can read it in 20:10-18.  Jesus is real, tangible and embodied.  He speaks. He listens…However, he is not immediately recognisable – mostly because Mary is not looking for a living Jesus but for a dead body.  We do tend to only see what we are looking for…Mary is not expecting the resurrection.  She is a good Jewish girl.  Resurrection comes at the end.  She has come to anoint the body of Jesus in death and to cry the deep, painful sobs of the bereaved.  The absence of the body, the presence of angels and even of Jesus himself cannot dislodge her from this view.  She fits everything she sees into a single narrative.  Someone has taken the body.

Until Jesus speaks her name.” [1]

“The drama of the moment is captured by key sounds.  As Jesus died there was tearing in the temple as the wall of curtain that separated people from God was ripped open.  When Jesus rose again there the sound of cracking as the seal on the grave broke open and the stone-cold reign of death was rolled away.  Whole new possibilities now appear with the old order of things cannot contain.  A real human being, Jesus of Nazareth, is enjoying eternal life on the other side of death.

…The first person to encounter the risen Jesus was Mary Magdalene.  This is significant because in the ancient world she would have been considered an unreliable witness.  Even a respectable woman was not permitted to give testimony in a court of law.  But Mary had a chequered history.  We don’t know all the detail but Jesus had cast seven demons out of her (Mark 16:9).  If you were making this whole resurrection thing up, Mary Magdalene would be the last wetness you could call.  So perhaps it actually happened this way?  When Mary saw Jesus, she initially mistook him for the gardener.  But then he spoke her name and the darkness lifted.  That’s the thing about the resurrection: because Jesus is alive, he calls us by name and has the power to set us free.” [2]

“We wonder why Pilate didn’t simply send for Joseph of Arimathea to get him to account for these rumors.  Perhaps he did and this is the reason by Joseph disappears from the Gospel accounts.  Various strange and outlandish theories have been put forward to try and explain away the empty tomb, but they are all based on nonsense.  One theory has it that Jesus was drugged, revived, and secretly smuggled out of the tomb, and that subsequently he led a revolt against the Romans and ultimately perished fighting.  Another amusing theory is that Jesus put himself into a death-like trance, was revived, got married and sired children in the Galilee before trekking off to India.  Archaeology and history cannot prove or disprove the possibility that Jesus’s body was smuggled out by persons unknown, but this is a matter of speculation.  The reality is that there is no historical explanation for the empty tomb, other than if we adopt a theological one, i.e., the resurrection’. [3]

Thoughts re application today

“The resurrection remains controversial today, even among Christians.  This is partly because, in my experience at both the scholarly and the popular level, many Christians today use the word “resurrection” very loosely, to mean something that it did not mean in the first century.  It is often used today simply as a somewhat exalted way of talking about “going to heaven when you die.”  Many books about the resurrection end up being all about the glorious future that awaits immediately beyond the grave, rather than the ultimate future and resurrection itself.  Additionally, I have observed that many Easter sermons go at once from the fact of Jesus’ resurrection to the fact of the Christian hope, seen not in terms of bodily resurrection but in terms of a glorious life after death in some disembodied heaven”. [4]

“The proposal that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead possesses unrivalled power to explain the historical data at the heart of early Christianity.  The obvious fact that this remains hugely challenging at worldview levels – challenging personally, socially, culturally, and politically ought not to put us off from taking the question very seriously.

Finally, on a wider note, I have become convinced that the climate of skepticism, which has for the last two hundred years made it unfashionable and even embarrassing to suggest that Jesus’ resurrection really happened, was never and is not now itself a neutral position sociologically or politically” [5]

“The growth of Christianity is the final piece of evidence for the resurrection.  After all there were several other failed messiahs at the time of Jesus.  Judas of Galilee, for example, was a self-proclaimed messiah who gathered followers before being executed by the Romans, c. AD 6.  His movement died with him and I don’t think anyone is worshipping Judas of Galilee today.  On that basis, Christianity was dead and buried when Jesus of Nazareth lay stone cold in a sealed tomb, c. AD 30.  The magnet had been switched off and his ex-disciples were scattering in defeat.  So how do we explain the way Christianity exploded in the first century to. Become a global phenomenon with 2.4 billion followers today?  The only satisfactory explanation is that the magnet was turned back on again.  As biblical scholar N. T. Wright concludes: ‘I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him.’” [6]

“In the risen Christ we glimpse God’s purpose for us, the end and goal of our humanity, and as such the meaning of our existence. In the presence of this risen Christ, in whom we see our new humanity, we shed our old humanity, the old life of despair, sin and death.” [7]


Some other Scripture Resources

  • Matthew 28:1-15
  • Mark 16:1-8
  • Luke 24:1-12
  • Romans 6:1-10
  • 1 Peter 1:1-3

Other GCI resources

Footnotes and references

  1. Ian Galloway, Called to be Friends: Unlocking the Heart of John’s Gospel published by Hodder & Stroughton, UK, 2021:304.
  2. Andrew Ollerton, The Bible: A Story that makes Sense of Life, Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 2020, 2021:215-217.
  3. Shimon Gibson, The Final Days of Jesus: the Archaeological Evidence, published by HarperOne, UK, in 2009:165.
  4. Craig A. Evans and Tom Wright, Jesus, the Final Days, published by SPCK, UK, in 2008:75.
  5. Ibid:105.
  6. Andrew Ollerton, The Bible: A Story that makes Sense of Life, Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 2020, 2021:218-219.
  7. Michael Jinkins, Invitation to Theology, IVP, USA, 2001:251.
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