SESSION TWENTY-SIX: THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS (JOHN 20)
TAKEAWAY: What is your greatest takeaway from this story? What specific life changes do you need to make? How will you hold yourself accountable?
DOWNLOAD: JOHN 20 HANDOUT
COMMENTARY: THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS (JOHN 20)
We live in a dark and dying world.
Its why evolutionary theory makes no sense. It violates what we truly see. The world isn’t getting better. It’s actually slowing down. It’s degrading. It’s devolving. It’s why man’s “wokeness”—politically, culturally, spiritually—is just a candle in the cave. Professing to be wise, we become as fools. We think we’re so smart but in reality we’re blundering ignoramuses.
Compare what today’s student learns in school to a child in 1950 or 1900 or 1800 and you’ll see how ignorant we are. Our technology might be “smart” but we aren’t. We might have Google, Siri and Alexa to supply us every answer but we still act rather stupid. We say and do dumb stuff. We aren’t “woke” at all. In fact, most of the culture, not to mention many churches today, is fast asleep.
The first century world was also dead asleep that Sunday morning 2000 years ago. The darkness of ignorance hung like a steel vapor over the hearts of mankind. Lies were spun to crucify an innocent man. The learned religious elite arrogantly snoozed in their religion. It was the Passover festival, a longstanding memorial to the death angel passing over the Jews in ancient Egypt. They recalled forefathers who swabbed their doors with lamb’s blood. If you were a Jew, you were religiously acceptable.
But a new reality was dawning in the eastern skies. That dead Galilean rabbi was missing. His grave was empty. And for a few moments, it looked like everything had gone from bad to worse. And yet, like springtime thaw, a new season for man was sprouting. A season of LIGHT and LIFE.
It’s an amazing, fabulous story. The heart of the Christian gospel. The resurrection of Jesus is what gives us all hope. But to truly understand John 20 we must return to Genesis. Because our story begins in an entirely different Garden: an ancient utopia named Eden. This primordial paradise harbored a perfect space for God and man to dwell together in peace, love and joy. It was beautiful and bountiful.
It doesn’t take long for Adam and Eve to muck things up, to disobey God, to fall from grace and descend into chaos, evil and death.
In our story we sit on the back end. We live in the Hell of human existence. For us, life is a different garden named Gethsemane (which literally means “oil press”). For us, we are hard-pressed in the bloody shadow of a Friday cross.
What does this story in John tell us? Remember Jesus came to tell us the TRUTH. His Purpose was to proclaim REALITY. Why should we pay attention? There are three reasons:
THE BATTLE IS REAL
God has dealt with the devil before time began. According to Ezekiel 28, Satan was “the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” He was a “guardian cherub” who served “on the holy mount of God.” Initially, the devil was “blameless” until his pride cost him his Divine position. He was cast out of heaven for his own original sin.
In Genesis 3, this fallen archangel targeted Adam and Eve. They are God’s greatest creation, and they are beautiful, perfect, sinless people. In the form of a serpent, Satan slithers near Eave and smugly says: “Did God really say, “must not eat from any tree in the garden?”
Satan pitches a curve ball that attacked GOD’S AUTHORITY and HISTORY. It’s all about creating DOUBT. In fact, every lie is just revisionist history. Did God really say that? I didn’t eat the apple, really I didn’t! We try to revise the past through creating doubt. We lie to others. We lie to ourselves.
C.S. Lewis understood this spiritual battle. He wrote “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”
In other words we either are agnostic or fanatical when it comes to the tricks and treats of Satan. We either ignore or we worship. Have you ever wondered why Halloween and Christmas are America’s too most prominent holidays? In one we celebrate magic, darkness, death and fear. In the other we can, if we’re not careful, focus on Santa, trees, gifts, elves on the shelves, Rudolf, Frosty and the Grinch. We often miss in this resurrection story how Satan was there too. He was at the cross of Christ. He hissed in the garden as Mary wept. He coiled around the broken heart of Peter and the doubting mind of Thomas.
Without a doubt the devil is working among us today. Sometimes its in the coldness of our worship, he slithers. Sometimes in the hardness of our heart, he hisses. Sometimes he coils in our treatment of another believer.
But make no mistake. This battle is real. We need the LIGHT and LIFE in order to see our adversary and heal our wounds.
THE PAIN IS DEEP
Our spiritual battle creates plenty of casualties. Like a python, sin slowly crushes us. But there’s a million ways to die. Humanity is all headed toward a slow death.
For Adam and Eve, their sin produced a guilt and shame. They learned quickly there was no appeasing God. They couldn’t undo what they did. One bite and they lost their perfection and forfeited their paradise.
Maybe you’ve been there. Just one swallow. Just one look. Just one night. Just one taste. Just one listen. Just one time. But the “just ones” soon become “just a little more”...and too many “little mores” add up. Before long, you’re hooked. You’re lost. You’re stuck. You’re bankrupt.
That’s where, in our story, a former diseased demoniac named Mary Magdalene found herself. She was wrecked by the loss of Jesus. In a matter of week, everything went south and now he’s dead. Mary can’t take it. And when she sees that empty tomb, her first thought isn’t a glorious miracle but a terrible theft. Somebody stole the body. Ever been there? Someone close to you dies and a person you loved is gone. Now you’d give the world for one more hour or day to spend with your loved one.
In our story, Peter wishes he could turn back time too. His pain is different from Mary’s though. He let his pride get in the way...again. Two days ago he boldly vowed to die for Jesus but in the heat of moment he denied he even knew Christ at all. Now Peter is wracked with guilt and shame. Have you ever been there? Feeling so close to Jesus, sensing deep spiritual peace, joy, hope. And then something happens. Or somebody happens. And you act like you’re not even a Christian. You even go as far to deny your faith.
I could go on. We haven’t mentioned the doubting disbelief of Thomas or the shock of fearful disciples holed up in a house. When the pain is deep we all react differently. Some escape. Some worry. Some fear our next breath. Some contemplate suicide like Judas Iscariot.
We need LIGHT and LIFE because the pain is so very deep.
THE CONSEQUENCE IS ETERNAL
When Adam and Eve sinned, their solution was a fig leaf. It was a human answer to their shame. It was the first attempt by man to fix an eternal problem with a temporary solution. Unfortunately, a single fig leaf wasn’t big enough to cover the hole in their hearts. In Genesis 3:7 it says Adam and Eve sewed several fig leaves together. Essentially, they got religion. Adam and Eve built a religion upon righteous intentions and good works. We have sinned, let’s make ourselves acceptable to God. Let’s construct a fig leaf apron.
But no leaf is big enough to assuage the guilt. It’s why we move on to sacrifices. We give up stuff. We perform righteous acts. We talk a good talk. We build shrines, temples, cathedrals and church buildings.
However the root problem is deeper than guilt and shame. Even if we can we’re forgiven of our crimes and the shame is gone, we still DIE. Nobody gets out of here alive. We’re all going to have that moment when death calls. “If you eat this fruit, you will certainly DIE,” God told Adam and Eve. And the consequences of that act are revealed in Genesis 3:
First, all creation is cursed. There is “enmity” or hostility between humanity and the rest of creation where there used to be harmony. We inherited a world of thistles and thorns, Gethsemanes and Golgothas. We live with loss and failure.
There is now pain. Pain in childbirth and sweat in work. We experience disease and illness. We work like dogs for security and pleasure...only to lose everything in tragedy or theft. Nothing is certain nor permanent.
There is disconnection. We are eternally separated from God’s Paradise. Genesis 3:24 says God “drove” man out of Eden. Later Cain’s murder plunged him into a lifelong loneliness. If we’re not careful, life does bite back. We can become separated, divorced, sidelined, retired, forgotten, and lost. One selfish act can everything.
And yet, before God sent man packing, He was already fixing the problem. Genesis 3:21 says that God made garments of SKIN Adam and Eve. God took an animal, maybe one of Eden’s lambs, and slaughtered it in front of Adam and Eve. And then God skinned the beast and dressed Adam and Eve with this bloody hide. As the blood of the lamb mingled with the sweat of Adam, they felt better...warmer...more secure. But that pelt was temporary. It wore out too. And so another lamb had to be slaughtered for yet another bloody coat.
By the time of Jesus, the killing of lambs was now a religious ritual and spiritual tradition. Tens of thousands of lambs were birthed in nearby Bethlehem, then paraded into Jerusalem at Passover. For a solid week the priests killed lamb after lamb, so many a drain was installed to collect the blood to dump in the nearby Kidron valley, flooding a stream into a river of red.
On Friday at 3 p.m. the High Priest cried “IT IS FINISHED!” to END the Passover festival. Jesus died at 3 p.m. too. His final words? IT IS FINISHED. The last Lamb was dead...on a cross.
It’s a pretty dark moment on that Sunday morning two thousand years ago. But the Son is rising in the eastern sky. The long night of separation is finished. The cold shadows of pain, loss and death are over. Jesus isn’t in a grave. The dark winter of sin is melting in a springtime of peace, love, joy, hope and LIFE.
The God of the Garden is back.
We know the story well. And yet we still forget WHY this resurrection was necessary. Jesus could’ve just died for our sins and called it good. But Jesus didn’t do that. A serpent in the Garden of Eden still worked his way through that Golgotha dirt. Satan had a trump card in his deck called DEATH. And as long as he possessed that ACE he’d always finish the winner.
The Gospel of John tells the story for how humanity is liberated from DARKNESS and DEATH, into LIGHT and LIFE.
John 1:1-4 sets the stage:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Every story in John either reveals LIGHT (to help us see the Way and Truth) or resurrects LIFE (to point us home). It’s the taste of a new wine in John 2 and a new birth in John 3. It’s the water of life for a Samaritan woman in John 4 and a paralytic’s healing in John 5. Jesus is the “Bread of Life” for 5000 in John 6 and the liberator of an adulterous woman in John 8. He heals the blind in John 9, shepherds the flock in John 10 and resurrects Lazarus in John 11. Jesus is the King of John 12 and the servant who washes feet in John 13. He’s the Way, Truth and Life of John 14 and the True Vine of John 15.
The word “life” appears 41 times in John’s gospel, more than double its use by anyone else. It’s the same with the word “light.” John employs this metaphor 16 times, the most of any other New Testament writer.
LIGHT AND LIFE.
That’s the gospel of John in a nutshell. The Light ends the darkness of ignorance, sin and lostness. The Life promises a hope to the lonely, dying and dead.
In John 11:25-26, Jesus’ said to a grief-stricken Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
DO YOU BELIEVE THIS? Four words that change everything. Four words that reimagine a human life forever.
Mary Magdalene didn’t fully see it at first. Then she heard Jesus’ voice and her blindness lifted. How about you? Do you believe this? Or do you still cling to a fig leaf religion?
Thomas couldn’t believe it. He needed proof. He needed to finger the wounds. Jesus assured his disbelief but spoke into the future to you and me: “Blessed are those who’ve not seen or felt...and yet believe.” Do you believe this crazy, wonderful, amazing, fabulous tale of LIGHT and LIFE?
It’s why John wrote this book. He concludes this resurrection story with a promise: But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have LIFE in his name.
If you’re sick and tired of life today, I get it. If you’ve been worn down by religion, wrecked by sin and worried by death, I have too. If you’re feeling a bit blind, forgotten, lonely or lost, I know that feeling too.
What you want is LIGHT and LIFE. You desire something deeper than wattage and lumens. You hunger for something more lasting than the temporary happy highs. If you’re like me, you want to FEEL alive. You want to KNOW Truth.
Mary Magdalene told the other disciples when she returned: “I have seen the Lord!”
It doesn’t take a theology degree to share your Faith. It doesn’t require a long sermon. It’s a testimony of five words: I HAVE SEEN THE LORD...and He is ALIVE! I’m no longer blind to the Truth. I have experienced the LIFE.
It’s why our worship should blow the rafters off this place. It’s why our Communion with Christ, as we eat the bread that represents His Body and drink the cup that symbolizes His Blood, should bring chills down our backs. It’s why our fellowship with other believers should be full of grace, peace, love and joy. It should be hard for you to leave our communities because the LIGHT & LIFE is so REAL.
I have seen the Lord!
Do you believe this?
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