The Living Word

John 20:1-29
Once upon a time, a Muslim converted to Christianity. Some of his friends asked him why he had become a Christian. He replied, “Well, it’s like this. Suppose you were going down a road that suddenly forked in two directions. You didn’t know which way to go, but there at the fork in the road were two men, one dead and the other alive. Which man would you ask about which way to go?” Mohammed is dead, but Christ is alive.

At the beginning of our text, all the disciples are depressed. The disciples were afraid of the Jews. They had locked themselves away in order to avoid the Jews. They thought it was all over. They thought they were next on the Jews’ hit list. In that state of mind they simply huddle together in a room with the door locked.

On Sunday morning Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. She saw something that made her rather upset. She saw that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb. In those days, grave-robbers were everywhere. Grave-robbing had become so common a crime that the Roman emperor of the time imposed capital punishment on any who robbed graves. Mary was afraid that Jesus’ tomb had been robbed of the expensive linen and spices that had been used to anoint Jesus’ body for burial.

No sooner had she seen that the stone was rolled away, than she ran to tell Peter and John what had happened. (“The disciple whom Jesus loved” is another way of saying the apostle John.) This news startled the two disciples into a race to see who could get to the tomb first. John won. Notice that John got to the tomb first, but he did not go in first. Peter went into the tomb first.

It is interesting to think about why John did not go in. The reason has to do with how John views the tomb. He is thinking of the tomb as a new Most Holy Place. You will remember that in the old tabernacle and in the later temple, there was a most holy place, where only the high priest was allowed to enter, and even then only once a year. John views the tomb as a new Most Holy Place. How do we know this? From verse 12. Mary comes and stands weeping outside the tomb. Then she sees two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the foot. Have you ever wondered why John included that small detail? Why does John mention that there were two angels, one at the head, and one at the foot of where Jesus’ body lay? The answer lies in he Old Testament description of the Most Holy Place. See Exodus 25:10-22. In the ark of the testimony, the two angels were the two cherubim, one at one end, and one at the other end. So also in the tomb with Jesus. What was in the ark of the covenant? A copy of the Ten Commandments! A copy of God’s Word. John is saying to us that Jesus is the Living Word. Not only is He the Word of God, which we learn from John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” but he is also the Living Word, resurrected from the dead. You remember the story of the woman at the well in John 4. Jesus says that whoever drinks of the water that Jesus will give him will never die but have everlasting life, and that that water will become a well of water welling up into eternal life. Here in the resurrection story is where Jesus proves that to us.

Jesus proves that in Him, we all have access to the Most Holy Place. Mary can come in to that place. Women were not allowed into the Most Holy Place of the old temple. But in this new temple, all have access to the Most Holy Place. Remember that Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” John adds a note that Jesus was speaking about the temple of His own body. Jesus was also saying that His body was the new temple. That is why the curtain of the temple was torn in two at Christ’s death. The ultimate sacrifice ha been made. No longer would the sacrifices of the Old Testament be required. Christ offered up Himself. It is really amazing that Christ is the great high priest, and He is also the sacrifice, and He is also the temple in which the sacrifice is offered. The entire Old Testament sacrificial system points to Jesus Christ. He is all we need.

Do you believe? John believed rather easily. All John had to see was that the grave-clothes were still there, and neatly folded, and put aside. That would not be the case if the grave had been robbed. If the grave had been robbed, then the grave-clothes would have been taken, or at the very least, left in a very untidy manner. Rather, the grave-clothes are neatly put aside as by someone who had no more use for them. Jesus Christ’s body had gone right through the grave-clothes. Christ now has a resurrection glorified body. John saw this and believed. It took a little longer for Peter to believe. And it took a lot longer for Thomas to believe. Thomas actually had to touch Jesus’ physical body in order to believe that Jesus had come back from the dead. Jesus says a remarkable thing at the end of that episode: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The question in front of us this morning is, “Do we believe?” We cannot see Jesus in person. We may see Him when we look at Jesus’ followers who do good in this world. But we cannot see Jesus resurrected and ascended to God in heaven.

What does it mean to believe in Jesus? It means to believe that Jesus is the Living Word, who is prophet, priest and king. It means to believe that Jesus, acting as prophet, has revealed God the Father to us. It means that Jesus as priest has offered up himself on our behalf. This is very important. You see, we sinned. We fell short of the glory of God. We decided that we wanted to play God. And so we took from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In Adam’s Fall, we sinned all. That is why we have death in the world. We all deserve the penalty of going to hell. That is justice. God is just, and could have sent us all there, and no-one could have called God a homicidal maniac. But God is also merciful. God had already decided that He would not leave mankind to utterly perish. Instead, He would provide a way of escape through his own Son, Jesus Christ. That meant that Jesus was fully obedient to the law. Jesus fulfilled the active demands of the law, doing everything the law required. Not only that, but Jesus also suffered the passive demands of the law, taking on our punishment, that we would not have to pay if we only believe in Him. Believing in Christ also means believing that Jesus Christ is king, that He has been resurrected from the dead, conquering sin and death in the process. It means believing that even now Christ reigns on our behalf.

All of this believing in Christ would mean nothing without the Resurrection. Without the resurrection, Christ is still conquered by sin and death. Without the resurrection, Christ is dead. But now, Christ has risen from the dead. That is where our hope lies.

Those who do not believe in Jesus Christ have only one resurrection on the final day of judgment, and two deaths, one spiritual, and one physical. The spiritual death happens at the final day of judgment, and the physical death happens at the end of life here. Believers have only death and two resurrections. They have one physical death, but their spirit is resurrected, when they believe in Jesus Christ. That is why it is called new birth, passing from death to life. The physical resurrection occurs at the final day of judgment, when the believer’s body is reunited with the soul, and is like Christ’s glorious body. That is our hope. Our only hope of seeing God, and incidentally of seeing our loved ones again, is to believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Which man will you believe? The old man, the world, who tells you that there is no such thing as a resurrection from the dead, who say that “dead men rise up never”? Or will you believe the man who is alive, Jesus Christ? Will you believe that His way is the only way? Will you believe that dead Christians rise up ever?