6 | Holy Week 2020 | A Quiet Vindication | John 20:1-18

Introduction

Announcements are such a big part of our lives; several times an hour our phone screens come to life with them. Personally, they often mark moments of great joy and celebration. A new baby expected a couple engaged or a positive change in life. We love to share the good news, and with the advent of social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…) people seem to find new and creative ways to announce. I wonder if you were writing this story, and you got to this bit how you would choose to ‘announce’ it? A moment where death is defeated, and Jesus Christ is vindicated, one of the most defining events in history. How you would choose to announce it?

Today we are obsessed with knowledge. It is why our phones are alive with push notifications, and there are 24-hour news cycles. Within minutes of something significant happening, we will know about it. For a historical moment, it can feel like we are there even though we might be 2000 miles away watching it on our screens: The Royal Wedding, the inauguration of a new President, a general election, even Brexit. Major events get significant cover because they define the world that we live in, they shape our culture, our contexts and our lives in ways that we cannot even begin to grasp. Yet, on that Easter Sunday, the day started as standard: the Pharisees would arise assured of their victory, and perhaps moralising their rash decision, Pilot probably have forgotten much of that itinerant preacher he had met, his disciples huddled away somewhere fearful for their lives, that the state might come for them and kill whatever was left of ‘The Way.’

John 20:1-18

Early 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. [2] So 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!” [3] So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. [4] Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. [5] He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. [6] Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, [7] as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. [8] Finally 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.) [10] Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. [11] Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb [12] and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. [13] They 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.” [14] At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. [15] He asked her, “Woman, 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.” [16] Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). [17] Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” [18] Mary 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.

 

1 – Something is Amiss (John 20:1-3)

This is why as a young women head’s to the grave, and sees the stone rolled away, she thought that something is amiss. Why she is there is not overly clear, in Mat-thews Account (28:1) it “was to see the grave” and that appears to be the case here. That something has happened she thinks not of vindication but vandals, or worse that Government forces might be at work. She is still in darkness, still living under the shadow of the silence of Saturday; so quiet was this vindication that even those close to him are yet to grasp it. Why would they though? I know I would be no different, if I was back there with the disciples, I would think:

”This is some childish attempt to cling to something… Face the facts: he is dead, we wasted the last three years of our lives following him… let us just get on with life!”

Even with all that he taught, it seems the most unlikely explanation for a grave robbery. Yet, this is why the Gospel is beautiful and powerful, at every moment it confronts the world. So as the Saviour was born quietly in a stable, he would rise quietly on a Sunday morning. God works consistently in ways contrary to the world, and ways that confront the world. Soon out of the stillness, the Lion of Judah would roar. Mary startled by what she has stumbled upon turns on her heel as quickly she has arrived, the scene is so overwhelming that she cannot begin to process it. What must have been racing through her mind at that time, the thoughts, worries and fears: “How Can this get any worse? Maybe Peter or John Knows, and they just forget to tell us they were moving him?” Race the mind would hope that it was not what it seems, yet what false hope it must have felt like that easter morning. The Quietness defeating, and no comfort she found when she found Peter and John and cried: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”Yet, while she assumes the worst here, she also displays a level of faith, in referring to Jesus as Lord, soon she will see that he is Lord over all.

No sooner had she spoken than those words where Peter and John running back the road she had just returned. Something was amiss, but not as they thought, for soon, they would understand. The wonder of this moment is that a woman (someone who could not legally be a witness in court) is the first witness to the greatest work of God. A reminder from the beginning about the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of God and the way it works.

“The devil, darkness, and death may swagger and boast, the pangs of life will sting for a while longer, but don’t worry; the forces of evil are breathing their last. Not to worry…He’s risen!”
– Charles R. Swindoll

2 – Signs of Vindication: An Empty Tomb (4-10)

“The early Christians did not believe in the resurrection of Christ because they could not find his dead body; they believed because they did find a living Christ.” – C. T. Craig.

John (the beloved disciple), perhaps younger or more eager is the first to arrive at the scene. There is no obvious reason or significance to their order of arrival, simply that they are there! As he waits for Peter, the image is of him peeking into the empty tomb, seeing the strips of linen lying there. Suggesting again that something is amiss here. Why would you take the body and leave the linen?

Soon Peter arrives and shows his usual eagerness as he makes his way past John into the tomb. He too sees the linen lying there, and the additional clothing that would have been wrapped around the head of Jesus. Whatever was going on the scene being presented “is extraordinarily vivid, and such as no invention would devise, no freak of imagination conjure up.” That is what I love about this narrative, that at every moment you think to yourself, you would not write this story like this. You would tell it in a better way, a more believable way. A reminder at every moment of the confronting nature of the work and word of God. This is the way of Quiet Vindication.

A Developing Sight

John’s ‘peeking’ into the tomb marks the beginning of a developing narrative around seeing and understanding, as he and Peter assess the scene and try to figure out what is going on. It is a three-fold shift in understanding. First John arrives and perceives the reality of the tomb (He sees the linen etc.), yet offers no sign as to understanding. Secondly, Peter arrives with the intent to investigate, he wants to see and understand. He can see, but he cannot yet understand. Finally, John enters the empty tomb and with his entering comes a clearer perception, for as he looks, he now understands. He literally sees with full understanding (horaō). A reminder to us that faith in Christ requires more than just seeing with earthly eyes. It requires a greater perception via the working of the Holy Spirit, who enable us to see the truth of Jesus clearly. God calls us, then by his Spirit helps us to see the wonder of who Christ is, and what he has done. There are many today like Peter at this moment, wanting to see but not quite there, we can help them become like John by praying for them and with them, and more importantly helping them to see clearly via the Testimony of Jesus and the Word of God.

A Right Understanding

What does it mean? It means that there at that moment, everything clicked into the head of John the beloved. All that Christ had taught and the scriptures foretold, at that moment John grasped it and realised what was going on. He was the first to believe in the risen Saviour. Peter was yet to understand, even though he could see the same as John. Why? John explains it as he writes in verse 8 and 9. Peter could not grasp the reality of what was happening because he was yet to grasp the nature of what Christ had taught. The necessity of the death and resurrection of the Messiah. They had still to understand that the bodily resurrection of Jesus had been the sovereign plan of redemptions intent all along and that it was necessary for the bodily resurrection of redeemed sinners.

Furthermore, these moments with the disciples in the tomb illuminate for us the teaching and testimony of Jesus and the Scriptures in light of the Cross. Thus, the Cross and Empty Tomb become a lens through which we read and understand Scripture. “The empty tomb, therefore, while by no means sufficient to confirm the resurrection message, was essential to its acceptance.” The Male disciples part from the scene, Peter still not clear about what has gone on, John excited by his understanding of the quiet vindication that the empty tomb offered.

3 – Mary Finds What She Has Been Looking For: A Vindicated Saviour (11-16)

Peter and John have departed from the scene, and at some point, Mary has returned to the place of her morning drama, we join her as she sits outside the empty tomb still under the darkness of mourning. She has lost a friend, mentor, and teacher – that was bad enough: now, his resting place has been violated. For her, that which could get no worse has somehow gotten worse, and she was determined to figure out what was going on. She must have thought that as she waited there, someone would come along who could help her find the one she was looking for. How beautiful that she was right, just not as she expected! Now the image of her mirrors John as she shifts her body to peers into the tomb (the exact word used to describe John’s motion). However, she is confronted with a different scene as her eyes are not meet with linen, but with two angels sitting at either end of where Jesus’s body was laid.

A Different Scene: The Same Truth: He is not here!

The sight might be different, but the message is still the same – He is not here! With the presence of the angels now suggesting (as if we needed it) that Yahweh, the Lord of Heaven and Earth had something to do with all that was going on. I love this moment again because it confronts all the logic of our world and way of thinking, as we are reminded that something supernatural is occurring. What must it have been like to be Mary at this moment, did she have any idea who she was looking at, or with her grief was she assuming they where two people who might know what is going, still they ask her: “Women, why are you crying?” (for they knew there were no reasons for tears). Again, an overwhelmed Mary begins to explain the cause of her distress and her theory behind it. Yet no sooner has she spoken her theories than she is again confronted with the same question from behind.

Seeing and Savouring the Risen Saviour

“Women, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking For?”

No sooner had she explained to those in front of her, was Mary meet with a voice from behind. A voice that seemed to speak in such a tender way that she felt no threat, just that there might now be a help. Maybe, just maybe she has found someone to help her (a gardener) find the one she has been looking for. Rather than the one, she has been looking for!

Yet, no sooner than she has had those thoughts, is she confronted with a truth her mind cannot begin to comprehend. Wasting no time, the risen Jesus speaks her name: “Mary.” Spoken in such a way that Mary’s mourning is evaporated in a moment and replaced by illogical joy. Even though it must have made no sense to her, even though she must have felt lost in all that was going on, she knew that she had found the one she had been looking for. As a voice, she must have thought she would never hear again spoke her name in a way that immediately identified him.

What it must have been like to experience that moment, as the voice of Christ dismissed all her fears and worries in a word, and she found what she was looking for. Now she could see and savour the risen Saviour, even if she was yet to fully understand. She is now the first witness to the resurrected Jesus. A miraculous thing in itself for the writing of this time: If you wanted this history to be vindicated by the world, then you would choose a male witness, one of the disciples perhaps. FF Bruce highlights this by noting: “Celsius, the anti-Christian polemicist of the later second century, dismisses the resurrection narrative as based on the hallucination of a “hysterical woman.””

However, the Good news of Jesus sought no worldly vindication, it had been vindicated via the Cross and Empty Tomb. Death was defeated, the debt of sin paid for those who would put their trust in Jesus. Mary was the first witness and herald of this truth, the message that she would carry rather than seek out validation of the world, would confront it. This is for a reminder of the nature of the Kingdom of God and the Gospel of Jesus. They work not in the ways of the world, nor by the standards of methods of the world. Where the world might use the ‘powerful,’ the Kingdom of God uses the outcast to do God’s work. For the Cross declares power in weakness, and is our way.

Mary has found what she had been looking for and never wanted to lose it. Visualised in the picture of her clinging tightly to Jesus (18-19), a reaction that we should fully understand. Such joy, love and comfort she had found, why would she want to leave that moment. We would all want to stay there, yet as he calls us to him, so He calls us to use us. Witnesses declare what they have seen. So Mary is commissioned by the risen Saviour to declare that truth.

4 – Grasping His Goodness Then Going (17-18)

What must it have been like to hear your name spoken at that moment, you would never have wanted to let go of that moment, never want to leave the safety and the wonder of that place. Hence when Mary hears her name, and identities the voice immediately as that of her Rabboni, she does not want to leave the safety and wonder of that place. However, this teacher has another lesson still. He was not going anywhere soon (referring here to the forty-day period until his ascension, yet even after that his present by the Holy Spirit) never again would Jesus be lost to those who would seek him. Now Mary must go and proclaim that which she had been witness to – the Risen Saviour.

The phrasing of Jesus instructions here reminding Mary and the disciples she would tell of reality post cross: ”My Father and Your Father, My God and Your God.” Those who are disciples of Christ are drawn into a similar closeness with God, the father via the vindication of the Cross. The curse of sin has been broken and those who trust in Christ and brought into the family of God. The fullness of life is theirs to be grasped and to share. So as she who carried first the news of the empty grave, now carries the news of the resurrected and vindicated Saviour. So too must we!

Conclusion: Now Vindicated the Lion Roars

”The crucifixion is the touchstone of Christian authenticity, the unique feature by which everything else, including the resurrection, is given its true significance. The resurrection is not a set-piece. It is not an isolated demonstration of divine dazzlement. It is not to be detached from its abhorrent first act. The resurrection is, precisely, the vindication of a man who was crucified. Without the Cross at the center of the Christian proclamation, the Jesus story can be treated as just another story about a charismatic spiritual figure. It is the crucifixion that marks out Christianity as something definitively different in the history of religion. It is in the crucifixion that the nature of God is truly revealed. Since the resurrection is God’s mighty transhistorical Yes to the historically crucified Son, we can assert that the crucifixion is the most important historical event that has ever happened. The resurrection, being a transhistorical event planted within history, does not cancel out the contradiction and shame of the Cross in this present life; rather, the resurrection ratifies the Cross as the way “until he comes.””
― Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ”

This Easter Sunday morning, I received a Snapchat from the Snapchat itself. It wished me a Happy Easter; what I found amusing was that Snapchats easter had no mention of the Cross of Christ, it was a scene of a Rabbit chasing Easter Eggs. A reminder of the fact that even though the world speaks of Easter it has lost sight of its real meaning. Even on Easter Sunday post-resurrection, the vindication of the Cross remains a quiet one, and that is great. It reminds us that it is our job to make it known! So as this Easter Sunday draws to a close and we rejoice in who Jesus is and what he has done for us, let us join Mary in declaring that he has risen.

Let us be sure in what The Cross represents, not just the defeating of death, but the moment when God takes the sins of the world upon himself and pays the price that only he could pay so that those who have faith in Christ could live a life they did not deserve to live. That is what John meant in his first letter when he wrote: “He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.” (1 John 2:2 NLT). The Cross defeated death and destroyed sin, the Empty tomb was the validation of that victory. Let us know it, love it and proclaim it, that we cannot save ourselves, but we need not worry for we have one who will save us and his name is Jesus.

Let us remember that the same voice that called to Comfort Mary calls each of us by name if only we will hear it and respond to it. So he called Mary to a new life, he calls each of us to new life and presence with him. And, as we respond to his call to be with him, so we willingly respond to his call to proclaim him and call others to know the wonder of what the empty tomb means. Let us then rejoice in the quiet vindication of the Empty Tomb, a vindication that rather than seek the validation of the world confronts it at every point. Thus, calling us to join it to the same task, that as a people of the Cross we do not look to the world but confront the world with the Gospel of Christ, and hope of Jesus.

Then as we commit to the task of the great commission and making Christ known, let us remember the logic and metrics of the Kingdom, that at every point differ from the ways of the world and confront its way. Let us be strong in the things of Christ so that we are not tempted to seek the validation of the world because we know our vindication was the Cross. That daily, we take it up and proclaim it so that others will know the wonder of life with Jesus. As Mary was commanded not to cling to the comfort of that moment, so too God commands us to let go of that which holds us back from his work and to get to the task of Easter Sunday, declaring: “He is risen!”

The rejoicing is now, the real work starts tomorrow as we drift back into the madness of the world we live in, a world stressed and stained by Covid-19. A world looking for answers, so let us pray, think and seek ways to make the good news of Easter Sunday: “He has risen!” and the wonder of a relationship with Christ. Let us think of new and creative ways to let the world know he is the hope they are looking for, he is the answer they seek and the foundation they cannot lose. That might be as simple a call tomorrow as being intentional on social media about sharing the good news of Jesus as we had been today. It may mean checking in on that friend that we would rather not waste time talking to. Where ever God has placed us, Whatever gifts he has given us let us use them to make him know and to declare the good news of the Risen Saviour. It is time for the Lion to roar.

”Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

1. Do we Grasp the Beauty of the Resurrection and the hope the Empty Tomb Offers?

2. Where does this vindication confront us in our personal walk with Jesus?

3. Have we responded to the Call of Jesus as he speaks our name, can we really call him our own risen Saviour?

4. Where has God placed us and gifted us with to declare “He is Risen!”?

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