The following is a sermon manuscript from November 20, 2015.
As an introduction, I have a question. What would have happened if Jesus stayed dead?
Would he have still been someone we can put our faith in? Would he have still been our saviour?
Jesus was an amazing person. His life was filled with miracles, with love and compassion. He broke down cultural barriers and taught with tremendous authority. There is no person in all history who compares to Jesus.
When he was killed, it was believed to be the end of the following Jesus created. Despite him being the most wonderful person in history, would there have been any power in his life and death if it wasn’t for the resurrection?
If Jesus stayed dead, we might still have a record of his life and teachings, which are amazing and wonderful, but would there be any real authority or power in reading about it?
If Jesus stayed dead, would we have any more hope than anyone ever has or could have?
This morning and next week we are looking at the resurrection. This is a huge topic and volumes have been written about it. This morning will be focused mainly on the two people mentioned in this passage who responded to Jesus’ resurrection. There was John’s response of believing the Scriptures that Jesus must rise from the dead, and there was Mary’s response of clinging to Jesus. We will also look at Jesus’ mysterious instructions to Mary.
But first, in order to help us get into the minds of these people, I want to provide a brief history of the common understanding of the Messiah and two reasons why people had such a hard time with Jesus fitting that profile.
All throughout the history of the nation of Israel, there was an understanding among them that sacrifice must be made to atone for their sins. Atonement was a common concept among Hebrew people. It means to make amends. They understood that they needed to make amends for their offences against God.
Another common understanding was that a Messiah would one day come and rescue Israel, restoring her as an eternal kingdom under the rule of God. The prophecies about a Messiah referred to an unending rule of a King who would descend from the line of David.
Every generation awaited this ruler, with hopes that he would remove whatever oppression they were facing at the time.
In the first century AD, the nation of Israel was under the oppression of the Roman Empire. Therefore, for that generation, the hope was for the Messiah to remove the Roman oppression.
These two common understandings, that of the need for atonement, and that of the coming of a Messiah, were both ultimately and completely fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. However, not many of the first century Jews saw this for what it was.
They did not consider this man, Jesus, to be particularly helpful to them. They didn’t see him as meeting their most urgent needs.
Atonement, in their minds, was not expected to be ultimately achieved by human sacrifice. This was an offensive idea and was far from their minds. Resurrection was even further from their minds. Although some Jews believed in a future resurrection, they had no system of thought or even a perceived need for an individual human to rise from the dead.
In addition, the Messiah, the coming eternal King, was supposed to provide freedom for the nation of Israel. Jesus did not do that in the way they were expecting. In fact, he died at the hands of the Romans instead of conquering them.
There was very little about Jesus that they considered helpful. He didn’t do the things they wanted him to do. They had no use for a Messiah that came to die. And they had no concept of resurrection or the need for it, especially if the resurrected Messiah would not eventually become the earthly ruler of Israel. The work of Jesus on earth was just too far from what they viewed as helpful.
Now, let’s look at Mary’s response for a bit. When she finally recognized Jesus, what did she do? She clung onto Jesus. She longed for his embrace. But Jesus’ response indicates she was getting it wrong.
The purpose of Jesus resurrecting was not so that his best friends could have his company back. It wasn’t about him being there with them in the flesh. Jesus was saying, don’t cling to me as I am now. I am going to the Father, your Father, and that is the whole plan. There is something better coming!
Mary must have been overjoyed to be with Jesus once again. Can you imagine? The most wonderful person you have ever come to know just died. You spent the last two days mourning his loss. And he suddenly appears, raised to life!
Mary responded how we all would. She is overjoyed because she can once again be with him. Her mourning truly was turned to joy! But, Jesus responded by telling her that the true source of joy is not what she is thinking.
When Jesus healed people and provided food for people and showed mercy and compassion to people I’m sure it brought joy to them. And he asks his followers to do the same things for others.
But, we are wrong to think that Jesus came only to make our lives more comfortable. He died and rose to life so that we can enjoy fellowship with Jesus’ God and Father; our God and our Father.
Whatever comfort and joy we experience on earth is nothing compared to what is offered because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Don’t cling to earthly comfort! Look to God, look our eternal Father and our eternal hope!
For Mary, the resurrection was a reuniting of a dear companion. For the Jews, the Messiah was supposed to rescue them.
But, the real reason for the resurrection of Jesus is so that we all have the opportunity to experience a new source of joy, a new source of satisfaction, a new life.
Think about John’s response. The text says he believed that Jesus needed to be raised from the dead. Up until that point, he knew that Jesus was the Messiah, but he didn’t understand the need for a resurrection.
Paul explains the resurrection well, in many passages. I’ll read two:
Romans 6:8-11 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 1:19-23 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
The resurrection provided the means for eternal life. The resurrection of Jesus was the defeat of death, not just for Jesus but for anyone who believes in him. John knew Jesus could do this, because Jesus talked about it often. However, at the moment he realized Jesus had risen from the dead, something clicked. It all became real to him. Jesus truly was going to give people eternal life and he was doing it through the resurrection.
Now, while we await entrance into the full experience of the presence of God, we have a new reason for living. If you read the writings of John, the other writings, not the Gospel, you will see his new reason for living.
Like John, our life is for the purpose of bearing witness to the power of God and the opportunity to have fellowship with him through Jesus. This is what John spent the rest of his life doing: being a witness to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Listen to the words from John’s opening statements in 1 John:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
The church exists today because we carry forward the testimony of the death and resurrection of Jesus, our Messiah and Lord. It is our responsibility and privilege to tell of the power of God to forgive sins and restore fellowship between us and him.
This is our testimony. This is our mission: to reveal the truth about who we are and who Jesus is.
Israel did not see a need for the Messiah to die and be raised to life for them. They wanted a Messiah to take care of their oppression. Mary didn’t see the resurrection as solving the problem of sin. She saw it as a way to be close to a dear friend once again. How did Jesus respond? “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Jesus’ death and resurrection was so that our sins could be atoned for. Jesus is the eternal sacrifice. Having completed that work, he went to be with God the Father. Our hope is not in the earthly wonders of Jesus—although they are indeed wonderful—our hope is in an eternal Kingdom.
Becoming a part of the eternal kingdom of God requires more than just hearing or reading the teachings of Jesus. It is more than just being familiar with him and agreeing with the Bible.
There is true power in believing that Jesus was raised from the dead. It is this belief, the trusting and seeing the true nature of Jesus and what he can do for us, that makes us citizens of God’s kingdom.
Let’s go back to my original question: What would have happened if Jesus was not raised from the dead?
After all, it was his death that was payment for our sins. He made amends with God on our behalf by offering himself as a pure sacrifice. But forgiveness alone was not the plan.
The resurrection means that Jesus is an eternal King, an eternal atonement, an eternal intercessor on our behalf. And because of the resurrection, we are not only forgiven, but we are made citizens of the eternal kingdom.
Because Jesus didn’t stay dead, everything he said about himself has real meaning and produces real authority and power and hope.
Because he didn’t stay dead, we can believe his words when he said he is the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life in the kingdom of God.
Because he didn’t stay dead we have a message of hope, a witness to power, that can be passed on to others. We can say with confidence that there is no trouble or darkness in this world so great that it can extinguish the hope of our eternal security.
Today, trust and believe in the power of the resurrection and receive entry into the eternal Kingdom of God.