Sermon 04-09-2023: “The Resurrected Lord Still Shows Up”

April 18, 2023

Scripture: John 20:1-18

Many of you joke that pastors like me only work one hour a week… That joke never gets old! But it’s not even true for me because our church has two worship services—so I work two hours. And this past week was especially difficult because—with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday—I had to work twice as much. And I guess with the extra workload, I didn’t have time to make sure that my sermon outline on back of the bulletin was accurate… so you can just cross through the sermon outline. 

I am preaching about resurrection of Jesus Christ from John 20, but my sermon is called, “The Resurrected Lord Still Shows Up,” and I’ll talk about this theme in three points: Point Number One, doubt happens. Point Number Two, our resurrected Lord overcomes doubt by showing up. And, Point Number Three, we must show up for him!

Let’s look at verse 1: “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” We know from the other three gospels that Mary wasn’t by herself; there were other women who were with her. 

Why were these women there?

They went there to prepare Jesus’ body for a proper Jewish burial. 

Remember: Jesus died around 3:00 on Friday afternoon. It was early spring. Sundown was happening soon. At sundown the Sabbath began. So Jesus’ body had to be taken down from the cross and quickly prepared for burial before the Sabbath began—they couldn’t do any work once the Sabbath started. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were the two men who prepared Jesus’ body for burial—and you can read in John 19:39-41 about the 75 lbs. of myrrh and aloe these men used… and the linen cloths they wrapped Jesus’ body in.

But these men had to work fast to get it done before sundown and the Sabbath. So Mary and the other women were likely concerned that it hadn’t been done well. So they went first thing Sunday morning, after Sabbath was over, to “finish the job.”

Do you know why, by the way, it was important to wrap Jesus’ body—almost like a mummy—in spices and perfume? Because ancient Jewish burials were a two-step process: You put the body in the tomb, roll the stone over the entrance. And then one year later, after the body had decomposed, you would go back into the tomb, collect the bones, and place them into a “bone box,” or ossuary. And if another member of the family died before that year was up, you’d have to repeat the process. Open the tomb, close the tomb. This may sound strange, but tombs were made to be reused… opened and closed many times. 

Not to be too gross, but you would wrap the body in spices and perfume for one simple reason: to minimize the smell when you had to open it back up!

Okay, so that’s what the women are planning on doing. Only after they got there, they were surprised to find the tomb empty, and they reported the news to Peter and John.

Notice that: They were surprised… 

If you’re unfamiliar with the Easter story, of if you’ve only heard about it from popular and bestselling skeptics and atheists like Richard Dawkins and others, I wouldn’t blame you if you assumed that these simple, gullible ancient people rushed to the tomb first thing on Sunday morning because Jesus had told them that he would be resurrected on the third day, and so they just couldn’t wait to be there at the tomb on early Sunday morning to greet their risen Lord! Because of course they believe he’s risen from the dead!

Our modern world has a stereotype about ancient people… that they’re very gullible—that they easily believe hard-to-believe things like… virgin births and resurrections, for instance. The Bible itself contradicts this stereotype in a hundred different ways: Think, for instance, about the Christmas story: When Mary, the mother of Jesus, tells her fiancé, Joseph, that she’s pregnant—and not by any human father, and of course Joseph knows he isn’t the father—but she’s pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit, what does Joseph do? “Hooray, I’m going to be the adoptive father of the Son of God!” No! He immediately decides to break off the engagement… because he’s as certain that Mary has been unfaithful to him as any modern person would be! 

Why? Because he knows, just as much as any of us living in the 21st century would know, that—despite his fiancée’s words to the contrary—women don’t get pregnant apart from human fathers!

So these women don’t go to the tomb believing already in the resurrection, or expecting a resurrection. And don’t get me started on the male disciples! They are hiding behind locked doors for fear that what happened to Jesus two days ago would also happen to them!

When Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty, she runs back and offers the other disciples the most likely explanation, the one that makes the most sense: Jesus’ tomb had been robbed and his body stolen. 

My point is, contrary to popular myth, Mary and the other disciples were not gullible people. They were not easily persuaded that Jesus was resurrected. During his earthly ministry, Jesus had even told them that he would be resurrected, but that was so far out of the realm of possibility that they must have thought he was speaking in parables again, if they understood him at all! They knew from personal experience, from common sense, and from the medical science of their day that when people died, they stayed dead

Besides, while most Jews did believe in a future resurrection 1—they believed it was something that happened to everyone all at once, at the end of history. Prior to Jesus’ resurrection, no Jew ever believed it happened to one person in the middle of history. Believing in a resurrection before the end of the world was against their strongly held religious convictions—and all of Jesus’ disciples were orthodox Jews. 

Consider this fact: There were dozens of would-be messiahs a century before and a century after Jesus lived. Like Jesus, they were charismatic leaders. Like Jesus they had devoted followers who loved and believed in them. Like Jesus, they died violent deaths at the hands of Rome. Yet, unlike Jesus, when they died their violent deaths, not one time did any of their followers claim that their messiah had been resurrected. Not once! It only happened after Jesus died. 2

I wonder why? 

Because in the case of Jesus alone, his disciples were convinced that he was resurrected—so convinced, in fact, that most of these men would later lay down their lives for their conviction that Jesus had been resurrected. And you may say, “Yes, but people die for false religious beliefs all the time—what about the 9/11 terrorists?” Well, sure, people get martyred for false religious beliefs—but they don’t do so while knowing that those beliefs are false.

I say this because skeptics of the resurrection may believe that the disciples were part of a conspiracy: they stole the body to convince the world that he was resurrected; they knew that it wasn’t true. But if they knew it wasn’t true, why would they die for that belief? They wouldn’t!

I could go on… There’s much historical evidence that the resurrection really happened, and I love talking about this stuff. As one ancient historian and Bible scholar, Tom Wright, puts it: “We have precisely the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus that we should expect to have if Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead.”

Let me leave you with one more interesting and hard-to-explain fact that corroborates the truth of what the gospels report. It’s this… In today’s scripture, as in the other three gospels, the first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb and the resurrection were women

If the disciples of Jesus wanted to invent a story about Jesus being resurrected, they would never use the eyewitness testimony of women. Why? Because in this very patriarchal, chauvinistic culture of the first century, a woman’s testimony was not considered trustworthy. In fact, it wasn’t even admissible in a court of law. So if you wanted people to believe you when you said that Jesus was resurrected, you wouldn’t tell the story like this… It’s considered embarrassing to the cause of the Christian movement. A second-century Roman opponent of Christianity named Celsus even complained that the resurrection couldn’t be believed because it was an idle tale first told by a bunch of “hysterical women.” 

So the only reason why John and the other apostles and evangelists told the story like this—with women at the center of the resurrection story—is because of the inconvenient fact that it also happened to be true! And these apostles and writers are committed to the truth. Which lends credibility to the resurrection itself!

By the way, speaking of women… We had a family a couple of years leave our church because our denomination—along with ever other Wesleyan or Methodist denomination that I know of—believes that women, just like men, can teach and preach and be ordained. I don’t know why this family joined our church in the first place, since our conviction about women is not exactly secret information.

But here’s what I need us to know: Our convictions about women in ministry are not in spite of what the Bible teaches. We have not said, “The Bible says this, but we’re just going to ignore what the Bible says!” Or, “In this case the Bible is wrong!” 

No! Don’t believe that slanderous lie for a moment

Because please notice verse 17: Jesus tells Mary Magdalene the following: “[G]o to my brothers”—by which Jesus means the eleven male disciples—“[G]o to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” And then verse 18, “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’—and that he had said these things to her.”

Please notice what’s going on: Technically speaking, in the New Testament, the word “apostle” designates an eyewitness of the resurrection of Christ, who is commissioned by Jesus to go and announce the Good News to other people. By that definition, Mary herself is an apostle—an apostle to Jesus’ eleven main apostles. Jesus literally entrusts this first announcement of the good news of resurrection to a woman!

Notice what Jesus doesn’t say… He doesn’t say, “Mary, would you mind fetching Peter, James, or John… I have some important information I need them to pass along. After all, I can’t have you do it! You’re a woman!”

Be that as it may…

I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. And I suspect most of you who are listening to me do as well… But if you don’t yet believe in the resurrection, I want to say, you’re in good company this morning! Because in today’s scripture, you’ve got three of Jesus’ closest disciples—Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John—and these three close disciples of Jesus also didn’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus… at least not on Easter morning! Not at first! 

And even if you are a Christian who believes in the resurrection, you may still have doubts. Doubt happens. And that’s Point Number One: Doubt happens. 

I hope I’ve given you food for thought to help you with your doubts.

But Point Number Two… How does Jesus overcome these doubts?

As much as I love defending the truth of Christianity, including the bodily resurrection of Jesus, using logic, reason, and historical evidence, here’s what I need us to know this morning: The main way that God overcomes our questions and objections and doubts is the same way he overcomes questions, objections, and doubts in today’s scripture.

How does he do it? The same way he does it for Mary Magdalene; the same way he does it for ten of the apostles, including Thomas; the same way he does it for Jesus’ half-brother James and the apostle Paul and so many others: The resurrected Lord overcomes our doubts… and bolsters our faith… by showing up

Our resurrected Lord promises to show up today for his disciples… not unlike the way he showed up for Mary Magdalene in today’s scripture.

And you may object, “Hold on a minute! The resurrected Lord won’t come to us like he came to his original disciples. The Bible says that Jesus is not going to show up again until the Second Coming.”

But you’re mistaken: In John chapter 16, Jesus is in the Upper Room with the disciples the night of the Last Supper, and he tells them of his impending death: And he promises that he won’t leave them alone; rather, he’s going to send them the Holy Spirit to reside within them. He calls the Spirit the “Advocate.” But he says something remarkable to them: He says, I know you’re going to be sad when I leave you, “But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you.”3 John 16:7.

It’s “best for you” that I leave and send you the Spirit, Jesus says. Why? Because that way, Jesus doesn’t have to “divide his time” between every single disciple in the world right now. If Jesus were still here on earth, that’s what he would have to do. But now… through the Holy Spirit, he says, he can be with all of usall the time! Do we believe that?

This is what Jesus means in Matthew 28:20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He is with us always, and he is with us right now, because he has sent us the Holy Spirit, which Paul refers to repeatedly as the Spirit of Christ.

So Jesus wants to show up for you… He wants to have a personal relationship with you… When you’re experiencing doubts and fears, he wants come to you and put those doubts and fears to rest… just like he came to Mary and called her by name in today’s scripture!

Just yesterday I was listening to a podcast debate between a Christian apologist, someone who is defending the Christian faith, and a prominent skeptic—who writes a lot of bestselling books whose main theme is, “Christians are gullible idiots”… But this skeptic is named Bart Ehrman… and they were arguing about the evidence for the resurrection. I didn’t listen to much of it. I’ve heard it all before. 

But I wanted to say to Bart Ehrman, “Bart, nothing anyone says to you right now, no matter how well reasoned and logical their arguments are, is going to convince you of the truth of the resurrection—or any other Christian doctrine. See, you think being a Christian is mostly about believing certain facts, believing certain evidence,up here, in your head. And I’ve already said, the facts and evidence are there, make no mistake! Open your mind! But ultimately more logic, more facts, and more evidence are not what you need.

“What you need is the same thing that Mary Magdalene and Peter needed. You need what ten of the eleven apostles needed. You need what James the half-brother of Jesus and the apostle Paul needed… You need a personal encounter with the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ! Only that will enable you to overcome your questions and doubts.” 

I’m going to be praying that the Lord shows up for Bart Ehrman!

“He can do it, too! Because he’s done it for me!” 

And I am convinced that what our non-believing friends need to see right now more than anything is a church full of people, even here at Toccoa First Methodist, whose lives have been touched and changed by the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ… who have encountered the resurrected Lord… who can speak from experience about a personal relationship with the resurrected Lord!

So someone comes along questioning the truth of the resurrection, you say, “Well, it’s true I wasn’t there at the empty tomb 2,000 years ago, but I know the resurrected Jesus right now, so… I believe he’s telling the truth about the resurrection.”

About twenty years ago, I was in a season of doubt as a Christian. I was in seminary, which is an inconvenient time to be doubting, I know… And there were a lot of reasons I won’t go into… But I’m not exaggerating when I say that these doubts seem like ancient history to me now: Why? Because the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ has shown up for me—again and again and again.

He is real. I know him. I have a personal relationship with him!

Listen, my vision for this church, which I hope you buy into, is on the front of our bulletin: “Treasuring Christ Above All, and Helping Others Do the Same.” 

I chose that word “treasure” very deliberately. No one has to convince us to enjoy the things that we treasure. We can’t “fake” the things that we treasure… Either we treasure them or we don’t. Our life will bear witness to the things that we treasure. In a couple of weeks, for instance, Townshend and I are going to see a favorite rock band of ours—I’ve seen them many times. Townshend has seen them one. It’s my first concert since 2019. And I’m excited. I love music. I treasure music. I treasure this band.

No one has to convince me to “treasure” music or treasure this band; no one has to convince me to love them, and want to see them play live. No one has convince me to enjoy their music… My love for them isn’t something that lives up here; it’s in my heart!

Treasuring Christ is at least a little bit like that… but so much more!

Jesus said—and this, like, the theme verses of my life—but he said the following… about treasure, from Matthew 13:44-46:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. 4

My favorite word there is joy. “Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” No one has to convince you to pursue that thing that brings you the most joy.

And we “treasure Christ above all” for one simple reason: because only in Christ do we find our life’s greatest joy!

How do we do it? Well, in a sense, we don’t do it. God must do it for us, through his Spirit, and it takes faith. But today’s scripture gives us a clue on something we can do that will help: Just as the resurrected Lord Jesus must show up for us, we, too, must show up for him. Mary certainly showed up for Jesus. In fact, I love the angel’s question in verse 15: “Whom are you seeking?”

The resurrected Lord Jesus found Mary in part because she was looking for him. Mary wouldn’t have had this profound encounter with Jesus if she had stayed home… and not shown up at the place where she thought she could find him.

Are you showing up for Jesus?

I’ve told many of you this before—and I am not exaggerating—when I say that every morning I have a quiet time—by which I mean I read and reflect on and journal my way through the Bible—and I pray…. I hope I’m not being self-righteous when I say this. I fail as a disciple in about a hundred-and-one other ways on a daily basis, so just let me have this, okay? So I have a quiet time every morning. And I do this every morning… and have been for many years. When I was in that season of doubt that I mentioned, I was most assuredly not doing that… I was not showing up for Jesus. 

But I do “show up” for Jesus now by having a quiet time. And nearly every morning when I pray and read scripture, I hear his voice… It’s not an audible voice for me, but it is a distinctive voice that I recognize… the way Mary Magdalene recognized Jesus when he called her by name… This is the “voice” with which Jesus himself says he’ll speak to us in John 10:27 when he says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” 5

In fact, I heard the voice of my Good Shepherd recently as I was reading Joshua 7. Joshua has led the people of Israel across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. They’ve successfully conquered the city of Jericho. But they’ve fought a smaller, weaker nation, called Ai, and lost in a humiliating fashion. And what struck me was verse 6 of Joshua 7: “Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads.” And he and the elders prayed… presumably for hours. Because they were waiting for the Lord to do something, to show them something, to give them something, to tell them something… They were waiting for the Lord to show up… They were expecting the Lord to show up.

If I were in Joshua’s sandals, if I were in charge of Israel, and if my army had gone down in humiliating defeat, I’m afraid my first instinct would not be to spend hours seeking guidance from God, waiting for answers from God, waiting for God to show up

I’m sure I’d be tempted to get my generals together, formulate a new plan, discipline the troops… I’d want to take action… I’d want my people seeing me doing something.

Because why? Because I don’t believe prayer is doing something? Because I don’t believe the Lord will give me the answers I seek? Because I don’t believe the Lord will help me when I call on him?

Because I don’t believe the Lord will show up?

God forbid! God, give me the grace to change!

May we wait for the resurrected Lord to show up… May we listen for the voice of our Good Shepherd… May he call each of us by name… And may he be our life’s greatest treasure.


  1.  See, for instance, John 11:24.
  2.  A point N.T. Wright makes in his book The Resurrection of the Son of God.
  3.  John 16:7 NLT
  4.  Matthew 13:44-46 ESV
  5.  John 10:27 ESV

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