Posts Tagged ‘Easter’

What is going on with Jesus’ grave-clothes in John 20?

March 30, 2016
Here's an actual tomb with a rolling stone next to the entrance. I took this photo on the side of a highway in Galilee in 2012.

Here’s an actual tomb with a rolling stone next to the entrance. I took this photo on the side of a highway in Galilee in 2012.

As I said in my sermon on Sunday, John 20:1-18 sounds like authentic eyewitness testimony. (Keep in mind: critical scholars often speak as if the author of the Fourth Gospel, who isn’t John, they insist, has little interest in historical truth.) This scripture includes oddly specific details, like the footrace between John, the “beloved disciple,” and Peter, for instance, which serve no purpose other than to describe what happened as accurately as possible.

The details about the order in which the two disciples enter the tomb and see the grave-clothes strike me this way, too.

In fact, I read something last week about these grave-clothes that I had never considered before. Don Carson puts it like this in his commentary:

The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Clearly, John perceives these details to be important, but their exact meaning is disputed. Some have thought that the burial cloth still retained the shape of Jesus’ head, and was separated from the strips of linen by a distance equivalent to the length of Jesus’ neck. Others have suggested that owing to the mix of spices separating the layers, even the strips of linen retained the shape they had when Jesus’ body filled them out. Both of these suggestions say more than the text requires. What seems clearest is the contrast with the resurrection of Lazarus (11:44). Lazarus came from the tomb wearing his grave-clothes, the additional burial cloth still wrapped around his head. Jesus’ resurrection body apparently passed through his grave-clothes, spices and all, in much the same way that he later appeared in a locked room (vv. 19, 26).[1]

Jesus passed through the grave-clothes! That makes perfect sense! John would have remembered Lazarus staggering out of the tomb, struggling to remove his linen cloths—and only able to with help. Jesus, by contrast, who has conquered death in a way that Lazarus didn’t (he lived only to die again some day), can miraculously leave them behind.

At least a few scholars I read last week, along with preacher John Piper, all endorse this idea.

As excited as I was to consider this, the study notes in the ESV Study Bible shot it down:

Though it is sometimes suggested otherwise, nothing in the text indicates that Jesus’ body passed through the cloths or that the cloths were lying in the shape of Jesus’ body. The NT elsewhere affirms the real physical materiality of Jesus’ resurrection body (see Matt. 28:9Luke 24:30, 39, 42John 20:17, 20, 27Acts 10:41). Most likely Jesus unwrapped these cloths from his body when he awakened from death and left them behind.

I disagree: First, Jesus’ “real physical materiality” isn’t in question here. Jesus is physical, but he’s more than physical as we understand it. That’s why, as Carson says, Jesus can seemingly walk through locked doors in John 20 and—I would add—vanish from sight, as in the Emmaus story in Luke 24.

Also, the idea that Jesus would miraculously pass through the cloths makes better sense of the fact that John comes to faith, not after seeing that the tomb was empty, but after seeing the grave-clothes inside the empty tomb. Something about what he saw inside was remarkable. If John had merely seen that Jesus had unwrapped the cloths, would it have had the same effect?

1. D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MD: Eerdmans, 1991), 637.

Easter Sermon 2015: “He Has Risen—He Is Not Here”

April 16, 2015


My Easter sermon for 2015 is one part apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus Christ and one part proclamation of what that resurrection means: forgiveness and reconciliation with God, eternal life, and God’s putting the world to rights (as N.T. Wright often says). This is the first time I’ve preached Mark’s version of the resurrection in nine or ten years—although I would hate to re-read my sermon from back then!

Sermon Text: Mark 16:1-8

[To listen on the go, download an MP3 of this sermon by right-clicking here.]

The following is my original sermon manuscript with footnotes.

When I was a child, to my great shame and embarrassment, I was a crier. For whatever reason, when I was a kid, I cried easily and often. This fact embarrassed me greatly. I know I know There’s nothing wrong with crying, but I was mortified at the thought of crying in front of my classmates in elementary school. The prospect filled me with dread. Yet somehow it still happened, year after year. Year after year, from first grade through sixth grade, something would happen—I’d get in a fight, I’d get in trouble, teachers would yell at me—and tears would flow. I would cry at school, and I felt like the whole world saw me.

Here’s the worst incident: It was literally the last day of sixth grade. I had gone the entire year without crying even once. A new record. And back in those days no one did any work on the last day of school. We spent most of the day in class parties or on the playground. What could go wrong? It was such a happy day. What could happen that would cause me to cry? Well, we were on the playground. By one of the jungle gyms. And I said or did something to cross Doug Smith—the class bully, my nemesis, my enemy—and he punched me in the gut. Cold-cocked me. Knocked the wind out of me. And I promise you, it was as if my skin turned green; it was as if muscles grew and ripped through my shirt and pants. It was as if I transformed into the Incredible Hulk. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 04-20-14: “For He Has Risen”

April 21, 2014
Here's an actual tomb with a rolling stone next to the entrance. I took this photo on the side of a highway in Galilee.

Here’s an actual tomb with a rolling stone next to the entrance. I took this photo on the side of a highway in Galilee.

Sermon Text: Matthew 28:1-20

As this sermon shows, the resurrection of Jesus Christ rests on a solid historical foundation. But what does it mean for for our lives and world? 

The following is my original sermon manuscript with footnotes.

In the early morning hours of December 3, 1999—it was around 4:00 a.m.—I was awake, studying all night for a “radio frequency”engineering exam at Georgia Tech the next morning. I was downstairs in the living room. My wife, Lisa, who was eight months pregnant, was upstairs asleep, or so I thought. Then I heard her footsteps upstairs. I could tell she was moving around quickly. Something was up. She came down and told me that her water broke. “We have to go to the hospital,”she said.

I had been nervously anticipating this moment for months, and it was exciting, although one of my first thoughts upon hearing Lisa’s news was, “Why couldn’t you have told me this before I stayed up all night studying for this test?!”

Listen: I don’t remember a single thing about that engineering exam, which I took a few days later. But I’ll never forget many specific details related to the birth of my first-born child. The entire experience was pure joy for me. Lisa might disagree about the experience being pure joy—she was a little busier than me, after all. But it was also an event that changed my world; it was an event that loudly announced to me: “Brent, your life—your world—will never be the same.”

And so it is with the events associated with Easter morning that are described in today’s scripture. Because of Easter, our lives and our world would never be the same. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 03-31-13: Easter 2013

April 8, 2013
This picture, taken during my trip to the Holy Land in 2011, reminds me of Peter's "stooping and looking in" in Luke 24:12.

This picture, taken during my trip to the Holy Land in 2011, reminds me of Peter’s “stooping and looking in” in Luke 24:12.

Happy Easter! Sorry this is late. My family and I just returned from our spring break trip in Florida. Yesterday, I left Vinebranch in the very capable hands of my friend John Alan Turner.

At first blush, the angels’ question to the women at the tomb seems a little silly: “Why do you search for the living among the dead?” “Because Jesus is dead,” the women might have responded. “We watched the Romans kill him, and the Romans are nothing if not experts at killing people!” Contrary to modern myth, people in the first century knew as well as we do that when people die, they stay dead. It’s no wonder they had a hard time believing in the resurrection at first. So if you struggle to believe in it, you’re in good company! You’re starting in the same place as people who would later lay down their lives because they believed in it so strongly.

If you already believe it, however, this sermon will challenge you to consider what it means for our lives and world today.

Sermon Text: Luke 24:1-12

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Nearly everything I learned about working with people—or didn’t learn but should have—I learned from my experience working in sales for a large telecommunications company. My friend and mentor was a man named Don. Don worked on a large national account with a partner, Allen. The account was an important client that would soon be spending millions on new communications equipment—either with our company or with a competitor. In an effort to close the deal, Don and Allen invited their customers on a lavish business trip. And they wined and dined them, treated them like royalty, pulled out all the stops, spared no expense.

And that was exactly the problem, you see: they spared no expense. And when they returned from their trip, and our boss, Eddie, saw their expense report, he was furious. First, he called Don into his office and chewed Don out. And all Don said in response was, “You’re right. I’m sorry. It will never happen again.” After coming out of Eddie’s office, Don told me, “I better go warn Allen.” Allen, you see, was a little more hot-tempered than Don. Don knew that Allen’s tendency was to argue back—and Eddie was in no mood for arguing today. So Don said to him, “Allen, no matter what Eddie says to you, you just need to agree with him and apologize profusely. I’m serious, Allen. Don’t try to argue. Don’t try to defend. Don’t try to justify. Just say, ‘Yes, sir. You’re right. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.’ Otherwise, you’re going to get in trouble.” Read the rest of this entry »

Christ has come down and “gone into you lots as well”

April 9, 2012

I wish I could tell you the name of our English tour guide at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem last year. He’s obviously the star of the following Vinebranch Easter Day video. After nine days of looking at ruins and relics, I greatly appreciated his perspective: “And that’s what it’s all about, really: Jesus coming into us. Not us going to visit him in a tomb.”

Speaking of Easter, I couldn’t agree more with Tom Wright’s words about resurrection from this recent interview. Believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, difficult though it may be for some, is not an “optional extra”:

Anyone who is in any sense a Christian cannot with any consistency believe that Jesus stayed dead. I have friends and colleagues who I know to be praying Christians who worship regularly and lead lives of practical Christian love and service but who really struggle with the bodily resurrection. I would say that looks like a muddled Christian who needs to be put straight. Of course some of them would say exactly that about me!

But if you say Jesus died and nothing happened but the disciples had some interesting ideas, then you have cut off the branch on which all classic Christianity is sitting. This generation needs to wake up, smell the coffee and realise serious Christianity begins when Jesus comes out of the tomb on Easter morning. This is not a nice optional extra for those who like believing in funny things.

Holy Week reflection

April 1, 2010

In his book Surprised by Hope New Testament scholar and Bishop of Durham (Church of England) N.T. Wright complains that we Christians, in general, don’t celebrate Easter properly. He writes, “I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday… and then… we have a single day of celebration.”

He believes that Easter, the high point of the Christian calendar, ought to mark the beginning of a celebration that lasts for days—including champagne breakfasts at church! O.K., I’ve never had champagne for breakfast, and I’m pretty sure that a church that uses the “pure, unfermented juice of the grape” in Holy Communion would frown upon it. But I get his point.
Read the rest of this entry »