The Sixty-First in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
Easter Sunday is a day of joy and celebration for Christians because it is on this day we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death and the grave. The very fact that God raised Jesus bodily from the dead means that Jesus’ has accomplished our salvation by satisfying the holy justice of God, paying the debt which we owe to God, and washing away the guilt of our sins. The fact of the empty tomb also means that Jesus has overturned the curse, and Easter marks the birthday of a new creation. The empty tomb, the eyewitnesses, and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy provide the content of Christian preaching and serve as the foundation of Christian truth claim. No resurrection, no Christianity. In his Gospel, John has told of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. When we left off last time, John described how Jesus was hurriedly buried before sundown on Friday (Passover). John now tells us that when he entered Jesus’ empty tomb and saw the grave clothes left behind, it was at that moment he believed that his Lord had risen from the dead.
We have spent sixty Sundays so far in the Gospel of John, and in the providence of God, it just so happens that the Sunday on which we come to John 20 (and John’s account of the resurrection) is also Easter Sunday. The bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the great climax of John’s Gospel, as well as the foundation of the Christian faith, which stands or falls with the resurrection. To put the matter as simply as possible, if Jesus bodily rose again from the dead that first Easter as recounted by John (and the other gospel writers), then Christianity is true even if no one believes it. And if Jesus did not rise again from the dead on Easter then Christianity cannot be true, even if the entire population of the world believes it. If Christianity ends with the events of Good Friday and a dead Messiah, then we are still in our sins, and we have believed a lie. That is how important the resurrection is to Christianity.
Thankfully, God has given us good reason to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. First, there is the fact of the empty tomb. Second, there are the reports of numerous eyewitnesses who saw Jesus quite alive three days after he died on a Roman cross. Third, the resurrection is the fulfillment of a number of Old Testament prophecies which predicted this very thing hundreds of years in advance, in addition to the prediction of Jesus. We have good and solid reasons to believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead.
As recounted in the second chapter of John’s Gospel, shortly after he began his public ministry, and when he cleansed the Jerusalem temple the first time, Jesus told his disciples as well as the angry Jewish religious leaders that he would indeed rise again from the dead. When the Jews demanded that Jesus perform a miraculous sign to prove that he was who he claimed to be, John recounts that “the Jews said to him, `What sign do you show us for doing these things?’ Jesus answered them, `Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, `It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.’” Jesus made this prediction three years earlier, and now with his crucified body buried and sealed in a tomb just outside the city of Jerusalem, the time has come when the disciples will remember what Jesus said to them in the opening days of his messianic mission. Jesus has kept his promise.
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