The Sixty-Second in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
After studying Jesus’ messianic mission for many weeks, we now come to an entirely new phase of Jesus’ ministry–his post-resurrection appearances. In the remaining verses in John’s Gospel, it becomes clear that the fundamental nature of redemptive history has been completely transformed. Now that Jesus is risen bodily from the dead, and begins appearing to his disciples, we are given our first glimpse of the extent of Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the grave. His victory over our greatest foe is complete and total–even if not finally consummated until the end of the age when Jesus returns to judge the world, raised the dead, and make all things new. Jesus’ bodily resurrection changes everything.
In this new phase of Jesus’ ministry, the humiliation of Jesus–extending from his incarnation until the moment of his death–gives way to his exaltation. When the eternal Word took to himself a true human nature, Jesus gave up the glory which he possessed with the Father and the Holy Spirit before the creation of all things. Jesus was rejected by his people (Israel) and abandoned by his disciples. After his resurrection from the dead, the number of those following him (exercising true faith in Jesus) grows exponentially. Jesus’ role as the suffering servant foretold by Isaiah gives way to his identity as Risen Lord. Although he veiled his glory with human flesh in his incarnation, after the resurrection, Jesus’ human nature has been glorified. The body he now possesses reveals to us the kind of body we will possess after the resurrection on the last day. So, although John’s Gospel is quickly coming to an end (as is our time in John–two more sermons after this one), there is obviously much of interest to us.
When John’s account of Jesus’ passion began in chapter 18, with Jesus’ arrest, it became clear that although Jesus is without sin, he is truly human, and therefore subject to all manner of human weakness–including death. His flesh tears when whipped, nails can be driven through his feet and wrists, he suffers terrible thirst and struggles to breathe, and then dies. Recall that in the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17), Jesus told his disciples that he was leaving them, and that it was actually to their advantage that he go away because he will then be able send to them the Holy Spirit (the comforter) and that he would go to prepare a place for them. These promises were difficult for the disciples to accept because they did not yet have the categories they will need to make sense of Jesus’ instructions to them. After Jesus rises from the dead, all that changes, as the weaknesses of human nature gives way to the transformation of human nature in the resurrection.
When we left off last time (the first ten verses of John 20) with Mary Magdalene discovering that the stone sealing Jesus’ tomb was rolled away, and that Jesus’ tomb was empty, she then ran back to tell Peter and John that someone had taken the Lord’s body. The two disciples hurried to the tomb to see for themselves what had happened. It was just as Mary had said. Jesus’ grave cloths were left behind, the head cloth had been neatly folded, but Jesus’ body was nowhere to be found. John tells us that when he saw the tomb empty and the grave cloths, at that moment he believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. Peter, we are told by Luke, marveled at what he saw, and he and John returned their homes not knowing what to expect, or what would come next.
All of this indicates to the reader of John’s Gospel that it is not until Easter and the discovery of the empty tomb, that the things Jesus told them during the Upper Room Discourse make sense, specifically his departure so as to go and prepare a place for them, and the promise that he will send the Holy Spirit. What follows, then, with the post-resurrection appearances by Jesus, is the realization of the promises he made earlier in his ministry–as when he first cleansed the temple three years earlier, and again in the Upper Room Discourse just days before. Now that Jesus has risen from the dead, his earlier statements start to make sense as Jesus appears to several of his disciples.
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