The Empty Tomb
John 20:1-10 • Dr. Andy Woods • April 5, 2015 • John


Andy Woods
The Empty Tomb
4-5-15 John 20:1-10 Lesson 119

Good morning, a happy Resurrection Day to everyone. Those kids didn’t want to leave the stage; I was getting ready to sit back and enjoy the sermon… but it’s up to me I guess. If we could take our Bibles and open them to John 20, taking a look this morning as time permits, at John 20:1-10. This is really a section of the Bible that’s called the Passion Narratives; it deals with the final days of Christ on the earth.

We have spoken in past sermons about His death, and now we’re moving into His resurrection, John 20. You say well, how did you plan it that way, because I’m a verse by verse teacher, how did you just happen to end up in John 20 on Easter. And the answer is it’s a “God-thing,” because I don’t think I have the organizational ability to pull that off. But the Lord is good and here we are in John 20, looking this morning at verses 1-10. The title of our message this morning is The Empty Tomb.

Kind of looking at John 20 and 21 we have the empty tomb and then what follows the empty tomb are Christ’s post-resurrection, or resurrection appearances, as He appears to either five individuals or groups. And what we are focused on this morning is the front end of that, and it deals with the objective evidence of the empty tomb.

Here is sort of an outline of John 20:1-10. We have the focus on Mary first, that would be Mary Magdalene. And then focus rapidly moves to John and Peter as it highlights those two apostles in different ways as they respond to the message of Mary Magdalene that the tomb is now empty.

Warren Wiersbe, the great Bible commentator, writes this, he says: “If the Gospel of John were an ordinary biography there would be no chapter 20; I’m an incurable reader of biographies and I notice that almost all of them conclude with the death and the burial of the subject. I have yet to read one that describes the subject’s resurrection from the dead! The fact that John continued his account and shared the excitement of the resurrection miracle is proof that Jesus is not like any other ordinary man. He is, indeed, the Son of God.”

Notice, first of all, Mary, as she goes to that tomb on Easter Sunday morning and notice what it says. John 20:1, “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. [2] So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where thy have laid Him.’”

One of the things that’s very interesting right here at the start is this expression, “now” it was “the first day of the week.” That would, of course, be Sunday. And what is so interesting, because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ the early church, which you’ll have to remember was comprised completely of Jewish individuals; in fact, there’s not even a Gentile convert into the church until Acts 10, this man named Cornelius. But what that early church did is they shifted their time of reflection away from the seventh day of the week to the first day of the week. They shifted away from Saturday to meeting instead on Sunday morning.

Acts 20:7 says, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered….” 1 Corinthians 16:2 says, “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save,” speaking of the offering or the collections. And it’s so easy to just sort of jump over this and not really understand what has happened. It is nothing short of astounding what has happened. See, all the way back to the time of Moses, and this would take us to around 1445 B.C., one thousand five hundred years before the time of Christ, the Jews went to a place called Mount Sinai and it’s at Mount Sinai they received the Law of Moses, and in the Law of Moses they were told to take the Sabbath, which would be the seventh day of the week. And now all of a sudden these Jews, because of what has happened with Jesus and His bodily resurrection from the dead, shifted their day of worship away from Saturday to Sunday.

That, in and of itself, is nothing short of a miracle. Michael Greene, the scholar, says this: “The Jews original day of rest and worship was Saturday because it was said that God had finished His creation and rested on the seventh day.” It was written into their Holy laws. The Sabbath is one of the supporting columns of Judaism. One of the most reverent things in the life the Jew was keeping the Sabbath. The Christians met for worship on the first day of the Jewish week in acknowledgment of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. These Christians actually succeeded in changing this age-old and theologically back day of rest and worship to Sunday.

Yet remember, they were Jews themselves; keeping in mind that they thought would happen if they were wrong we must recognize that this was probably one of the greatest and biggest decisions any religious body of men had ever made. How are we to explain the change from Saturday to Sunday worship unless something monumental had happened, like the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The fact of the matter is the empty tomb is one of the most well established objective facts in history. Now this morning we sang the song, how do I know He Lives, because “He lives within my heart.” I have to be completely honest with you, there are days I wake up and I really don’t feel like Jesus is living in my heart; I have up days and down days like anybody else. And what do I do during those down times? Does my faith in Christ disappear? No, my faith in Christ does not disappear because it is not built on human emotion or euphoria, or human feeling. Rather, it is built on the object of evidence of the empty tomb. In fact, this evidence is so strong that it caused Jews who had been involved in a tradition for 1500 years to alter this very tradition.

Think about this just for a moment: in the first century world there were many enemies of Christianity. The unbelieving Jews hated Christianity, the Romans hated Christianity, and yet Christianity was spreading, as we read about it in the book of Acts. How easy would it have been for one of the enemies of Christianity simply to go into the tomb, find the corpse of Jesus Christ, and kind of roll it out for the world to see in an attempt to discredit the Christian movement? I think that would have been a very simple thing the enemies of Christianity could have done and yet they did not do that. Why didn’t they do that? Because there was no body to produce; the tomb was empty.

And consequently what you are left with, if you will not accept this by faith is the concoctions of man as man tries to, in unbelief, explain away this empty tomb. Many people will try to tell you that Jesus never died, He was put into the tomb in sort of a weakened condition and he wriggled His way out in the middle of the night. Other people say He went to the wrong tomb. Other people try to explain the post resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ as mere hallucination. Other people say the disciples stole the body. And one of the theories that Mary, apparently has bought into in her unbelief, Mary Magdalene is that somebody else, an enemy of the cross, perhaps had taken the body away.

And as we begin to scrutinize these theories, and we’ve done some of this in the past, we’ll do a little tiny bit more of it today, in essence it takes more faith to believe a theory like that than it does to believe in the hard evidence, the objective fact of the empty tomb.

In fact, here’s a man named Josephus, you may have heard of him, he was not a Christian, as far as I can tell, he was an unbelieving Jew that went to work for Rome a little after the time of Christ. He produced several books of history that are very valuable to us. His writings are not inspired but they contain valuable history. And notice what even this secularist says about the empty tomb. He writes this:

“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call Him a man, for He was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as received the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for” got the relevant part underlined, “he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.”

And isn’t it wonderful that 2,000 years have passed and this tribe of people that he calls “Christians” are still not extinct, because the fact of the matter is, the tomb was empty because of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. “I know He lives because He lives” or He reigns “within my heart.” Well, that’s a wonderful song and of course, there is some truth to that, but the ultimate proof or truth of Christianity rises or falls according to this empty tomb. And here in John 20:1-10 we’re getting a look at the immediate reaction to Christ’s followers of this empty tomb.

Notice also there in verse 1 it mentions the first person to the tomb, this woman named Mary Magdalene. Mark, in his parallel account, describing these same events, says this: “Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons.” [Mark 16:9] The reason that’s very interesting to me is a lot of people believe that they are somehow disqualified from the grace of God; they’re disqualified from God ever revealing Himself to them; they’re disqualified from ever being used by God in any significant way. Why is that? Because they say I have a past, if you only knew my past you would see that I cannot be a candidate for the grace of God in terms of receiving Him or being used by Him.

Well, let me let you in on a little secret here: ALL of us have a past, it’s called original sin. All of us have this past of being born under Adam’s lineage where we are guilty under Adam’s sin. Mary Magdalene was such an individual. In fact, her pattern of sin was so severe that she actually had seven demons resident within here. And it’s interesting that the Lord took her and the Lord saved her and the Lord cast out these demons and as we’ll see probably next week or the week after that, the Lord actually began to use this woman, Mary Magdalene, the first to the tomb. So don’t fall for the devil’s line, or lie, that you somehow have missed the grace of God because of some past sin or pattern of sins; the fact of the matter is nobody is outside the reach of God’s grace or unmerited favor. If any of us were out of reach of it none of us could be saved, because all of us, from the point of conception, are steeped in sin, just like this woman, Mary Magdalene.

You’ll notice also there in chapter 20 it says they “came early to the tomb, while it was still dark.” What does “dark” mean? Well, in John’s Gospel dark means dark! However, there is also another meaning that he likes to draw attention to; it refers to spiritual blindness. Darkness in John’s Gospel is synonymous with spiritual darkness. In fact, you remember the character, Nicodemus who came to Jesus when? John 3:2, “by night.” [John 3:2, “this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”] Nick at night as we like to call him. And why did he come at night? Well, he wanted to stay out of the limelight, he didn’t want anybody to know that he was investigating the claims of Christ and even beyond that, the man was in spiritual blindness, misunderstanding who Jesus is. And yet the story of the Bible is how God saved this man, Nicodemus, and gradually began to work in his life whereby he actually became public with his faith, as we saw last week, asking for a role in the removing of the body from the cross and the burial of Jesus Christ.

We’re about ready to see, both this week and next, Mary Magdalene moving in the same direction. She is in the dark; she is not just in the dark physically, she is in the dark spiritually. In fact, notice her response to the empty tomb, at the end of verse 2, she says, “‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.’” NO Mary, “they” have not taken Jesus out of the tomb, Jesus took Himself out of the tomb. And she does not get it right away; she sees the evidence of the empty tomb and she does like what most unbelievers do, they develop some kind of naturalistic theory as to why the tomb was empty. And yet, in John 20:11 Jesus actually appears to her. And down in verse 18 she will say these words, “I have seen the Lord.”

The reason I bring this up is no doubt many of you are in the same circumstance. I don’t think you’re here by accident; I think God providentially brings people to a church like this. You’re here, perhaps investigating the claims of Christ, not really sure what to do with this whole Christianity thing, and you’re having to make a choice as you hear the evidence—are you going to develop an unbelieving naturalistic theory as to why these things are so, or are you going to come out of the dark, out of the darkness into the spiritual light, and that only happens by coming to Jesus by way of faith.

You see, John comes into the light in verse 8, Mary remains in the dark in John 20:1-10. The great question is, which one are you? Are you Mary, remaining in the dark and continuing to be so, or are you like John who is moving into the light.

And as you take a look at verse 2, very naturally what she does is she reports the evidence of the empty tomb; she doesn’t, of course yet believe that Jesus rose from the dead, she thinks some enemy stole the body, but she reports at least the evidence of the empty tomb to the other disciples who were prominent in the inner circle of Christ. The inner circle of Christ consisted essentially of three individuals, Peter, James and John. And she goes and she finds the two leaders that she had access to and she tells them about the fact that the tomb is now empty, but we don’t know where His body has been laid, we don’t know where “they” took Him.
And it is interesting that when John, the author of the book that we have been studying, recounts these events he refers to himself as “the other disciple.” He typically refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” John 13:23; John 19:26; John 21:7, John 21:20.

[John 13:23, “There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.”
John 19:26, “When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby….” John 21:20, “Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them….”]

Why doesn’t John ever come out and just tell us his name? The answer is, I believe John was so blown away by these events and the ministry of Christ and the bodily resurrection of Christ that the only thing he wants to draw attention to is Christ Himself. He does not want to eclipse any of the spotlight. It reminds me very much of what John the Baptist said in John 3:30 related to Christ. Some of the disciples of John the Baptist were worried because Jesus was becoming more popular than even John the Baptist. And John the Baptist says in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” And that’s, I believe, the reason why John doesn’t want to divulge himself, or speak of himself, or speak of his family even, in this book, except in very generic, unnamed terms. He wants the spotlight to be completely on this man, Jesus Christ.

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to attract attention to Jesus Christ. We saw that as Jesus was speaking in the Upper Room of the coming Holy Spirit. He says when He comes the Spirit will glorify Me, and this is how you can always tell if the Holy Spirit is in control of a person or a ministry. [John 16:14, “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you,”]
Because when people look at that ministry or that person what they will see is Jesus. And sometimes I fear that we have a tendency, in 21st century evangelical Christianity to promote ourselves, our resumes, our skills, our abilities, all the things and desires that we want to do for God when in reality we need to be a lot more like John; choose to be anonymous, to live within the shadows, so to speak, of the glory of God. “He must increase, and I must decrease.” [John 3:30]

And now that Peter and John have been notified, Mary sort of begins to take a backseat, if you will, and Peter and John move into the forefront which they do in verses 3-10. Notice first of all what Peter and John did when they discovered that the tomb was empty. Notice, if you will, John 20, and notice, if you will, verse 3, “So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb.” So the two of them, wherever they were, headed out there in the very early Sunday morning, headed to see if these things spoken of by Mary Magdalene were, in fact, accurate. Was that tomb of Jesus Christ empty; let’s validate this to see if this is true.

You move into verses 4-5 and the focus is now on John, who doesn’t reveal his name, he simply calls himself “the other disciple,” or “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” [John 21:20, “Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them….”] Notice if you will, John, there in verse 4, “The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; [5] and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there’ but he did not go in.”

John does give us this interesting detail about how he outran Peter. Maybe that’s the reason he doesn’t use his name, he doesn’t want to showcase his running ability in comparison to Peter; he simply wants the attraction and the spotlight to remain on Jesus Christ. But John outran Peter to the tomb.
One of the things that John claims in this book is he claims to be an eyewitness of the things of God. In fact, all the way back in John 1:14, right as the Gospel of John opens, it says this: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory….” He’s claiming eyewitness testimony to these events. And then, you might remember more recently John 19:35 where John writes, “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.”

John is not claiming to have collected this information from second hand sources; he is not like some professor living in the 21st century, looking back through the two thousand years of the corridors of history, trying to piece together what happened. John is saying I was there. And in the legal system the most powerful evidence that you can introduce in a court of law is eyewitness testimony.

John talks about this in his epistle of John, 1 John 1:1-3, he says: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, and what we have seen with our own eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— [2] and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— [3] what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you,” it’s interesting how John keeps making reference to the fact that he saw, he heard, he touched, and that is the basis of his book; that is the basis of his ministry, that is the basis of his proclamation.

Is John really that credible of a witness? I believe he’s extremely credible. Why do I think that? One thing, he was Jewish and the last time I checked one of the Ten Commandments is “thou shalt not lie” or “bear false witness.” And beyond that, these disciples, who claimed to see Christ and His ministry, and later the resurrected Christ, went to their deaths holding onto this truth and proclaiming it and never backing down from it. It’s one thing to advance a lie; it’s quite another thing to pay the great price of martyrdom for advancing a lie. And when we look at it from that point of view, we see that John was extremely credible.

Did the disciples steal the body? That’s one of the theories as to why the tomb was empty. Obviously not, if we take John’s writing here seriously and we look at it as something that is reliable, because Peter and John are going to the empty tomb to see what happened, which would be strange behavior if they had secretly taken the body out at some other time. So John is giving us details that we would expect from an eyewitness. I mean, why would he say one apostle outran the other? Why even bring that up? Because that’s how it happened. And John as an eyewitness would remember specific details. And this is one of the things you do with eyewitnesses in a court of law; you ask them specific questions, since you were not there to see the event that the eyewitness is testifying to; you ask them specific questions about details and the more detailed and specific their answers the more you can sort of see that this could not be something contrived or something invented. John gives specific details about what happened because he was there to see these events.

And notice what John did, he outran Peter, we know that much, verse 4, but what did he do when he arrived at this empty tomb? It says in verse 5, “and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he” himself “did not go in.” John looked in; John saw, not Jesus, but he saw some linen wrappings. Now remember what Mary Magdalene has said, going back to verse 2, “‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Many people believe that if the disciples did not steal the body then perhaps one of the enemies of Christianity took the body out of the tomb. Or perhaps the body was stolen by somebody else. My question is, why are the grave robbers clothes still there? In fact, we know that Jesus was buried in the tomb of a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, Matthew 27:57 says this: “When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus.”
Jesus was buried in the tomb of a rich man. These grave clothes, if you will, were expensive and if these, in fact, were grave robbers that had stolen this body why did they not take this expensive clothing. That makes very little sense as well. And beyond that, there was an edict that had been given by Roman emperors around the time of Christ.

C. K. Barrett in his commentary writes this: “A decree of Emperor Claudius made it a capital offense to destroy tombs, remove bodies, or displace the sealing stone or other stones.” It’s very unlikely that somebody came and stole this body out because if they did so they would be under penalty of Roman law. And certainly if they had stolen the body they would have taken with them the expensive linen and so forth that Jesus was buried and wrapped in.

Matthew 27:66 says this, “And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.” It just doesn’t lend itself to this idea that someone could come in, take the body, first of all, why unwrap it if you’re in a hurry to get out for fear of the guard, and then beyond that why would you leave something expensive behind if your agenda is to enrich yourself. But these are the things that John saw when he arrived at the tomb first, before Peter, having gotten the word from Mary Magdalene, and he began to look inside the tomb.

And now the focus moves away from John and it moves to this apostle, Peter. And notice, Peter, who is dragging a little bit behind, sucking wind as we used to call it, during wind sprints I guess, breathing a little bit more heavy, it says this: “And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and saw the linen wrappings lying there, [7] “and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings,” but look at this, “but rolled up,” verse 7, “rolled up in a place by itself.”

One of the things I love about the Scripture, one of the things I love about God is the different personalities of people. You know, God is a God of great diversity and he is a God of great variety. And we see this variety even in these hand-picked disciples of the Lord. John is what we call the love apostle; he was a little bit more reserved, he didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes. He was a little bit less impulsive than Peter.

And when John gets to the tomb he doesn’t just charge on in there, he carefully and quietly and casually takes a look inside. We saw that in verse 4. But how different Peter is, who is now catching up to John, not in good as sprinting shape as John is in but Peter eventually arrives and he just charges right on into the tomb. Peter is more of the impulsive of the disciples; I like to call Peter the apostle with the foot-shaped mouth. He was always putting his foot in his mouth; he was always speaking out of turn. He was always the one that said Lord, I want to walk out on the water to be with You on the Sea of Galilee, and then he would sink.

And isn’t it interesting how God uses different people different ways. Why wouldn’t God do that? After all, He is the Creator, isn’t He? He is the author of the different personalities of individuals. In fact, over in 1 Corinthians 12:4 it says, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” One of the mistakes we can make in the body of Christ is we try to put things into a straight-jacket. We try to say God has to work this way and He has to use this kind of person with this kind of personality, with this sort of skill set.

And the fact of the matter is, God never works the same way over and over again. He uses different people with different gifts, different temperaments, different styles, different visions, because He is the author of all of it and He is a God of diversity and variety who can use different things to accomplish His ultimate agenda. We should avoid the mindset which says if you don’t do it my way it’s the highway. When it comes to doctrine we should take a very strong stand on doctrinal truth but when it comes to the different methods that God uses and the different personalities and styles that He uses, we need to leave room for the grace and the creativity of God.

But what did Peter see when he charged right into that tomb. Notice verse 6, it says, “And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb;” what did peter see, “and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, [7] and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.” What did Peter see? He saw linen wrappings, and then it describes some of those linen wrappings, the head-cloth and so forth, and he specifically says, John says, he saw it rolled up, he saw it positioned in a certain way, he saw something that was orderly and something that apparently had taken some degree of care to put together.

So then if this is so, how could this be a grave robber who stole this body? Why unwrap parts of it, especially when you’re trying to get by the guard at the point of death, which was the penalty under Roman law. Why the order? Why the design? Don’t robbers move into an environment fast and move out? They wouldn’t leave things in an orderly way. In fact, just this morning how did you leave your house? Our house, we were in a big hurry to get out and I’m sort of regretting the fact that e have to go back into the house this afternoon and see the total mess that we left. You see, that’s what you do when you’re in a hurry, you’re moving. And if someone had stolen this body they would have been moving and hurried and not wanting to be caught.

This has the idea of design; it talks about these linen wrappings rolled up in a place all by itself. The fact of the matter is you do not get order from chaos; you get order and design from a designer. Jesus, according to the Scripture had risen from the dead, and taking some of these linens and clothing and wrappings He ordered them in a particular way so that no one would have this mistaken idea that somebody rushed in there under the heat of being caught and snatched that body out so fast that no one would see it.

You see, the more you begin to scrutinize these naturalistic theories that people have uncovered the more foolish they look, and how much easier it is simply to believe in the resurrected Christ and the resurrected Messiah.

Notice as we move back to John, verses 8 and 9, John had been watching Peter run into this tomb and now what does it say there in verse 8? It says, “So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed.” Isn’t it interesting how people can have an influence on us for the good or for the bad; in this case I think it’s for the good. John is sort of stooping and watching and looking inside and then when he sees Peter, the impulsive disciple, charge on into the tomb suddenly John gets the idea, well, I guess it’s not that bad, I’ll just charge on in with Peter. One of the things that’s very interesting about Peter is he often influenced people as a leader in the right direction, as is the case here. But there are other examples where Peter led individuals in the wrong direction as the leader. Galatians 2:13 says, “The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.”

There arose a time in Peter’s ministry where, when the party of the circumcision would show up in Antioch, Peter would move away from the Gentiles and then when the party of the circumcision would leave he would start fellowshipping again with the Gentiles. And this gave the impression, the false impression, the erroneous impression, that these Gentiles had to come under the law of God to be saved and to grow in Christ. And this was a great error that Peter was communicating and consequently Paul, in Galatians 2, had to rebuke Peter to his face.

Sometimes Peter as a leader influences people in the right direction, as in this case with John, John entering the tomb now that Peter has entered the tomb, but other times Peter, as impulsive as he was, influenced people the wrong direction. And the fact of the matter is, and the reason I bring this up is because people are watching you. If you claim the name of Christ in any way, shape or form, your life is being examined. And we have a choice every day of our lives as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ to influence people the wrong way or to influence people the right way.

If you’re a mother, or if you’re a father, or if you’re a grandparent, whether you like it or not you are in a position of influence. It’s a position of influence that perhaps is far greater than we possibly can imagine, and every day we need to be making decisions where people will not imitate our bad behavior but will imitate our godly behavior. And since we are so susceptible to being influenced by other people the Bible tells us very clearly that we should be very careful who we associate with. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 15:33, also a resurrection chapter, it says this: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” Proverbs 22:24-25 says this: “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, [25] Or you will lean his ways and find a snare for yourself.”

Even in this simple example of Peter influencing John we learn so much about how we are to be careful about who we are associating with. If you associate with the wrong crowd you pick up bad behavior naturally. If you associate with the right crowd you pick up good behavior naturally. One of the great lessons I remember from my father, driving back and forth to that Episcopal church, I hardly remember anything from that church, you ask me about any sermon I probably could not go very far back in my memory bank and tell you much, but I do remember this; I remember the ride with my father to and from, as a little kid, and I remember the sermons I got from my father as we were driving back and forth. It was 15 minutes one way, 15 minutes the next way and dad gave some great sermons during that time. And one of the things he told me, he says be careful about your friends, don’t let your friends pick you; you pick your friends, because of this influence that other people can have over us for the good or for the bad.

But notice what John did as Peter positively influenced John; once again verse 8, “So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and he believed.” It’s difficult to place enough emphasis on this word, “believe.” Of all of the words in John’s Gospel that John wants us to understand it is this word “believe.” It’s the Greek verb pisteuō; what does it mean to believe? It means to have confidence in, to rely upon, to depend upon. To some extent we had faith even walking into this room and sitting on those chairs; we trusted in the fact that they were constructed the right way, that they would not collapse under us. We had faith or believe that this building is constructed the right way and it would not collapse on us. These are all acts of faith, to trust, to rely on.

John uses this word “believe” 100 times in this book. The New Testament uses it about 150, perhaps as high as 160 times as the single condition that must be met before a person enters into a right relationship with the God that made them. In fact, this word “believe” is all over the Bible. You remember Genesis 15:6 of the man, Abram, who later became Abraham, it says, “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” What made Abram, who later became Abraham, right with God? He believed! It’s more than simply an intellectual assent or an acknowledgment of certain facts; it has the idea of trust or reliance.

John 3:16 says this, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” And there in that Philippian jail Paul got one of the easiest opportunities to evangelize because the Philippian jailor asked this question: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Don’t you wish your evangelistic opportunities were that easy? Paul’s answer is so clear and simple, “They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” The thing that separates a Christian from a non-Christian is simply this one single word, to “believe.” John 5:24 says this, earlier in John’s Gospel, quoting Jesus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”

You’ll notice that at the point of faith we have, present tense verb, eternal life. At the point of faith we cross out of death into life, the concept translated crossing out of death into life in the Greek is in the perfect tense, which means a onetime action in the past with ongoing results or benefits. That is how somebody becomes a Christian. And there’s more to this than simply knowing things about Jesus. Most of America is deceived because they can recite a few facts about Jesus they believe they’re saved. There is more to faith than mere intellectual assent; you know, the devil knows a lot of things about Jesus too but that doesn’t mean he’s saved.

Well then, what is the difference between intellectual assent and actual saving faith spoken of in the Bible? I can analogize it this way: an individual named Blondin, of great athletic and acrobatic ability used to take a tightrope stretched across Niagara Falls and he could walk back and forth across this tight rope stretched across these falls and he never fell to his death. In fact, he got so good at this that he began to push a wheelbarrow across this extended tightrope. And he was so talented at this that crowds would gather there on the shore and watch him perform this feat, over and over again. And then one day, prior to pushing this wheelbarrow across this tightrope he calls out to the crowd, do you believe that I can do this again? And they all said yes. And then he said all right, which one of you wants to get into the wheelbarrow? That’s a little different, isn’t it; it’s more than just intellect or cognition, now the whole element of trust and reliance enters the picture.
What is the whole point of John’s Gospel? To present these things to us about Jesus Christ so that we might not just have intellectual facts about Jesus but we would actually trust Him for the safekeeping of our soul. John 20:30-31, which most believe is the purpose statement of John’s Gospel, it says, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; [31] but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

John went into that tomb and he saw the tomb was empty, he saw the orderly way that these grave clothes, or bed clothes, have been organized and the moment he saw that he believed it. And what did he believe? He believed that Jesus had risen from the dead; he connected the dots to a prediction that Jesus gave all the way back in John 16:20, 22, where Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned to joy. [21] Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the aguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. [22] Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.”

He went into that tomb and he saw it was empty and he saw the grave clothes organized a certain way and he believed that promise that Jesus had done exactly what Jesus had claimed he would do, bodily raise from the dead. Now Mary is very different; Mary looks at not exactly the same evidence but similar evidence and she develops a theory, at least at this point, she’ll come to her senses later on in chapter 20, but she develops a naturalistic theory—they have taken away the body. And so in this paragraph John’s faith is being compared to Mary’s lack of faith.

So the great question for us is which one are you? Are you Mary or are you John? Are you believing in Jesus because of who He is and what He can do for you? Have you trusted Him or are you sitting back as a skeptic, developing naturalistic theories that originate from the unbelieving mind?

You know, it’s interesting, you go down to verse 9 and John’s faith is celebrated as being heightened, or somewhat more mature than the faith of others. Notice what verse 9 says, it says: “For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.”

What did John not see? He never saw, at least it hasn’t appeared yet, the bodily resurrected Jesus Christ. There are those that would only believe, like Thomas, when they saw Jesus in His resurrected state, and touched His side and touched His hands and so forth. John doesn’t see anything like this; all he sees is an empty tomb and he believes in the promise of Jesus Christ. And in fact if verse 9 is saying what it’s saying, John didn’t even have the perspective of Old Testament prophecy yet. The point of view was there but he had not…, the dots had not connected in his mind. You see, because there are many Old Testament prophecies written hundreds and thousands of years in advance which also indicates that Jesus would rise from the dead.

One of them is Psalm 16, written by David a thousand years before the time of Christ, and in verses 10-11 it says this: “For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. [11] You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” You study those verses and that is a prophecy, I believe, of the resurrected Christ a thousand years in advance.

And then there’s the famous Isaiah 53 passage, also a prophecy about Jesus, it says, [Isaiah 53:11-12], “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, and He will bear their iniquities. [12] Therefore, I have allotted Him a portion with the great.” Notice again it says, “My servant will justify the many,” He will be in anguish but he will be satisfied; he will see the Light of life.

And this is why the Apostle Paul explains to us that this doctrine of the bodily resurrection of Christ is something that was predicted in the Old Testament. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:4, “and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to” what? “according to the Scriptures.” Jesus is the only individual that has ever walked on planet earth and fulfilled a script that was written about Him hundreds and thousands of years in advance, through Messianic prophecy.

And John, according to verse 9 still did not understand all of that Messianic prophecy. One of the great proofs of who Jesus is he still did not fully understand, and yet he believed. Without Messianic prophecy and understanding it he believed anyway. Without actually seeing the bodily raised Christ he believed anyway and this is why John 20:29 records Jesus saying, ‘…Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” John’s faith is held to a higher level in a certain sense; all faith is saving faith but some faith is more heroic than others. And John is held up in this regard.

My question is, are you imitating John’s faith. Do you have to have every question answered or is it enough simply to trust in the character of God, who cannot lie, and the power of God to accomplish what He said He would do. That, in and of itself, is faith that saves.

And then finally we close with verse 10, it says this: “So the disciples went away again to their own homes.” And this is the testimony of Peter and John. Where did they return to? They went back to where they came from. The Bible says they went “to their own homes.” And did you know that after you become a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ you do not have to wait around to have a ministry. Sometimes we think we have to wait and we have to put our lives on hold and we have to spend months and years and in some cases decades in theological schools before we can have a ministry.

And the fact of the matter is God wants to use you right where you are. Do you know why God wants to use you? Because if you’re a new believer you have an immediate contact with the unsaved world. Your friends, your family, those that are close to you; the problem with being a Christian for a longer period of time is we have a tendency to break away from the world; we lose all association with the world. But not so that brand new Christian, how they can immediately be used by God to reach those close to them.

Is that not what happened to the woman at the well, in John 4:39, remember what it says? “From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him, because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all things that I have done.’” What does this woman at the well, who had had five husbands, who from the human point of view looked unqualified to be used by God, what did she go out and do after she believed in Jesus? She went out and simply testified to those that were close to her and those that were around her of what Jesus did for her.

And that’s all the Lord is asking us to do in many cases. We come to faith in Christ, we’re to speak up, we’re not to make up things, we’re not to come up with a flashy PowerPoint presentation, but just tell people what Jesus has done for you. Just tell people what He means to you and how you have come to believe in this man, Jesus Christ.

And interesting set of encounters here on Sunday morning as we look at Mary and her reaction, and then Peter and John and their reactions. The fact of the matter is, the Bible is eternal and it says what it says. John 11:25 says this: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.”

And as I have mentioned and alluded to this morning, perhaps you are here today and you’re unclear of your eternal destiny, you’re unclear if you would die today where would your soul go? And our exhortation to you here at Sugar Land Bible Church is to follow the example of John and simply to believe in this man, Jesus Christ. You may not have all your questions answered but simply trust Him, trust His character and His power and His sacrifice for you, and His love for you and His desire to guide you into all truth. You may not understand it all but trust in this man, Jesus Christ, this resurrected Christ, this man who conquered the grave. Don’t just know facts about Jesus and things about Jesus, like an encyclopedia, actually be trusting Him, having confidence in Him for the safekeeping of your soul. When he invites you into the wheelbarrow, get into that wheelbarrow and trust His character and trust His power.

Becoming a Christian is not a five step program or a twelve step program, it’s a one step program and the Spirit of God has come into the world to convict men and women of the only sin they can commit, which is unpardonable; there’s only one unpardonable sin and that’s unbelief. It’s dying in that state of unbelief. That’s the only sin that can’t be recompensed or forgiven. And so why leave today with an opportunity like this, with doubts nagging in your mind about your eternity? The best you know how, in the quietness of your heart respond by way of faith or confidence to what Jesus has given us. Trust Him for the safekeeping of your soul. It’s not something you have to raise a hand to do, join a church to do, give money to do, we’re not talking here about New Year’s resolutions and a desire to live better, and try harder. We don’t even think you need to pray a prayer to come to Christ.

It’s interesting that John here never prayed a prayer; he simply believed. Now when I came to Christ I did pray a prayer but in hindsight it wasn’t the prayer that saved me at all; it was the faith expressed in a prayer; the prayer in and of itself is not wrong, but the operative condition is the faith expressed in the prayer. And so even as I am speaking we would invite you, the best you know how, as a personal moment between you and God in the quietness of your own thoughts and heart and mind to trust in Jesus Christ and consequently have your destiny in Him sealed.

Shall we pray.