Jesus Conquers Death (John 20:11-18
Rev. David French
Last week, we looked at Jesus’ suffering and death that is crush Satan’s head or remove his power and offer His blood to satisfied God’s wrath for our sins. This week, we return to His tomb.
The Scriptures reveal there were no witnesses to the moment of Jesus’ resurrection. No one was standing in the tomb to see His breath return, His eyes open, to see Him rise. But then, no one actually had to witness that moment to know that it really happened. We only need witnesses who saw Him die and who saw Him alive, standing, walking, talking.
And over the next forty days, Jesus appeared to many witnesses over and over again. In his great resurrection chapter in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes, “He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:5–6). Paul’s point is that as he wrote 1 Corinthians, eyewitnesses to Christ resurrection were still alive.
After Jesus left the tomb there was nothing to see except the linen cloths that Joseph and Nicodemus had wrapped around Jesus when they buried Him. But those empty cloths spoke volumes to any who would think about them. And they answered one of the strangest lies that was passed among the Jews.
Rather than admit they were wrong and seriously consider that Jesus might be the promised Savior, the chief priests bribed the guards instructing them to spread the story that they had fallen asleep and Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body.
Any reasoning Jew should have seen through that. It was widely known that Roman soldiers who fell asleep on their watch would immediately be executed—especially if that person or thing they were watching had been stolen as they slept. Also, it was an undeniable fact that Jesus’ disciples had abandoned Him at His arrest after Jesus had stopped Peter’s attempt to defend Him. Even now the disciples were quaking behind locked doors for fear of the Jewish leaders hunting them down as well.
No, the empty wrappings were a silent testimony that Jesus had risen and was alive. But the first witnesses didn’t recognize Him right away. Mary Magdalene, a woman who had followed Jesus, saw the grave cloths, rushed back to the men, and told Peter and John someone had stolen Jesus’ body.
Peter and John ran out to inspect the tomb. They went in and saw the linen cloths lying where Jesus’ body had been, but they didn’t see Jesus. Confused by this, they returned to the city. Meanwhile, Mary had returned to the tomb. We read in John 20, “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain…. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.’ Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to Him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.”’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’—and that He had said these things to her" (John 20:11–18).
Later that afternoon, Jesus appeared to two of His followers as they were leaving Jerusalem and walking to a nearby village called Emmaus. He asked them why they were sad and their faces downcast. In amazement that this stranger didn’t know what had happened, they related the events of Holy Week—Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, His stunning arrest, trials, and crucifixion, which had shattered the men’s hopes that Jesus would redeem Israel. They also related how the women had said Jesus had risen, but they didn’t believe them.
Finally, Jesus took them through the Old Testament, showing from passages like those we looked at in our first five weeks that the Christ had to suffer and die and afterward enter into His glory. Then when they stopped for supper, He revealed Himself to them as He broke the bread for them.
They rushed back to Jerusalem to tell the Twelve and learned that Jesus had appeared privately to Peter earlier in the day. Then as they were relating their experience along the road, Jesus came and stood among them.
They were terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. Jesus showed them His hands and side, inviting them to touch Him and see that He had flesh and bones.
When the Twelve gathered that night, there were two missing—the betrayer Judas, who had killed himself when he learned Jesus was condemned, and Thomas, who had not been with them that night. Through the following week, the disciples assured Thomas they had seen Jesus, but he refused to believe, insisting that he must put his fingers in Jesus’ nail-marked hands and put his hand into the spear wound in Jesus’ side or he will never believe. One week later, while the doors were locked and Thomas was with them, Jesus appeared to them. He invited Thomas to touch His hands and put his hand into Jesus’ side. “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:27–28)
Jesus’ resurrection was proof of His victory over Satan, sin, death, and hell. It also assures us that when He returns, He will also raise us from the dead. We need not fear death. In fact, Jesus will raise all people from the dead—believers and unbelievers—and all will stand before Him to be judged.
Think about it. Not a single child of Adam and Eve will be able to escape standing before our Judge, God’s Son, Jesus Christ on Judgment Day. It doesn’t matter how they died, what happened to their bodies—Jesus will raise all of us and each of us, and we will stand before Him, our eternal destiny in His hands: living in bliss with Him in the new heavens and the new earth or suffering eternal torment in the fires of hell with the devil and all his angels.
If that strikes terror into your heart, it should. Because all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. None of us has lived the perfect life God demands for anyone who would dwell with Him in His restored creation. But Jesus Christ lived that perfect life in your place and mine. He took our failings, our sins, our offenses upon Himself and suffered and died on the cross to pay the penalty of death and eternal suffering we deserve.
That is the story of our Savior and the great salvation He won for all humanity. Over a period of forty days, the risen Jesus appeared to His followers to assure them of His resurrection, show how He had fulfilled the promises throughout the Old Testament, and teach them what He had accomplished by His suffering and death.
On the fortieth day, Jesus ascended into heaven in the sight of His disciples. He now sits at the Father’s right hand in heaven. He intercedes for us and governs all things that happen on earth for the benefit of His Church as it works to bring the Good News of Jesus’ salvation to all the world. Through pastors, missionaries, and each of us Christians, Jesus Christ continues to minister to people, proclaiming the Good News of God’s mercy and grace, confronting sin, and forgiving repentant sinners. He builds His kingdom, His bride the Church, and on the Last Day will return to completely restore His creation and live with us through all eternity.
In His name, Amen.