[Easter Sun.]

TEXT:     John 20:1-31


The very core of Christianity is found in the resurrection of Christ ... if there is no resurrection, there is no Christianity! God has written the message of life after death in everything, even nature goes through a cycle every year of dying, then comes back to life again! In nature there could be no life if there wasn't first death ... death feeds life! The resurrection power of God is the most dynamic force in the universe ... and the only hope for mankind! The idea that God can bring us back from the dead is not that farfetched… ILLUS:A workman of the great chemist Michael Faraday accidentally knocked a silver cup into a solution of acid. It was promptly dissolved, eaten up by the acid. The workman was terribly disturbed by the accident. The chemist came in and put a chemical into the jar, and shortly all the silver was precipitated to the bottom. The shapeless mass was lifted out and sent to the silversmith, and the cup was restored to its original shape. If a human genius can do a things like this, why should we doubt that God can raise the dead? -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 166. There is absolutely no other religion on this planet that has an empty grave for its founder except Christianity! All other religions in the world have the bodies of their leaders still in the graves ... you can visit them and in some cases even see their bodies! Christ's grave is empty because He rose again from the dead ... the only religious leader ever to do so! This makes Christianity a source of authority on eternal life! PROP. SENT:      The Bible clearly teaches us that Jesus' resurrection from the dead is the single most important event in human history... it is what gives our faith hope and makes our future life possible! Without the resurrection there is no Christianity!

I. TERROR OF THE TOMB!       20:1-9

A. Helpless!     20:1-7 1. The tomb represents a place of terror for mankind ... a. and tragically, all of us will one day die, we can't escape it! b. we avoid talking about it, we avoid facing it - because we don't want to face it! c. this is why funerals are not happy occasions! d. The natural mind tries to live as though death is not real! 2. We feel helpless when thinking about death a. the disciples of Jesus were feeling this way on Sunday morning as they reflected on all the events of the past week! b. What could they do? They were hiding for fear thinking they would be next! 3. Unlike some today that don't believe Jesus actually died, that He only passed out and became conscious later, these disciples clearly under-stood that Jesus was very dead! ILLUS: A woman wrote J. Vernon McGee: "Our preacher said that on Easter Jesus just swooned on the cross and that the disciples nursed him back to health. What do you think?" McGee replied, "Dear Sister, beat your preacher with a leather whip for thirty-nine heavy strokes. Nail him to a cross. Hang him in the sun for six hours Run a spear through his heart. Embalm him. Put him in an airless tomb for three days. Then see what happens." -- Robert Russell, "Resurrection Promises," Preaching Today, Tape 151. 4. Peter, John, Mary and others had come to the tomb without any idea that Jesus could possibly be alive again ... these are not the kind of people who would make up such a story! 5. These were people who were feeling what we all feel when faced with death ... a helpless feeling and despair! a. they were confused b. they were frightened c. they were despairing B. Hopeful!     20:8-9 1. A small glimpse of hope however surfaces when they go inside and really look things over! a. for one thing, the bandages that had been wrapped around Jesus' body were still in perfect setting ... but no body was wrapped inside it anymore! (1. a robbery would not have been able to do this. .the clothes would have been unwound and everywhere, or totally gone with the body! (2. even if Jesus would have somehow woke up after only passing out earlier He would not have been able to have the clothes in the same state but without His body inside it! b. the only possible answer was that the body somehow had literally transmitted itself right through the wrappings without changing them in any way! c. John being an intelligent human being could even figure this out ... and so faith sprung to life in his heart! This was the first hopeful sign among them! ILLUS: Nowhere in any of the Scriptures does Jesus ever conduct a funeral. The ones He attended never ended in burials, for He raised them from the dead. Resurrection power was always present in Christ! He is the resurrection and the life! 2. John saw and believed ... the evidence was right before his eyes! 3. The resurrection would completely change these frightened, lonely, and scared disciples! a. only the hope of a resurrection can give real meaning to the suffering of this life! b. if there is no hope for a future life in Christ ... there is little meaning in life at all! ILLUS: What do all these questions have in common? They all have the same answer! What is it that gives a widow courage as she stands beside a fresh grave? What is the ultimate hope of the cripple, the amputee, the abused, the burn victim? How can the parents of brain-damaged or physically handicapped children keep from living their entire lives totally and completely depressed? Why would anyone who is blind and deaf or paralyzed be encouraged when they think of the life beyond? How can we see past the martyrdom of some helpless hostage or devoted missionary? Where do the thoughts of a young couple go when they finally recover from the grief of losing their baby? When a family receives the tragic news that a little daughter was found dead or their dad was killed in a plane crash, or a son overdosed on drugs, what single truth becomes their whole focus? What is the final answer to pain, mourning, senility, insanity, terminal diseases, sudden calamities, and fatal accidents? What gives meaning to the horrors of life and the reality of death? By now you've probably guessed correctly: The hope of bodily resurrection! 4. For John, a new hope comes into his heart! Jesus is alive!!!! a. the empty tomb with undisturbed wrappings but no body caused new hope to spring into John's heart! b. John was an intelligent human being ... the evidence was overwhelming! II. TRIUMPH OVER THE TOMB!     20:10-23 A. Heartache!     20:10-15 1. Mary and the others however were still distressed ... their hearts were broken still! 2. The tomb is a place of terror, and a place of tears! 3. Even in the presence of angels Mary is heartbroken, it is clear that these people were not capable of hatching a scheme like kidnapping Jesus' body and making up the story of the resurrection! They weren't even thinking about a resurrection! 4. In Mary's mind, these angels were simply garden workers, and one of them must have taken Jesus' body away for some reason! a. her request was simply to have access to His body so that she could properly prepare it for final burial! b. she had come to offer one final act of service to Jesus whom she had loved, her thoughts were not on resurrection! 5. Even when Jesus Himself speaks to her she doesn't recognize Him, she wasn't looking for Jesus - so sure enough, she doesn't recognize Him as Jesus! 6. heartache had completely blinded her to the hope of spiritual realities and the hope of resurrection! a. this is still true, heartache over tragic death can keep us from seeing the light, the hope of eternal life, even blinding us to Jesus' presence! b. but Jesus is often present at such times in our life, we just don't see Him in our anguish! ILLUS:The Gospels do not explain the Resurrection; the Resurrection explains the Gospels. Belief in the Resurrection is not an appendage to the Christian faith; it is the Christian faith. John S. Whale - Edythe Draper, Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992). Entry 9696. B. Happiness!     20:16-23 1. Because her heartache had blinded her to who He was, Jesus now takes the initiative to reveal Himself to her. He does so by simply speaking her name in Aramaic, the tongue used when conversing with friends! a. all Jesus says is, "MARY!" b. immediately something familiar struck her, she knew that voice, she knew that tone, she knew that man! It was indeed Jesus! 2. She responded in Aramaic as well, the language of her friendship! 3. Immediately she is overcome with great joy and she clings to Jesus in exuberant joy! a. Christ's resurrection is the reason that even the terror of the tomb can be extinguished! b. Christ's resurrection is the reason for joy in our lives, even death will not beat us! 4. With Jesus alive everything changes!!! a. Jesus has to peel her away literally, and He informs her that their relation-ship is now different. He is not merely her friend, He is her savior! b. She must let go of the previous relationship, He has work yet to do. 5. She goes to the others and tells them the good news, a woman is the first to be asked by Jesus to go and preach the GOSPEL, the good news of Christ's resurrection!!! 6. With Jesus alive, their despair is over, their fears relieved, their hope returned! a. this would change everything, these frightened men and women will no longer be afraid of this world and those who are in it! b. though they had hidden behind closed doors they will now break out and fearlessly preach the GOOD NEWS! 7. Being wrapped up in Christ's resurrected life gave them a new boldness and a new happiness! ILLUS: Spurgeon once told of a man who had been sentenced to death by a Spanish court. Because he was an American citizen and also of English birth the consuls of both countries decided to intervene for his life. They declared that the authorities of Spain had no right to take his life, but their protests unheeded. Finally, they deliberately wrapped the prisoner in their flags, the stars and stripes of our American flag and the union jack of England. Defying the executioner, they issued this warning as the man was taken out to be shot: "Fire if you dare! But if you do, you will bring the powers of two great nations upon you!" There stood the condemned, but the rifleman would not shoot him! Protected by those flags and the governments they represented, the man was invulnerable! Their power protected him from death! So does the resurrection of our Lord if we believe and receive Him! 8. Twice Jesus greets them with "peace be with you!" a. No longer do they need to be afraid! b. His power over death will become their victory over death also! c. happiness is restored to the despairing saints ... Jesus was (and is!) alive! 9. They were now "overjoyed"! a. Now the TOMB becomes a new WOMB where one day our bodies will rise from the dead! b. instead of a place where we end (The tomb) it will be a place where a new body will rise! (the new womb) III. TESTING OF THOMAS!     20:24-31 A. Honest!     20:24-25 1. Does this mean it is always easy to believe? a. On this first visit by Jesus, not everyone was present to see and hear Jesus, one of the 12, Thomas, was not present that first visit by Jesus! b. While we might be hard on doubting Thomas, we must remember that he is simply like the rest of them, he was discouraged and afraid! c. To his credit, he had not abandoned the group, for a week later he is still hanging around them! 2. Thomas' struggle is our struggle, to believe! If we are to be hard on him, we must see ourselves in him first! 3. He is struggling to believe, just because the others got to see Jesus, perhaps there is some anger and shame in not having been there the night Jesus did appear!? a. Thomas wants proof! By the way, the same proof the others had received! b. He is not asking for something they didn't get, he is just being honest! c. In other places in the Gospels Thomas is praised, this is the only negative story about him, at least he was honest! 4. God is not afraid of honest doubt, it is the sarcastic and the arrogant that will not find faith or Christ! a. Thomas had to know that this was no illusion or trick. b. Thus he wanted to actually feel the nail prints in Jesus' hands and the wound in His side, he wanted his faith to rest on fact, not fiction! ILLUS: A letter came from Health and Human Services to a resident of Greenville County, South Carolina: "Your food stamps will be stopped, effective March 1992, because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you. You may reapply if your circumstances change." -- S. Bowen Matthews, Wilmington, Delaware. Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 3. B. Humbled!     20:26-31 1. As though to test the sincerity of Thomas, Jesus waits yet another week before appearing again at a time when Thomas was present! a. If Thomas had been cynical or arrogant, he would not have stayed with the group, his staying with them proved his desire to know the truth! b. to an honest seeker, Jesus will reveal Himself, I believe this is still true! 2. Jesus greets them as before, "peace be with you" a. did you know that this is the most frequently stated statement to believers! b. God's work in Christ's death and resurrection was intended to relieve us from fear and bondage, to offer us real peace in a broken world of pain! c. God is concerned about our mental, physical, and spiritual well being! 3. Jesus offers Thomas the proof he is seeking, He asks Thomas to go ahead and place his hands in His side wound, to touch His nail prints. a. Notice however, that Thomas doesn't touch Jesus, sight alone was enough!!! b. Thomas humbled falls on his knees and declares, "my Lord and my God!" c. Suddenly faith leaps into his heart and it is unnecessary to demand more than what his brothers had received! 4. Thomas knew his savior, indeed he proclaims Jesus "LORD" and "GOD"! 5. the evidence was enough! ILLUS:A small orphaned boy lived with his grandmother. One night their house caught fire. The grandmother, trying to rescue the little boy asleep upstairs, perished in the smoke and flames. A crowd gathered around the burning house. The boy's cries for help were heard above the crackling of the blaze. No one seemed to know what to do, for the front of the house was a mass of flames. Suddenly a stranger rushed from the crowd and circled to the back where he spotted an iron pipe that reached an upstairs window. He disappeared for a minute, then reappeared with the boy in his arms. Amid the cheers of the crowd, he climbed down the hot pipe as the boy hung around his neck. Weeks later a public hearing was held in the town hall to determine in whose custody the boy would be placed. Each person wanting the boy was allowed to speak briefly. The first man said, "I have a big farm. Everybody needs the out-of-doors." The second man told of the advantages he could provide. "I'm a teacher. I have a large library. He would get a good education." Others spoke. Finally the richest man in the community said, "I'm wealthy. I could give the boy everything mentioned tonight: farm, education, and more, including money and travel. I'd like him in my home." The chairman asked, "Anyone else like to say a word?" From the backseat rose a stranger who had slipped in unnoticed. As he walked toward the front, deep suffering showed on his face. Reaching the front of the room, he stood directly in front of the little boy. Slowly the stranger removed his hands from his pockets. A gasp went up from the crowd. The little boy, whose eyes had been focused on the floor until now, looked up. The man's hands were terribly scarred. Suddenly the boy emitted a cry of recognition. Here was the man who had saved his life. His hands were scarred from climbing up and down the hot pipe. With a leap the boy threw himself around the stranger's neck and held on for life. The farmer rose and left. The teacher, too. Then the rich man. Everyone departed, leaving the boy and his rescuer who had won him without a word. Those marred hands spoke more effectively than any words. -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 119-120. 6. Jesus adds a final word: "blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe".... a. this is the last and best BEATITUDE that Jesus spoke! b. this was a reference to all those who would follow one day in believing though they would not have the same privilege as these did here! 7. One day however, Jesus will return and we will SEE the nail prints in His hands and the scar in His side! a. One day our faith too will be based on physical evidence! b. Now we have the choice, to travel through life afraid and despondent with no hope for the future, or to believe in Christ and find resurrection life! 8. DO YOU BELIEVE??? CONCLUSION:    To this world the tomb represents "the end"! But to God the tomb is merely a "womb" where life comes into existence again! Jesus left the tomb open to let us know it wasn't an end, there is a way out, it is Jesus! The only religion on Earth to have an empty tomb is Christianity. Jesus rose again! Death is only a transition to eternal life. To those who receive Christ there is life, EASTER Sunday is the "DAY OF VICTORY!"