Summary: John was able to look at the evidence of Jesus resurrection and go away with the seeds of an Easter faith. All of us need to strive for this way of seeing.
Note: This sermon accepts the centuries old view that John was the “other” disciple.
The other day Pat and I walked into one of the busiest malls in central Ohio where we were greeted with a sign announcing the mall would be closed on Sunday, March 27th. While many businesses will be open today, many others will be closed to observe the Easter holiday.
I can appreciate that—even though I know that on the first Easter things were pretty much business as usual. In fact, after the hectic Passover things were settling down to a more normal pace. The first day of the week had dawned and promised to be uneventful. Of course, most people were aware that the once-popular teacher from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth, had been crucified; gossips were whispering about charges of blasphemy and sedition. And, now that he was dead and buried his followers had made themselves scarce. Most of them hadn’t been seen since before the crucifixion.
Who could blame them for hiding? The Romans might have decided they were dangerous too. Probably not, but you could never be too sure with the Romans.
Yet, not all of Jesus’ followers were remaining behind closed doors. A handful of women, including Mary Magdalene, were determined to visit his grave and anoint his body with perfumes and spices to show their respect. John mentions only Mary but the other Gospels name the others who went on this errand.
Instead of finding the tomb sealed and guarded they found it open, abandoned, and empty.
Things started happening pretty quickly after this. Because each Gospel writer had his own purpose in writing and choosing his material, they weren’t always clear about the sequence of events. Fortunately, it’s not absolutely necessary to know the order in which things happened to grasp the gist of the story. Furthermore, there are several ways to harmonize the known events. With that in mind, let me offer what may have been the sequence of events leading up to Peter and John’s visit to the tomb.
o The women arrive at the tomb and discover it empty. (All Gospels)
o Mary Magdalene may have broken away from the others to report the discovery to the Eleven.
o Meanwhile, angels appear to the women to tell them that Jesus had risen as he had promised them. (Luke 24)
o In response to Mary Magdalene’s report, Peter and John set off to see to the tomb.
o Along the way or just before they leave, they encounter the other women who are returning to tell their story.
o This prompts Peter and John to quicken their pace and literally run to the tomb.
Now, back to the story.
John, perhaps because he his younger or perhaps because he can run faster, gets to the tomb first. He looks in. Peter arrives and, being the bolder of the two, actually enters the tomb and looks around. What they see plays an important part in John’s account.
The Bible says they say, “the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.”
In accordance with Jewish burial customs strips of linen had been tightly wound around Jesus’ body. In this case, some seventy-five pounds of spices had been wrapped up with the cloth. The body would then resemble a mummy, although the wrapping did not cover the head. A separate, turban-like cloth covered the head and face.
Within the tomb of Jesus, Peter and John saw this burial cloth, looking for all the world as if it had just collapsed upon itself. It bore the general shape of a human body but none was there. The cloth looked like a deflated balloon. Add to this the fact that the head wrapping was neatly folded and set aside, away from the rest of the wrappings.
John uses several verbs to describe how the two men saw what was in that tomb.
Peter saw what was there in the sense that his eyes took in what was before him. The presence of the wrappings and the head cloth registered on his consciousness so he could later report to the others what was there and report accurately.
John saw what was there in the sense that his eyes took in what was before him. But not only did the presence of the wrappings and the head cloth register on his consciousness, their significance did as well. With humility John refers to the “other” disciple and says, “He saw and believed.” The two remnants of Jesus’ burial clothes pointed to the Resurrection.
Lenski lays out the thought-process that the wrappings must have inspired.
No human being wrapped round and round with bands like this could possibly slip out of them without greatly disturbing them. They would have to be unwound, or cut through, or cut and stripped off. They would thus, if removed, lie strewn around in disorder or heaped in a pile, or folded up in some way. If the body had been desecrated in the tomb by hostile hands, this kind of evidence would appear. But hostile hands would have carried off the body as it was, wrappings and all, to get it away as soon as possible and to abuse it later and elsewhere. But here the linen bands were. Both their presence and their undisturbed condition spoke volumes. Here, indeed was a sigh to behold. Jesus was raised from the dead!