Summary: Easter should be a happy day, but for those who first experienced the risen Lord it was anything but joyful. This speaks to how you might experience Jesus at first too.
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when I say the word "Easter"? Outside of a Christian group you’d probably say "The Easter Bunny," or "Easter eggs." Fluffy white bunnies and eggs have become so much a part of secular Easter that it wouldn’t surprise me if little kids thought that the Easter Bunny let Jesus out of the tomb so He could hunt eggs with the disciples!
Seriously - when a Christian thinks of Easter, or perhaps more appropriately Resurrection Sunday - what comes to mind? The empty tomb, the risen Savior, sins washed away and the joy of salvation.
Today I want to strip away both secular and sacred ideas of Easter. I want us to look at this event with the fresh eyes of people who experienced it without the benefit of chocolate bunnies and pictures of the Garden Tomb. Far from a day to ring bells, for the people we will meet today - the day wrought great sorrow, confusion, doubt, remorse and fear - and that’s after they knew that Jesus was alive. Rather than embracing the joy of the resurrection, these held back.
Jesus met four people or groups of people after He rose from the dead - each one with a different need and a different reason for hesitation. These represent for us, four of the main reasons why we hesitate to come to Jesus ourselves.
John 20:1-10 This part of the story we are familiar with. But let’s look more closely at what happens next.
John 20:11-18 Mary Magdalene - grief (looking down)
Mary was the first to come to the tomb on that Sunday. She was the first to see the empty tomb and ran to tell Peter and John. Clearly Mary had put her every hope in Jesus - and when He died and then disappeared, that hope died and disappeared as well. After Peter and John left Mary was paralyzed with grief and stood sobbing outside the tomb.
She stops, perhaps through tear stained eyes looking back and seeing not an empty tomb, but two men sitting where Jesus’ lay. Notice that she isn’t struck with fear at the sight of the angels. Sometimes grief does that to you. I also notice that after the resurrection, Jesus’ tomb was good only for a park bench for two angels.
So how does Jesus combat her grief?
He wants her to look up - to the ascended Lord, taker of sin and cleanser of souls. He says "Don’t cling to me, I haven’t yet ascended." Mary can’t hang on to the Jesus she walked with for three years. She still saw Him as a man - a man she can help. She offered to go get the body herself and carry it away. But she, like everyone else, has to look to the work He did in dieing, and the work He does in every heart that looks to Him. It’s not about Mary doing anything - it’s about Jesus doing everything.
When we grieve, we often yearn just to turn the clock back a little bit - to go back to the way things were. If we could just have delayed going out by a few minutes then that car crash wouldn’t have happened. If we had gone to the doctor a little earlier then maybe the sickness could have been healed.
John 12:23-26 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. ESV
Mary looked down without hope when she needed to look up.
John 20:19-23 The disciples - fear (looking around)
John tells us that the disciples were hidden away in a locked room. I wonder why it didn’t dawn on them that if Jesus were now alive that He would protect them. But they knew so little. They didn’t yet understand that this wasn’t just resuscitation but resurrection. Perhaps they even feared that when the Jews found out that Jesus was gone they might just come looking at the most likely suspects - the disciples.
How does Jesus overcome the disciples fear?
The disciples looked around at what threatened them, Jesus wants them to focus on Him as the Risen Savior - Master and Lord of all - and the bringer of peace. Fear is the irrational expectation of harm. The disciples were only aware of the physical universe around them - laws, rulers, soldiers, swords, crosses - death.
By coming through the walls Jesus declares that He transcends the universe as we know it - has command over it - and is here to save, and protect us - and the sends us out as the ambassadors of His kingdom - bulletproof until He calls us home.