Summary: Peter, John and Mary Magdalene all saw the empty tomb... but they all came away with different conclusions. What can we learn from these first three witnesses of the risen Christ?
On May 4, 1865, after weeks of his body being on display in Washington D.C. and a few other cities, Abraham Lincoln was “laid to rest” in a cemetery near his home in Springfield, Illinois. But Lincoln didn’t "rest in peace." In 1876, there was a plot to raid his grave and steal his body. It didn’t work. Then 11 years later, because of rumors that his body wasn’t in that grave, his coffin was dug up and opened to confirm it was there. It was. But the rumors continued, 14 years after that, the coffin was dug up again. Both times witnesses were present who testified Lincoln was still in the grave. In all, Lincoln’s body was moved 17 times and his coffin opened 5 times before finally resting in peace thirty-six years later inside a steel cage, beneath two tons of concrete poured ten feet high over his coffin. (https://www.thehistoryreader.com/us-history/plot-kidnap-dead-president-abraham-lincoln/; and David Henderson, “Overcoming Death,” 5/25/2011, sermoncentral.com)
Lincoln is still in his grave and there were witnesses to that.
But Jesus is NOT in His grave, and there were witnesses to that as well.
Paul wrote: “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that 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. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” I Corinthians 15:3-8
Over 500 witnesses saw the risen Savior, and most of them were still alive when Paul wrote to the Corinthians.
Now, what’s intriguing about our text this morning is that John only focused on 3 of those 500 people who witnessed the resurrection of Christ. First, there was John himself (who always referred to himself as “the other disciple” OR “the disciple whom Jesus loved”). Then there was Peter, and then Mary Magdalene. Three witnesses! And what we’re going to do is focus on WHAT each of them saw, and HOW it affected them.
And we’re going to start with John. John was with Peter when Mary Magdalene came and reported Jesus body was missing. We’re told “the other disciple (John) outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.… Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.” John 20:4-5 & 8
Now, in the Gospels, Peter always seems to get first billing. Whenever we read about them in the Gospels, it’s always PETER, JAMES and JOHN. John was always last, and Peter was always first. But now John got to be first. He outran Peter and beat him to the grave.
And when John got to grave it says that he looked inside and “he saw and believed.” But then we’re told “AS YET they (Peter and John) DID NOT UNDERSTAND the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (John 20:9). But wait! If John didn’t understand the Scripture about Jesus rising from the dead… what did he believe?
Well, all John knew about anything was what Jesus had taught him. Mark 8:31 tells us that Jesus “then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and AFTER THREE DAYS RISE AGAIN.” Mark 9:31 says Jesus told them again "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and AFTER THREE DAYS HE WILL RISE." And as Jesus was going into Jerusalem for the last time, He again told them “the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. THREE DAYS LATER HE WILL RISE." Mark 10:33-34
Over and over again, Jesus drove home the fact that the grave would not hold Him. He’d rise on the third day. And now John SEES that the grave is empty and he remembered what Jesus had said. John payed attention.
He may not have known the Old Testament prophecies that spoke of Jesus’ resurrection, but he knew Jesus… and He believed Him.
Now notice – the Gospel doesn’t tell us that John told anybody else. Why not? Well, maybe he didn’t feel he had enough evidence.