Summary: The significance of the folded napkin in the Jewish culture makes some powerful points in considering the resurrection. Link included to formatted text and PowerPoint Presentation.

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JOHN 20:1-7

[Please see link above for more info. on this matter. Concept for this sermon originally preached by Dr. Clyde Box. I receive many questions as to the historicity of the "Napkin Legend"...Dr. Box reportedly says it comes from an "old book" on his shelf. More on this subject at link above. When I present this publicly I make this clarification and do not present it as fact, but focus on the truths it illustrates.]

In Bible days, when someone died, it was the duty of a family member to close the eyes and kiss the cheek of the dead. When Christ died, this became the duty of two men: Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus. They went to Pontius Pilate and begged the body of the Lord Jesus.

Then they had to take Him down from the cross…which was not an easy chore. First, they had to rig a ladder, and climb up the side of the cross, and then they had to pull His hands off over the nails. There was no way they could get those spikes out of the wood, not from that angle, not w/ His hands inbetween the wood and the nail head. Once the hands were loosed, they allowed the body of Jesus to sag into a sheet, and would then remove His feet from the nail in the same manner.

They took the body of Jesus to a new tomb, that Joseph had prepared for himself. They washed His body, and wrapped it in white linen, folding His arms over His chest. They closed His eyes, kissed His cheek, and placed a napkin over His face.

They walked away from that tomb, and no doubt they walked in silence…so that all you could hear was the sounds of their sadness, muffled crying, and sniffing. Surely it must have felt like a huge ball of lead in the pit of their stomachs, as they were thinking, “it’s all over, the end of the dream…and it only lasted for 3 short years.”

3 days passed like an eternity…and I believe w/ all my heart that the birds refused to sing, and the sun refused to shine. For 3 days, all the demons of hell rejoiced, and Satan and the forces of darkness thought they had won a great victory. For 3 days, the Jewish leaders, as well as the Roman government, congratulated themselves on their brilliant scheme. But on the 3rd day, something wonderful and miraculous happened, as God the Father said to an angel in heaven, “Go get him!” And when the angel’s feet hit the ground, the stone rolled away, and up from the grave He arose…He lives!

In our text, Mary comes first to the empty tomb. She sees the stone rolled away and it frightens her. And so she runs to get Peter and John, and they run together to the tomb as fast as they could. John outran Peter, and when he got there, he looked inside, and saw those grave clothes lying there in disarray. Then Peter arrived and, just as we’d expect of him, went right in. He also saw the linen clothes lying there, but there was something unusual in that scene. Something caught their eye that was very interesting.

The Gospel of John tells us that the napkin, which was placed over the face of Jesus, was not just thrown aside like the grave clothes. The Bible takes an entire verse to tell us that the napkin was neatly folded, and was placed at the head of that stony coffin. Is that important? You’d better believe it! Is that significant? Absolutely! Is it really significant? Yes!

In order to understand the significance of the folded napkin, you have to understand a little bit about Hebrew tradition of that day. The folded napkin had to do w/ the Master and Servant, and every Jewish boy knew this tradition. When the servant set the dinner table for the master, he made sure that it was exactly the way the master wanted it. The table was furnished perfectly, and then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating, and the servant would not dare touch that table, until the master was finished.

Now if the master were done eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers, his mouth, and clean his beard, and would wad up that napkin and toss it onto the table. The servant would then know to clear the table. For in those days, the wadded napkin meant, “I’m done”. But if the master got up from the table, and folded his napkin, and laid it aside his plate, the servant would not dare touch the table, because the servant knew that the folded napkin meant, “I’m not finished yet.” The folded napkin meant, “I’m coming back!” Excuse me while I shout (Baptist style).

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F. David Daniels

commented on Aug 25, 2006

Heard a form of this message a few months ago, but Pastor Shipleys message brought out more than I understood from the first. Thanks

Phil Orren

commented on Mar 20, 2008

Excellent message. opens the word well. very esay to understand and apply. Many blessings

Hank Anderson

commented on Apr 1, 2009

A message that the lost can understand, it is not to late for them. It give hope to the hopeless in the simplest form but with great power thru the Holy Spirit

Jason Dunlap

commented on Apr 2, 2009

I have received over the last couple of years emails about the napkin and people wanting to know if this was true...thanks for the info. Holman and MacArthur Commentaries do not deal with this info very much

Christo Viljoen

commented on Apr 8, 2009

I really want to know where did our friend gets the information regarding this theory of the tradition?

Robertha Leroux

commented on Apr 8, 2009

Thank you for this beautiful sermon, God has really blessed you!!I pray Gods blessing over your life!!

Matt Taylor

commented on Apr 8, 2009

The status of the neat cloth has more to do with a need to counter the notion that thieves may have stolen the body. Thieves could not have possibly made off with the body and left the burial cloth so neatly. John''s description of the cloth simply serves to lend veracity to the fact that Jesus must have indeed risen again, without so much as disturbing the cloth. Sources: IVP Bible Background Commentary pg. 316 or Life Application New Testament Commentary pg. 458

Blaine Mcfarlin

commented on Apr 8, 2009

Sounded great, but I can''t find anything that validates this "Hebrew tradition" about the folding of napkins at mealtime. Seems to be a popular e-mail with no validity.

Curtis Emerson

commented on Apr 10, 2009

I am not sure about the folded napkin either, I find it interesting that the scripture does specifically mention the folded burial cloth over his head, found separate from the other linen, "folded up by itself". Even if this is not accurate, the concepts found in your message are excellent and straight to the point which is what Easter is all about. Thank you

Dan Cobb

commented on Apr 10, 2009

This is said to be an email rumor. It should be taken off or validated. I almost used it in my sermon for Easter.

Kenneth Ferris

commented on Apr 11, 2009

Has Heart

James Roberts

commented on Apr 5, 2010

I have heard this as an illustration. I like the expansion into a sermon with explanations. Thank you.

David Fleetwood

commented on Apr 7, 2010

April 6 I celebrated 65 B-Day. In the ministry for 50 years.I preach this message on Easter in 1980. My source was from a Resturant guide of proper manners for waiters in expensive resturants. They watch the tables,when someone left the table to go to the restroom or to the phone,if they folded thier napkin and laid on the oppisite side of the plate from where it was a sign they would return. If they wadded the napkin up , put it on the plate it was a sign that they were finish. I have used this message for serveal years and now I illistrate it... Pastor Shipley gave me added ideas ....THANKS

Mark Jones

commented on Apr 11, 2010

this whole thing is simply not true. When I first heard it I asked every knowledgable Messianic Jew that I could find and they had never heard of such. When you use a hoax as a premise for a sermon, it denigrates the truth. When I hear a sermon like this preached, I am insulted intellectually. Made-up illustrations told for the truth are counter-productive,

Nigel Browne

commented on Apr 7, 2018

I agree sir!

Theo Thomas

commented on Apr 24, 2010

thanks, I''m blessed.

Dearl Hardy

commented on Apr 8, 2011

Mark Jones, you have to be kidding right? What a silly comment from someone proclaiming to know so much. Do you honestly believe the story Jesus told about the Alert servants really occurred, or, the story about the friend coming at midnight? Or how about the Laborers in the vineyard, the lost coin, the mustard seed, the pearl at a great price; shall I go on? Jesus told many stories that were specifically not true, and not presented as actual true stories, but He told them to teach a point. I believe that is exactly what this sermon does as well. So my friend why not remove the plank from your own eye, well you know the rest right? Oh that plank story, wasn''t a true story either, but sure gets the point across. Don''t you think?

Carrie Clayton

commented on Apr 15, 2011

Wonderful message! The word of God is infallible. I don''t know the origin of the Napkin story, either, but it makes sense. I agree with Mr. Emerson about the folded napkin being in a place by itself after having been placed over Jesus'' face. There is a message there. Regardless of how it is related, He''s not finished and IS coming back!

Jim Hyman

commented on Apr 16, 2011

Your Comments

Sara Brown

commented on Nov 3, 2014

I'll never forget the Easter I heard this sermon. What a wonderful promise we have in Jesus! He takes care of us and He uses ordinary people.

Roger Lewis

commented on Mar 26, 2016

I would love to know the source of the Hebrew tradition mention. Great illustration if it is in fact true. Just wanted to validate it. Thanks.

Nigel Browne

commented on Apr 7, 2018

I am a born again believer who has worked in Israel as a missionary. This story about the napkin sounds good, however, it's not true. It is not a Jewish tradition, it's an internet story that someone made up in 2007.

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