Sermons Updates

I Believe In the Resurrection (John 20:1-31) – Mark Ottaway

I Believe in the Resurrection!

John 20:1-31


Turn to John 20. As we celebrate this morning our Lord’s resurrection, I would suggest that one of the greatest confirmations of our faith is the belief in the resurrection. There is little doubt that the resurrection changed the character of so many followers of Christ. That Christianity went from crowds who had such mixed reactions toward Jesus, and even many of those who followed, could probably be described as a very fickle crowd. But the conclusion of those who remained with Christ, and then witnessed the resurrection, was that it confirmed everything that Jesus had said to them. For the three years of following Christ could be described as several ups and downs. Yes, many had witnessed the miracles of Christ, but when the teachers of the law and the Pharisees often said that the only reason that Jesus was able to do such things was that He was being used of Satan. And that may have been one of those things that some would have disagreed with, but it may have placed some doubt even in the minds of the disciples. And then on top of that was the conditions in the way the followers had to live, it certainly would not have been what most would have thought about Israel’s king coming. And then of course the crucifixion and to either see Christ dead on the cross, or if you had already run by this time, but then to be told about His death. So, all these things may have gone through the minds of His followers. Was He being used of Satan? Maybe we should have listened to the religious leaders all along, and therefore was the cross then God’s judgment on Someone who had been fooling us? And maybe some of those who were loyal to the end thought that He did not deserve death, but maybe He was not exactly who He claimed to be.


Mind games that we might play within our own minds. God said this, but this happened. God’s Word teaches this, but it seems so irrelevant today. Is there really a literal hell? What about those who have a sincere belief in God but maybe they are Muslims? What about the details of all the OT stories? See, some followers of Jesus had a belief in Him, otherwise, they would not have run all over the countryside following Him, but they may have had some nagging doubts about so much. But what changed their thinking? And I suppose we could say what changed the assurance of these men and women about Christ was the resurrection. Because the resurrection proved that Jesus right, and the resurrection proved the religious leaders wrong. And because it was seen, it was a confirmation of the Father’s approval of Christ. It is interesting that we do not see a whole lot of pushback from the followers of Christ towards the religious leaders during the life of Christ, as most of the pushback came from Christ Himself. But then when we read the epistles of men like Paul and Peter, they instantly will call out false teachers and untruths, and they start using phrases like Paul saying, I know whom I have believed; or Peter saying, folks, be ready to make a defense of the hope that is in you; and he also said, we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. It would seem that many went from a weak faith, with many doubts, and questions; to a strong faith, full of assurance and certainty and knowing because of the resurrection.


And what I noticed in our passage this morning is the Lord’s understanding that need for us to know, as it is amazing how the Lord makes certain for four-character groups here in our passage, and how He also wants us to be assured even though we were not there. And Christ does this with one who had been demon-possessed, and then with two leaders, then the disciples, and even a doubter. And we learn from this not only Christ’s assurance to these folks but also His desire that they would believe so that each would conclude that I believe in the resurrection. Now, as with last week, there are so many things going on here on this resurrection morning as told in all four gospels, but we will stay mainly with what John tells us here in his gospel.


Verse 1, now, on the first day of the week. Notice here that John makes clear that the resurrection was on Sunday AM. All four gospel writers make this clear as well. Good to see the change that will occur here, as the gospel spreads and it includes not only Jews but also Gentiles beyond Acts 20 we only read that they met together on the first day of the week. Acts 20:7 Luke writes, on the first day of the week when we were gathered to break bread. 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul writes, on the first day of the week, an actual command to bring in their offering. There is no other explanation for this change of gathering on Sunday, other than the fact of the tremendous impact of the resurrection. Matt 28:1 “On the first day of the week they came to the grave,” Mark 16:2 “On the first day of the week they came to the tomb.” Mark 16:9 “On the first day of the week He first appeared to Mary Magdalene.” Luke 24:1 “On the first day of the week they came to the tomb.” And in our passage, John 20:1, “On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.” Now Paul also warns us to be careful here that we do not make this a test of faith. He writes, “One person judges one day above another, another judges every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.” But we do see a New Testament pattern here as the early church progressed of meeting together on Sundays.


Mary Magdalene


And now we are introduced to Mary Magdalene. We know that there were a few women who came to the tomb from the other gospels, but it would be best to understand that Mary arrived first. Now Mary Magdalene is often associated with being a prostitute. This is not necessarily true, as there is no indication of this in the Bible. What we do know for sure is that Luke 8:2 tells us that Mary Magdalene had seven demons in her and was healed. In chapter 7 just prior, there is a story of a woman who was described as a sinner, yet it does not give her name. Some have concluded that this was Mary, yet there is absolutely no basis for this. Why would she be only referred to as a woman in chapter 7 and then she is named in chapter 8? For some reason, she is also associated with the woman in John 8 who is a prostitute. But again, she is not named, and certainly not said to be Mary Magdalene. Some secular movies have portrayed her to be something she was not. For if we just read the biblical account without any speculation, we get the picture that after Mary was rescued from the demons, she was likely the most committed believer we read about of all the women. So, here we have Mary Magdalene who is likely the first to arrive at the tomb. And what we do know about her is that when Jesus met her she was possessed by demons. After being healed she then became a follower of Christ and we also know that she was faithful in being there at the cross.

“Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.’”

John 20:1-2 (LSB)


So, this is what we know. Mary came to the tomb and upon seeing the stone rolled away she ran and told Peter and John. Obviously, Peter and John were not with the other disciples. They may have been in their own homes as we know Peter was married. Also, at the cross, we saw where John took Mary, Jesus” mother, to his home to care for her. Good to be reminded here that these are the first days that the disciples are living without Jesus, as they have spent three years with Him and now they are likely a little uncertain of what life will look like for them, as everything they had given themselves to seems to have ended.

“But Mary was standing outside the tomb crying; and so, as she was crying, she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ She said to them, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.’ When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Whom are you seeking?’ Thinking Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’”

John 20:11-15 (LSB)


The truth that Jesus would be raised from the dead had not become a real truth to her. It would seem that many understood that Jesus would be raised again in heaven, but not physically in this life, as there seems to be not even a thought within her that He would rise again. But what we do see in Mary is such a heart of love, don’t we? We notice her crying (vs 13). In fact, we should even be impressed that she was willing to come to the tomb. Notice she says, they have taken away my Lord. She saw Jesus as the Lord of her life as she was a follower of Christ. That is what we are if we call ourselves a Christian. We follow Jesus, we obey Jesus, and we serve Jesus. Notice again (vs 15) that she wanted the body of Jesus. She really only has one concern and that is the care of Jesus. That concern is obviously dominating her heart, that Christian heart of wanting to be with Christ, caring for Christ, that He would be properly taken care of after death. Of course, she does recognize Jesus, but believes Him to be the gardener, and that this gardener had taken away the body of Jesus.


Peter and John


Next is Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, John, come to the tomb after being told by Mary.

“So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. And the two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but folded up in a place by itself. So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered.”

John 20:3-8a (LSB)


So, these two men saw some evidence. They saw the linen wrappings and the face cloth that had been on His head, and they saw the stone had moved and evidence that something had happened. Interesting that John possibly out of reverence did not at first enter the tomb, whereas Peter, knowing his personality, entered the tomb immediately and then John followed.


The Disciples


The next group of people we see is the disciples.

“So while it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and while the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews.”

John 20:19a (LSB)


Interestingly and we learn here that they were still afraid.




Finally, there is Thomas, who has received the nickname “Doubting Thomas” throughout history. It might be interesting of our reaction when we see Thomas in heaven someday. “Ah, Thomas!” There might be some uncomfortable silence. I am glad the Bible didn’t give some commentary on my life.

“But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’”

John 20:24-25 (LSB)


Of course, the disciples had now all seen Jesus and they told Thomas that Christ was alive, but he is not going to be quick to believe. And maybe we are a little quick to jump on Thomas here, after all, he was not there when Jesus appeared, and maybe we would have questioned the whole thing as well. Admittedly, Jesus was vague at times when He spoke about His resurrection.

“Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.’”

John 2:19 (LSB)


And the Old Testament never gave a clear understanding of this. Isaiah did speak about how the Messiah would taste death but God would prolong His days. But that was all the hints it gave. Psalm 16 spoke about the Holy One not being abandoned to death. Now Jesus did compare Himself to Jonah. That as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, so the Son of Man would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Yet, on the other hand, Christ was very clear about the resurrection. Jesus taught over and over again in all four gospels, about ten times, that He would rise on the third day. He kept saying that after three days I would rise again. This teaches us something about human nature, even to us who believe, in how we can hear something from God’s Word, or the way we can read something in our Bibles. And I am talking not about something vague or mysterious or hard to understand or symbolic, that maybe someone thinks that have figured something out. No, I am talking about something very clear, after three days I will rise again.


So, I wonder why Mary and the disciples and especially Thomas didn’t get it. Did they think that the three days meant something else than what it said? Did they think three days was representative of three thousand years or three million years? Good to be reminded that three days meant what? Three days. Jesus was not trying to fool them here, for He had told them the clear simple truth as the Bible does, after three days I will rise again. It is interesting that after Jesus was placed in the tomb, it was the chief priests and the Pharisees who approached Pilate to have a guard placed at the tomb. Why? Because they said (Matt 27:63), we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver [referring to Christ said] after three days I will rise again. Surprisingly it is the chief priests and the Pharisees who were listening more to what Jesus said than His actual followers. They listened more to what they didn’t believe than the ones who apparently believed. We certainly do not want to fall into that trap. We do not want to be listening to untruths about the Bible or anything, while at the same time missing the truth, the joy, and the heart of Christianity. So, we have Mary, Peter and John, the disciples, and Thomas, all who have been confronted to some degree with the miraculous.


Mary Magdalene


Now back to Mary Magdalene. With Mary we get likely the most difficult situation, for we do not perceive any kind of rebellion or stubbornness to believe. And we also see in her a great love for Christ as she asks the “gardener” where he has put Jesus.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means, Teacher).”

John 20:16 (LSB)


Interestingly when Jesus first appeared to Mary, He somehow disguised Himself so that she did not know it was Jesus or His resurrected body somehow looked different. Alfred Edersheim comments on Mary from this verse. He said that the depth and the agony of her love for Christ drew her to the tomb unafraid. And when Jesus spoke her name she well-remembered the same voice that cast out the demons within her, and the same voice called her into a new life. The appearance of Jesus must have been different, for we even see hesitation in the disciples recognizing Him after the resurrection, for after this when they were out fishing in John 21, they did not recognize Him, nor did the two men on the road to Emmaus. But what she recognized was the voice of Jesus, especially here when Jesus speaks her name, because His sheep hear His voice, and He knows them, and they follow Him. Though the appearance of Jesus was unfamiliar, the relationship between Christ and those who truly follow Him is unmistakable. Do you know the voice of Jesus? Are you found at a place where Jesus can speak to you? Is your heart desirous for the Lord as was the heart of Mary? Of all four-character groups in this chapter, we likely learn the most from Mary, as she exemplifies a follower of Christ who has never left her first love, and her focus and love for Jesus is at the very heart of Christianity.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brothers and say to them, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.”’ Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord,’ and that He had said these things to her.”

John 20:17-18 (LSB)


These sound like harsh words from Jesus, stop clinging to Me. But we get the idea here that Mary may have thought that Jesus was back to stay. Maybe she thought that this would be the beginning of His kingdom on earth, yet He was only back for a short time. What a flurry of emotion for Mary. With the truth of three days earlier, the death of Christ and now He was alive! And now He was back with her, yet He would soon be leaving. So much going on! In her mind, she had wished the crucifixion had never happened. And now that He was resurrected, that He would never leave. Reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways, and God’s timing is not our timing. When events happen in our lives, some of them bring heartache and sadness. Yet God’s plans and purposes are always moving forward for good. And we are left at times to accept those events, though they may be very hard at times, and yet we must trust Him. And here in the life of a faithful woman who followed Jesus to the cross. Christ assured Mary by speaking her name.


Peter and John


Back to Peter and John.

“So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. So the disciples went away again to where they were staying.”

John 20:8-10 (LSB)


The assurance to Peter and John seems to happen almost immediately, as John tells us about the effect of what they saw, along with their knowledge of the Scriptures, and likely the words of Jesus Himself. They saw all this and they believed. And this is instructive for us. For it was not the hints given in the Old Testament that convinced these two men. It was not the teaching of Jesus as He repeatedly told them over and over again that He would rise on the third day. But it was the empty tomb, understanding that they had still not seen Jesus alive at this point. It was as though they did not need to see Jesus alive. But now they had all the evidence. They had the Old Testament, they had Jesus’ words, and now they saw the empty tomb. In other words, the evidence was now inescapable, though they had yet to see Him. Christ assured Peter and John by showing them the evidence of the empty tomb.


The Disciples


Next, we left the disciples still afraid, and why wouldn’t they be? For if they had killed Jesus for His mission, why wouldn’t they eventually come after His disciples? Again, we need to understand the hearts of these disciples, that if they did not understand the teaching of Jesus that He would rise again, the mission that they had given themselves to for the past 3 years was so much up in the air. Because this is really how they were left by Christ. Christ was dead and therefore, there was no assurance of anything at this point, what were they going to do Monday morning? And even when Jesus did come back to life, He was still about to leave them again, and how would they ever go about the mission without Christ, or would they even want to? I mean really, after following Jesus for three years, would you want to get out of bed Monday morning and head out preaching without Him? So, Jesus comes before the disciples.

“Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.’”

John 20:19b-23 (LSB)


True, He speaks to them as He did to Mary, and He even shows them His hands and feet. But they would need more than this because the mission of Christ rested upon now their shoulders. They needed more than the proof of His resurrection, and they were not as close to Christ as Peter and John. So, what did Christ do for them? Verse 22, He breathed on them and He said to them, receive the Holy Spirit. Christ assured the disciples by giving them the Holy Spirit. Easy in this passage to somewhat glance over this, the giving of the Spirit. But notice that this would enable them to carry on the ministry without Christ, as He was giving them the same power that He had when was with them. John 16:7 Jesus said:

“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”

John 16:7 (LSB)


Here we see that Jesus will go away, and the Holy Spirit will now be with them. The third Person of the Godhead. And we see the work of the Holy Spirit as the New Testament church begins. Jesus gave instructions to baptise those who believe, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 2 Corinthians 13:14:

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”

2 Cor 13:14 (LSB)




Then we are left in our passage with Thomas, who had not yet heard the voice of Jesus, nor had he seen the empty tomb, nor was He there when the Lord appeared to the other disciples when He gave them the Holy Spirit.

“And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Bring your finger here, and see My hands; and bring your hand here and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”

John 20:26-28 (LSB)


I love the direct approach here of Jesus as He appears again with His disciples. And He immediately says, Thomas, bring your finger here. I wonder if he remembered his own former words, until I see and until I place my finger in the nail prints of his hands, I will not believe. How would you feel? After saying I will not believe and in walks Jesus and says to you, hey, come here! And Thomas’ response here is one of the clearest statements of Jesus being fully God in the entire Bible, My Lord and my God! Christ assured Thomas personally by allowing him to touch the nail prints in his hands. See, this is our Lord’s direct care for every one of His sheep. as He leaves the ninety-nine and goes after the one. There is more assurance that Jesus gives to another group.

“Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are those who did not see, and yet believed.’ Therefore many other signs Jesus also did in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

John 20:29-31 (LSB)


John here is writing these things so that we might believe. We, the ones who have not seen. Each of those mentioned in John 20 all saw Jesus personally, they all witnessed His life, and they all witnessed Him alive after He was resurrected. But we have all this recorded for us. All the evidence has been passed down to us, and therefore, the Word of God becomes our hope and assurance. So, we could say that: Christ assures us by the written accounts of His resurrection. And the question for us this morning is, is this enough? Is the written Word enough for us? In our men’s study, we have been enjoying a great series by David Platt. And this past Tuesday he was addressing the sufficiency of Scripture, and Platt warned about those who are “constantly looking for more outside of the Bible.” He quoted John MacArthur who said:

“Preoccupied with mystical encounters and emotional ecstasies, [many] seek ongoing revelation from heaven—meaning that, for them, the Bible alone is simply not enough … That kind of thinking is an outright rejection of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. It is a recipe for far-reaching theological disaster.”

John MacArthur


We have the clear Word of God, which Peter said you would do well to pay attention to. And the Bible gives to us the heart of God, and the heart of the gospel, no more is needed. And Jesus states here in John’s gospel, that those who believe the clear account of the resurrection of Christ, though they have not seen, will be blessed. Are the things written in this book good enough for you to believe that Jesus is alive? Will you run from this place and proclaim that He is risen? Will you live your life serving the living Saviour? Let’s pray. “I believe in God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ His only Son, I believe in the virgin birth. I believe in the Man of Sorrows bruised for iniquity. I believe in the Man who was crucified and hung between two thieves. I believe in the resurrection on the third and glorious day. And I believe in the empty tomb and the stone that the angels rolled away.” This is the witness that we have heard from John. So, Lord, may we believe everything that You have given us in Your Word. Lord, we believe in the resurrection! And all God’s people said, amen.