It’s Easter, so you know we’re zeroing in on the resurrection, don’t ya? By way of backdrop, Jesus is crucified and was buried in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent and wealthy individual who also was a member of the Sanhedrin, the religious overlords of Judea working under the watchful eye of the Roman occupiers. That gets us up to our text for today out of John, chapter 20.
John 20:1-18 - Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple 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 Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing 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." Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"—and that he had said these things to her.
I am not going to spend time on proof for the resurrection, although plenty of proof exists—not the least of which is that the church of Jesus Christ is still churning just fine 2,000 years later. Oh, one more. Of all those during Jesus’ time who claimed to be the Messiah, Jesus is the only one anyone who isn’t an academic focused on trivia even remembers here in 2016. I’ll stop there or I’ll never get to what I want to do, which is to answer a simple question: What does the resurrection mean for us today? And I’ll just point out two specific things.
1. The resurrection tells us that we can be forgiven.
I came across a great little article in a British newspaper about a guy who was heading across London for a job interview on the Tube, London’s subway system. This fellow got so frustrated trying to get off his subway car at the exit that he started cursing at another passenger to get out of his way. It turns out that this the object of his venom was also getting off at at the same stop, and the cursing man continued the barrage on the platform as he hurried off. Cursing man gets to his interview, and who do you think was scheduled to interview him for the job? Oh, yeah, that other passenger. And cursing man didn’t even realize that was who was interviewing him until halfway through the interview. At that point, he’s thinking, “Man, no way I’m getting this job.” And he was right. You don’t treat your prospective boss that way and expect anything good to happen.
Let’s take that back to the resurrection of Jesus. How would those disciples have felt discovering Jesus had come back to life? Maybe some excitement? Possibly. Maybe some trepidation? Assuredly. After all, virtually all of them had deserted, denied, and doubted Jesus. But here He is—alive. They had to be thinking there was no way they were still in good with Jesus. Peter even cussed Jesus out when he was accused of having been a follower of Jesus.
But here’s where John’s account gets very cool. Did you hear what Jesus tells Mary? Go to my brothers. Jesus had never referred to his disciples as brothers until right then. He refers to God the Father as “Your Father,” another thing Jesus had never said up to now. See, something changed because of that cross and that resurrection, something that made them Jesus’ brothers and God their father. Something had won for them forgiveness for all that deserting and denying and doubting. It’s almost as if the resurrection declared that the cross had worked.
And it’s important to note that Jesus doesn’t tell Mary to go tell the disciples that He’s giving them a second chance. I know we like to believe God is a God of second chances, but this text suggests otherwise. He’s not a God of do-overs. God, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, declares not a do-over, but it’s all done. Jesus got it all done for us.
You might not know it, but you and I should be delighted we don’t get a do-over. Why? Well, you know you, don’t you? If you had your slate wiped completely clean for your do-over, how long do you think it would take before you fell prey to your favorite sin? Yep, not long. We’d still be toast. So, it’s wonderful that the cross and resurrection secured for us through Jesus the total payment for all our sins, past, present, and future. Well, not for everyone in the world, because not everyone in the world takes Jesus up on the offer to declare Him savior and king. But for those who do, for those who follow Him, it’s no do-over. It’s done!
2. The resurrection tells us that we can be changed.
We can be changed, but this is not something we manufacture. The details on this change are pretty important. The Holy Spirit enters our lives when we accept Jesus as Savior and Lord, and He begins to work in our lives. I think there’s a perfect illustration of that in our passage today. To highlight that for you, we need to go back quickly to John, chapter 19, for a second:
John 19: 41-42 - Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
So, Jesus is buried in a tomb located in a garden. This might explain why Mary Magdalene, when Jesus first appeared to her, mistook him for the gardener. Now, these facts God decided should be included in this passage, so my question is “Why?” There must have been a purpose for their inclusion. I think as we dig just a bit, we might discover that Mary wasn’t all that mistaken in thinking Jesus was the gardener. Let’s take a closer look.
Remember that, at creation, God placed Adam and Eve in a garden. The Garden of Eden. And God’s instructions to Adam was to tend the garden and expand that garden, bringing the order in the garden to the surrounding territory, making an ever-broadening garden suitable for Adam’s offspring to live as they fanned out across the globe. That was the original plan. But, as we know, sin enters the picture, and everything is screwed up. Sin brings death and chaos and weeds, and work isn’t fun anymore. It’s work, and it’s hard slogging. But God makes a promise that He will bring about a new world where Satan is vanquished, and sin and all its pain will be wiped away. God promised to do this through the seed of the woman, Eve. You can read about that in Genesis 3. And Jesus is that seed.
So, here we are in John 20, with Jesus, on the first day of a new creation, standing in the garden as the gardener of that new creation. Jesus, with a resurrected body, shows us what we will be receiving one day, and He’s bringing life where there was death. He’s alive and victorious, with Satan, death, sin, injustice, cruelty, and tears all ultimately doomed. Their days are numbered because there’s a new gardener in town. And all that that first Adam in the Garden of Eden lost for us, Jesus is regaining for us. The world will be made new, and our lives can be made new.
I shared a testimony from Joni Ericsson-Tada, a woman paralyzed at age 17 in a diving accident. She recalls being at a conference when the speaker asked everyone to kneel. And, of course, she was in a wheelchair and couldn’t. As she sat there, she was reminded that in heaven she will be free to jump up and dance and do aerobics. Right now, she was burdened with shriveled, bent fingers, atrophied muscles, gnarled knees, and no feeling from the shoulders down. The resurrection of Jesus gave her hope that one day that spinal cord injury will be no more.
But the promise of change isn’t just some far off, dream world in the future. The promise of change has been unleashed into our present. The bible tells us that if anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation, that even now the old is gone and all things are being made new. Jesus promised that when He returned to heaven, the Holy Spirit would be sent to Christians, bringing with Him the resurrection power of Jesus capable of transforming us from the inside out. Anyone who has ever said, “Well, I can’t change, this is just the way I am,” is a person who does not understand the power of that resurrection. And they haven’t checked out the lives of Jesus’ friends. Take Mary Magdalene, for example. When we first meet her, she’s possessed by seven demons. But Jesus drove them out, and Mary becomes the first person Jesus reveals Himself to after He rises from the dead. She becomes the first evangelist for Jesus. Who would have thought it possible?
The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to one of the churches he planted, and he named all the sins that had previously held those in that church in bondage. But he also declared that that was who they “used to be.” Used to be because now Jesus had changed them. They were no longer what they used to be. And for us, we need to get it that the church should be full of “used to be's.” People who used to be angry, people who used to be greedy, people who used to be addicted to porn, people who used to be adulterers, people who used to be self-righteous and looked down on others they felt morally superior to, people who used to be racists, people who used to be substance abusers, people who were so insecure they would just give themselves away to anyone to feel loved. That’s what the church should be—folks who used to be something who are something different now. Changed, transformed by this Jesus, this gardener of our souls. Jesus, who uproots old things, plants and cultivates in our lives brand-new, healthy things, causing our lives to flourish, bringing life to what was barren.
This is the message of Easter—you and I can be forgiven, and we can be changed.