Imagine a World Where Death Wins
John 20:1 – 31
Imagine a World Where Death Wins
Game over, dude
A long time ago, we’re talking the late 80s, I used to play a computer game called “California Games 2.” There was surfing, and skateboarding, and hang-gliding. And being big into outdoor activity and fitness, I played all these very active games on the computer!
But when things went badly, when your hang-glider crashed into the ocean, or you were skateboarding and went straight into a pole or something, the game would end, Chopin’s Funeral March would play, and words would come up on the screen, “Death, where is thy sting? Game over, dude!”
The words come from the New Testament, in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth, not the “Game over, dude,” bit! That was added, I think to make it seem more Californian!
And yes, it rings of some stereotypical California of the late 1980s, but that is the expectation and understanding of most Australians today, when we’re confronted with death.
Game over. That’s the end.
Death will get us all, we expect.
Death does seem to win, in the world that we inhabit, doesn’t it?
There’s even jokes about it, “There are only 2 certainties in life;” they say, “death and taxes, but at least death doesn’t increase every time Parliament sits.”
But death can’t increase, can it? It already has a 100% hit rate.
It looks for all the world like death wins,
That all of us face it,
And all of us succumb to it.
We’ve said today, “Imagine a world where death wins”, but actually, that looks like our world.
In 2005, Steve Jobs delivered the Commencement Address at Stanford University in the US, saying “Live each day as if it was your last, because someday you’ll most certainly be right.”
There is nothing new in that though, Jobs was quoting the comedian Fred Allen, who died in the 50s, who himself was quoting the Roman poet Horace, who lived in the first century BC.
It looks like the universal experience of humanity is that death gets us in the end, that death always wins.
Well, the events recorded for us in this part of John’s gospel, make an extraordinary claim. John argues here that death doesn’t win,
That Jesus has defeated death.
And that because Jesus has defeated death, we get offered life.
And some of us might find it hard to believe this, but if Jesus has defeated death, then to continue to live our lives as if death wins, that is to make a colossal mistake.
Eye-witness testimony: death has been defeated
I mentioned last week, that there’s no attempt in the 4 gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, to try and polish up the way the disciples, Jesus’ closest are portrayed, no rose-tinted glasses!
And here in John 21, on that very first Easter morning, some of the disciples, turn up at the tomb where he was buried on Friday afternoon, thinking that death has won.
They have absolutely no expectation that Jesus has been raised from the dead.
See there in verse 1, Mary Magdalene arrives at the tomb, thinking that it’s still going to be sealed up.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, and she says to them, They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!
Some of the eyewitness accounts tell us that the stone placed in front of Jesus’ tomb was sealed with an official seal, and a squad of Roman soldiers was posted there to make sure no one touched it.
So the fact that, verse 1, the stone had been removed from the entrance, says that something out of the ordinary has occurred.
And when these two disciples, Peter, and John, get there to take a look for themselves, they see, verse 5, the strips of linen lying there,
the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head , was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.
When Jesus had died, on Friday afternoon, two of his followers collected his body and wrapped it in strips of linen, with 34 kilos of myrrh and aloes. That’s recorded at the end of chapter 19.
If you’ve ever made papier-mache, that’s pretty much how you wrapped and preserved a body in the ancient world. It kept the body rigid, sealed it all up, and of course, stopped it from smelling.
I was reading a book during the week about life in Haiti, and it seems that such was the demand for bones and other body parts for use in occult practices, that graves were frequently robbed, and so a concrete slab would be laid immediately on top of the coffin when it was buried.
In the first century AD, grave robbing was such a problem, that the Roman Emperor Claudius decreed that even moving the stone from the entrance to a tomb, was punishable by death.
Even so, Mary still thinks that’s probably what’s happened to Jesus’ grave. What did she say?
They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!
And you might think, yep, that’s probably most likely, but what Peter and John see here, and this is the John who’s writing for us. This is his eye-witness testimony, what they see is
clearly not the work of grave robbers.
The linen and the spices, were worth a fortune, they were the very things the grave robbers would be after. In Haiti in the 20th century, it was the body parts that robbers took. In Palestine in the first century, it was the spices and linen that thieves were after.
But those things have been neatly left lying there.
But Jesus’ body is nowhere to be found.
So this evidence for the fact that death didn’t beat Jesus, Is not so much something that’s there, but something that’s not there,
The fact that Jesus’ body isn’t where it would be if he were still dead.
Often people say to me, “Well, if I were to see Jesus, face to face, after he was raised from the dead, then I’d believe in him.”
And maybe that’s you, you reckon that if Jesus appeared to you after he’d risen from the dead, that would be enough to make you a follower of Jesus.
Or maybe you wish that your friends and family could see Jesus, and then surely they’d believe.
But did you notice how John comes to believe that the resurrection is true?, that death really has been defeated?
He’s the one described as the other disciple. He’s the author, and so he’s trying not to big note himself, but see how he comes to believe
It’s there in verse 8, Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside.
He saw and believed
He saw , the graveclothes,
He saw that Jesus’ body was gone.
But he hasn’t yet seen Jesus.
And yet he believes.
Lots of Christians, including me! We talk about the “empty tomb.” But actually, it looks like for John, the fact that the tomb isn’t empty, is a significant point in his coming to believe the resurrection.
It’s empty of a body. Yes, absolutely. But the fact that linen wrappings, and the head cloth are all still there, just removes all possibility of someone having stolen the body.
John seems to be contrasting this scene with the occasion of Lazarus being raised from the dead in John 11. He comes out still wearing his grave cloths. The implication is, he’s going to need his again. Jesus is done with his forever.
See, though we might wish we could see Jesus in the flesh, it’s not seeing Jesus that convinces John of the resurrection. Rather it’s not seeing Jesus.
It’s not seeing Jesus that convinces him that Jesus has defeated death;, gone through death and come out the other side.
Easter gives us a reason to celebrate
And so Easter gives us a good reason to celebrate.
See the next little section, Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
We might think that these 2 angels, weren’t, shall we say, not the sharpest tools in the toolbox, not the leaders of the angelic choir! "Woman, why are you crying?"
Um, I think it’s pretty obvious.
But think about it for a moment.
Here are angels, beings that exist in a spiritual realm. They see things, they know things, that Mary and the others here don’t.
They know that every single person has lived in God’s world , ignoring God, and so deserve death and separation from God , forever.
They also know that Jesus said he would die for people, so we wouldn’t have to suffer that spiritual death and separation from God.
And they know that Jesus said he would be raised again from the dead.
These angels understand the resurrection of Jesus to be his vindication.
See, anyone can claim to forgive sin!
Come and see me afterwards, I’ll tell you that I’ll die, for your sin and rebellion.
But how do you know? If I go under a bus tomorrow, how do you know that my death actually achieves, what I said it would?
How do you know that your sin and rebellion can be forgiven?
Well, if I came back from the dead, no worse for wear, you’d have a pretty good idea that death and separation are not going to be a problem anymore, wouldn’t you?
These 2 angels know all about the problem of sin and rebellion against God, but they know that Jesus’ resurrection proves that he is the solution.
He really can deal with sin.
He really can deal with death.
Woman, why are you crying?
This is a time for joy!
This is the day you’ve been brought near to God!
This is the moment that it’s been conclusively demonstrated, that there is nothing standing between you and God.
This event proves, that Jesus really is worth trusting with your life and your death, because who, besides him, has this kind of power over death?
I read this week, “death tried to swallow Jesus, but death got swallowed up by Jesus”
So these angels are not insensitive, they don’t need to go back to angel school for some more grave-side manner training. This is a , gentle correction.
Today is a day for celebrating.
When Australian country singer Slim Dusty died in 2003, his State Funeral, at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney was broadcast on ABC radio. I happened to be driving across town right at that time and so I got to hear most of the service.
2 things stick in my mind about the funeral. One is, I remember Philip Jensen, the dean of the cathedral leading the whole congregation including the Prime Minister and various others, in singing unaccompanied, Slim’s hit, A Pub With No Beer. And there’s just a little bit of irony in that the dean of the Cathedral describes himself as a teetotaller!
But the other thing I remember, is Philip Jensen saying that there are 2 things that destroy mateship;, sin and death.
These 2 things are enemies,
They spoil life,
They spoil relationships,
They spoil our experience of God’s good world.
Well, what do we find here? Sin is paid for, and death is defeated.
Today is a day for celebrating.
The risen Jesus then comes and stands near Mary, verse 14, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?, see, same idea again, this is a good day, not a sad day. Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
I love Mary’s response. Just so filled with love, without kind of thinking through the practicalities, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
I’ll just go and get the body of a man wrapped in 34 kilos of spices and bring him back here!
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
This past week the New York Times reported on the death and funeral of an 81 year old grandmother named Val-Jean McDonald.
As is customary in parts of the US, her funeral had an open coffin, and scores of mourners, her family and friends, filed past, kissing her head, saying goodbye.
A few days later her body was cremated.
Except it wasn’t.
The body in the coffin wasn’t Mrs McDonald.
Due to a mix up in the funeral home, the body in the coffin, the body that her family had kissed, and cried over, and said goodbye to, was not , that of their mother and grandmother.
It was someone’s body, that they had touched, and looked at, and ultimately had cremated.
One of Mrs McDonald’s 8 sons concluded after the mix up, that the reason none of them thought anything was out of the ordinary, was that they had simply seen what they expected to see.
They expected to see their mother,
That’s who they saw.
But that’s not what happens here, is it?
Jesus is the very last person Mary expected to see, she thinks he’s already been carted off by grave robbers.
She absolutely wasn’t expecting to see Jesus, but as soon as he calls her by name, she knew that the resurrection was real.
The defeat of death assures us of peace with God
The story of this momentous event, then skips forward a few hours.
That evening, some of Jesus’ closest friends are together, except for Thomas, who infamously, is out at the shops or something.
Verse 19, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
It was just a typical greeting. It’s what you’d say when you ran into someone you know in the street.
But it was also , a prayer, asking God to bring peace.
It’s a bit like today, people say, “Rest in Peace”, which, when you think about it, is not a statement, but a request. It’s a prayer, actually, I think.
Which is why, incidentally, when a Christian person dies, someone who trusts in the resurrected Jesus, we don’t need to say “Rest in Peace”, we don’t need to ask that, because their peace with God is guaranteed.
But this word for peace, was also a picture of the way things would be, when God’s kingdom was established, when God would undo the things that spoil his world.
So Jesus takes that very ordinary greeting, just the Jewish version of “G’day mate”, and he injects into it, enormous significance,
When Jesus speaks these words here on Easter Sunday evening, they are true in a way they’d never been true before.
No longer was it just a prayer, a request, a hope.
Now it was a statement. Peace is with you.
God’s peace has come to you.
Sin has been dealt with.
The thing which made you God’s enemy has been taken away.
No resurrection? Death wins? No assurance of peace with the God we’ve ignored.
But Jesus raised from the dead, physically, bodily, “Peace be with you.”
Some of you may have been in churches, where at some point in the service, everyone walks around and says to each another, “peace be with you,” and then the other person says, “And also with you.”
Which, if you’re unfamiliar with it, seems like a weird thing to do in church. It’s like the Star Wars people saying to each other “May the force be with you!”
But while can seem slightly odd, if we understand what’s being communicated, “If you trust in Jesus, you have peace with God”, well, actually being reminded of that by half the congregation every time you turn up to church on Sunday is pretty good isn’t it?
You might like to say it to someone while we’re having hot cross buns later, and encourage them!
Because Jesus took away sin and defeated death, you can be assured of peace with God.
The defeat of death calls for belief
And so Jesus commissions these disciples as his messengers.
Verse 21, I am sending you that’s what the word apostle means, somebody who gets sent off with a message.
These men are to tell the rest of the world, this good news of peace with God.
But remember poor old Thomas, was off at the shops.
See verse 24. Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Isn’t that how we’d respond?
Show me the evidence!
So what happens?
Well, a week later, Thomas has made sure somebody else is doing the shopping this time, and Jesus appears again, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
I’ve never had a nickname. At least, not one that I know about! Perhaps some people have a nickname for me. But I’ve sometimes felt a little bit ripped off, about that, but Poor Thomas, Doubting Thomas, he’s stuck with his nickname for all of eternity!
There’s even a Wikipedia article about Doubting Thomas!
But he does believe, and in fact it dawns on Thomas that nobody but God himself, has this kind of power over death. The resurrection shows Thomas, for the first time, that Jesus is both Lord and God.
But notice that we’re not told that Thomas did touch Jesus.
Jesus just presents himself, and Thomas believes.
But what did Jesus say to Thomas?
Because you have seen me, you have believed;
blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Not believing without evidence but believing without seeing
See the Christian faith is not about believing without evidence.
Some people think it is., A bit like Mark Twain saying Faith is believing what you know ain’t true.
That’s not Christian faith.
There’s plenty of evidence for the claims of Christianity.
We’ve got eyewitness testimony, empty tombs,
All Jesus’ opponents had to do was produce the body and the whole thing would be over.
No, Christianity, Easter in particular, is not about believing without evidence.
But for us, it is about believing without sight.
We’re just in the wrong part of the world, at the wrong moment in history, to see Jesus.
But that doesn’t mean our faith is any less, compared to, say, Thomas’ faith.
In fact, every day, we believe things that we can’t see.
Just before we started this church back in 2010, our family went on holidays to Singapore, and in Singapore we went to the zoo.
Now before going to the Singapore zoo, I knew that there was such a white rhinoceros.
I had never seen a white rhinoceros.
But I had heard about them,
People I knew had seen them,
I think my wife Kathy got chased by one when she was living in South Africa,
But I’d never laid eyes on one.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t believe in white rhinos before I saw one in the zoo, I knew they existed because I believed the testimony of reliable and trustworthy people who had seen them.
And then after I saw one, I didn’t believe any more strongly.
I wasn’t more convinced about their existence!
This tremendous event in history, calls on us to make a response. But we’re not asked to believe without evidence;, John has been very carefully assembling the evidence for us,
But we are called to believe even though we haven’t seen,
We believe on the testimony of those who did see.
Do you hear what Jesus is saying? blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
Jesus says, if you believe, without seeing like Thomas does,
If you believe that Jesus was raised from the dead,
If you believe that he really did deal with your sin and rebellion,
If you believe that his resurrection guarantees you, forgiveness and a relationship with God, Jesus says “You are blessed.”
At this moment, in 30 AD, Jesus had you in mind.
Blessed can mean, happy, and fortunate, but it also includes everything up to and including being welcomed by God.
blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
So why did Jesus appear to Thomas?
Why then did Jesus Jesus appear to Thomas?
Why didn’t he just leave a note?, “Dear Thomas, sorry you missed out!
You’ll just have to believe like those good people in Mount Barker in 2000 years, based on the eye-witness evidence.
Maybe you’ll think twice about going to the shops next time.”
You know I’m making that up, don’t you? He didn’t actually go to the shops!
But Jesus doesn’t appear to Thomas so he could be a believer,
Jesus appears to Thomas so he can be an Apostle.
That gathering of the disciples that Thomas missed a week earlier, that was when the Apostles were made apostles!
Jesus commissioned them for their ministry of being messengers.
And we know from other parts of the Bible, Acts chapter 1 for example, just over the page, that in order to be an apostle, you had to be an eyewitness of Jesus’ resurrection, you had to have met the risen Jesus.
Unlike all the other religions, and philosophies, and worldviews we might encounter, Christianity is unique because it is grounded in events, facts in history.
And so the Apostles, the foundational messengers for the Christian faith, must be people who experienced the events that Christianity is based on, the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus’ appearance to Thomas is not for his faith, but for his role as an apostle.
Because death doesn’t win, Jesus offers life today
And so we come back to where we stand, 2000 years or so after these events.
And did you notice at the very end, the little post-script, John’s reason for writing his eye-witness account.
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Scholars think that out of Jesus’ life, 33 years, John records just 21 or 22 days. That’s less than 1 percent of Jesus’ life.
It’s very selective, isn’t it? If someone was writing your biography, and they could only fit in less than 1 percent of your life, what would make it in?
Well John’s included the bits he has, because he wants his readers, that’s us, and countless others, to , have life, to believe that death doesn’t win,
That death doesn’t win for Jesus, and it need not win against us.
Jesus offers life.
You might even remember a decade ago, churches all across Adelaide banded together in a media campaign called “Jesus, all about life.”
That’ what Jesus offers.
Jesus’ resurrection from the dead says that death need not win, in your case, nor in mine.
And John wants us to see through his eyes, and believe, just like he has.
You might have heard that bit trivia, that Eskimos have a hundred different words for snow. Turns out that almost completely false!
I did some research, We go the extra mile here at TMB! It turns out that the Inuit speak polysynthetic languages that allow noun-incorporation with a system of deri-vational suffixes which can be added recursively to compound referential roots!
I don’t know what that all means, other than, they don’t really have a hundred different words for snow!
But here’s a piece of language trivia that is true, the original Greek language of the New Testament has a number of words meaning “to see.” Three different words are used in this chapter alone, and the word used in verse 8 when John saw and believed, is a word that means “to see with understanding”,
To see and know that questions have been answered,
To see evidence and make judgments based on it.
It’s like evidence being presented in court, the judge sees the evidence, and makes a decision.
And so John is a model for us.
When we see this claim, Jesus has defeated death, you don’t have to understand every minute detail of how it happened,
You don’t have to know everything,
You’re can even still have some questions about God and life and faith.
What’s important, is whether you , like John, will see, , and believe that Jesus defeated death.
Maybe you’d like to believe that death doesn’t win,
But you’ve still got questions,
Maybe there are some nagging doubts,
Some bits of the puzzle you haven’t worked out where they go, or even whether they’re part of the puzzle at all.
Maybe you wonder,
What does it mean for me, that death doesn’t win?
What would it mean for me to live as a follower of Jesus?
How can I have faith that Jesus defeated death, when I still have doubts?
Well the kind of faith that the Bible talks about,
The kind of faith that the empty tomb and a risen Jesus call for,
Is a bit like the windscreen of a car.
A windscreen is important, you need one!
I remember at Bathurst in 1985, Peter Brock tried drive without a windscreen! That didn’t work!
You need to have a windscreen on your car, and what’s important is that you look through it.
You look through the windscreen to where you’re going.
What you don’t want to do, is get distracted by looking at your windscreen,
There’s a crack here,
A chip there,
A bit of my child’s biscuit over here,
If you’re doing that instead of looking through the windscreen, you’ll be an expert on the condition of your own windscreen, but I’m pretty sure you won’t get to where you want to go!
How perfect, and pure, and spotless does a windscreen need to be in order for you reach your destination? Well, just clean enough to see through, really!!
How pure and clean does your faith need to be?
Just enough to see what God has done.
Just enough to see that Jesus died the death you should have died,
Just enough to see that he rose from the dead as he said he would,
Just enough to see there’s nothing you can do to get yourself right with God, but that Jesus has done it all
Just enough to know, that death hasn’t won, and need not win.
Imagine, at the end of World War 2, some English soldier who’s been fighting in Europe decides he’s going to make his way back home to England.
But he sets off for home, thinking that his enemy has won.
Instead of seeing his enemy as defeated, he thinks they’ve won.
What’s his experience going to be?
He’ll see a bunch of German soldiers being marched down the road, and he thinks they’re out to get him.
He doesn’t realise they’re the prisoners, and he’s the free man.
He gets to a border crossing, and lies in wait hour after hour, fearing for his life, just waiting to crawl under the fence, desperately hoping not to be noticed, when in actual fact he could have walked through the checkpoint with his head held high.
He gets home, ashamed, feeling beaten, thinking his friends and family are going to take out their frustration for their country’s loss on him, when in fact they’ve been waiting, longing for him to return, so they can celebrate their victory with him.
What a mistake, to think your enemy has won, when your enemy is defeated.
And it’s not just at the end that it matters, the fact that Easter assures us that death doesn’t win, shapes every day between now and then.