The Resurrection
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The Resurrection

John 20:1–10  (ID: 3657)

All the world’s major religions teach that there is some sort of life beyond this one. What, if anything, is behind the mysterious curtain we call death? In this Easter message, Alistair Begg reminds us that the whole of Christianity hinges on two facts: that Jesus Christ was delivered over to death as a substitute for sins and that He was raised to life to justify all who believe in Him. By trusting in Christ and His work on the cross, we can have life—even after death—allowing us to stand before God clothed in the righteousness of Jesus.

Sermon Transcript: Print

We’re going to read from the Gospel of John and chapter 20 and reading just the first ten verses. We’ve been singing in part about this scene. John 20:1:

“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[’ve] 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.”


Before we look to the Bible, we look to God in prayer:

“He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”[1]

Father, as we turn now to the Bible, what we know not please teach us. What we have not please give us. What we are not please make us. And we ask it in Christ’s name. Amen.

I’m not sure how many of us will know the name Albert Henry Ross. I’d be surprised if any do, but now you do. He was an English advertising agent who wrote books. And in 1930, he published a book which he never intended to publish. Because the book that he intended to publish, when it was written, he decided he had changed his mind. This is what he writes: “When, as a young man, I first began seriously to study the life of Christ I did so with a very definite feeling that, if I may so put it, his history rested upon very insecure foundations.”[2]

He wrote under the pseudonym Frank Morison. The book that he finally published is entitled Who Moved the Stone? It was published in 1930. What had happened to him was that having set out to disprove the notion of who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, and the fact that he is still alive, he then ended up in a very different place. And this is how he put it: he said, “It was as though a man set out to cross a forest by a familiar and well-beaten track and came out suddenly where he did not expect to come out. The point of entry was the same; it was the point of emergence that was different.”[3]

Now, it wouldn’t be surprising if for some of us who have come this morning—it’s not unusual on Easter Sunday—it wouldn’t be surprising if the forest analogy immediately strikes you. It is perhaps that you have been wandering, as it were, in the forest of biblical truth without ever really coming to any point of resolution. It’d be fair to say that although you have made many entries, you’ve always been coming out of the same place. And, to mix metaphors, you may actually be prepared to say that when it comes to the claims of Christianity, you find yourself somewhere lost at sea.

And it would be one thing, of course, if it was all just so far and removed from us. But we know, each of us, that there is something inside of us that suggests to us that there is more to death than meets the eye. We’ve already mentioned death frequently in our singing this morning. And that is because we are remembering not only the resurrection but the death of Jesus. And there is more to death, we know, than meets the eye. We’ve often wondered what, if anything, is behind that strange and mysterious curtain that we call death. Why is it that we have an intuitive sense that there is more to life than we actually experience even on our best day?

We find that people around us who are agnostic or atheistic are prepared to suggest that death is simply to be equated with the extinction of human consciousness, that death is nothing more than an irreversible coma. Such an empty and futile approach to things holds very little attraction. And when we consider all that religion has had to say, we realize that without exception, the world’s religions have always believed in life after death. Whether it is Buddhism or Islam or whatever it might be, the notion is there that there is more than what we experience in the here and now.

But of all the things that the religions have said and suggested, no religious leader—and you can check this for yourselves—no religious leader in the history of the world has ever sought to prove his claims to be from God on the basis that if you kill him, he will return from the grave three days later. The only person ever to do this is, of course, Jesus of Nazareth.

And John, who has written his Gospel, along with Matthew and Mark and Luke, not simply as a history but as a Gospel to declare good news, all the way through—and we’ve been studying this for a while here at Parkside—these indications are provided for us.

Jesus cleanses the temple. He goes in, and he finds that it’s a mess for all kinds of reasons, and he decides to put it to order. As a result of that, the religious authorities want to know who he thinks he is: “On what authority do you do such a thing in the temple that is representative of Almighty God?”[4] And

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and [you] will … raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.[5]

Jesus in his conversations all the time used various metaphors, parts of speech, pictures, parables, mashals—that is, sort of pointed statements that have more significance when applied somewhere else. And that is exactly what he’s done here. They respond by saying, “If we’re looking at this temple here, which has taken some forty-six years to build, and you say that if it’s destroyed, you can build it again in three days, that is, frankly, an architectural impossibility.” Those of you who are builders here, know how long it takes to build things, will be able to affirm that.

But what they miss is what Jesus is saying. He is predicting what will happen to him when he is crucified and then in turn when he is resurrected. He’s predicting the fact that the time will come when his body will be offered up and he will suffer in pain and in sacrifice, but that same body will then be raised in power. And the place where men and women will then be able to meet God is not in a physical structure but is in the person of Jesus. You will remember from Good Friday that the curtain in the temple was torn in two. The curtain was there to bar entry to God. Jesus bears our sins in his body on the tree,[6] and the curtain is torn open. AD 70, the temple would be destroyed. And Jesus is the one who is ultimately the temple. He is the one that we meet.

Good Friday and Easter Day are not two separate events. They belong together. You cannot make sense of one without the other.

Now, I’ve already mentioned Good Friday, and I know that you were here for Good Friday, and so you will be tying these things together in your mind—at least I hope so. When we read the work of the apostles, we realize that they never dealt with these issues separately from one another. When you read the Acts of the Apostles and you read the sermons, you discover that they mention frequently the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus essentially all in one sweep.

At the end of chapter 19, which we didn’t read, where it’s recorded for us that the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in that garden there was a tomb—and you may perhaps recall that the whole story of the Bible starts in a garden, starts with Adam. Adam turns his back on God, and our world is ushered into a whole new dimension altogether, waiting for the day when a second Adam, in a garden, would put to rights all that has been reconstructed as a result of man’s rebellion.

And so, I want to make sure that we have this in mind. I wrote it for myself, and I’m passing it on to you: Good Friday and Easter Day are not two separate events. They belong together. You cannot make sense of one without the other.

You might think of it in this way: The crucifixion was the act of the people. When Peter writes after Pentecost, he says to those who are listening to him, “You killed the Author of life.” “That’s what you did. It was according to God’s set foreknowledge. We understand that. But you are the ones who are responsible for it. You killed the Author of life. That was your part. The resurrection was God’s part.” In fact, in the same verse he says, “You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.”[7] If you like, the people are saying, “Jesus is not who he claims to be,” and God in the resurrection totally reverses that judgment and declares, “Jesus is all that he says he is, and he is more besides.”

Now, why all of this being of importance? Well, because of this: that the Christian faith—in fact, the whole of saving Christianity—hinges on two facts. One: that he was delivered over to death for our sins or for our trespasses. He did not die as an example; he died as a substitute. He died in the place of sinners. He was delivered over to death for our sins and for our trespasses, and he was raised to life for our justification, in order that we might then be able to stand before God clothed not in our religious affectations but clothed in the righteousness of Jesus.

Now, let me pause there, ’cause that was quite a lot. And I would imagine that some of you perhaps are already beginning to say to yourself, “I’m not sure whether I should be concerned about whether any of this is true but whether it’s remotely relevant.” I don’t think people, if you go out into the greater Cleveland area today, are remotely concerned about the truth. After all, we have deconstructed truth, deconstructed language, deconstructed marriage, deconstructed everything. We’re not sure that there are any verities at all. And so it’s difficult to get a conversation with somebody along those lines. But they might be prepared to ponder the possibility that it could actually be relevant—that it could actually have some relevance to our lives. But somebody says, “I don’t know why people are so excited about Jesus being alive, because frankly, I haven’t even figured out why it is that Jesus had to die.”

Now, think about that for a moment. We’re all here to talk about the resurrection, sing about the resurrection. What’s the significance of this? The significance of it is in the fact that who Jesus is and what Jesus did, that is then responded to as the Father raises him up.

Now, the problem, I think, is in terminology. We might be prepared to view ourselves in different ways. Perhaps we’re the product of our environment. We know that not everything has been great, we haven’t always made good choices, and so on. We might be prepared on a good day to acknowledge that we’re not as good as we might be. But the idea of being sinners just really goes against the grain. “No, I don’t like that word sin,” people tell me all the time.

Well, what’s the Bible story? You can get this little story as you leave. The Bible story is essentially this: that we were made by God, we’re accountable to God, and we’re going to know God. We were made to know him and to enjoy him, but by nature, we doubt his goodness, and we rebel against his authority. And as a result of that, we’re actually alienated from him. We live our lives as if somehow or another, God has gone on vacation, and he’s never coming back, or he took the phone off the hook, and it is impossible to make contact with him at all. Nothing could be further from the truth. And yet, alienated from him, we’ve decided that we need to do our best and live our lives without him.

But that vacuum that remains—as Pascal, the French mathematician, spoke about it—that vacuum that remains, the hole of our being that can only be filled by God, is going to then be filled by other things. Think about all the substitute gods. Think about the fact that God says, “You shall have no other gods before me.”[8] What kind of gods? What kind of idols?

How about money? Money! Gordy wrote it, but the Beatles sang it in the early ’60s:

All the best things in life are free,
But you can keep ’em for the birds and the bees,

But give me money, that’s what I want.
That’s what I w-a-a-a-nt, that’s what I want,
just give me money.

Your loving don’t give me no thrill,

da-da-da-da-da, “but give me money.”[9] At least they were honest—a group of guys from Liverpool: “This is the answer.” But once they got that, they had to move on: “All you need is love. All you need is love.”[10] They needed to move on: “All [we’re] saying is give peace a chance.”[11] “Give it a chance.” Why all these corridors? Why all these unfulfilled destinations?

Because what they’re seeking to do, wittingly or unwittingly, is what you and I do, and that is that we decide, “You know, if I could just get a little more cash, if I could just get that paid off, if I could just get that fixed, we would be great.” Then you did it, and you realized, “I could just use a little more, actually.”

Or honor, or status: “If I would only be respected, if only I had a position,” and so on, and you get your position. And then you look around, and you realize someone has another position: “Oh, I’d like to have that position!” Go there, what do you find? There’s another one beyond there.

Or enjoyment: “That’s what I want: enjoyment.” Somehow or another, the idea that your work could be enjoyable, that you could be fulfilled in your vocation, is largely taboo in our culture. That’s why when you drive in the car and listen to the radio, they always tell you, “Don’t worry! It’s Tuesday, but we’re even closer to Friday than we were yesterday.” And you can have enjoyment. But when you have enjoyment, you’ve got to feed that. You’ve got to find amusement that would be enjoyment. And then the amusement is no longer as amusing as it once was.

What is all this about? What is this about? It’s about the fact that we reject God and his plan and his purpose.

Perhaps someone says, “Well, I don’t know if I want to follow down that line. I confess I have some defects, uh-huh. My wife pointed out to me there are one or two character flaws. I have from time to time been involved in errors of judgment. I’d be prepared to admit to shortcomings. But,” as the guy said to me on the golf course in California years ago now, “but I am not a sinner.”

Well, Christ came for sinners. So until you realize, until I realize that I am a sinner, then there is really no relevance at all in the story of one who died in the place of sinners and who was raised in order that we might know him in all of his fullness. Christ died for sin, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God.[12]

And you see, this is actually the good news. This is what all the Gospel writers are conveying: that despite the fact of our inability to know and love God, God has come to seek us out, to redeem us, to restore us, to make us all that he desires for us to be; that the love of God is the great missing piece in many of our minds. We have decided somehow or another that God rejects us, or God doesn’t like us, or God doesn’t know us, and none of that is true. He searches us. He knows us. He sent his Son to save us. When Jesus dies on the cross and declares, “It is finished,”[13] he is actually saying, “I finally came to do what you asked me to do, Father, and I did it for these people.” And the thief on the cross says, “Would you remember me when you come into paradise?”[14] And Jesus says, “Today you will be with me.”[15] “Today you will be with me.” That’s why he’s there on the cross.

You see, the thing about shortcomings and errors and that kind of stuff: it’s all very horizontal. It’s all very horizontal. But when you introduce God, then now we’re dealing on a vertical axis. You see, when you’re a naughty boy or a naughty girl, like on your own, in a shed somewhere or riding your bike, it’s kind of like horizontal. But as soon as you introduce your mom and dad into the equation, it becomes a vertical issue. And you see, the issue is that our horizontal brokenness is on account of our vertical brokenness. And it is on that vertical axis that Christ came in order that he might set us free, and it was his love for us that nailed him to the tree.

Despite the fact of our inability to know and love God, God has come to seek us out, to redeem us, to restore us, to make us all that he desires for us to be.

You say, “Well, are we going to have anything about the resurrection at all?” Yeah! Here we go: if Jesus had not risen from the dead, we would have no assurance whatsoever that he had achieved salvation for those who trust in him. If the story of Jesus had ended in a Palestinian tomb, if the whole deal had collapsed irrevocably and been dealt with, the chances are that none of us would even know the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. If that had been the end, none of the New Testament letters would have been written. There would have been no reason to write the letters, because after all, “We had hoped, we thought he was, but it all came to a crashing end. We followed him, but he’s gone.”

Now, the fact is that Jesus promised he would rise again, and his claims to deity—“I am who I am,”[16] “[He who] has seen me has seen the Father”[17]—Jesus’ claims to deity and to messiahship finally rest on the resurrection. Finally rest on the resurrection. He’d been laid up in a borrowed tomb, and on the first day of the week, it was found to be empty. “Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark”—Mary Magdalene, out of whom had been cast seven demons. Yeah! But she came to pay respects. She didn’t come to do anything other than deal with a dead body. Her greatest concern, along with the other women, in going there, was “How in the world will we get rid of the stone? How would we be able to go in there and deal with him?” And yet she arrives while it was still dark, and she saw that the stone had been taken away. And she draws an immediate conclusion, and she draws the wrong conclusion. This is what she says: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Well, her misguided report, actually, you will notice, spurs Peter and John into action. Do you find it interesting? I did. I’d never really thought about this before: “So she ran and went to Simon Peter.” And do you remember Simon Peter from last Sunday? “I don’t know Jesus. I don’t know Jesus. I’m telling you, I don’t know Jesus!” And she went and found Simon. Shows you the position of leadership that he had. Shows you the impact of default in leadership. And yet still he, along with John, make their way to the tomb. He penned “with the other disciple”; John uses the third person to describe himself. “Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter.”

You’ll notice he says that twice—in verse 4, and then he says again in verse 8: “Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first…” This is obviously very important to John. Why would you be boasting about you’re a faster runner than Peter when you’re writing the New Testament documents? Do you know what I think it is? I think the day was so vivid. He remembered absolutely everything about that moment, and when he wrote it down, he couldn’t help but say, you know, “He went, but I got there first, and I’m the one that got there first, and I remember what happened.” That’s what he’s saying.

You see, the Gospel writers are not burnishing the material in order to make themselves look good. They don’t look good at all. No, they don’t look good. Mary Magdalene says, “They must have taken him away.” Who was going to take him away? Not the disciples. The only people that ever thought about that were the Jewish authorities themselves. And why would you ever put a guard around a tomb? Who leaves a tomb? But you see, this is the first day of the new creation.

“And stooping [in] to look …, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and [he] went [in].” No surprise: “I’m going in!” Okay. “He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths.” Why do people write this stuff down? You don’t invent this stuff, do you? No, what they’re doing is he’s describing exactly what he saw.

How was it that… Think about this: the birth of Jesus, and they laid him in swaddling cloths, and they laid him in a manger.[18] That’s the beginning. And now, in his death, they have wrapped him in linen cloths. But the linen cloths cannot contain him any more than the tomb can contain him. “He tore the bars away.”[19] How the cloths got like that we’re not told. It would be an amazing tidy-up job on the part of Jesus. For those of you who’ve ever been told by your mother to make your bed, this would be beyond comprehension. No, why would we be surprised? He’s gone. One day we’ll discover just exactly how that happened, but for now, all that we need to know is that it happened. And the disciples—John again is prepared to be honest and say, “We didn’t understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”

Now, you might not have understood the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. This might be the first day in your life you ever gave it any kind of careful thought. You perhaps have never put the two ideas together: that the person who died is the one who rose; that the reason he died was in order that my predicament as a sinner, hopeless before God, might be rectified, and he rose in order to assure me of all that is still there for the future.

Over a forty-day period we’re told that Jesus presented himself alive, the same person in the same body in which he suffered. Now, that is very important. If you paid attention, which I’m sure you did, to the singing of our songs: “Rich wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified.”[20] There are dimensions to the risen body of Jesus that are distinct to his resurrected body, but the same body that was crucified, that was laid in the tomb, that emerged from the tomb is the same person exactly who then appeared to these people. He’s not a phantom. He’s not an idea. He’s not a notion. He’s not a funny feeling in the tummy of these fellows who are hoping desperately that there might still be a future for this program. No, they know exactly.

And that is why Jesus is prepared to say to them… Luke 24: “As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ But they were startled and frightened,” they “thought they saw a spirit.”[21] “I’m not a spirit,” he said: “‘Why are you troubled, … why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.”[22] The living Savior is the same Jesus who suffered and died. And we cannot know Jesus except in that way—that there is no other way to know the living Jesus other than that the living Jesus is the Jesus who was sacrificed for sinners.

Why is that important? Because people say all the time, “Well, Jesus as you were describing him this morning, Alistair, just doesn’t fit my conception. My idea of Jesus is that he is an ethical reformer,” or Jesus the revolutionary, or Jesus the pacifist, or Jesus the guru. We’re not at liberty to invent our own Jesus. This is not something that you buy in a store, and you can create your own Jesus. The only Jesus that we can ever know is the Jesus who is available to us, whom we meet in the Scriptures.

Which really raises the fundamental question: How in the world, then, did the huge change come about in the lives of these fellows? Well, the answer is pretty clear. Because the disciples were, at the death of Jesus, dispirited. They were dejected. They were huddled. They were on their own. They were behind locked doors for fear of the authorities coming for them. Why would the authorities ever come for them? They were such a hopeless team! There were eleven of them, enough for a soccer team, but they didn’t have enough wind in their sails to go out and play. And yet seven weeks later—seven weeks later!—they hit the Jerusalem streets declaring, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses to that fact.”[23] Fantastic! Fear turned to boldness. Hiding changed to heralding. Escape changed to confrontation. Silence now speaking.

The only Jesus that we can ever know is the Jesus who is available to us, whom we meet in the Scriptures.

Mary, on a personal level: we see Mary weeping. We sang about it. That’s how she begins. But how does she end? Her sorrow is turned to joy. “I don’t know where they laid him. They took him, and I don’t know where they laid him.” She goes to the boys, and she says, “I have seen the Lord.”[24] “What? She’s a crazy woman! She’s inventing it! Why does she want to say things like that?” She saw the Lord. Not a phantom; Jesus. In fact, Jesus says to her, “Hey, don’t grab me. Because I’m on a journey here. I’m returning to the Father. We can’t hang together for too much longer.”[25] But she knows.

And what of Thomas? Don’t you love Thomas? For the band, it’s fear turned to boldness. For Mary, it is sorrow turned to joy. And for Thomas, it is doubt turned to faith.

What is it for you? What’s your story? Which side of this equation are you on? You still in the forest? Can’t see the forest for the trees? This is your twenty-seventh Easter service. You said to yourself, “You know, one of these days I think I might believe that.” How about today? I couldn’t compel you. The evidence won’t compel you. The evidence is not irrelevant, but it’s not the key. I’ll tell you what the key is: God. God. He knocks on the door of your heart. He says, “Listen to my Word. Listen to this! It’s for you. Receive it. Come to me.”

Where did that guy say it was? He said it was like a well-beaten track, and he came out suddenly where he did not expect to come out. That’s what I’ve been praying for: that some of you will go out where you never expected to go out. This is routine. Incidentally, I have an idea: How about next Sunday, you come again? Huh? I mean, we’re going to try it again next week—not the same message but the same Bible, the same Jesus. I mean, is God Almighty worth only three considerations a year? He’s the one who says, “And you will seek me, and you will find me when you search for me with all your heart.”[26]

Let us pray:

Our Father, we thank you that you do, through the Bible, teach us what we do not know; that you do, in Jesus, make us something that we are not; and that you do always complete the plans and purposes that you have. So I pray that we, as we go on our way into the beauty of this day, some for us to take a Gospel, some The Story, but each of us to linger, as it were, in the awareness of the fact that the Christian life is not just difficult; it is actually impossible on our own; but that in Christ and through Christ and by Christ, we may live in the light of its reality and truth. So meet with us, Lord, we pray. You know us all. And we ask it in Christ’s name. Amen.

[1] Acts 1:3 (ESV).

[2] Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone? (New York: Century, 1930), 4.

[3] Morison, 4.

[4] John 2:18 (paraphrased).

[5] John 2:19–22 (ESV).

[6] See 1 Peter 2:24.

[7] Acts 3:15 (ESV).

[8] Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7 (ESV).

[9] Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford, “Money (That’s What I Want)” (1959). Lyrics lightly altered.

[10] John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “All You Need Is Love” (1967). Emphasis added.

[11] John Lennon, “Give Peace a Chance” (1969).

[12] See 1 Peter 3:18.

[13] John 19:30 (ESV).

[14] Luke 23:42 (paraphrased).

[15] Luke 23:43 (ESV).

[16] John 8:58 (paraphrased).

[17] John 14:9 (ESV).

[18] See Luke 2:7.

[19] Robert Lowry, “Christ Arose” (1874).

[20] Matthew Bridges, “Crown Him with Many Crowns” (1851).

[21] Luke 24:36–37 (ESV).

[22] Luke 24:38–40 (ESV).

[23] Acts 2:32 (paraphrased).

[24] John 20:18 (ESV).

[25] John 20:17 (paraphrased).

[26] Jeremiah 29:13 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.