April 17, 2022
In the days after Christ’s crucifixion, His disciples hid behind locked doors, broken, confused, and convinced that Jesus’ death was the end of the story. But the grave could not hold Him! Jesus appeared in His resurrected body, showing the disciples His hands and His side and speaking peace into their troubled hearts. As Alistair Begg explains, no idea, philosophy, or code of ethics can transform our broken world. True restoration is found in Jesus alone.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to follow along as I read just a brief passage from the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John. John 20:19.
“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I[’m] sending 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, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’”
Now, before we look at this passage together, a brief prayer. There are a number of children here this morning, so I’m going to use a prayer that I used to pray when I was the same age as you. I didn’t think it up myself. My teacher told me this was a good prayer, and it’s still a good prayer. So, this is our prayer. Let’s pray to God:
Make the Book live to me, O Lord,
Show me yourself within your Word,
Show me myself and show me my Savior,
And make the Book live to me.
Well, there you have the scene. It’s described for us quite vividly by John in the few verses that I read. It’s the evening of Easter Sunday. Where would you expect the disciples to be on the evening of Easter Sunday? Presumably, singing songs about the resurrection and so on. If that’s what you’ve been thinking, then you need to look again at the text. Because it tells us that on the evening of Easter Sunday, they were in hiding—in fact, not only in hiding, but they had the doors locked because they were fearful, afraid for their lives.
It is clear that to a man—and now there were only eleven of them—but to a man, they were absolutely certain that the dream was over. It had looked so good for so long, and yet in a moment it seemed to have vanished. And anyone outside of that room; anyone who had lingered to the end of the day on that scene in Calvary, where, in the midst of all of the crowds and the noise and the drama, the sorry sight of these individuals dying this most shameful of deaths; and, of course, the one in the middle cross being finally taken down, his lifeless body retrieved by a well-meaning individual called Joseph of Arimathea, who, along with one of his friends—a chap called Nicodemus, who was a religious leader and had had all kinds of questions for Jesus along the way—the two of them remove the dead body. It is then wrapped in spices and wrapped in linen cloths and laid in the tomb in which no one had ever been laid. Remember, last week, he rode on a donkey that no one had ever ridden on. Now he is to lie in a tomb in which no one had ever laid. And in that tomb he is put, and a huge boulder is put in front of it, thereby sealing him there.
That’s the scene. That was the end. No way back from that. He had been crucified. He was dead, buried—case closed. They’re in hiding, and they’re also in mourning. In contemporary Jewish terms, they were sitting shiva. They were doing what people do when you lose a loved one. If you’ve been there, you know this. You sit in your home, and people come and sit with you, sometimes just sitting in silence, the pain is so great. Every so often a pleasant memory emerges to break the silence and to cause us to reflect on how things used to be. And therefore, it would be strange if that were not what was taking place in the context of what’s described for us here. There they were, “for fear of the Jews.”
I can imagine somebody saying, “You know, we had some great times, though. I mean, it was good. We had some great times.”
Someone says, “Yeah, you know, we did. Remember that party at Levi’s house? That was a party!”
“And do you remember,” says somebody, “how the Pharisees were so annoyed about that? They didn’t like the fact that Jesus went there—that somehow or another he said, ‘You know, I didn’t come to call a bunch of righteous people. I came to hang with sinners and call them to repentance.’ Oh, they didn’t like that!”
One of the disciples says, “Yeah, but we liked it. It was good.”
Then someone says, “Hey, Andrew, while we’re thinking along these lines: Why did you have to say that?”
Andrew says, “Say what?”
“Say that thing to Jesus when we were out in the wilderness, and there were all those thousands of people there, and you said, ‘You know, these people are in need of food, but we’ve only got a boy here with five loaves and two fish.’”
“Yeah, but what did you say to him?”
“I don’t know.”
“This is what you said to him: You said, ‘What good is that? What is this among so many?’ And do you remember what happened? Oh yeah! Of course we remember what happened. All of them were fed. But that’s not the point I’m making. The fact of the matter is that we were then given the responsibility to pick up the leftovers. And there were twelve baskets of leftovers! And that was your fault. Because you said, ‘What could you possibly do with this?’ And Jesus says, ‘Let me show you what I can do with this. I’m going to feed everybody, and I’m going to give you twelve baskets to take home as the equivalent of a doggie bag.’ Wow, that was a day, wasn’t it? No wonder the lepers rejoiced. No wonder the lame walked. No wonder lives were changed.”
“And Peter, you got that question right. You went to the top of the class in a moment with your ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’”
And then someone says, “Yeah, but you went to the bottom of the class immediately after that. ’Cause Jesus said, ‘Get you behind me, Satan.’ You got it completely right and then completely wrong. And furthermore, you’re the one that said, ‘Even if everybody leaves you, I won’t leave you. I’m your main man.’ And how did that work out?”
And then someone says, “Well, let’s not be too hard on Peter. Let’s be honest: we all deserted him and fled.”
You know, I don’t know where you are in relationship to these things. I don’t know if you’ve considered the Gospel record. You may be a bystander to this. You may be skeptical about it. One of the things that it is important to pay attention to is the way in which the Gospel writers are incredibly honest. They’re very honest about themselves. They don’t paint themselves into bright lights in the picture. They’re honest enough to say that “we did not understand when this happened. When we were told this story by the women, we did not believe it. We could not believe it. It just seemed like an idle tale to us.”
And that’s why in this scene, there you have them, sitting, broken, and utterly defeated, presumably looking at one another and saying, “We’re going to have to try and come to terms with this the best we can. But our world has been shattered. We’re not going to see him again. We’ll never hear his voice again. We will never know his embrace and his friendship again.” The entire story has collapsed. They sit there like “orphans in an age of no tomorrows.” That’s the scene. It’s there. It’s in the text. They don’t look like a real strong bunch, do they?
Now, let’s fast-forward. We go forward a few weeks. And you can read this for homework. You’ll find it in the Acts of the Apostles, in chapter 2 and 3 and 4; the whole story emerges there. But now Peter, the one who had denied Jesus, is the one who’s preaching. And when he stands up to preach in Jerusalem, he says, “People of Israel, listen to this: Jesus…” Jesus is the first name on his lips. And then he says, “Jesus, the one who was delivered up according to God’s plan and foreknowledge, the one that you folks crucified, God has raised him from the dead. He loosed him from the pangs of death. Because,” says Peter to the crowd, “it wasn’t possible for him to be held by it.” It wasn’t possible for death to keep Christ under its grip. That’s all he says. He doesn’t provide an explanation. He doesn’t try and come up with some kind elaborate proof: “Let me explain to you how this works.” No. Because he is the proof.
The followers of Jesus are the proof. They don’t have to somehow or another come up with a metaphysical construct that will bamboozle the skeptical minds of those who are on the streets of Jerusalem. No! The fact that he’s standing up in front of this group, and the fact that when he finished his sermon, three thousand people became the followers of Jesus—the proof of the pudding was in the eating. If anybody had believed that it was a fabrication, what he was saying, they had the perfect opportunity to stand up and say, “Hey, hey, hey, wait a minute! We were around. He’s not alive. We know that.” But nobody did. Why? Because he was alive. And the evidence that was provided by Peter was unmistakable.
Now, let’s come back again in time. Let’s go back the six weeks. Let’s go back to scene 1. And in that scene there, we’re told that while the disciples were there and they were hiding away and they were mourning his loss, then, it says, “on the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them.” Either he did or he didn’t. There’s no middle ground. This is either the truth that changes the story of the entire history of the world, or it is the greatest fabrication that has ever been foisted upon humanity. Jesus came and stood among them. They saw him. They heard him. They saw his hands and his side, because he showed them his hands and his side. And “then”—and only then, it says—“then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”
How do you get from sadness to gladness? How do you get from fear to faith? How do you get from the narrative story of your life collapsing in shreds in a moment to all of a sudden rejoicing? And the answer, of course, is that it takes nothing less than the resurrection to explain what was a sudden and a complete change from a fear-filled despair to an irrepressible gladness. That’s why all these years later, in the twentieth century, the hymn writer says,
Let the church with gladness
[Songs] of triumph sing;
For [the] Lord now liveth,
[And] death ha[s] lost its sting.
Well, that’s exactly what the church needs to be doing.
You see, when Jesus left the tomb, when they realized that Jesus was present among them, they didn’t look at one another and say, “Oh, you know what? There is a hereafter. Oh, you can live after the grave.” They already knew that. And you want to know something? So do you, and so do I. And why do I know that? Because the Bible tells us that God has put eternity into the hearts of every man, woman, boy, and girl. That’s why a boy or a girl will lie at night and call for their mom or call for their dad and ask deep-seated questions about the universe and about the future and about themselves. And it may be framed in terms of “Well, I don’t want to go to school tomorrow,” but it’s all about “I don’t even want to do anything tomorrow.” Why is that? No, Jesus appears, and they don’t go, “Oh, so there is a hereafter.” No, Jesus appears, and they go, “Oh, this has changed the world forever.”
Because what has happened in the resurrection is cosmic in its significance. It is akin to what happened when God created the universe. You read the very beginning of the Bible, and what do you discover? That: that it was darkness over the face of the land, and into that the power and might of God shines. What do we find in Calvary? “And there was darkness for three hours in the middle of the day, covering the whole place”—an eerie stillness filling it. But now the light and the power and the presence of Jesus emerges. And that’s why it says, “Then,” and only then, were they “glad when they saw the Lord.”
Now, John later on—because we’ve got doubting Thomas in there, as you read on in the passage—John later on points out that Jesus says to doubting Thomas, he says, “And by the way, Thomas: Have you believed because you’ve seen me?” And the answer to that, I think, would be “Honestly, yes.” Then he says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That includes a lot of people, doesn’t it? That includes a lot of boys and girls who’ve come home from their Sunday school class, and they may not put it in these terms, but they’ve suddenly, in their little hearts and minds, made a shift from the notion of the existence of a person to the embracing of a friend and a Savior.
You see, this is the difference. And if you take the record and just read it, you’ll find that this is the story all the way through. Take Mary Magdalene, for example. This immense story begins with Mary Magdalene, for goodness’ sake! An unlikely person. She had had a real problem with demons. Jesus had sorted her out. She, because of her devotion to Jesus, had come early in the morning to the tomb. Why did she come? Well, she came to sit beside his dead body. She knew he was dead. But when she got there, there wasn’t even a body to sit beside. And that’s why we sang that song, and that’s why Justin read that passage. She thought he was the gardener until he spoke. And when he spoke—whoa!
Same thing happened on the road to Emmaus. You can read it in Luke 24: two disappointed people going down the road, saying to one another, “It was a good dream while it lasted, but it’s collapsed. It’s over. It’s done.” And then Jesus draws near to them, and he speaks to them. And Luke records: everything changed then.
You can go all the way down the line. Go to doubting Thomas; it’s the same thing. How gracious of Jesus! If you don’t know anything else about that little encounter, you can ponder this: that Jesus is patient with those who doubt. He’s patient with those who doubt. You’re here, and you say, “Well, I doubt most of that stuff.” That’s okay. You’ve got your archetypal doubter right here in the passage. Can you out-doubt Thomas? Doubting Thomas: “If I don’t get a chance to this and this and this…” Jesus says, “Fine, go ahead.”
We could go all the way down the line. We won’t; we’d be here all morning. But you take, for example, Saul of Tarsus. Saul of Tarsus was convinced that Jesus was a fraud, that the people who followed Jesus were a bunch of nuts. That’s why he was going after them, chased them, imprisoned them, ground them down: “Get rid of this rebellious group!” And then he saw the Lord. Then what does he say? “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” “Then they were glad when they saw the Lord.”
Have you seen the Lord in this way? Is he just a figure of history to you? Even that? You know, when you think about our singing our songs, and then the disciples on that day singing their songs, they wouldn’t have been singing our songs, because they didn’t have them. But they had their own songs. In fact, they had a whole book, a whole hymnbook of their own, called the Psalms—150 of them!
I can imagine them, when it finally dawns on them, saying to one another, “You know, why don’t we sing that little section of the Thirtieth Psalm?”
Someone says, “What do you mean?”
“Well, let’s sing that part about ‘You have turned for us our mourning into dancing; you have loosed our sackcloth and clothed us with gladness.’ Let’s do that one!”
Jesus himself had stepped down into their place, had stepped down into their fear and into their gloom, declaring himself to be alive. Therefore, his claims were now vindicated. He had said to them, “I am the resurrection and the life.” And they must have thought, as they looked up on that sorry scene on the cross, “How in the world does this work?” Jesus has said, “I am the light of the world,” but the light had been put out. But now they get it. His claims are vindicated. His promises can be trusted. Presumably, now we’re seeing how this fits, when John the Baptist said, “If you look over there on the other side of the Jordan, you will see the one who is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” And they’re now beginning to put the pieces of the puzzle together—the way, perhaps, you are this morning.
You say, “Well, I never thought of it like that at all. I just thought of Jesus as a sort of example—a kind of religious teacher who was an example. He did nice things to people, and I’m supposed to do nice things to people. And if I do enough nice things to people, then maybe God, if he’s taking scores, I can get at least, you know, a B-plus average, or maybe even a solid C. And if he’s grading on the curve, I’m okay, because there’s a lot of bums live around my neighborhood who are really not getting anything above a D, or certainly an F. And therefore, I’m in with a good chance.” This doesn’t work, my dear friend! It might work in your class, but it doesn’t work in the classroom of life. Because he’s not grading on the curve, and there’s no way that it is possible for us to amass significant points.
I went yesterday to that Top Flite place, down there at Independence—the golf place. Because Brenton was here, and my son, and I wanted to show them how good I was. And so I went there with them. I was frightened to death that I would catapult myself right off, you know, the second level and end up down in one of the things. But I wanted to get as many points as I possibly could. I want to get it in as many targets as you can get it in. And then I’ll be able to point up and say, “Look what I did.” And I did! Yeah, I did. Humility prevents me from going further with that story.
But the fact of the matter is, if that’s how you think of it, you’ve never, ever considered the claims of Jesus Christ. Behold, he’s the Lamb of God. Behold, he’s the risen Lord. Behold, he is the ascended King. Behold, he is the one who comes. The guiltless has died in the place of the guilty.
And so Jesus not only shows himself to them, but then he speaks to them. And what does he say to them? Well, he greets them, twice. “Shalom,” he says, and then a second time, “Shalom.” Only Jesus can clothe that customary greeting with such significance. Because, as Paul was later to write to the Colossians, he said he was making peace, he was making shalom, by his blood shed on the cross—that the only place for peace to be discovered on a vertical axis between a holy God…
Think about it. Well, we just said it. What is sin? Sin is ignoring or deciding we’re just frankly going to live without him. And what does it say? It leads to disintegration of our lives and the disintegration of creation. The whole jolly world is winding down! Nobody’s got an explanation for why things are as they are. Everybody’s got a theory about how to fix it. And here Jesus stands among them, and he says, “I am the Prince of Peace, and in me you may find peace.”
And then, of course, having shown himself, having spoken to them, he then decides he’s going to send them out. And he said, “I’m going to send you. Even as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” And, of course, we wouldn’t be here this morning were that not the fact. If they hadn’t gone out, the people would never have heard. The people would never have heard; they would have never taken the story elsewhere. There’d be no St. Patrick’s Day. There’d be no discovery of the gospel in the United States. There wouldn’t be people in Algeria this morning who are loving Jesus. There wouldn’t be people in Outer Mongolia this morning who are gathered, declaring that Jesus is Lord. The only reason that the whole world is consumed with that, no matter what people might say, is because he sent them out. He sent them out in the power of the Holy Spirit. And the history of the church bears testimony to it.
You see, what happened was, they discovered him to be a Savior; they realized now that the story actually had an ending—a really good ending; and they realized, too, that he had given them a song to sing.
When I meet Christian people, wherever I meet them, in the town, the city, the nation, the world, it’s the same for all. Different place, different background, maybe a different denomination, whatever it might be, but these are the unifying factors: you will find that they’re able to say, “Jesus is my Savior, I have a story to share with the world, and he’s put a song in my heart.”
You see, when the presence of Jesus invades a life, the life will never be the same again. Not talking about getting religion. Not talking about planning to attend church. Talking about the invasion of a life by the power of Jesus. And the same thing is true when the power of Jesus invades a church. Look at this big crowd here this morning! This is again what we did in the first hour. I’m very glad everybody’s here. But I’ll tell you what: it’s the largest company there’s been since COVID began. Many have wandered. Many, I don’t know where they are or where they’re going, where they’re coming. Even those of us who are committed, we bring ourselves in: “Let’s get in. Let’s try and go to church. Okay. What’s he got for us? Let’s go. Church. Didn’t like the song. Did you like the song?” “Nah, I didn’t like the song.” “I’m not doing the song.” That’s church.
But I’ll tell you what: when the presence of Jesus invades a church, it won’t be like that. It won’t be like that. There’s no question. It’s not even a question. I know, because I’ve worshipped in churches where the presence of the risen Jesus is almost palpable; where people want to be there on time, because Jesus is present. They want to sing, because Jesus leads the praise as, in Psalm 22—Psalm 22, which Jesus proclaimed from the cross. Oh, the invasion that we long for, so that our songs might be filled with him!
Well, let me end it in this way, though. Because you say to yourself, “Well, that all seems like a long way away, and here we are this morning, and we’ve got Ukraine, and we’ve got post-COVID, and we’ve got inflation, and we’ve got whatever else we’ve got.” Yeah, it’s a bit of a mess, isn’t it? You know where I find agreement at the moment in just talking with people in general? Not about political convictions. You know, you can find people who agree with you, and you feel really good, but I’m not talking about that. If I’m in conversation with people, I find that they’re actually convinced that our world is broken. That it’s actually broken. That it’s broken at a huge, big level, it’s broken at a midsized level, it’s broken at a familial level, and it’s broken at a personal level.
It’s very easy for us to sit as bystanders and look at things and think we know better. We don’t know better. We don’t know what people are dealing with. But you look at the sorry state of the United Nations trying to deal with the circumstances of the last few months. Has it ever occurred to anybody to stand up in that place and say, “You know, there is one who comes and speaks shalom. He is the Prince of Peace. Maybe we should consider that the Prince of Peace could speak to us concerning these things.” I say to you this morning: Where else is peace going to be found, after all these years—a war-torn, fake-news, bad-news, sad-news world in which our tiny children are growing up?
You know, Dylan’s songs are—depending on if you’re a Dylan fan or not is… I don’t know many of them. I just know a few. But there’s one that I’ve always known, and I went looking for it again this week. The poetry’s terrible, but it goes like this: “Broken bottles, broken plates…” Told you it was wrong, didn’t I?
Broken switches, broken gates
Broken dishes, broken parts
Streets are filled with broken hearts …
Ain’t no use jiving, ain’t no use joking
Everything is broken
The only question is: How did it get broken, and is there anyone who can fix it?
The story of Good Friday is this: that Christ was broken in order that we who trust in him can be fixed. The story of Easter Sunday is that he has triumphed over the things that wreck, harm, destroy, and break our lives. Is there no one who is prepared to join the dots in looking at the predicament of teenage suicide? Of the anxiety-ridden classrooms of our nation’s schools? Of the parents who are saying again and again, “I don’t know what’s wrong there. I don’t know why. It must be the internet. It must be this. It must be that. There’s something wrong.” Yes, there is something wrong. What is it?
Well, the great fear, of course, is the fear of death.
“Why am I wearing this mask?”
“In case you don’t die.”
“Well, what if I die? What then? Is there anybody who’s dealt with death?”
“Why am I arguing all the time? Why am I spiteful? Why am I resentful? Why am I glad at the animosity? Is there anybody who can bring peace into this?”
Oh, look at the attempts to fix it. Medication. Scotland is the number one addiction capital of Western Europe: “Get high. Get out.”
No, of course, we’re not going to do that. We’re a much more sensible group. We’re going for meditation. We’re going to go down in Chagrin Falls and lie on a yoga mat and look up at the star and say bizarre things to one another. We’re going to just let it go, let it go. Once you roll your mat up, put it back in your car, and start driving, I’ll see how much you’re going to let it go. You can’t let it go. You can’t fix it. You can’t fix it.
There’s nothing wrong with meditation. Go lie on whatever you want. I’m not concerned about that. But I’m going to tell you this: that neither medication nor meditation nor renovation… Renovation: “I’m going to turn over a new leaf. I’m going to fix it. I think I’ve got this under control. I’m going to fashion it in a way that it fixes it.” No.
The only thing possible is transformation—and a transformation that comes not from going inside myself to find an answer, but a transformation which comes from looking outside of myself and seeing that man bloodied on a cross, dying in my place, broken so that I might be fixed, and seeing that one triumph over the grave and walk up, walk out, and show to his disciples his hands and his side, speak to them peace, and then send them out. That’s the issue! That’s the challenge! Every one of us walks out of this building this morning either missionaries or mission field. Missionaries or mission field.
Let me ask you a question: Which side of Easter are you living on? Which side of Easter is our society this morning living on? It’s broken. It’s hiding. It’s got no fix. What’s the answer? Jesus. And when on the right side of Easter, we have a song to sing, we have a story to tell, and we have a purpose to fulfill.
Well, let’s just pray:
Lord, show yourself to us. Speak to us, we pray. Beyond the voice of a mere man, may we hear your voice today, on this Easter Sunday morning, calling us out of our own personal brokenness to your broken side, so that we might find in you the one that we ask to meet when we prayed twenty-eight minutes ago, “Show me myself, broken. Show me my Savior.” And then send us out, Lord, to school, to the lab, to the bank, to the workshop, to wherever. Because you have bridged that vast chasm by the love of the Lord Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.
 R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (1943). Language modernized.
 See John 3:1–21.
 See Matthew 27:57–60; Mark 15:42–46; Luke 23:50–56; John 19:38–42.
 See Mark 11:2; Luke 19:30.
 See Luke 5:29–30.
 Luke 5:32 (paraphrased).
 John 6:9 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 16:16 (ESV). See also Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20.
 Matthew 16:23; Mark 8:33 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 26:33; Mark 14:29 (paraphrased).
 See Luke 24:11.
 Joan Baez, “The Hitchhiker’s Song” (1971).
 Acts 2:22–24 (paraphrased).
 Edmond L. Budry, “Thine Is the Glory” (1884).
 See Ecclesiastes 3:11.
 See Genesis 1:2–3.
 Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44 (paraphrased).
 John 20:29 (paraphrased).
 John 20:29 (ESV).
 See John 20:1.
 See John 20:15.
 Luke 24:21 (paraphrased).
 See Luke 24:15–17.
 John 20:25 (paraphrased).
 Philippians 1:21 (ESV).
 Psalm 30:11 (paraphrased).
 John 11:25 (ESV).
 John 8:12 (ESV).
 John 1:29 (paraphrased).
 See Colossians 1:20.
 See Psalm 22:22.
 Bob Dylan, “Everything Is Broken” (1989). Stanzas rearranged.
Copyright © 2023, 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.