Sermon – December 20, 2020

John 20:1-18 – Resurrection Appearances (Part 1) (mp3)

The Christmas season is one made for families; many of our best and strongest memories of this season are of time spent with family. Yet, this year, many of us are saddened to only see family distantly, via phone or video. This sadness makes good theological sense, for the entire reason for the season is that God came to be near us, Immanuel! Today, we remember not the birth of Jesus, but the resurrection of Jesus, and his beautiful and varied work in moving his people to belief. We might think that belief would be easier if he would only be with us, physically. Yet, Jesus provides us with what we need to believe, physical presence or no.

1. Jesus provides us with simple mercy
John beating Peter to the tomb seems like a small and insignificant detail. Yet, when we read that John was reluctant to enter, that upon seeing Peter enter he do so as well, and that seeing the entirety of the tomb provided belief, it is hard to think that something more isn’t at play. Whatever the reason, the Lord uses the boldness of the previously embarrassed and disgraced Peter to bring John to understand and believe in the resurrection. Peter had no idea, I’d guess, that he played such a role. And neither do we! Friends, you may think that you have little role to play in God’s kingdom, and that you only find failure in your past. But God is able in his might to use us for his glory! Trust in his power, and keep striving to be faithful to Christ!

2. Jesus provides us with severe mercy
Mary continues to weep at the tomb, and is apparently unmoved by the presence of the angels. When Jesus appears, she doesn’t even know it is him! Yet, calling her by name, she comes to realize that her master stands before her. But then Jesus, oddly, tells her not to cling to him. This must have been difficult to hear for Mary! She searched frantically for his body, now, having Jesus back again she is told that she cannot have him close to her. This is certainly a severe mercy, a mercy that is good but painful. Mary doesn’t understand the fulness of who Jesus is, helpfully demonstrated by the fact that she calls him “Rabboni” instead of Lord. She doesn’t understand that he is indeed the Lord God in human flesh. His ascension, therefore, is much better for her than his staying near, for it will help her to see Jesus as he truly is – Immanuel, God with us.