We cringe when we hear about the heir who inherited a fortune and squandered it all, or the person who was entrusted to carry on a famous legacy, only to soil the family name in disgrace. Sometimes people can literally be surrounded by things that others only dream of, yet fail to do anything worthwhile with them. Today we see a young man who grew up in the presence of God’s covenant promises, but he chose to mock it and walk away from it all.
Reactions to the Resurrection
The followers of Jesus all had different reactions to hearing the news that He had risen from the dead. One wanted to hold onto a feeling to be sure it was true. Others had to see it for themselves or be given physical proof before they would believe. We still struggle with similar reactions in our own Christian walk. Often our faith fluctuates based on how we feel, or by what we can see, but we must be sure our faith is anchored in something much deeper.
If you have your Bible, you can go ahead and turn it to John:20.
Years ago, I watched one of those emergency rescue programs on TV. They showed a story of three young men who decided to go exploring in a very large cave one day. They had wandered far back into the cave and did not realize that on the outside, a torrential downpour had started. The further they went back into the cave, the more the rain began to pour, and the cave began to flood.
At one point, they saw water coming in, and they decided they needed to turn and head out as quickly as possible. As they began to make their way out, they suddenly realized that they did not exactly remember the right way to go. They begin trying this way and that way, and the water kept rising, it was now above their boots. As they continued running this way, and that way, the water was now up to their knees, and they were in a dead panic. They reached a small opening that was a small cavern.
By the time they got there, the water was about at waist level, and it had actually blocked the exit to get out. They said that they saw a little ledge up above, and they all climbed up onto the ledge thinking that well, we’ll be safe up here, we’re a little higher up here. That’s the only thing that they knew to do. But the water continued to pour in, and the water continued to rise until it reached the level of the ledge and continued to rise.
The better swimmer of the three said, “There’s got to be a way out and I’m gonna go find it.” He dove into the water. Again and again he went under, searching, trying desperately to find some way to get out of the cave. On one dive, he didn’t come back up. His friends waited and waited. They knew for sure that he probably got stuck on something down there. They were panicked beyond comprehension. But what they didn’t know was that their friend had found a small opening down near the floor that was a tunnel passageway of some kind, and he began to swim through it. It was about 15 feet long, he said, and he swam and kind of crawled through holding his breath.
When he came up on the other side, he swam up through the water and came up into a much larger cavern where he knew they could be safe. So he waited just long enough to catch his breath again, he drove back down under the water, swam and crawled his way as fast as he could through that tunnel, back up into the cavern where his friends were.
He burst up through the water to tell his friends there was a way out. When he burst up through that water after being gone several minutes, that was proof to those friends that there was a way out of that cave, there was a way that they could survive. They had been sitting there the whole time, and their minds were convinced that their friend was dead, and that there was no hope for survival. They said when that water broke and their friend had burst up through the water, it was the greatest news they had ever heard. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave provides that kind of hope for us and so much more!
The longer we live, the more we realize that life is passing by very, very quickly. We also realize the older we get, hopefully we’re gaining some wisdom with every year that goes by, we also realize that time is slipping away and no one gets out of here alive. Jean-Paul Sartre once summed up the conclusion of life in two words, “No exit.” But he was wrong. Jesus Christ died, He was buried, and He burst forth from the grave, showing us once and for all, that there is hope for survival. There is hope after death in this world. He’s the only one who ever said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Then He said, “Follow me. I know the way.”
The fact that Jesus defeated death is for us, the most important news we will ever hear in this lifetime. I know you would expect a pastor to say that, especially on Easter Sunday morning. But there is no greater news that any of us could ever hear than the fact that Jesus is alive! He’s our hope for tomorrow and He is our reason for living.
Josh McDowell said, “After more than 700 hours of study, I’ve come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoax ever foisted on the minds of men. Or it is the most fantastic fact of history.” I hope when you leave here today, you will be certain beyond question that the resurrection is indeed the most fantastic fact of history!
I hope if you are already convinced of that, that you will leave here rejoicing as you never had before, that you have hope in Jesus Christ. Beyond this world, folks, Paul said it. If you’ve lived long enough, you can say amen to this because you understand, Paul said, “If we only have hope in this life, we are to be pitied more than all men.” I didn’t understand that when I was a teenager because I thought I knew everything. But now that I’m a youngish old man, I say Amen to Paul.
So today, I want us to quickly look at the reactions of some of the people who first saw Jesus after His resurrection. John:28 gives us three separate appearances of Jesus, after He had risen again. The reactions of those people who first saw Him were so human, they were so real, that to me, it’s another evidence that the Bible is absolutely true. It’s not trying to paint any false picture. They responded, I think, exactly the way you and I would have responded if we had heard the news that our teacher, our friend, had been brutally crucified and buried, and now He was alive. I think we would have responded in one of these three ways.
Perhaps you’re here today, and you’ve heard the story of the resurrection, and you’re struggling with it. You’re just wrestling with trying to make sense out of all of this. Maybe you’re here, and you can identify with one of these three reactions.
The first appearance that Jesus made was to Mary Magdalene, and her response was feeling is believing.
Put yourself in Mary’s place for just a moment, if you can. Mary had quite a past. Her name, Mary Magdalene, that’s not her last name. Often they would say the person’s first name and the city they were from. It’s actually Mary of Magdala. Magdala was known in history as being a horribly wicked place. Mark tells us in his gospel that Jesus had cast out seven demons from Mary. Mary, no doubt, had a very dark past. She had been involved in some very deep, dark things. When she encountered Jesus, Jesus had forgiven her, He had made her whole, He had transformed her life. She followed Jesus all the way to the cross. She never got over what Jesus had done for her. When Jesus was crucified, she was absolutely devastated. All of her hopes of Jesus being the promised Messiah, the one who they had been waiting for, they were gone, the hopes were gone. John 20:1, tells us that early in the morning, before the sun had even come up, Mary went to the tomb of Jesus. When she got there, she discovered that the stone at the entrance of the tomb to block the tomb had been rolled away. Not only that, to add insult to injury, the body of Jesus was missing.
John 20:2 says, she ran back to Simon Peter, and John. She said to them, “They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him.” I can just hear the desperation in her voice. Then it tells us that Peter and John ran back to the tomb and they were racing each other back to the tomb. They wanted to go and they wanted to investigate for themselves.
When they got there, they looked in and they saw indeed, the tomb was empty. The Bible says they turned, and they went back home, and that Mary had followed them back to the tomb. John 20:11 and 12 tell us that she looked inside the tomb one more time, as if to think maybe I was just upset before, maybe I was just hallucinating. I’ve got to see one more time. When she looked inside the tomb, this time there were two men seated there, one at the head, and one at the foot of where Jesus had been laying. She was so upset and her emotions were so high that the Bible said when she looked in there and saw these two men, she was oblivious to the fact that they were two angels.
John 20:13 says, The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” That seems like a dumb question, doesn’t it? I mean that in the most respectful way. But you know, men as husbands, we’ve got to be careful the questions we ask our wives when they’re upset, you know, because we are walking on dangerous ground there. Typically, if a woman’s crying, you’ve got to think through your words real carefully. Just to blurt out, “Woman, why are you crying?” just seems rather obvious and insulting. She said, “They’ve taken away, my Lord.” Do you feel that?
I mean, think about this, this is not the focus of this message. If you step this backward, Jesus has already been crucified. It’s done. He’s dead. It seems to me that would be the worst part. Mary is so devastated by the finality of His death, she just wants to be near the body. She loves Him so much. She says not only have they killed Him, they’ve taken His body away. As if it wasn’t humiliating enough to kill the greatest man who ever lived, the man who changed my life, now they have to humiliate Him more by stealing His body out of the grave? She said, “They’ve taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they put Him.”
John 20:14 says she turned around, and she saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t realize it was Jesus. I don’t know, maybe it was because her eyes were filled with tears. Maybe it was because Jesus did not allow Mary to recognize him in that moment, as He did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. I don’t know, clearly, she saw this man that she thought was the gardener. Then she turned, because verse 16 says, then Jesus spoke her name, “Mary,” just one word, Mary. Notice, He didn’t say Mary of Magdala. He didn’t bring up the old history. He didn’t tie her to the old past. He just said, “Mary.” That’s all she needed to hear.
John 20:16 says, as soon as she heard Him say her name, she immediately turned around. She was already headed away, but she turned around, and she said, “Rabbi!” and she ran, and she embraced Him. I imagine she must have squeezed the breath out of Jesus in that moment. She embraced Him, and she refused to let go.
It’s hard for us to fully understand the full measure of emotions and overwhelming joy that Mary must have felt in that moment, thinking that Jesus was gone forever, and then suddenly seeing Him alive. Maybe the closest we could come is if you’ve ever lost a child in a big public place, and you’re in that panic.
I remember years ago, Sandy, and I went to Disney World with four or five other families, and they wanted to go to the parade one night. So we went early, and we got great places right at the curb. We were waiting and the crowds began pressing in, and then the lights went out, and the parade started. The music was loud, and lights were flashing. Everyone was having a great time. Then I turned and I saw Donna, looking around, she wasn’t watching the parade, and she began calling for one of their daughters. At first, it was an urgent call. But it quickly grew into the most serious state of panic I’ve ever seen on anyone’s face, and she began screaming her daughter name. She said, “She’s gone! She’s gone!” Everyone looked for her. I mean, we are packed in there like sardines. The noise is deafening, and people are cheering.
Donna began shoving grown men out of her way, and pushing her way through the crowd. Their little daughter was much shorter than all of the adults around them, and you couldn’t have seen her if you had tried. It was dark. She ran through the crowd pushing people out of the way, screaming for her daughter. I’ve never seen anything like it, there was utter desperation. We all searched and we searched, and we searched. I’ll never forget the moment that she saw her daughter, she had just casually wandered up the curb, following the parade. She was, I don’t know, 30 or 40 feet up the street, watching the parade as happy as she could be, oblivious to everything that was going on.
When Donna saw her, she ran and scooped her up in her arms and embraced her. She wept tears of relief and tears of joy. But Mary’s joy must have been so much more dramatic, because she had no hope that she would ever see Jesus again. But suddenly, there He was, calling her name. She was overcome with emotion. She ran and grabbed Him, and she wouldn’t let go until Jesus finally said, hey, Mary, you need to let go. We’ve got other things we need to do.
Mary’s reaction was naturally an emotional one. She wanted to hold on to Jesus, she wanted to savor that moment of joy. She wanted to stay there forever. To her, feeling was believing.
Many people today evaluate their faith by their feelings. Maybe years ago you had an emotional experience, a time where you felt close to God. Maybe it was when you were saved, or when you were baptized, or maybe at a revival meeting. You felt so close to the Lord then. Now over the years, the emotion that you felt then has long since faded. Now here you are today, and you’re disappointed that you don’t feel as close to God as you used to. Maybe you even question your salvation now, because that initial feeling is gone. You would give anything if you could just go back and hold on to that first emotion forever. In fact, some Christians spend their lives going from one event to another, from one seminar to another, trying to get an emotional, spiritual fix. We need to understand that emotions fluctuate. God never said the Christian life would be one continuous mountaintop experience. There are valleys as well in the Christian life, and I would submit to you many of them, many valleys.
Of course, God gave us feelings and emotions. They’re right and they’re proper. But we have to keep them in their proper place. I always told our kids growing up, the feelings must be the caboose on the train, not the engine. I don’t know where I heard that years ago. But it’s such a great analogy. Don’t let your feelings pull you, you make sure you’re in charge of them. See, an emotional experience is only a temporary thing. We should never expect it to be a continuous feeling.
The same is true in your Christian life. There will be highs and lows of emotion connected to services and encounters and prayer and songs. But your faith has got to be a lot more than emotion. If your faith is anchored in how you feel, you’re going to have a roller coaster Christian life. You’re going to leave one service and say, “Wow, that was awesome, I am so fired up for God!” You’re going to leave another service and say, “I didn’t really feel much today, so I guess it’s going to be a downer of a week.” We can’t do that, we can’t live life that way. Your faith has got to be anchored in something more solid, more unchanging than your feelings. Listen, your feelings will lie to you. Don’t trust in them, they will lie to you. Mary might have wanted to stay there forever holding on to Jesus, feeling the ecstasy of that moment of joy, but faith doesn’t work that way.
There’s a second response that we see to the resurrection, that John records in chapter 20, starting in verse 19, and that was to the disciples. Their reaction was seeing is believing. John 20:19 says on the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders. Now let’s pause there for just a second because I want us also to try and put ourselves in their place. We read these stories sometimes knowing the ending already. But these guys were behind locked doors because their leader had just been crucified for teaching and saying the things that He was saying.
The atmosphere in Jerusalem was electric. At this moment, everyone was on high alert by what had just happened. This ringleader, Jesus, had finally been silenced. The men who were most closely associated with Him, disciples, were living in fear of their lives, because they thought they could be next. So there they were behind locked doors. Mary had already told them Jesus was gone. They wanted to believe He was alive, but it just didn’t seem possible. Suddenly, in that locked room, the end of verse 19 says Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.”
Don’t you think they had some goosebumps in that moment, without knocking, without unlocking, without opening the door, Jesus simply appears in the room and spoke to them. Verse 20 says He showed them His hands and His side, and the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. There’s a lot of people like that today, too. They’ll only believe it if they can see it.
Years ago, the first Russian cosmonaut went into outer space. When he came back, he made a famous quote that hit the papers around the world. He said this, “When I was in outer space, I looked and looked, but I didn’t see God. So God doesn’t exist.” Someone else said, “If he had stepped out of that space capsule, he would have seen God.”
There’s some people who aren’t satisfied with faith that is just based on scripture. They always want to see something more. They want to see the Shroud of Turin. They want to see Noah’s Ark discovered. They demand that God show them a miracle. Then they say they’ll believe. Listen, God has put so much evidence right under our noses already. It’s everywhere. We talked about it in the first two sermons of this year, in our study through the Bible. He’s given us so much evidence that we are without excuse.
Christianity has brought more change to more people’s lives in the world than anything else in history. Someone once said, “If Christianity isn’t true, then a lie has done more to civilize the world than all of the truth combined.”
I don’t consider myself to be a complete idiot, and I believe in Christ. I mean, my wife will tell you, I’m the world’s worst skeptic. I’m the least naive person you will ever try to pull something over on. I don’t say that proudly. When someone tells me something, I have to dismantle it. I have to take out all the screws, I have to lay out all the parts, I have to see how the thing works before I will buy it or put my faith in it. I say that with a measure of shame.
Yet I came to a point where I looked at all this and said, “You would have to be crazy not to believe this.” The evidence is overwhelming. There’s so much evidence to believe but so many people like those disciples won’t believe until they see something more. Hebrews 11 gives us a great definition of faith. In verse 1 it says Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Did you ever try to go into a court of law and give evidence of something that’s invisible? They’ll boot you out, because it doesn’t make sense. This is what faith is. It’s believing in something with the evidence that God has already given you, and then taking that one more step of faith and saying, “I don’t understand all of this, but God I understand enough to take that step and shift my weight over from myself to you, and I believe in you.”
The third response to Jesus’s resurrection was Thomas. Mary’s response was feeling is believing. The disciples response was seeing is believing. Then here I am with Thomas. Thomas’s response was proving is believing. John 20:24 tells us that for some reason, Thomas was not there when Jesus appeared to the disciples in that locked room. When the disciples saw him later, they all said to him, “Thomas, Jesus is alive, man, we’ve seen Him, we saw Him. So we believe.”
Thomas stubbornly answered, “I won’t believe without proof,” the end of verse 25, he said, “unless I see the nail marks in His hand.” So first, he wants to see like the other disciples, and put my finger where the nails were. Wow, that’s getting pretty personal, and put my hand into His side where His side was pierced. I will not believe.
Thomas is saying, listen, I’m a smart guy, I’m studied, I’m well educated, or whatever the deal was, he said be logical about this guys. I’m not gonna believe He’s alive, even by seeing Him, I’ve got to have it proven to me. I’ve got to touch Him. I’ve got to have evidence of it. I’ve got to examine the wounds. I’ve got to examine His side. I’ve got to measure this and line everything up and prove it all to be true before I will ever believe.
Thomas is the kind of person who just can’t take someone else’s word for it. He has to personally examine everything and prove it for himself. Notice how beautifully Jesus handled this with Thomas. He didn’t rush in and try to convince him. He waited eight days.
Maybe you know someone who is asking questions, but they don’t believe. So you hit the panic button, then you you start shoving truth down their throat, trying to force them to believe. It’s a bad thing to do. You can’t force anyone to salvation.
Maybe the best thing to do is just to back off, and pray for them and trust them to God and say, “God, just bring whatever you need to into their life, to cause them to run to you. I’ll be there when they’re looking for someone and pray for another opportunity to step in at the right time.”
Jesus just let Thomas think about it for a week. John 20:26, says after eight days, His disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, they’re still terrified. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you”. Then He said to Thomas, now watch this, the beautiful personal care that Jesus takes with each one of us.
Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, see my hands, reach out your hand Thomas and put it in my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Jesus didn’t criticize him for doubting. He didn’t demean his character for being a little weaker in his faith. Oh, we so often do that, don’t we? We write people off, or we put them in a lower category because they’re not where we are spiritually. Let’s not do that. Jesus is so loving, that He’s the caring Shepherd that the Bible describes Him to be. He comes to this, this wounded little sheep, and carefully says to him, “Hey, Thomas, come on, you got everything you need. Now, stop doubting Thomas. Believe!”
Then Thomas humbly confessed, “My Lord, and my God.”
Maybe people here today or people listening online never committed their life to Jesus Christ, because they want more proof. It’s an understandable position to be in, but it’s a dangerous one as well. Maybe you say, if somebody could only prove to me that Jesus came back from the dead, then not only would I give my life to Him, but I would become a dedicated follower of His. But you’ve already heard the Bible. You’ve already heard sermons. You’ve already read Christian books, you’ve already seen the mountains of evidence. I would courteously say to you this morning, you are going to live your entire life and you will go to the grave, still waiting for one more piece of evidence, and you will die without Christ. How much proof do you need?
There will never be enough evidence to satisfy someone who doesn’t want to see the volumes of evidence that God has already given us.
In verse 29, of John 20, Jesus said to Thomas, this is powerful, “Because you have seen me, you believe, but blessed are those who have not seen me, and yet have believed.”
You see, feeling and seeing, and proving, they’re all fine. They all have their proper place in our search for truth in our search for Christ. But our response must ultimately be, here’s number four, our response must ultimately be: trusting is believing. Trusting is believing. Faith and trust are required for salvation. Without that you cannot be saved.
Faith is more than a feeling because feelings fluctuate. Faith is more than seeing. True faith doesn’t demand a supernatural sign every week in order to keep it going. Faith is more than proof. It doesn’t require absolute proof, to the point where it’s no longer faith, it’s just head knowledge. Be very careful of that one, where you get proof after proof after proof, and you have so much learning, so much head knowledge about history and archaeology and science and theology, that you’re relying on your knowledge, thinking that you’re okay when you’ve missed the boat completely. Because you’ve never taken that childlike leap of faith, and say, “I’m trusting in you.”
You know, whatever reasons you may have for not trusting in Jesus for salvation. I just want to remind you, in closing, what I began with, and that is that life is slipping away rapidly. Life is like trying to hold water in your hand. Have you ever done that? If you haven’t, go home today, this will be your Easter homework. Get a glass of water and pour it into your hand and see how much you can hold. That’s your life. Bible says it’s like a vapor. It’s disappearing right before our eyes. Folks, you and I do not have forever.
Remember the story I was telling you earlier about the hikers who were trapped in the cave. As the water was rising up to their heads? Well, there’s one big flaw in that analogy. They saw their friend come up through the water, and it was easy for them at that point to believe that there was a way of escape. We didn’t see Jesus come up out of the grave. So it’s like we’re in the cave, the water is getting higher and higher. Then we turn and we see an etching on the wall. There’s words etched in the wall, and they say, there is another larger cavern 20 feet away through a small passage way floor level, west side, and it’s signed by the four top cave explorers in the world. There we are, we’re sitting there, all the proof we have is the writing that’s etched into that wall. Now let me ask you something. If you were in that situation, what would you do?
Well, if you had any sense at all, you would read those instructions, and you would take a leap of faith. You would dive into that water and you would head for that passage way. You know why? Because it represents your only hope.
John 20:31, the last verse in this chapter we’ve looked at, John said, “These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in His name”. I wonder, have you ever done that?
You’ve heard sermons, you’ve been to church, you’ve tried to be a good person, and that’s wonderful. But none of that will save you and forgive your sins and get you into heaven. None of it. There’s one way. It’s by trusting in Jesus Christ by faith. By repenting of your sin, and receiving the forgiveness and salvation, the way of escape, the way of hope that He alone offers. If you haven’t done that, I pray that right now, in this moment, you can call out to God from the quietness of your heart and trust Him by faith.
(If you aren’t sure how to do that, or what that looks like, click here.)