Second Reformed Church

Sunday, July 30, 2017

"Gardener" Sermon: John 20:11-18

[John 20:11-18]
July 30, 2017 Second Reformed Church
            Mary and the women go to the tomb where Jesus was buried to finish the embalming of His body, but when they arrive, they find the tomb open, the guards fainted, and the tomb is empty.  So, the women run back to Peter and John and tell them that Jesus’ body has been stolen – they think their enemies may have taken Him thinking they would try to fake the Resurrection.
            Peter and John run to the tomb and find it just as the women said.  And when they enter the tomb, God lifts the veils from their eyes and they understand the Scriptures that say Jesus must rise from the dead on the third day – Jesus is alive!
            When a loved one dies, we experience a painful hole in our selves.  We want that person back – that’s why we mourn – not only that they have died, but because we do not have them any more – they are not in our presence any more.
            Yet, as Christians, even with our hearts broken and our souls wrenched and our bodies writhing in pain in the loss of a loved one – we have hope.  Death is not the end.  Just because we do not have that person with us in the flesh right now does not mean that they don’t exist anymore or that we will never be with them again.
            No, as Paul writes:
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (I Thessalonians 4:13-14, ESV).
In addition, this is not merely a New Testament thing – in one of the oldest books of the Bible, we hear Job’s confession – his hope – that he will have a physical body after death:  “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And, after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27, ESV).
Peter and John run from the grave with their eyes opened and their understanding filled, and they run back to where there other disciples are to tell them that Jesus has physically risen from the dead.
Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb.  She is exhausted.  Confused.  Heart-broken.
We see that Mary doesn’t understand what has happened.
“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’”
Mary is weeping outside of the tomb, wringing her hands, looking up to Heaven for answers, and she turns and looks into the tomb again.  This time the tomb is not empty:  there are two angels – one at the head and one at the feet of where Jesus lay.
Something to notice:  as we read through the Resurrection accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – in every one – angels appear to the women, but they never appear to the men.
Why is that?
We’re not told.
But what a wonderful honor that the women – and only the women – received that day – to be addressed by heavenly beings who also believed and rejoiced in the Resurrection of the Savior of humans.
And the angels ask Mary why she is crying – and the angels aren’t being sarcastic – the angels don’t get it – they don’t understand that Mary has not had the veil lifted from her understanding so she could understand what happened here – that this is the fulfillment of Scripture.  Mary is still confused.
The angels know what is happening – and from their standpoint, the believers among humans ought to be rejoicing, not crying – so they don’t understand.  But then Mary tells them that Jesus has been taken – she doesn’t understand that He has risen.
Because we are born sinners with a sin nature, we don’t understand – or want to understand – the things of God unless and until God causes us to understand and desire them.
We’ve all had friends and family members that have been to church – that have heard the Gospel – that we have told them and explained to them and reached out to them – and they have come to worship and heard the preaching – they can even tell us what was said, but they don’t believe.  They don’t understand.  They don’t get the point.  Because salvation is a gift of God.
Without the God-given grace and faith to believe, we stand outside the tomb and cry out – in true sorrow and pain, “Where is He?”
Second, Mary does not recognize Jesus.
“Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher).”
Something causes Mary to turn from the angels, and she sees a man she supposes to be the gardener in the garden in which the tomb was located.  She doesn’t recognize that it is Jesus.
And we immediately wonder, “Why didn’t she recognize Him?”
Did He look different?
Was it something like in a TV show when an actor gets fired, but they want to keep the same character, so they pretend the character was in an accident or had plastic surgery and came out looking completely different?
No, when we look at the other Resurrection appearances of Jesus, there is only one other time that Jesus is not recognized immediately.  All the other times that Jesus appears to over five hundred of His disciples – they all recognize Him at once.  And we know from Jesus’ appearance before Thomas, Jesus still had the wounds of the crucifixion.  That being the case, it was not a matter of Jesus looking different.
Most likely, God did not allow her to recognize Jesus at first.  God kept her from recognizing Jesus at first.
So we as, “Why?”  Was God toying with her?  Didn’t He want her to see and believe?
Why was Mary at the tomb?
To embalm a dead body.  She was looking for a dead body – not a living Savior.  She was looking for the flesh and blood Man that she had known and seen die.  God wanted her to know more.
Jesus asks Mary the same question the angels do – “Why are you weeping?  Whom do you seek?”
Mary is crying because Jesus is dead.  Mary is looking for the dead body of Jesus.
And so she asks Jesus, Whom she supposes is the gardener, what He has done with the body – and she says she will take the body quietly and hid it away – she won’t rat on the gardener – she just wants that body – the precious body of her beloved Jesus.
But that’s not enough, is it?
It’s not enough to believe in Jesus.  It’s not enough to say He was a good man, a great teacher, a prophet of God – it is not enough to “live by the moral teaching of Jesus.”
I was talking with someone who said he is a Muslim Baptist – he explained he believes in the moral teachings of Islam and Jesus.  No.
If you don’t believe that Jesus is the Almighty God incarnate in the person of Jesus who kept God’s Law perfectly, died for the sins of His people, physical rose from the dead, and ascended back to His throne – you don’t believe in Jesus.  You might believe in someone who is like Jesus – or is inspired by Jesus – or is a caricature of Jesus – but that is not Jesus and there is no salvation in anyone other than Jesus – the Jesus Who says He is God in the flesh.
The good news is that God is merciful.  According to the Law, we should all be smudges under God’s big thumb, but God gives us time – either to repent and believe – or to secure the case against us.  And God sends us out in His Mercy to tell others the Gospel.  As God promised Jesus – not one of those the Father gives to Jesus will be lost – we will all come to repentance and belief.
And Jesus shows great mercy and tenderness – kindness and love to Mary.  He looks at her, and says, “Mary.”  And as He speaks her name, the blinders fall off, she understands the Scripture, her heart is filled with joy that Jesus is alive in the flesh, and she cries out, “Rabboni!”  Which is the Aramaic form of the title, “rabbi,” and it is also used to mean the “chief rabbi.”
“Teacher above all teachers – Wisdom of God – I believe!”
Third, Jesus sends Mary to witness to the disciples.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’—and that he had said these things to her.”
Much has been written about what it means that Jesus says not to cling to Him, but it should not be that confusing.  We immediately read this and think Jesus is saying, “Don’t touch Me,” but that can’t be the case, because the record shows that the women group-hug Jesus – “And behold, Jesus met [the women] and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him” (Matthew 28:9, ESV), and Jesus invites Thomas to put his fingers into the very wounds of His body.
No, what Jesus is saying to her is that she should not expect His Resurrection to mean that things are returning to the way they were.  Jesus cannot continue physically with her – and the others.  Jesus is telling her not to base her joy and her belief in His physically being with her.
Jesus has yet to ascend back to the Father and send God the Holy Spirit.  If Jesus remains on earth, the Holy Spirit will not come – the Gospel will not spread – the people given to Jesus will not be brought into His fold.  It is best – it is necessary – that Jesus physically return to the throne of God the Son at the Right Hand of the Father.
Jesus does not want her merely to desire that He be physically present, but that He finish all that He was sent to do – including sending the Holy Spirit.
We use language like this when we say not to cling to our money, because we can’t take it with us.
Jesus stays for forty days to prove the Resurrection to His disciples, but He was not staying – He had to ascend back to the Father.  And notice – Jesus does not merely say He is ascending to “the Father” or “My Father,” but “My Father and your Father, My God and your God.”
In the Resurrection, all we who believe now have God as our Father.  Jesus is our brother.  We have been adopted into the family of God.  We have a new an everlasting status and an eternal inheritance with Jesus.
As Paul explains:
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:15-17, ESV).
And so, Jesus sends Mary to tells the disciples – His brothers and sisters – that He has physically risen from the dead, and He will soon ascend to our Father, the One Almighty God, and then They will send the promised Holy Spirit.
Mary is no longer confused and weeping – she is busting with joy!  She came to the tomb for a dead body.  She was greeted by the risen Jesus.  And then she was called to spread the Gospel and to focus on the heavenly.
The day is coming when we will be with the risen Jesus forever, but, for now, He is seated at the Right Hand of the Father, and God the Holy Spirit indwells us.  God has given us an amazing world to love and enjoy and to thank Him for – but it is a fallen world – this world is not at it was created, nor how it shall be when Jesus returns.  So, we are called to balance enjoying the blessings that God has given us here with not clinging to them, because they will be changed – all sinful and evil things will be cast away.  We are called to have our hearts focused on the heavenly – on Jesus, the Holy Trinity, and the glorious kingdom coming.
Jesus tells us to hold loosely to the things of this world – we ought not to cling to them:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21, ESV).
And, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, ESV).
And Paul writes, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4, ESV).
Mary ran to the brothers and sisters and exclaimed, “I have seen the Lord!”  And she told them everything that had happened – all He had said.  And her life was changed – their lives were changed.
Has your life changed?
May we go forth with love, faith, and hope that Mary had – proclaiming that Jesus is risen from the dead – and living lives turned towards the eternal that has broken through even now.  Come, Lord Jesus!
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that sending Your Son was for more than giving us a moral code or a good example, but for giving us a Savior Who would live and die and rise that we would be eternally saved, made Your sons and daughters, co-heirs of the Kingdom with Jesus.  We thank You that Your Son revealed Himself to Mary, and we thank You for sending the Holy Spirit that we would believe.  Lead us in lives of faith and obedience that others would hear the Gospel from our lips and see us focused on the hope of the eternal – not worrying about the worries of the day.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"Empty" Sermon: John 20:1-10

[John 20:1-10]
July 23, 2017, Second Reformed Church
            Do you understand why everything happens the way it does?
            Do you understand why evil people rule over nations and wage war?  Do you understand why children are abused and murdered?  Do you understand why you have had each job and relationship you have had in your life?  Do you understand why it is so important that you be here this morning?
            Two and three weeks ago, we saw that – at the hands of the Jews and the Romans – Jesus was put to death – and He was very dead – His heart muscle ruptured from the strain of all that He endured.  There was no question that He was dead.
            And Jesus was buried.  He was sealed in a new tomb, in a garden, by the place where He was crucified, and the stone was sealed with wax, marked by the governor, and guarded by a guard of Roman soldiers.  At least a dozen of Jesus’ disciples, including the man whose tomb it was, witnessed Jesus being sealed in the tomb.  All taken together, it is logically impossible that the disciples could steal Jesus’ body and fake His Resurrection – the Resurrection really happened.
            But first, there is the empty tomb.
            And as we turn to our text, we see:
            First, the women find the tomb empty.
“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 have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’”
On the third day, the day after the Sabbath, a number of women, including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, Johanna, and others, go to the tomb to finish embalming Jesus.
We will remember that on Friday, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus ask Pilate for Jesus’ body, and they take Him to the grave Joseph had purchased for himself, and they lay Jesus in the tomb and wrap Him in burial cloths and embalm Him with myrrh and aloes, but they are unable to finish, as the sun is setting – and the Sabbath is upon them.  So they leave, and the tomb is sealed.  And they, with all the men, go into hiding.
So, they women head for the tomb – filled with love and faith and courage.  They were going to see Jesus completely and properly embalmed.  They were going to see a dead body, and they did not know who would move the stone and let them into the tomb.  But it had to be done, and it would be done, if the women have their way.
As we heard the Scripture this morning, we may have been concerned that it doesn’t sound the same as the history we read in the other Gospels.  Don’t worry – remember, Jewish historians were not as concerned about the sequence of events as they were in making the point they wanted to make – and, John knew there were other Gospels that could be read, so, he emphasized and included the points he wanted to set before his readers.
And when we read that that women went to the tomb, we don’t raise an eyebrow, because, I our culture, women are judges and serve on juries, and so forth.  However, in first century Middle-Eastern culture, this was not the case:  women were not considered credible witnesses.  So we need to ask ourselves why would God have such an important event be testified to by women – who were considered unreliable witnesses in that culture?
Paul gives us a reason as he writes:
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (I Corinthians 1:26-31, ESV).
God delights in overthrowing this sinful world by using the very people the world looks at and says, “Loser.”  Paul is writes to the leaders of the church and tells them to consider themselves – very few of them were wealthy or wise or powerful.  God usually uses the people that the world thinks are nobodies – worthless – unimportant.  Why?  So the world will understand that the point is not us, but our glorious God!  He is our wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption!
And John tells us that when the women arrive at the tomb, they find that the stone has already been rolled away, and the tomb is empty.  So Mary Magdalene runs back to the place where the men are hiding and tells Peter and John that Jesus’ body is missing.  She fears that their enemies have taken Jesus’ body and hidden it away in there paranoia about the disciples steal Jesus’ body and faking the Resurrection.
The other Gospels tell us that the women are met by angels who tell them that Jesus has risen from the dead.  As we will see shortly, the Holy Spirit had not allowed them to understand the meaning of the prophesies about the Resurrection yet.  So, they are afraid and confused and at least Mary Magdalene runs back to where the men are and tells them that Jesus is gone – the tomb is empty.
Second, Peter and John find the tomb empty.
“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.”
There is speculation as to the meaning of Peter and John’s run to the tomb and, also, of the meaning of the placement of the burial cloths.  For our purposes, we will not address them, but only look at what the text clearly says:
Peter and John are skeptical of what Mary Magdalene has told them.  It doesn’t seem possible that the tomb was empty because Jesus physically rose from the dead.  Also, Mary is a woman, and women – at that time – were thought to be unreliable witnesses.
So Peter and John run to the tomb:  John gets to the tomb first, but stops short of the tomb and looks in, and sees the burial cloths and the empty tomb just as Mary had said.  Peter – in typical fashion – runs right into the tomb – and sees the same thing:  Jesus is not there, but the burial cloths are there.
Why would someone steal Jesus’ body and leave the burial cloths behind?
Where is Jesus?
What does this mean?
What would you think?  Jesus has been brutally put to death, and on the third day – when the embalming was to be finished, the tomb is found open, Jesus is gone, the burial cloths are there, and the guards have all fainted to the ground.
What’s going on?
What would you believe?
What would your explanation be?
Third, Peter and John believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead.
“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.”
Peter rushes into the tomb and stands there with his mouth hanging open.  John sees the burial cloths through the opening to the tomb, but hesitates.  Then he goes into the tomb, and we are told, “He saw and believed.”
What did he see and believe?
Well, he saw the empty tomb and the burial cloths.
We may understand better if we go with a different translation of the next phrase:  “for up until that point they did not understand the Scripture that he must rise from the dead.”
Up until going into the empty tomb and seeing the empty burial cloths, they did not understand – but now that they have gone into the empty tomb and seen the empty burial cloths, they understand the Scripture that He must physically rise from the dead.
In going into the tomb, God the Holy Spirit opened their minds to understand the prophecies about Jesus and His Resurrection, and, in that moment, they believed that Jesus did physically rise from the dead.  Where He is and what He is up to – they don’t know – but they believe that He is back from the dead – Jesus is alive!
And we may respond to this by thinking them pretty dumb.  They knew the Scripture.  They spent three years learning from Jesus.  How could they be so dense?
Jesus even said to them:
“And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise” (Luke 18:33, ESV).
“that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (Luke 24:7, ESV).
Why didn’t they get it?
It’s easy for us to look back on the biblical characters – especially the apostles – and think they are pretty dull, but we need to understand there are reasons they didn’t understand:
They didn’t have the New Testament – which explains what the Old Testament teaches – especially about the Savior.
They didn’t have the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit at this point to help them understand what the Scripture says.
And, as God says in Luke 18:34, God purposefully kept them from understanding until the time was right – until the hour had come.  God reveals what He wants as He wills when He wills to reveal it.
Paul writes:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:3-10, ESV).
On the Sunday after 9/11, a number of you asked me why God allowed or purposed or planned the 9/11 attacks to happen.  People have explanations about why the people involved carried out the attacks, and some have been bold enough to say they knew why planned the attacks.  All I could say is that God is Sovereign, and there is a reason behind all of this, and it is appropriate for us to mourn and pray.
Not having an answer to the things that trouble us is like looking at the empty tomb and not understanding what happened.  I’m sure we can all think of things and times when we have struggled to understand why things happened – why they are the way they are – what God’s purpose is.
Moses warns us: 
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29, ESV).
Moses warns us:  there are things that belong to God’s secret counsel that we will never know the answer to.  But God has given us His Word and the Law in it, and we are called as believers in Jesus Christ to respond to our salvation by showing our love of Jesus in living lives of faith and obedience.  We won’t ever understand everything, but we can love Jesus as God has loved us, and obey Him by faith.
But how? 
When we are standing before an empty tomb and the question of why is eating away at us, how can we accept it and just love God and live lives of faithful obedience?
By the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit and the promise of God.
God the Holy Spirit enables us to understand all that God wills for us to understand and empowers us to do God’s Will. 
And He has given us this promise:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV).
God is Absolutely Sovereign – everything happens according to His sovereign plan – we are just unable to fully understand, because God doesn’t reveal all to us, and we are still blinded by sin in us, and our minds are not infinite – like God’s, so we can’t understand everything.
Yet, in God’s Mercy, we can understand this:
After seeing Jesus brutally murdered and buried in a tomb, on the third day, Jesus physically rose from the dead and walked out of that tomb – victorious over sin and death and the devil – having paid the debt for our sins and crediting us with His Righteousness – to the Glory of God and in love of the people the Father gave Jesus to save.
The tomb was empty, and the burial cloths were empty, because Jesus physically rose from the dead.  And God enabled Peter and John to understand that this had been prophesied and is now fulfilled, so they went back to their homes and told the others:  Jesus is risen from the dead!
Since that is true, we can leave our unanswered questions and say with Paul:
 “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV).
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we cannot imagine the confusion and pain that Jesus’ disciples first felt as they found the empty tomb and the burial cloths.  We thank You for enlightening them to the truth of Jesus’ physical resurrection.  We thank You for choosing us and causing us to believe savingly in Your Son.  We ask that You would enable us by God the Holy Spirit to live our lives for You, not being overwhelmed by pain and sorrow and things we don’t understand, but by knowing all You have said and trusting that everything You have promised is true.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.