Over the course of the last several weeks we have been gathering each and every week to look at what it looked like when heaven touched down on earth.
When we kicked off this series we saw heaven touching down on earth at the beginning of Jesus ministry when he turned water into wine. Then we saw heaven landing with a thud when Jesus healed a paralyzed man when he was lowered through the roof by his four friends. Heaven came down when we read the story of the woman who was subject to bleeding for 12 years, who was unclean but touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and was immediately made clean. Next we saw a Leper experiencing heaven when he was cleansed from his terrible disease. And last we saw heaven restoring an enemies ear that had been cut off by one of his own followers.
When we last gathered together on Friday Night, however it seemed like heaven was a long way from touching down on earth. It seemed like hell instead was touching down on earth. It seemed like the power of sin, death, evil, the devil and hell had worked together to defeat heaven, and put Jesus on the cross and in the grave. It seemed like that was the last word. Jesus had died. He had breathed his last, was taken down off the cross, and laid in a tomb. And the tomb was sealed with a large rock.
And the disciples went away seemingly believing that heaven had lost, the Messiah was dead, and the new life that was to come was in taters. And they experienced the longest day when God incarnate laid in the tomb waiting and resting.
And that is where we pick up the story of that first Easter over 2,000 years ago. The story that would change the lives of the disciples, and the lives of so many thousands and millions of people since, the story of when heaven came down to earth, and defeated the powers of sin, death, evil and hell. The story of the resurrection of Jesus.
Let’s turn to John 20:1-23 and see what the resurrection means for each of us gathered here today, but also for the entire world and all of humanity.
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.”She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic,“Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
So the first thing we notice about this narrative about the first Easter may seem like a throwaway comment, but I assure you it is not. John says these words, “Early on the first day of the week.” Now we just think Sunday, but to John’s hearers, as soon as they heard “on the first day of the week” their hearts and minds were transported back to Genesis 1 and the creation of the world. The interesting thing about this is that the book of John can accurately be called Second Genesis. Genesis is about creation and John is about re-creation and new creation.
There are so many parallels between Genesis and John. Think about it. Genesis 1 “In the beginning” John 1: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.” Not only at the beginning of John, but especially in the last week of Jesus life, there are overlapping themes. The 6th Day of Creation, Adam was formed. Adam, as a masculine noun, means man or mankind. Adam and Eve fell, and sin was born. The 6th Day of Holy Week the second Adam, Jesus stood before Pilate and Pilate pronounced “Behold the Man.” The 6th Day of Holy Week the Second Adam, Jesus was nailed to a cross. The second Adam cried out “It is Finished” and died so that sin, death, evil and hell would be defeated. Darkness before the first day of the week, death before creation. The 7th Day God rested. He Sabbathed. The 7th Day of Holy Week God incarnate rested in the tomb. Where was the creation started? In a Garden. Where did the resurrection and new creation start? In a Garden.
And we come to the first day of the week. In the creation account it would be the 8th day of Creation. The first day of the new world. The first day of the new creation. In John 20 the first day of the week is the first day of the new world, the first day of the new creation. The first day of the week is the day of resurrection.
So that first Easter morning, the first day of the new creation (though they did not yet know it), the women head to the tomb expecting to roll aside the stone, anoint the body of Jesus with spices, and then head home. But when they came to the tomb, the rock was rolled aside and they took off running to tell John and Peter about what they saw. The men then took off running with John getting there first because he was a lot younger than Peter. But when they arrived John stopped and looked in, but Peter however, being Peter, went flying into the tomb and they saw the linens lying there. John finally goes in, sees the strips of linen lying there and believes.
My question right there is what did he believe? We see that they didn’t understand from Scripture that Jesus was to rise again. But I like what NT Wright says about John’s belief, “Believed that new creation had begun. Believed that the world had turned the corner, out of its long winter and into spring at last. Believed that God had said Yes to Jesus, to all that he had been and done, believed that Jesus was alive again. Not believed that Jesus had gone to heaven. People often still think that that’s what Christians mean she they say he was raised from the dead.” No, jesus had gone through death and out into a new world, a new creation, a new life beyond, where death itself had been defeated, and life, sheer life, life in it’s fullness, the abundant life, could begin at last.
So the disciples head back, but Mary decides to stay behind. As she stays behind she decides to look in the tomb and sees 2 angels, one where the feet would be and one where the head of Jesus would be. They ask her why she is crying and she responds with a belief that someone had taken Jesus and put his body somewhere. Just as she answers, Jesus appears and asks her the same question.
The next comment is very interesting and is rooted again in Genesis. It says, “Thinking he was the gardener.” Think back with me. Who else was also a gardener, given the responsibility to tend the Garden of Eden? Adam. So Adam was a gardener working the creation. Jesus, the second Adam is mistaken for the gardener. Do you see the irony behind this. Jesus, the second Adam, mistaken by Mary as a gardener, beginning the work of recreation when he was resurrected. Jesus, the new Adam, the gardener charged with bringing the chaos of God’s creation into new order. Into the resurrection life. Jesus was resurrected to put the world right again. Resurrected to defeat the powers of sin, death, evil and hell. To display the ultimate “when heaven touched down on earth”. When heaven touched down on earth resurrection and new creation burst forth. That is what we have been talking about all series long, about resurrection and new creation bursting forth through the miraculous works including healing and other miracles.
Mary tries to ask Jesus where they had put the body, but Jesus calls her by name. She instantly recognizes Jesus when he calls her by name. Adam in the first creation was given the task to name the animals. Jesus the second Adam speaks her name, calls her by name. More shades of Genesis and the creation account.
So after talking with Jesus, Mary runs back and tells the disciples that she has seen the Lord. Mary is the first apostle, the apostle to the apostles, the first to bring the news that the tomb is Empty and that she has seen the Lord. Mary, a woman, the first person that Jesus in his resurrected state shows himself to. Talk about upside down. In a world where a women’s testimony wasn’t even valid in acourt of law, God’s Kingdom is about giving Mary the opportunity to share her testimony about the resurrected Jesus. And honestly, for me, that is one of the main reasons that I believe in the resurrection, because who would tell a story in that day and age and use women as the first eyewitness accounts? That would go against the norm for the day. But the gospels flip it upside down and women become the first apostles. The first ones sent to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus.
So after Mary goes back and tells the disciples that she had seen Jesus, the disciples then gather that evening. And as they gather, because of fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus comes and stands among them and says these words, ““Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” But what he does next is again shades of Genesis. In verse 22 we read, “And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” When in Genesis do we see God breathing? In Genesis 2:7 we read, “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” God breathed into Adam and sent him into the garden to work creation. God incarnate breathed on his disciples, and sent them out (and us) into the world to be about the work of re-creation and resurrectional life.
But what does this all mean? What does it mean that Jesus came back from the dead, was resurrected? What does it mean to live resurrectional lives in the here and now while we wait for complete resurrection and for the world to be fully put to right?
For people who believe in the resurrection, in God making the whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present. Yes, the full resurrection and new creation won’t come until Jesus comes in His fullness. But at the same time, in the present, we get to partner with him in working for the world to move towards being put right again.
The point of the resurrection of Jesus is that God’s new creation has already begun. It began with Jesus. He went first. And that if you are in Christ, he has begun that work of re-creating you, making you a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) And then he wants to use you and put you to work to make more bits of new creation happen within the world as it still is. And that we shall live in the tension of a world that is being re-created but isn’t fully re-created. The world (and ourselves as well) is not what it used to be or what it will be. But we can know that because of the resurrection of Jesus, all will be made whole, made made right, made new. And that because of Jesus resurrection, shalom has happening, is happening and will happen. That that because of Jesus’ resurrection, we can not only be made whole, made right, made new but that we can be instruments of new creation (what Paul calls ambassadors). We are empowered to partner with God to remind our world that it isn’t always going to be like this. We the people of God are invited to live as through tomorrow’s new creation has already begun. And we know that, according our text this morning, it already has.
So let’s dialogue a little bit about where we have seen the resurrection and re-creation happening in our own lives and in the lives around us. And let’s talk about how we can live resurrectional lives when we leave this place today and this week, this month, this year.
1. Where have you seen resurrection and re-creation happening in the world around you and in the people around you? How and where have you seen the resurrection and re-creation happening within your own life?
2. In what ways is God calling you (and our community) to live resurrectional lives in the world? What does/might it look like for us tolive the resurrection in the world today?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?