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Easter Sunday, “Seeing Is Believing”

Pastor Gary Wong April 12, 2020

John 20:1-18

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. 2 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!" 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 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." 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 "Woman," he said, "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." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" 18 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.

You’ve probably heard the expression, “Seeing is believing.” That saying probably came about because human beings can be somewhat skeptical. We don’t automatically believe everything that we’re told. For instance, if someone were to say that he just saw the President filling his limo with unleaded at Kwik Trip, we’d probably think, “Yeah, right.” We would have to see Donald Trump with our own eyes; then and only then, would we believe. “Seeing is believing” is a very appropriate saying on this blessed Easter morn. Through eyes of faith, we see that our Savior has risen from the grave. So on this glorious Easter morning let’s praise God and joyously proclaim, “We have seen the Lord!”

In St. John’s account of that first Easter, the apostle introduces us to someone who would wholeheartedly agree that “Seeing is believing.” In fact, this individual was given the honor of being the first person to see our risen Savior. Do you remember who that was? It was Mary of Magdalene. Mary had first laid her eyes on Jesus when he was visiting her home town. Mary had been in desperate need of Jesus’ help because she was being tormented by seven demons. Jesus mercifully and miraculously cast out those demons. From that very moment, Mary dedicated her life to serving Jesus. Mary faithfully followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. Her eyes were riveted on Jesus as she witnessed his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. A few days later, she was shocked at the sight of Jesus hanging on the cross on Good Friday.

Mary could hardly believe her eyes. Jesus was completely innocent. He had done nothing wrong. Yet, Jesus was being crucified, a punishment that was reserved for only the worst of criminals. Mary could only look on in disbelief as Jesus’ lifeless body was laid in a tomb. Devastated by his death, the only thing she could do was go home. But she was determined to return as soon as she could to perform one last act of love for her Savior. Early Sunday morning, Mary and several other women made their way back to the tomb in the pre-dawn darkness, intending to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. Mary reached the tomb before the others. She couldn’t believe what she saw. Perhaps she wasn’t seeing clearly because it was still dark. Maybe her vision was blurred from lack of sleep and from all of the tears she had shed in the past few days. But as she came to the tomb’s entrance, it was clear that her eyes hadn’t been playing tricks on her. The stone had been rolled away. Even more astonishing, Jesus’ body wasn’t there. It was gone!

With eyes now wide open, she raced back to Jerusalem to tell Peter and John, “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (Jn. 20:.2). Did these two disciples believe what Mary said that she had seen? Perhaps; but they needed to check it out. They needed to see for themselves. So they ran to the tomb. John, who was the faster runner, got there first, but didn’t go in. Instead, he bent over and peeked. John saw the strips of linen lying in the tomb. By this time, Peter arrived. True to his nature, Peter boldly walked right in and saw the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head as well as the linen strips. John finally got up enough courage to go into the tomb. They both saw the cloth folded by itself, separate from the linen. Jesus’ body, however, was nowhere to be found.

Peter and John now believed Mary’s story. They could see with their own eyes that Jesus’ body wasn’t there. But at this point, they didn’t believe that Jesus had risen from the dead; neither did Mary. Thinking that there was nothing more to see, Peter and John went home. But Mary, who had brought Peter and John to the grave site, stayed at the tomb. When she bent over and looked inside, she saw two angels standing at the place where Jesus’ body had been laid. When they asked her why she was crying, she gave them the same answer she had given to Peter and John: “they have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him” (20:13). As soon as she said that, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there; but she didn’t realize that it was Jesus. Thinking that Jesus was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him” (v.13). Jesus simply replied, “Mary” (v. 14). By calling her by name, Jesus opened Mary’s eyes to see that it was really he. Jesus was alive. What was Mary’s reaction? She reached out to Jesus and exclaimed, “Rabboni!” which means Teacher. Mary probably didn’t want to let Jesus out of her sight. Jesus, however, had other plans for her. Jesus told her to go to his disciples and tell them the good news. So Mary went to the disciples and declared, “I have seen the Lord!” (20:17).

Because Mary saw her Savior, she believed. Peter, John, and the other disciples eventually saw Jesus that first Easter, and they believed. We might wonder, however, why it took them so long to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. Wasn’t the visual evidence of the burial clothes, empty tomb, and, in the case of Thomas, the testimony of his fellow disciples, enough to convince them that Jesus was alive? Their problem was that they needed to use more than just the eyes in their heads; they needed to look at the situation through eyes of faith. Faith believes and trusts in God’s Word and his promises. Had Peter and John been using their eyes of faith when they saw the empty tomb, they would have remembered how Jesus had told them that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

You and I are just like Mary, Peter and John. God has given us the gift of faith. We believe that Jesus lived a perfect life in our place and died on the cross to pay for our sins. We believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that on the Last Day, Jesus will raise our bodies from the grave and bring us to heaven where we will live with him forever. But because we’re human, our faith sometimes wavers. Rather than simply trusting God and his Word, we foolishly depend on the eyes in our head to see proof of God’s love. So when we turn to God for help when we’re having problems and God doesn’t seem to be answering our prayers, we are tempted to think that Jesus is missing in action; that he isn’t able or willing to help.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Even though we can’t physically see Jesus, we know that he is with us, providing for our every need and protecting us from all harm. How do we know that? It all comes down to faith. The Bible teaches that “faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see” (Heb.11:1). Simply put, faith is trusting in God’s promises. God’s greatest promise was that he would send a Savior who would rescue us from the consequences of our sins. God kept that promise when Jesus rose from the grave on that first Easter Sunday. Even though we weren’t at the tomb, we believe the eyewitness accounts of Mary and the disciples. By faith, we believe all of God’s promises. Even if you’ve lost your job and aren’t getting a paycheck, we trust that God will provide for all of our needs. If we or a loved one is infected with the coronavirus or some other disease, we cling to Jesus who said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (Jn. 11:25, 26). We trust that “in all things, God works for the good of those who love him” (Rom. 8:28). Our Almighty God is stronger than COVID-19. Jesus has overcome death. Jesus has overcome the world!

Dear friends, seeing is believing. We see Jesus now through eyes of faith in the pages of Holy Scripture. Jesus promises that we will see him with our own eyes when he brings us to heaven. That’s what Easter is all about. As we see the empty cross and tomb, we are absolutely sure that Jesus has won the victory over sin, death, and the devil. Jesus lives. Because he lives, we too shall live. On this glorious Easter Sunday, we can join with Mary and joyously proclaim, “I have seen the Lord!” Amen.

This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!

“I Know that My Redeemer Lives”

I know that my Redeemer lives;

What comfort this sweet sentence gives!

He lives, he lives who once was dead;

He lives my ever living Head!

He lives triumphant from the grave;

He lives eternally to save.

He lives all glorious in the sky;

He lives exalted there on high.

He lives to bless me with his love;

He lives to plead for me above.

He lives my hungry soul to feed;

He lives to help in time of need.

He lives to grant me rich supply;

He lives to guide me with his eye.

He lives to comfort me when faint;

He lives to hear my soul’s complaint.

He lives to silence all y fears;

He lives to wipe away my tears.

He lives to calm my troubled heart;

He lives all blessings to impart.

He lives my kind, wise, heav’nly friend;

He lives and loves me to the end.

He lives, and while he lives I’ll sing;

He lives, my Prophet, Priest, and King.

He lives and grants me daily breath;

He lives, and I shall conquer death.

He lives my mansion to prepare;

He lives to bring me safely there.

He lives, all glory to his name!

He lives, my Jesus, still the same.

Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives;

“I know that my Redeemer lives!”

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