JESUS DID NOT RISE FROM THE DEAD FOR HIMSELF
Sermon Text, St. John 20:1-18 (v. 1-3). 1 Now the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” 3 Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb.
Lord, this is Your Word and these are Your words. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Lord, help us to believe not only that You are risen from the dead and live and reign to all eternity, but it’s so that we can be Your own, live with You in Your kingdom, and serve You in everlasting innocence and blessedness. Amen.
In the name of Jesus, He who lives, and was dead, and behold, is alive forevermore (Rev 1:18): Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Amen!
The last thing we heard on Good Friday was about Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus quickly anointing Jesus’ body for burial, and bringing His body to a tomb owned by Joseph, and “there they laid Jesus.” One detail is added at this point in the other gospels: “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid” (Mk 15:47).
John starts with Mary Magdalene for the Easter story. She went to the tomb with several other women – all those Mary’s – but John focuses on her. She followed Jesus from the time He cast seven demons out of her. She was at the cross to the bitter end and didn’t turn her eyes away even as He was being buried. John says she went to the tomb “while it was still dark.” With John it’s never about the dark sky. This is also about her gloom and how her hope is dying inside. You can feel how heavily burdened she is, how dark it is for her. She wishes this weren’t the last thing she could do for Jesus.
The women arrive at the tomb and see the stone rolled to the side, and two angels, and one of them says: “He is risen! He is not here. Come, see the place where He lay.” But Mary doesn’t. She breaks away and runs to where the disciples were hiding, and says to them: “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”
So Peter and John run to the tomb, highly motivated. Remember, Peter has his denials of Christ on his mind, weighing him down, so he almost can’t breathe. If Christ does not rise, then Peter’s denials have the last word. It’s a terrible thing for the memory of your sins, the things you’ve spoken and thought, to have the last word. Peter would still be in his sin and never find forgiveness for what he did.
In John, we see a timid faith. He peers in from a distance, “sees” that there’s no Jesus in the tomb, just the linen cloths lying there. He finally takes courage and steps in. John credits Peter for a better faith, for running into the tomb and inspecting. What Peter sees, and John reports to us, is that the grave clothes were folded neatly, very much as if God-in-human-flesh came to life in the tomb, woke up, took off His death robes and neatly folded them. Then John got up the courage to go in, and “he saw and believed,” yet he says they still – himself included – “did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.” John says he himself was slow to believe.
The last part of this is when Mary Magdalene goes back to the tomb, and Jesus is playing hide-and-seek with her. First the angels say, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Then Jesus says: “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” and she gives Him the same response. Mary had heard the word of the angel but even she doesn’t seem to believe yet. She got the “He is not here” part, but not the “He is risen” part.
What we really see is how distraught she is. Sadness so filled her, it’s all she can see or hear. This obsession of hers that we can’t understand – making sure Jesus’ body isn’t moved – just shows how intense her grief is. But it also shows how intense her love for Jesus was. She’s trying to hold onto the only thing of Jesus she thinks is left. When she’s deprived of that, she totally loses it. She might have even been shrieking at the angels, and then at Jesus who she didn’t recognize yet. She probably also has heightened fears that without Jesus she’s left vulnerable to the attacks of demons that had terrorized her.
So what do we see in these three? You have Mary Magdalene, who is in deep sadness, looking at a dark and gloomy future, and even terrified about it. You have Peter, desperate to get out from under his guilty conscience, totally weighed down by it. You have John, slow to believe, timid in his faith, afraid to be disappointed, afraid to go forward, following Peter’s lead.
We can certainly relate to them. We experience all of these things. But most importantly, is how Jesus relates to them. He rose from the dead for them.
See, Jesus did not rise from the dead for Himself. That sounds strange to us. We think He did. We hear this as a story. Good Friday feels like a sad ending. We feel sorry for Jesus. We want a happy ending for Him! Rising from the dead is a happy ending. So you’d think, at the least Jesus rose from the dead for Himself, to come to life and get back to His Father in heaven.
We don’t just say Jesus died, we quickly say He died for me. But when we say He rose from the dead, we don’t tend to immediately add “for me.” We just say that He rose from the dead, or that He is risen, period. But as Martin Luther says in the Large Catechism – “He did none of these things for Himself” – the Bible teaches that this is also true of Jesus’ resurrection.
This is why we say “Alleluia!” This is why we have such joy today. We know that even though we feel sad at what Good Friday shows us, He was doing it for us, that’s why it’s good. Likewise, His resurrection wouldn’t give us such joy if He was only doing this for Himself.
When we see Peter and John and Mary Magdalene, we see a great example of this. Look at how sin, death, and Satan overpower them. See how sin, death and Satan overpower you. It was because of this that Jesus rose from the dead. It was for you.
Are you slow to believe, like John? Are you timid? Are you afraid to go forward? Is your faith imperfect and weak sometimes? Well, what if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? Then your faith would fail and there would be no point or purpose to life. Jesus rose from the dead for you. Because He did, you are saved by His perfect faith and you walk in His steps. “Your fainting soul grows brave as You stand in contemplation at His now-empty grave!” (Kingo)
Do you get weighed down by your guilty conscience like Peter? Sometimes can you not get past what you’ve done or said? Does it turn into shame where you can’t think a good thought about yourself? Well, what if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? Then none of your sins would be forgiven. You would still be in your sins. Heaven would be closed to you forever. But He did rise – for you! It proves the Father accepted His death as full payment for your sins and everyone’s. “Thanks because Thou didst arise and hast opened Paradise!” – for you! (Kingo) Your sins are forgiven! Jesus’ resurrection says so.
Do you experience deep grief and sadness, like Mary Magdalene? Especially when it comes to death? Does it fill you with pessimism? Or, are you afflicted with depression? Is the future dark and gloomy for you? Well, what if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? There would be no eternity, death would be the last word, this life would be all there is, and sadness couldn’t come to an end. But Jesus did rise from the dead! Jesus shows His face and and He says: “Mary!” so she’ll look into His eyes and know Him as her living Lord. In your grief and sadness He calls you by name, to see that He is risen for you, to take away this sadness and bring it to an end. He is for you the Joy-Bringer, bringing this to you in His Word and in His Supper. “Thou hast buried all my woe, and my cup doth overflow – by Thy resurrection glorious!” (Kingo)
Why did Jesus rise from the dead? For you. He lives to silence all your fears; He lives to wipe away your tears; He lives to calm your troubled heart.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!