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The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.
Out of the different accounts which we have in the Gospels of the events connected with the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, this is one of the most graphic, one of the most interesting and one of the most compelling. When rightly understood, I do not see how anyone desiring to know the truth can meditate on this passage without being brought to saving faith in the risen Christ.
Our Lord had told His disciples on a number of occasions that He was to be crucified, but that the third day He would rise again. It is a singular fact that they had never seemed to grasp what He was saying. They were not looking for Him to rise again, so when they saw His head fall forward as He hung there on that cross after hearing Him pray, “Father, into Thy hands I [commit] my spirit” (Luke 23:46), their hopes were dashed in pieces. They felt that all His messianic claims were dissipated.
But there were those who still loved to linger about the tomb in which His body had been placed. A great stone fitted into a groove was rolled across the door of that tomb and then sealed. A Roman guard was set to watch that sepul-cher, for the enemies of our Lord remembered what His disciples had forgotten. They came to Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first” (Matthew 27:63-64). And Pilate said to them, a bit sarcastically, “Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can” (v. 65). And they did make it as sure as they could, but no human effort could hinder the working of omnipotent power when the hour came that God’s Son was to come back in triumph from the grave.
And so here we are told that on “the first day of the week [the new day of the dispensation of the grace of God] cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre” (John 20:1). Love drew her to that tomb. She and the other women hoped to go in and take care of the body in a way it had not been taken care of when it was hurriedly removed from the cross and placed in the crypt. So they were waiting for a time when they could perform this last sad office for Him whom they had loved so tenderly and whom they thought had been taken from them in death until the end of time.
But as Mary drew near, she was amazed to see that great stone rolled back, no one on guard, and the body of Jesus evidently removed. Apparently she did not go in and make a careful investigation, but ran immediately “and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved” (that is, the disciple John who wrote this book. John never speaks of himself as the disciple who loved Jesus-he did love Him, but felt his love was nothing of which to boast, but he could boast in the love of Jesus). So to Peter and John went Mary. She cried when she saw them and said, “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him” (v. 2).
Immediately Peter started for the tomb and with him John: “Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre” (v. 3). Peter had doubtless passed many an anxious hour since the death of his blessed Master. He could not forget that he had acted the part of the coward-he who had said, “Though all men forsake Thee, yet will I not forsake Thee.” Yet he had denied with oaths and cursing that he ever knew Jesus Christ. But deep in his heart he loved his Lord. He had been overcome by fear and cowardice and when this word came he hastened to see if it were really true.
We read that they both ran together, Peter, a man of mature years, John, a sturdy youth. “The other disciple [John] did outrun Peter” (v. 4). One would expect that. He soon outdistanced the older man and so reached the sepulcher before Peter did. We read that he stooped down and looked in, but did not go in.
Outside the city of Jerusalem near the Damascus Gate is that remarkable skull-shaped hill that most Protestant Christians believe to be the actual Calvary. Many, of course, still insist that the Calvary is found in the church of the Holy Sepulcher, which seems entirely inconsistent with this record. But this skull-shaped hill outside seems to be the very Calvary where Jesus died. “In the place where he was crucified was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre” (19:41). In that sepulcher they laid the body of the Lord Jesus. Today you can see this skull-shaped hill, and on one side of it there is a garden where a few years back they uncovered a sepulcher cut into the face of the cliff. It answers in every detail to the tomb described in the Word of God. As you draw near, it is natural to stoop down, as John did, and look in. The entrance, originally, was very low. Near this doorway there is a little window that throws the light upon an empty crypt, plainly visible as you peer through the entrance. The crypt is about twenty-four inches high cut out of the limestone rock, and in that crypt the body would have been easily seen, lying upon its bed of spices, if it were still there.
John drew near, stooped down, and looked into that entranceway, but he did not go any farther. Why? Because as he looked in he thought he saw that which proved that what Mary had told them was wrong. He evidently thought he saw the body lying there. So he did not go in. He doubtless said to himself, “Oh, poor Mary Magdalene, she made a mistake after all. They haven’t removed the body. There it is plainly visible in the early dawn.” But then came Peter, and he went into the sepulcher. He saw the linen cloths lying and the turban that was about His head not touching the linen cloths but wound together in a place by itself. The whole body had been swathed in these linen cloths. Peter did not stoop to look, like John, but rushed inside, and when he stood looking down upon that crypt he saw that which told a wonderful story. He saw the linen cloths just as they had been wrapped around the body, like the shell of the chrysalis after the butterfly has emerged. The cloths were there, but the body was gone! Between the turban and the linen cloths there was an empty space where the face should have been.
Peter looked on in wonder, “Oh,” he said, “My Lord is risen!” for he knew that no power on earth could have taken that body out of those linen cloths and left them in the condition in which they were, but the almighty God. Peter turned around and beckoned to John. And we read, “Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulcher, and he saw, and believed” (20:8). He could not do anything else! I think I can see Peter calling him in, and they stand there looking down upon those linen cloths, noticing that turban, the head no longer in its folds. Then they looked at one another and said, “He is risen!” “They saw and believed,” and we would have believed, if we had been there. We would have known that Jesus had been raised from the dead by the omnipotent power of God. They were compelled to believe, even though they did not understand. “For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead” (v. 9). But they had positive proof that He had risen, and we read, “Then the disciples went away again unto their own home” (v. 10). They were not concerned now about anyone stealing away the body. They knew that was an impossibility. The body of Jesus had been raised from the dead.
And then a few minutes later, Christ manifested Himself to Mary, who stood outside the sepulcher weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the sepulcher. The door itself was originally about three-and-a-half feet high. She looked in, and what did she see? She beheld two messengers from heaven who announced the resurrection to her. The two disciples had not heard these announcements, but Mary saw two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
When we stood in that tomb a few years back, I remember my wife turning to the friend who had taken us there, and she asked, “I wonder why they cut those little steps there at either end?” He answered, “Turn to your Bible and read.” And we read, “But Mary… seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain” (vv. 11-12). And the tomb itself tells the story perfectly.
And what did these angels have to say? They asked, “Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him” (v. 13). Her eyes, blinded by tears, had not been able to discern what had been so clear to those two men who had been there just before. But then she “turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away” (vv. 14-15). Notice the love of her heart. She did not even mention His name. She seemed to think all would know whom she meant when she said “Him.” I remember hearing a servant of Christ say once, “I often wish there were only one masculine pronoun in the world that it might always refer to Jesus.”
“Jesus saith unto her, Mary” (v. 16a). How I would love to have heard Him say it, would not you? It was the name of His own virgin mother. It was the name He had so often heard in the home in Nazareth, and it was the name now of a poor saved sinner, out of whom He had cast seven demons. “She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master” (v. 16b). She recognized Him. “Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not: for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (v. 17). What a wonderful story! How transparent it is, how clear! There is no effort to force things or to try to make people believe against their own better judgment. But it is so plain that it seems to me that any honest soul, reading it, must say, “Yes, there can be no question about it. He who died for our sins upon the cross has been raised again for our justification.” And now the message that we are to give to sinners everywhere is this, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).
I am wondering if among my readers there are not numbers of people who perhaps have for years never definitely settled the matter of committing their souls to Christ. Will you not do so now?
Low in the grave He lay-
Jesus, my Saviour! Waiting the coming day-
Jesus, my Lord! Up from the grave
He arose With a mighty triumph o’er His foes;
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever with His saints to reign:
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!
Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained. But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
No one gospel gives us all the various appearances of the Lord Jesus Christ to His disciples after His resurrection. In fact, all of them together do not give us every such appearance. For while we have a number of instances mentioned in each of the different Gospels, we are told that our Lord “showed himself alive after his passion [after he was raised from the dead] by many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3). For forty days He continued with His disciples, teaching them and instructing them pertaining to the kingdom of God, so that on many other occasions than those definitely mentioned in the Gospels the Savior appeared to them and outlined the marvelous program with which He expected them to cooperate as they went forth as His messengers into all the world.
But of these instances that are recorded we might say that each one seems to have some special lesson for us. Here we have two definite appearances of the Lord Jesus Christ in the same place, an upper room in Jerusalem, possibly in the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark. And on these occasions He appeared, first of all, to ten of the apostles and then to eleven, Thomas being absent the first time but present the second time. And He gave them, in a very definite way, their commission to go out as His representatives.
We are told in verse 19, “Then the same day [that is, the day on which John, Peter, and Mary Magdalene had visited the sepulcher early in the morning] at evening, being the first day of the week [for, as the seventh day was the Sabbath of the old dispensation, the memorial of creation, so the first day of the week became the rest day of the new dispensation, the memorial of new creation, the day on which our Lord Jesus Christ arose from the dead], when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews,” suddenly they looked up and there stood the blessed Lord in their midst. Not a door had been opened to admit Him. That gives us some idea of the difference between the resurrection body and these present bodies that are subject to their various limitations. When our Lord Jesus was here on earth, He allowed Himself to be self-limited, but after resurrection, He came out of the grave cloths, as we have seen, without disturbing them. We might even say He left the tomb without opening the door, for the stone was not rolled away to let Him out, but to let the women and the disciples in.
Now He is able to present Himself in a material body of flesh and bones but no longer subject to the former laws, appearing in a room without coming through a door or entryway! Some day we shall have bodies like His, and throughout the glorious kingdom age we shall be able to flit from place to place at His command, unhindered by what men call “the law of gravitation.”
“Came Jesus and stood in the midst” (v. 19). This was His rightful place. What infinite grace! He took the place in the midst on the cross. There, we read, they crucified Him and two thieves with Him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst. He was numbered among the transgressors, and He took the central place as though of all of the malefactors He was the worst. There He was bearing our sins in His own body on the tree.
But before He went away He gave this promise to His disciples, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst” (Matthew 18:20). This was the first time since His resurrection that His disciples were gathered together, and they were there because of their mutual love for Him. They were meeting in His name, and suddenly He manifested Himself among them, fulfilling His words. So, though now we cannot see Him with the mortal eye, whenever we are gathered together in His name, He is always in the midst. We do not need to ask Him or plead with Him to be in our midst. He says He is there. What we do need to ask for is opened hearts that we may discern Him.
Why is He in the midst of His friends? In the second chapter of Hebrews He says, “I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee” (Psalms 22:22). That is one reason He is in the midst. He is in the midst of His saints in order to draw out their thanksgiving and praise. I love to think of Him as the great Choir Leader. These hearts of ours are the instruments with which we make melody to the Lord, and it is He who touches the strings of one heart after another. He is in the midst as our great Intercessor. It is His presence in the midst of the gatherings of His people in the power of the Holy Spirit that gives each meeting its peculiar character. I think that if we always remembered this it would have a very sobering influence upon us. It would make us realize that in the holy assembly of the saints of God nothing should be done or said or sung that could not have His approval. By and by when we gather home to glory, He will still be in the midst.
John tells us that he looked up into heaven and that he saw the throne of God surrounded by the living creatures and the twenty-four elders, representing all the ransomed saints. He says, “And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth” (Revelation 5:6). Jesus in the midst is the glory, bearing upon His glorified body the marks of His passion, the reminder of all He suffered for sinners when He died on Calvary’s cross!
And so we see Him on this resurrection evening in the midst of His gathered people. They were not very clear as to what had taken place and did not understand very much, but they loved Him. When they were thus together He fulfilled His word and manifested Himself to them.
And now He speaks. What is His word of greeting? “Peace be unto you” (John 20:19). That is the way one oriental greets another even today: “Peace be unto you.” But oh, how much meaning there was in this salutation coming from the lips of our precious Lord. He had just been to Calvary, where He made peace by the blood of His cross. He said to them before He went away, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (14:27). And as He stood in the midst of them He seems to say, “It is all done. I have been through the sorrows of the cross. I have made peace, and now it is yours. Enter into and enjoy it.”
Do you enjoy the peace that has been made? “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1), a peace we did not make, a peace He made for us, and that we enter into and enjoy when we believe the word of the truth of the gospel. We are told, “He is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). Oh, the blessedness of knowing Him who is our peace! Peace in the midst of all the trials of earth. Peace in the day when everything that men have counted upon is being shaken. If you do not enjoy this peace, it is for you. But in order to enjoy it, you must receive the One who made it. You must trust Christ for yourself.
He said to them, “Peace be unto you.” He showed them His hands and feet, the wound in His side. “Here are the wounds that tell you it is I, and not another, and I have borne all this for you!”
We, too, may see those marks of His love in the glory, and when we look upon those pierced Hands and upon the wound in His side, how they will speak to us and move our hearts. We will say to ourselves, “That is the most lovely thing about Jesus, for those wounds tell what He thought of us. He might have gone out free when He finished those wonderful years of service here. He might have gone back to the glory from which He came.” But He went to that cross of shame, and there he received those wounds that tell of a love that was stronger than death. And He will bear the scars for all eternity.
You say, “But how do you know that He still has those wounds upon His body, that He still bears those scars?” I know because in Zechariah we read, “And they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn… And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends” (12:10; 13:6).
And so those wounds will be the perpetual token of His love for the church and His love for Israel.
“He showed unto them his hands and his side” (John 20:20). Have you not sometimes gone to a gathering of the Lord’s people feeling depressed, troubled? You had wondered whether to go or remain at home. But you went and took your place with them. As the hymns were sung, the Word was read, and God’s truth declared, your eyes were opened. You looked up and saw the Lord Jesus, and you went away refreshed, saying, “I have seen the Lord.” We do not just come together to meet with one another. It is a great mistake if we think we come together merely for a social time. We come to meet Him.
Then Jesus again said, “Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you” (v. 21). Why did He say it again? Well, I do not think it is too farfetched to say that it was because He knew they were going into the world and they would meet with suffering, persecution, and disillusionment. Paul could say, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Now He sends His servants to tell the story to lost men everywhere, and as they go He will keep their hearts in peace, if they but confide in Him.
“And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22). That carries our minds back to the creation of man in the first place. God formed man from the dust of the earth. He breathed into the man the breath of the spirit of life, and man became a living soul. Now here are the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, born again, it is true, but going forth upon that great mission, and the Lord breathed upon them. Just as of old, God breathed upon Adam and he became a living soul, so it was when the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost. The first Adam was a living soul; the last Adam, we are told, is a quickening spirit. And here the Lord Jesus Christ breathes upon them. It was not that He actually gave them the Spirit at that time, but they would understand when, later at Pentecost, the Spirit actually descended and abode upon them and dwelt with them, that He was given by their exalted Lord.
With this He gives them a marvelous word of authority: “Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained” (v. 23). What does this mean? It has been claimed by some that these disciples were the first bishops of the church, and the Lord was giving them the authority to remit sin and retain sin. That they were to go out into the world and people were to confess sins to them. They would tell them what penance to do and thus obtain remission of their sins. I do not find anything like that here.
One of the most important of the group, the apostle Peter, was there that day, and Peter went forth in the name of the Lord to proclaim remission of sins. How did he do it? Did he say, “You come to me and confess your sins to me, and I will forgive them?” Did he say anything like that? Let us see. In Acts 10:0 we find Peter preaching the gospel in the household of Cornelius. He tells of Christ’s wonderful life. “The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) … To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever (confesseth his sins to a priest) … shall receive remission of sins” (vv. 36, 43). Is that right? Do you have your Bible open? What does it say? “That through His name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” Believe on Jesus and you will get remission. That is the commission that every servant of Christ has. We go out to the world and say, “We are commanded by Jesus Christ to offer you remission of sin if you will believe on Jesus. And when they do, we dare to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven or remitted.’” And if they will not believe, what then? We say to them, “Your sins are retained.” How do we know it? Because He said so. There is nothing sacramental here. This is just a clear, definite gospel statement.
But we are told that Thomas was not present. You know, sometimes people do not realize what they lose by not attending where God’s saints are gathered together when Jesus comes to take His place in the midst. They lose out. We can imagine the disciples saying to Thomas when they again see him, “Oh, Thomas, we have had a wonderful time! We have seen the Lord!” Thomas looks up in a hopeless kind of way, and replies, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). And so Thomas goes on all through the week without getting any assurance, until eight days. “And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst” (v. 26). He knows what Thomas said. He heard him. And He turns to him and says, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing” (v. 27). We do not read that he attempted to reach out his hand. But the sight of the risen Christ was apparently enough, and he exclaimed with adoring love, “My Lord, and my God!” (v. 28).
And what did Jesus say? Did He say, “You must not call me God. I am only the Son of God. Don’t do that. That is a great mistake?” Did He do that? That is what He ought to have said if the Unitarian is right. But what did He say? Thomas had called Him, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus said, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (v. 29). Is that blessing yours? We have never seen Him with mortal eyes but we gladly confess Him as our Lord and our God.
John closes this section by saying, “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (vv. 30-31).
The selected instances recorded here are written that we might know who Jesus is. And if you have any doubt about it, read John’s gospel over and over again.
Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.
Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on John 20". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany