Look Again into the Empty Tomb

March 31, 2024 | Jess Rainer

Passage: John 20:1-18

Opening Illustration: As a parent, I find myself repeating a lot of phrases I heard as a kid. There were some I heard from parents and some I heard from other adults. I’m sure you all heard some of the classics: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” “Shut the door. We don’t live in a barn.” “Sharing is caring.” “You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friends’ nose.” I don’t agree with this one. I tell my kids all the time to let me pick their friends for them. The nose picking is up to them… My dad would give me the greatest advice growing up. Without this advice, I don’t know where I would be in life. Anytime I asked him a question of substance, he would simply reply with this: “Ask your mother.” There’s one more phrase I find myself repeating as a parent. My kids will come up to me and say, “Dad, I can’t find my other shoe.” “Did you look in the bin with all of the shoes?” “Yes, it’s not there.” Do you know what I say next? “Look again.” And what happens? They find their missing shoe in the bin. I don’t know what it is, but every time I go to the fridge, the ketchup bottle is hiding. Do any of you all have that problem with you fridge?! I go to my wife, “I can’t find the ketchup bottle.” Do you know what she says, “Look again.” And then magically, it appears!

“Look again.”  There is power in those two words. Why? Because the person saying them has the confidence that they know what you are looking for is there. When Jesus rose from the dead, when Jesus resurrected back to life, He appeared to many people. These people were doubting that Jesus is who He said He is. And He tells them, in each of their own individual ways, “Look again.” He tells them, “Look at me and go look again at my tomb because it’s empty.” Jesus is calling you to do the same today. Jesus wants you to look again into the empty tomb. Some of you have gone to church before and you’ve heard about the empty tomb. Maybe you even took a look around, but you walked away. I’m asking you to come back and look again because you won’t find Jesus in the tomb. And that truth changes everything. Let’s open up our Bibles to John 20. We are going to look at three people Jesus appeared just after He rose from the dead and how that second look changed their lives. We are currently in our Easter Sermon Series: Look Again. We are going to cover most the chapter, but let’s start by reading the first 10 verses. Read John 20:1-10. Pray. As we start by looking at Peter’s and John’s reaction to the empty tomb, I want to give you a foundation truth: Jesus truly rose from the dead

1) Jesus truly rose from the dead. (vs. 1-10) I start with that truth because the entire Christian faith hinges on the resurrection of Jesus. It’s the one Jenga piece that you know if you take away, the whole tower will fall. We see Paul write about this in 1 Corinthians 15: 16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. If Jesus didn’t truly rise from the dead, then Christianity is useless. But Jesus truly rose from the dead. What do we see in these first 10 verses that show us that truth? Let’s look at this scene again: 1Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”  The “other disciple” is John, the one writing this particular gospel account. Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. I love verses like verse 4. It’s one of those verses that give us the humanity and personality of the writers. John just slips it in that he won the race to the tomb. “Peter may have walked on water, but he is slow on land!”

What happened when they got to the tomb? He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. When Peter and John got to the tomb, it was empty. Among scholars and historians, it is largely agreed upon that there was a man named Jesus who really lived, he was executed by the Romans, was buried, and three days later his tomb was empty. The question that is debated is “how did the tomb become empty?” Let me briefly give you three answers to that question:

  1. Some believe that Jesus didn’t actually die. 
    • That’s not true because the Romans were quite skilled at their executions.
  2. Some believe Jesus’ body was stolen
    • If it was the Jews – who were against Jesus – why didn’t they ever produce the body.
    • If it was the disciples of Jesus, why on earth would they go to their deaths for a hoax.
      • And their deaths were brutal deaths, someone would have cracked.
      • I love this quote by Charles Colson in talking about the Watergate scandal:
        • “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren't true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn't keep a lie for three weeks. You're telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.” ―Charles Colson
      • And why on earth, if someone stole the body, would the linens still be in the tomb?
        • Those linens were there to preserve the body. To remove them would have created a terrible odor.
        • And if you are stealing the body, then why would you take the time to fold the linens?
          • Do you know what happens when I ask my kids to fold their clothes before they go play?!
          • How much more would someone committing a crime just throw the linens in the corner and move on?
  3. Do you know the third answer to the question “How did the tomb become empty?”
      • It’s the most logical one: Jesus truly rose from the dead.

Some of you need to look again at the tomb. It’s empty because Jesus truly rose from the dead. When John arrived to the tomb first, what did he do? What did verse 5 say? He looked in, but he didn’t go in. What happened in verse 8? Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home. John looked again and this time, he went in and believed. Sometimes we need to take a second look in order to believe. Maybe that’s what this Easter is for you. You’re going to go to Jesus and say, “I’m ready to look again.” If you look again at the tomb, you are going to have questions and doubts. God knows this. Jesus knew one of His disciples would doubt. So, Jesus gives us a way to trust Him and that’s what we see next: You can trust the resurrection of Jesus is true. 

2) You can trust the resurrection of Jesus is true. (vs. 24-29) God has provided enough evidence to make the resurrection historically verifiable. But that doesn’t mean you, me, or anyone can fully explain the resurrection. There are just some questions that we can’t answer. Jesus knows this about us and addresses it with one of His disciples named Thomas. Jump down to verse 24 with me. If you were to glance at the verses just before verse 24, you’d see that Jesus had appeared to all of the disciples expect Thomas. We don’t know where Thomas was, maybe picking up pizza for the crew. When Thomas gets back with the crew, look at what happens: 24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.” Thomas gets an unfair moniker because of this scene, “Doubting Thomas”. So many people doubted the resurrection of Jesus. There were people who saw Jesus ascend into heaven and still doubted. But he was the lucky one whose doubts got recorded in Scripture for all humanity to read.

What did Jesus do with Thomas’ doubt? Look at verse 26: 26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” 28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed. 29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” Did Jesus reprimand Thomas for having doubts? No. Did Jesus sit down and answer every question? No. What did Jesus do? Jesus showed Thomas His wounds from the cross. Why? Jesus was showing Thomas that He really died and that He was really alive. Jesus was taking what was unexplainable and making it undeniable. Thomas couldn’t explain the resurrection, but he couldn’t deny the resurrection. Illustration: Hitting a 90 mph fastball (from JD Greear) – One of my favorite ways to show the difference between the unexplainable and undeniable. “Think of it like this: Yale physicist Robert Adair studied the science behind hitting a major league fastball and published it in a book, The Physics of Baseball (2002). Here’s one of the things he found: A 90mph fastball travels the 60’ 6” from the pitcher’s hand to the catcher’s glove in 400 milliseconds—that’s a little less than a half a second. He figured out it takes the batter’s brain 200 milliseconds to find the ball in the air, get the image in his brain, and decide whether or not to swing. So ½ the time the ball is in the air, the batter is simply trying to decide what to do! Well, if the batter decides to swing, the brain spends another 100 milliseconds deciding to swing the bat high, low, inside, or outside the strike zone. So you’re down 300 milliseconds before you’ve ever even swung. The swing itself takes 150 milliseconds. So 200 locating the ball; 100 making a decision; 150 swinging the bat—450 milliseconds. But the ball is in the catcher’s glove after 400 seconds, so Adair concludes that according to the laws of physics, hitting a 90mph fastball is impossible. Do you agree with his conclusion? No! Why? Because you’ve seen someone hit a 90mph fastball. You can’t prove him wrong, but you can’t deny what you’ve seen. “You are smart enough not to opt for the unexplainable over the undeniable. The undeniable takes precedence over the unexplainable.”

In this moment with Jesus, Thomas doubted all of his doubts. He couldn’t explain it, but he couldn’t deny it. For some of you, you need to…Doubt your doubts. You may be thinking, “Well, if Jesus appeared to me like Thomas, then I would believe to.” If you are thinking that, then you are showing that your doubts aren’t the problem. The problem is that you are not choosing to see Jesus for who He said He is. God is pursuing you in this moment and you know it, but you are not willing to lay down your doubts because you know what will happen if you do. You know that you are going to meet Jesus for the first time and you are going to have surrender your life and let go. The problem isn’t your doubts, the problem is that you want to control your life. Just like Jesus knew we would have doubts, He knew we would lack trust. We see on the first Easter morning what it means to let go and start trusting. And Jesus does it with Mary. As you look again at the empty tomb, know this: You can believe in the resurrection only because of Jesus. 

3) You can believe in the resurrection only because of Jesus. (vs. 11-18) Let’s go back to verse 11 and see where Mary sees Jesus: 11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her. “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” Here is what is so powerful about this scene: Every time Jesus meets someone, He helps them believe. Think about what Mary saw through the life of Jesus. By the way, this isn’t Mary, Jesus’ mother, this was another Mary who followed Jesus. Mary had seen miracles on top of miracles. She had heard Jesus say that He would die and rise again 3 days later. Jesus had never failed to deliver on His promises. She has been told everything she needed to be told to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Why wasn’t that Mary’s first response was “Is it possible that Jesus is alive?” But Mary is crying at the tomb and lamenting that His body is gone because her first response was “Someone stole the body.” Think about this: Mary is crying because the tomb is empty.  Mary should have been rejoicing the empty tomb.

What was her problem? Mary didn’t have what she needed to believe. Faith has to come from the outside. John 6:44 tells us this: For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and at the last day I will raise them up. We don’t have what we need to believe. The reason is true is because our hearts wants to maintain control. Quote: “The human heart is this way: it will deny and resist even what it most wants if it discovers that, in order to get it, it has to lose control to someone else. There is a primordial desire that the heart has to stay in charge.” – Tim Keller. We hold on to our unbelief because that means we have to let something or someone outside of us take control.

What did Jesus do for Mary? He gave her what she needed to believe. 14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?” She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.” 16 “Mary!” Jesus said. She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”). 17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message. Jesus gave her what she needed to believe. And Jesus has done the same for you today. The question is, “will you look again and accept it God’s free gift of salvation?

Illustration: Supreme Court Pardon[1] . In 1833, a man by the name of George Wilson committed a crime that was punishable by death. He was sentenced to die by hanging. Well, for reasons that no one knows, President Andrew Jackson gave George Wilson a full pardon. When the warden told Wilson that the President of the United States had pardoned him, Wilson refused the pardon and brought it before the courts. Eventually, the Supreme Court would make a decision with this statement: “A pardon is an act of grace … which exempts the individual on whom it is bestowed from the punishment the law inflicts for a crime he has committed … A pardon is a deed, to the validity of which delivery is essential, and delivery is not complete without acceptance. It may then be rejected… and if it be rejected, we have discovered no power in a court to force it on him.” Wilson was executed with a pardon sitting on the warden’s desk. Jesus have given you everything you need to believe in the resurrection, to trust it’s true, to see Him as your Savior from your sins, and to spend eternity with Him. The only question remaining is this: Will you accept it?


Come find me during our last song or after church. Don’t wait. 

Let me close with one final question for you today…Why was the stone rolled away? That big, heavy, guarded stone – why was it rolled away? Did Jesus need to move it to get out? No. If Jesus can come back from the dead, Jesus would have no problem moving a stone a few feet. Jesus didn’t moved the stone so that He could get out. Jesus moved the stone so that you can look inside the tomb. And if needed, to look again. This isn’t a missing shoe or a missing ketchup bottle. This is Jesus. And He’s not in the tomb. He’s not there. He’s alive. And that truth changes everything. Let’s pray.  

Transition to Baptism

[1] https://summitchurch.com/GetFile.ashx?Guid=6a753ea1-bf2d-4026-b1c8-c77b9c72e916

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Series Information

This 2 week Easter sermon series takes John’s account of the disciples who went to see the empty tomb and draws from one disciple’s experience of looking and then looking again at the empty tomb. This series invites us to look hard at the fact of Jesus’s resurrection, its invitation, and its implications.

Other sermons in the series