John 20:1-18

Jerry A Collins



You can ‘know’ something in at least three ways. First, information. You know that the earth is a planet that orbits the sun. Second, assurance or persuasion. You know that your wife loves you. Third, scientifically. You know that the ultrasound revealed that you are going to have a baby girl. In this third sense you cannot ‘know’ something before the fact, only after the fact. Scientifically you cannot know the future. You can know that Jesus promises to raise from the dead (first sense) and you can have assurance that he will rise from the dead in three days (second sense) but you cannot know that he will raise in the scientific sense, simply because you cannot know the future that way.

Now Jesus had clearly said many times as recorded in the gospels that he would rise again on the third day. Yet strikingly the disciples are deaf to Jesus constant and consistent revelation. Now they will be forced to believe in a scientific sense what they could not believe before. They will come face to face with the evidence of Jesus and His resurrection.


There are three people who see the empty tomb in three different ways.

A. Mary is shocked when she sees the empty tomb 1-2 This is Mary Magdelene whose devotion to Jesus, living or dead, was based on her gratitude for His delivering her from demonic possession. She had been with Jesus when he ministered and taught. She had been an observer at the cross and now is the first person at the grave this early morning. The tomb had been closed by a huge rock and sealed by the authority of the Roman governor. Mary, along with a group of women ‘saw’ that the stone had been rolled away. Shocked by this discovery, Mary immediately left and ran to tell Peter and John that someone had taken the Lords body, left it unguarded and Jesus body has disappeared. Obviously, whatever happened, it was unexpected. Mary and the women expected to come to a closed tomb even though it is the third day, the day Jesus had many times explained that He would raise from the dead.

Just like Mary we struggle to believe the promises of God to us. Like Mary, we see Jesus crucified, see him die, his body wrapped for burial, place into a tomb, a large stone rolled over the entrance, a government seal over the tomb, death for anyone attempting to enter and we are convinced that it is over. The promises of God become smothered by the circumstances facing us. Somehow the difficulties pulverize our faith in the promise and all we are left with is a smoldering candle in our hand, a promise of God in His Word, from His lips that now seems unbelievable. Can you see how God wants to use the impossibility of this situation to do exactly as he promised He would. To rise from the dead? God specializes in the impossible and what looks like demoralizing circumstances for the devouts faith is actually the means by which God is going to enliven your faith. ...he that comes to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Heb 11:6). You must believe that god is who He says he is and that He will do what He promises. There will be times when it will appear as though His promises fail you since they don’t seem to be answered in accordance with your expectation. Jesus followers could never have imagined the trauma of the arrest, trials, beatings, injustice, cruelty, shame, humiliation, deserting, loss and hiding out. If you lose your hope in the promises of God, then at those times your faith must rest in who he says He is. God will be true to His Word.

B. Peter is puzzled when he sees the empty tomb 3-7 Peter and John start a footrace to the tomb after Marys announcement. John beat Peter and looked in the tomb. As he peered in john observed the burial clothes still lying on the rock where the body of Jesus had lain. He does not tell us what he saw at that moment but he did not go in. But not Peter. When he arrived he went straight in and ‘looked attentively’ at the grave clothes and the separate burial cloth. This kind of looking would take a little time for pondering what the placement of the graveclothes was conveying and that is what Peter is trying to figure out. Questions about what this all means like why would grave robbers have left the clothes in this order? Why take the body of Jesus? How could someone have gotten past the roman guards?

When God is at work it will often be confusing and puzzling. He rarely works things out the way we think He should. Why wouldn’t it have clicked with Peter? He had heard all of the promises about resurrection. There he is standing in the middle of all of the evidence and all he can do is try and evaluate it and figure it out. Listen, you will never figure God out so quit trying. You can trust him and his promises but He has the prerogative to make it happen his way, on his terms and in his time. Let God be God. He does a marvelous job at it. God does not want you to know, he wants you to walk by faith. For without faith you cannot please God (Heb 11:6). For crying out loud, he has risen. Quit trying to figure it out and start shouting hallelujah in that tomb!

C. John believes when he sees the empty tomb 8-10 After a period of time john went in and ‘perceived’ the significance of the grave clothes, their position and arrangement and he believed! Believed what? The condition of these graveclothes indicated that the body of Jesus had not been stolen by thieves. Whether the authorities or robbers they would not have bothered to unwrap the body before carrying it off. And if they had to get valuables off of it like rings or jewelry they would not have bothered to take the time to roll up the facecloth and leave other wrappings in an orderly fashion. What he realized was not robbery but resurrection! That Jesus had risen from the dead and had gone thru the grave clothes. The tomb was not open then to let Jesus’ body out but to let the disciples and the world see that he rose from the dead. Faith is commitment before knowing. Faith is demonstrated in things hoped for and things not seen. Both the future and the invisible. John is exercising this faith in the direction of Jesus resurrection. Soon that faith will become sight and John will rejoice to see Jesus again!