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The identity of Jesus and the victory of God… John 20

April 10, 2011

IconLabelling people, what is also known as stereotyping, has become part of our everyday life. Whether we’re walking down the street, watching the TV, or just about any other activity you can think involving other people, we very quickly put people in boxes with little labels on. Whether its ‘posh’, ‘chav’, ‘thick’, ‘slacker’, ‘terrorist’, when we see other people a label gets put on them. It’s one of the ways in which our brains have learnt to cope with lots of information. We have our labels and we have our way of reacting to those labels. So we see someone wearing a hoody and a baseball cap and we hold on to our wallets, we see someone who looks like they have authority and we sit up straight and try to look innocent, we label people and we act accordingly. We disengage our brain and treat the person as a label.

No one has been labelled more in the past 2000 years than Jesus, when we say the name ‘Jesus’, people automatically bring out a label, like – carpenter, good man, moral teacher etcetera and the same was true when Jesus was alive as it is today. And what label we assign to Jesus, ultimately affects how we live, and what we do! Get the identity of Jesus wrong, put the wrong label on who He is, and it not only affects you now, but will affect you forever!

Who then is the real Jesus?

As we’ve worked our way through John’s Gospel, we’ve seen plenty of ways in which various people have labelled Jesus. In chapter 4&5 He was a ‘healer’, in chapter 6 He was a ‘good teacher’, in chapter 8 Jesus was a ‘trouble maker’ and ‘blasphemer’ in chapter 9, Jesus was a ‘prophet’ and in chapter 10, Jesus was ‘demon possessed’ and ‘raving mad’. In our present day society, Jesus has been labelled as ‘imaginary’, as merely a ‘historical figure’, as an ‘inspirational leader’ and most of the world’s religions have labelled him as a ‘prophet’ or ‘guru’. The disciples hadn’t been that successful at getting their heads around Jesus either and they probably had a whole mishmash of labels spinning around their heads, from ‘rabbi’, to ‘shepherd’ to Peter’s statement that Jesus was ‘the Holy One of God’, though its pretty clear when Peter says this that he has his own ideas as to what that statement means.

Now three days after they had witnessed Jesus’ execution they perhaps had no idea what to make of Him at all! Try to imagine how they must be feeling. They had followed Jesus for something like three years, they had grown to love Him, they had learnt a lot from Him, and they had tried to understand His teaching. They had witnessed some amazing events, including miracles and heard God authenticate Jesus’ ministry more than once, they had been given the ability to do some amazing things themselves, and they must have been fairly sure that all was going to end well, and they were going to be on the winning side. Whatever their thoughts about what would happen, on who Jesus was and how they had labelled Him, we can be pretty sure it wasn’t in their plan for Him to die on a cross, despite the fact that He had mentioned it a few times. So now, as they try to sleep you can imagine that all sorts must have been going through their head.

“How can He be who He says He was?”

“Messiahs don’t get killed, they win and reign”

“Does this mean that everything He taught us was wrong?”

“What is going on??”

All of this confusion comes about because they don’t really understand who Jesus is. They’ve labelled Him, they think they know who He is, but don’t truly understand Him. It’s not surprising, as no one had ever seen anyone like this before, and if we we’re in their shoes then we would have made just the same mistakes as them! But now as we look at Chapter 20, we finally see the disciples begin to understand who it is they’ve been hanging out with for the past three years, and not surprisingly it takes them a week to really grasp it.

Reading: John 20: 1-9

The burial of Jesus had been a bit of a rush, they’d had to do it quickly because it was Passover and the Sabbath was nearly upon them. So they’d placed the dead body of Jesus in a tomb, and now Mary returns, perhaps to finish the job. To her great distress she finds the body missing, and probably with tears streaming down her face she runs to find the person left in charge, she runs to find Peter. Thinking that either the Jewish leaders, or the Romans had one final nasty plan up their sleeves for her Lord, she sobs to Peter:

They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!

Not surprisingly Peter and John, the beloved disciple and the author of this gospel, make a dash for the tomb. And it is this pair who see the first sign that this is no robbery, no nasty surprise on behalf of the Jewish authorities, as they see the expensive linens lying neatly wrapped in the tomb. This isn’t something awful but something quite amazing. You see, no self-respecting grave robber is going to take the body but leave the expensive clothes, and no Jewish entourage is going to spend the hours it would take to unwrap Jesus’ body when they needed to make a quick get away. John, the author of this account is immediately convinced that this is nothing less than Jesus’ doing, and in his own words in verse 8:

He saw and believed!

Second Reading: John 20: 10-23

If the first piece of evidence of who Jesus really is, was the linen clothes, then Jesus gives His disciples three more pieces of evidence, by appearing to them Himself and by sending angels. Firstly to Mary, who gets to see the angels and then, after rather embarrassingly mistaking Jesus for the gardener, sees Jesus for who He is. I think it’s fair to say at this point that Mary, doesn’t really understand the full significance of seeing Jesus, but being overjoyed at finding Jesus, and what’s more finding Him alive, she does the thing which comes most naturally to her, like being reunited with someone you never thought you’d see again, she hugs Him so hard and for so long, that He has to tell her to let go!

And then to the disciples, at this point numbering only Ten! They get to see the Lord, whom they thought they had lost, which involves Him, I wonder if you noticed, passing through some locked doors. We’ll come back to the details in a moment, but I wonder if you can see how the evidence of who Jesus actually is, is mounting up?

Tomb open, linen unwrapped, angels sent, Mary gets to see Him, then the disciples get to see Him. sees Him alive, after He’s died,

There is no doubting it’s Him, as He shows them His wounds. There can be no doubt that Jesus who was dead is alive, not just a ghost for He has a real body, a body which Mary can hold on to, a body which the disciples can touch. Jesus has been resurrected, not resuscitated, having died He now has a new body, a body which is in some ways like His old body, but also somehow different. The disciples understood the idea of resurrection, they expected a resurrection at the end of time, but now? And just to Jesus? What does this say about who this man really is? Can we yet see past the labels which we so often place on Him? Does prophet, teacher, rebel or historical character really explain what has just happened?

Third Reading: John 20: 24-31

Perhaps Thomas was out getting the milk, perhaps He thought today was a good day for a lie-in, we’ll never know but Thomas’ absence gives the disciples a week to ponder all they’ve seen and to begin to work out what Jesus’ resurrection tells them about who He is. One thing we can say is that Thomas isn’t too chuffed to miss the whole appearing, and what’s more he simply won’t believe the other disciples. Now it’s fair to say that throughout church history Thomas gets a bit of a bad rap, he even gets called names like ‘Doubting Thomas’, but I think it makes a lot of sense to say, ‘Well if you don’t mind fellas I’m gonna have to see this one for myself’.

Nevertheless over the next seven days, he must have pondering what all of this means, who Jesus is in fact, if it is true that He has been resurrected. Again the doors are locked, it’s Sunday, and the disciples are meeting together, and Jesus appears before them. Thomas is shown the same evidence as the other disciples got the previous Sunday, and in fact the very evidence which Thomas himself had demanded as Jesus says to Him:

Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.

And it’s now that we get the conclusive proof that the disciples have finally figured out who Jesus is. Perhaps the others had got there first, perhaps this is what John had believed all the way back in verse 8, but there can be no doubt of the conclusion of Thomas, to this miraculous resurrection, as he declares who Jesus actually is as he cries:

My Lord and my God!

Thomas gets who Jesus is not just his master but his God. Perhaps with the benefit of an extra week, perhaps just because of the evidence in front on him, but there is no doubt what Thomas’ conclusion is, nor that Jesus agrees with this conclusion. If Jesus were not God, now is the time to put Thomas and the rest of the disciples right, squash the rumour before it gets out of hand, squash the blasphemy before they’re all in trouble. However, rather than telling Thomas off, Jesus instead confirms Thomas’ statement and says that anyone who comes to such a conclusion, particularly without the physical evidence, is in fact blessed, that he will in fact be in God’s good books! In fact in verses 30 and 31 we get told that helping people come to this conclusion is the very reason for John writing in the first place:

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John has very carefully structured his gospel with seven miracles, ending with the greatest miracle of all here, Jesus’ being resurrected, in Chapter 20, so that we might believe Jesus is God. This chapter is the end of the section mirroring the beginning of the section of John Chapter 1. If you remember Chapter 1 it’s where John goes into detail about the God who is coming in human flesh, and after going though the seven miracles, John now returns to where he began, with Jesus as God, the God who has now come in human flesh!

What does any of this mean? What does the resurrection tell us, what does Jesus being God tell us?

Well firstly and most importantly, it tells us that God wins. In the battle with the devil, in the battle with sin and evil, Jesus, God is victorious! I wonder how you’re doing at the moment with your battles with sin, I wonder if you’re tempted to think that you may as well give in, sin is too strong, the devil is too clever. Well maybe then we need to be reminded, that Jesus has won. God has defeated His opponent once and for all, and with His help we can be certain that we will triumph in the end.

Secondly Jesus’ resurrection, tells us that all of the teaching which we have heard from Jesus, was true. God doesn’t make mistakes, God doesn’t lie, He tells the truth, and we can trust His promises. So the disciples can look back to all the things which Jesus taught them, all the promises He gave them, and can say that what Jesus said is a certainty, I know that this is true. and what’s more so can we. We can look back through the chapters of John, we can re-read the teaching of Jesus and say, you know what this is absolutely true, God doesn’t get things wrong, and He doesn’t lie.

Thirdly, we can know that Jesus’ mission was successful, His mission to die on the cross, in our place and for our sins, was a complete success, and we can see this in Chapter 20. Its one of the first things Jesus says. Have a look at verse 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.’”

Do you see what He is saying, Jesus is saying ‘mission complete’, the task of sacrificially dying in our place is done, it’s finished and so now He can return from where He came from, Jesus can return to the Father and say ‘job done Dad’. Furthermore because the mission has been complete, because Jesus has paid our sin, because He has taken God’s wrath on Himself, we can now have peace with God we can now have a relationship with God. Have a look at verse 19, the first thing Jesus says to His disciples is:

Peace be with you!

In case they didn’t get it Jesus says it again in verse 21, and what is the first thing that Jesus says to His disciples, this time including Thomas, a week later in verse 26?

Peace be with you?

God is no longer angry, we are no longer at war with God, now and only now that Jesus has died and has been resurrected, can he say that we have peace with God. With the mission done, with peace restored, we can now understand v31:

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Formally we were separated from God, and in effect dead, separated from the life-giver! But now we can be restored, now we can have life, and have it to the full. A life which starts the moment we believe, a life which will continue for eternity. A life which will be difficult in this world, but will be GLORIOUS in the world to come. As one great hymn puts it:

And we are raised with Him,
Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered;
And we shall reign with Him,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

And so what are we to do? What are we to do with this information and this promise of life? Well first we are to believe, for this was the whole reason why John wrote His gospel, so that we may have life, which was the whole reason why Jesus came to earth in the first place. This isn’t just a message for those who don’t yet believe, it’s also a message for those of us, most of us here in fact who do believe and yet still live so often as if we don’t. We are to believe again, believe so that we can have life in His name, and a full life at that, not one hidden away, like the disciples were in the story, but one of living the life which Jesus gives out in the world, living the life for all to see. I wonder if you can think of a time from the last week, when you’ve been tempted to let doubt creep in to your life, when you’ve been tempted to choose your old life, over the new life you’ve been given in Jesus. Perhaps we need to re-read John Chapter 20 again, see the evidence of Jesus resurrection again, at go out into the world hearing Jesus’ words ringing in our eyes:

Stop doubting and believe!

But second do you noticed what Jesus does once Mary believes, what He does once the disciples believe? He sends them off, He sends them out to continue the mission which He started, the mission He himself was sent on by the Father. He says to Mary in verse 17:

Go… to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God

He says to His disciples in verse 21:

As the Father has sent me, I am sending you

And remember He doesn’t say this to some great evangelists, He doesn’t say this to some great missionaries, but rather He says this to a woman who was so wicked that she had been carrying seven demons, and to humble fisherman who had barely left their own home before He had chosen them. If you don’t mind me saying, Jesus chose people like you, He chose people like me, and He commanded them to go! Perhaps like Mary we may only be called to go to our friends, perhaps like some of the disciples we are called to travel the known world, starting with the people down the road but slowly going further. And perhaps, like Thomas, the one who they say doubted, but who eventually went to the unknown world of India, we are called to go to the ends of the earth!

But don’t panic we don’t do this alone, notice v22, we do it with the help of the Holy Spirit, God living inside of us, challenging us, changing us, equipping us, and helping us to pray for the Fathers help. ‘Through the Spirit who clothes faith with certainty’, we are called to believe, then we are called to live, then we are called to go!

Let’s pray that God will help us to do that this week…

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