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"From Seeking to Seeing: A Miracle for our Mess"

Easter SonRise Service - Apr.5, 2015 7:00 a.m. Jn.20:1-10

Does it sometimes seem to you that the world is in a mess? Easter coincides (in the northern hemisphere) with spring's undoing of the mess winter leaves behind... the brown dead grass, the rotting leaves we didn't get raked last fall, the rubbish that has been blown around onto our yards over the winter. Creation has been subjected to frustration, it's "in bondage to decay" Paul tells us in Romans 8(20f) - and it has been so since Adam & Eve sinned in Eden. It seems mess is inescapable - and human political / religious wrangling just makes things worse, as is obvious right now in several countries in the Middle East. Scientists have even come up with a law about "mess", except they put a fancier handle on it - "entropy". The second law of thermodynamics observes that the sum of entropies of participating systems increases; that may sound like a good thing until you realize it boils down to increasing free or waste energy. Things don't get MORE tidy and organized, they get MESSIER. But then you already knew that from your bedroom floor! Not to mention your vehicle, both its interior and its repair bills.

Spring undoes winter's "mess"; Easter undoes man's moral "mess", the cross of Jesus makes possible forgiveness for our sins and moral failures. Wouldn't it be neat if, at the heart of the gospel story, God's triumph over sin and death at the resurrection, He planted a little miracle that pointed specifically to this victory over our lives' MESS? Listen closely!

John's account of that momentous morning highlights three ways the events pointed to proof of Jesus' resurrection: SKEPTICISM; the SCENE; and SCRIPTURE.

First - SKEPTICISM. Mary Magdalene saw the stone had been removed from the tomb's entrance. What was her initial response? Did she exclaim in her soul, "Oh, my - Jesus has been raised from the dead!" No! She assumed the awful had become even worse - not only had Jesus died and been buried, now somebody had come and been mucking about with the body! V2 she ran to Peter and John and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put Him!" The big mess of the healing Master getting crucified just got messier. Now someone - nebulous "they" - is denying Him even the dignity of a decent burial. Adding insult to injury - or so it seems to Mary, who'd got up especially early, before dark, to go with the other women to complete the hasty burial rites from just before dusk on Friday, just before the Sabbath began.

The resurrection account, then, is NOT the product of wishful thinking. Mary did not assume Jesus had been raised. When the women went to tell the Eleven disciples and the others they'd seen angels, Luke records in 24:11, "But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense." The fishermen, former tax collector, political zealot, and others were SKEPTICAL. Thomas would even believe Jesus was raised after the other disciples had seen Him! (John 20:25) Mark 16:14 notes that when Jesus appeared to the Eleven, "Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen." They were all SKEPTICAL. Incidentally, the fact these accounts weren't edited to make the first eyewitnesses look better - less stubborn - is in itself additional argument for the historicity of the accounts: they're true as-things-happened, not tampered with or airbrushed to make Peter and the others look better in retrospect. One could imagine Peter and John sitting around a couple of decades later and thinking, "Should we go back and edit some of those accounts so we don't look so dumb? After all, He'd already predicted while He was alive THREE TIMES He'd rise from the dead! We should've seen it coming. We seemed so daft... Such utter tools... Can't have that! 'Peter-a-tool...'" (!) But truth and humility won out, so we can be sure the Easter account is historical, as it's the bedrock of our faith.

There's SKEPTICISM; this isn't just the product of mass hallucination and wishful thinking. Next there's the SCENE. The stone has been removed. That would have been quite a job in itself - not only the massive weight, but also the armed guard that had been posted, and Pilate's seal that made tampering a serious offence (Mt 27:66). By the way - did you know the stone wasn't removed to let Jesus OUT but to let eyewitnesses IN? Think about it - this glorified Saviour who can enter rooms with locked doors had no need of a stone to be removed.

John & Peter dash to the tomb after hearing Mary's news. John bends over and sees the strips of linen lying there but doesn't go in. Burly Peter arrives seconds later, a little out of breath no doubt, but bravely pushes on into the burial chamber. Vv6-7 tell us what he sees: "Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head.The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen."

Very strange. What's gone on here? There's no body - but the burial linens are lying exactly where they were. If grave robbers had stolen the body, they would have taken the linens and valuable spices along-with, for the sake of time, ease of handling, and resale value. Even if they'd taken the body and LEFT the linens (less likely), they wouldn't have bothered to fold them all up again exactly as they had been around the body. They would have strewn them all over. This does not make sense. For once, there's no MESS! Even the separate cloth or neckerchief that covered the head was still in the same spot, slightly away from the rest of the wrappings. The Greek phrase is "still-in-the-folds".

Drawn by Peter's bold example, timid John, the author, finally enters the tomb as well, and sees just what we've been talking about. The degree of orderliness and un-mess is enough to convince John: it wasn't grave-robbers. The body is indeed gone, but the wrappings are untouched, in exactly the same arrangement of folding that would not be possible unless the body had somehow vapourized and just left them undisturbed in place. It's enough for him! V8 notes, "He saw AND BELIEVED." John is convinced of the reality of Jesus' resurrection even before seeing Him, and the "many convincing proofs" Jesus showed them over the following 40-day period.

So, there's the SKEPTICISM; the SCENE, with its totally weird MESS-LESS-NESS; and finally, there's the SCRIPTURE. John adds in v9, "They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead." Note, had to: this had been predicted by Old Testament prophecies. As Jesus travelling incognito said later that day to two on the road to Emmaus, Lk 24:25f: "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" As in, was it not necessary, part of God's inevitable will and purpose? And in Jesus' subsequent explanation of Moses and the prophets, He doubtless would have included Psalm 16:10, "...you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay" - as Peter and Paul later did in citing sources that predicted this event centuries in advance (Ac 2:25ff; 13:35). This was all part of God's orderly, wise plan - not a mistake, not a mess-up, but exactly as foretold, part of the masterful saving design.

So, to wrap up - unlike the cloths, which were ALREADY wrapped up (ha!) - it may seem, as you're listening to the news, that the world is in a mess. Or your personal situation and relationships have foundered, your health is deteriorating, you've made some wrong decisions, your own life is in a mess. Coming to the tomb is the right place to start: God specializes in undoing messes. Jesus died so we could be forgiven, put right with God, receive the Holy Spirit who can regenerate our soul and spirit so we love and serve God and our neighbour instead of resist and fight. Believe the Good News, and receive Him who opened the tomb's door just so you could enter and see for yourself - those orderly linens that point straight to a miracle. Let's pray.