August 1, 2021


Passage: John 20:1-18

1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”— and that he had said these things to her.
— John 20:1-18, ESV

You hear a lot of talk today about the so-called “social gospel.”  Actually, the term has been around for a hundred years, fairly well coined by Baptist pastor and professor Walter Rauschenbusch.  He believed the purpose of Christ and Christianity was not to reconcile man and God by grace through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; but, rather to go in Jesus’ name and eradicate societal evils like poverty, racism, and injustice of any real or perceived kind.

While achieving such earthly goals is a noble pursuit, adherents of the advancing “social gospel” jettisoned the eternal truths of the historic, biblical, orthodox gospel of Jesus Christ.  They denied the inspiration of Holy Scripture, did not believe the death of Christ was an atonement for sin, and could not accept the literal resurrection of the Lord, saying He lived on in personality only.

Rauschenbusch and his peers influenced entire Christian denominations to abandon the true gospel in favor of this social gospel.  It had a huge impact on the African American church and was adopted by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as the pastor who currently preaches in Dr. King’s church, Ralph Warnock, who also serves as a newly elected U.S. Senator from Georgia.

Warnock may have summed up the social gospel best in an Easter Sunday tweet, “The meaning of Easter is more transcendent than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether you are Christian or not, through a commitment to helping others we are able to save ourselves.”  That’s the social gospel, half right and wholly wrong.  Christians, above all others, should love God and love our neighbors enough to offer strength and aid to those suffering from social plights and prejudices.  But any gospel that does not include a bedrock belief in the biblical doctrines of Christ, especially His bodily resurrection, is no gospel at all.

It is precisely this doctrine, the resurrection of Christ, liberals and social gospel warriors attack the most.  Such hostility to the supernatural makes them so earthly minded they are of no heavenly good.  It is good for heaven-bound believers, however, to read intently and believe fervently in the words of the Apostle John in this climactic scene in his Gospel, describing the literal, bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ because of the authority of Holy Scripture.

John offers some unique details concerning the resurrection of Jesus.  He speaks of himself in the third person, “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved,” as accompanying Peter to the tomb, actually outrunning him, and finding the tomb empty.  He mentions the grave clothes left behind, including the folded face cloth (the “Shroud of Turin” appeared in the 14th century claiming to be this cloth, but was proven a fake).  He elaborates on Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the empty tomb and the risen Christ.

The other Gospel writers, Matthew and Mark and Luke, include different details but do not differ in the definitiveness of the story.  The tomb was empty.  Jesus was then seen alive.  He did not swoon and recover.  He did not dissipate to dust so that only His personality lived on.  Jesus was dead.  Jesus was buried.  Jesus rose from the dead.

John and the other Gospel writers concur also with the many prophecies and predictions of the Old Testament authors.  Jesus is the first evangelist in Genesis and the Savior who breaks the curse of the law.  Jesus is the Messiah in the Messianic Psalms who redeems and expands Israel to include believing Jews and Gentiles.  Jesus is both the Suffering Servant and the Everlasting King in Isaiah and the other prophets.

The Law, the Writings, and the Prophets point to Jesus.  The Gospels identify Jesus.  The Epistles explain Jesus.  The Revelation affirms all that happened in the first coming of Christ and points the way to the second coming of the Lord.  All of the Bible points to the incarnation, atonement, resurrection, and return of the Lord Jesus Christ, without a single contradiction or error!

I believe Jesus loves me, died for me, and rose again, literally and bodily, from the grave because the Bible tells me so.

I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ because of the testimony of trusted eyewitnesses.

I like the way John inserts himself into the story in a humble, third person way.  He does brag a little however, noting that he could run much faster than Simon Peter.  John was younger and faster, but perhaps Peter was older and had more insurance.  I try to stay humble about my sports success as a high schooler and collegiate, but I don’t mind telling you in my youth I was probably the fastest white boy in the whole state of Georgia.

John makes the resurrection of Christ not only biblical, but personal.  He was there.  He watched Jesus die.  He returned the third day and witnessed the empty tomb.  He said he “believed,” an experience in the past with present and future implications.  John’s belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ changed and controlled his life forever.

I like the way John honors Mary Magdalene’s contribution to the gospel.  For some reason, Mary is often portrayed wrongly in two extremes, as either a hooker or Jesus’ wife, and there is certainly no evidence for either.  Jesus did cast demons out of her and she did become a devout and generous follower.  She showed great love for Jesus, great courage in approaching the tomb, and was given the honor by God of being the first preacher of the full gospel of Jesus Christ, that He lived, He died, and on the third day, He rose again.

Mary’s belief grew, like John’s.  At first she was confused, with the stone rolled away, the guards gone, and some gardener wandering around outside the tomb.  Peter Sellers once played an actual gardener mistaken as a presidential adviser (Being There), but Jesus was the King of kings mistaken as a gardener, until Mary looked closer and listened to His unmistakable voice.  Mary’s belief in the bodily resurrection of her “Rabboni,” an Aramaic and affection name for “my Teacher,” changed and controlled her life forever.

Two male witnesses were required to establish a true testimony in Jewish law.  John and Peter confirmed that the tomb was empty, Jesus is alive.  An honorable and honest woman (accompanied by other women) told them first and would be the first to tell others.  I believe these witnesses.

I believe Jesus loves me, died for me, and rose again, literally and bodily, from the grave because John, Peter, and Mary tell me so.

I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ because of the reality of personal experience.  

I was not there, two thousand years ago, when Mary, John, and Peter peeked into the empty tomb, nor when Mary wrapped her arms around the Lord, nor when the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ began to spread.  I was not there, two thousand years ago, when an aged Apostle John bent over to write onto a papyrus words that would become the Gospel of John.  I was not there, two thousand years ago, when Jesus Christ died, was buried, and on the third day rose again.

But I was there, almost forty years ago, when Jesus walked into my college apartment, into my heart, mind, and soul, saved me from my sin and took over my life as Lord.  No, I did not hear His audible voice.  No, He did not walk in, bodily, physically, so that I could actually see Him.  But it was much more than just His personality.  Christ came to me through the Holy Spirit, the word of God, and the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I began to follow Him that day, and will never stop.

I believe if He had not risen from the dead, bodily, physically, He could not have come spiritually into my life.  I have had a life-changing encounter with the Spirit of the Son of Almighty God, who loves me, died for me, and rose again, literally and bodily, from the grave because my experience of grace, my changed life, by bedrock faith in Jesus Christ, tells me so.

And so I gather together with other believers, with Christ’s church, every Sunday, every first day of the week.  We meet on this day because this is the day that Jesus rose again.  We meet together on the first day of the week because Jesus is the first priority in our lives.  We accept Him as Savior.  We obey Him as Lord.  And one day, we will see Him, like Mary Magdalene and the first disciples, face to face, and hear His voice.

This faith is not based a hope that we can somehow save ourselves by helping one another.  This faith is not based on a personality that persist.  The Christian faith is based on Jesus Christ, a living, breathing Lord and Savior who literally lived, literally died, and literally rose again from the dead.  I believe in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ!

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