June 10, 2010 David Balzer

John 20: Tomb-Raider

Did you know that Australia has its very own, real-life Tomb Raider.

Earlier this month it was announced that a team from Sydney’s Macquarie University had discovered three coffins containing mummies. One of them is one of the most well-preserved specimens ever discovered. (show o/h)

The mummy is about 2,600 years old, and was discovered by Naguib Kanawati, the head of the Macquarie Uni team.

It was discovered by — after opening a secret door in a separate burial chamber.

The Australian team was exploring a much older tomb — dating back 4,200 years, when they moved a pair of statues and discovered the door. Beyond the door, they found another tomb containing the three coffins.

Kanawati said “The chest of the best-preserved mummy is covered with turquoise blue beads. Most of the mummies of this period — about 500 B.C. — the beads are completely gone, but this mummy has them all,”

“I believe this discovery can enrich us about two important periods in history, the Old Kingdom, which dates back to 4,200 years, and the 26th Dynasty, that was 2,500 years ago,” he added.

(pause) Who would have thought that after so many years of people discovering tombs and mummies in Egypt, of grave-robbers raiding their treasures, that something like this would still be there to be unearthed!

It must be an incredible feeling to discover the hidden doors, and then to step into that tomb. Like stepping back in time. Travelling in a time machine. Through a door into another world. It’s really the discovery that makes a career. The discovery of a lifetime.

(pause) But as exciting as their discoveries were. As huge as their TRAVELS might have been. And as SIGNIFICANT as their RESEARCH might be. They’re NOTHING compared with the significance of the Tomb Raider expedition we’re looking at this morning.

Because Jesus doesn’t just step into a tomb – as an outsider would – an observer of d.eath. An archaeological scientist. He moves THROUGH the tomb. He goes IN as a MAN. But comes out the other side ALIVE. Which no-one else has EVER done.

It’s the ULTIMATE adventure. The ORIGINAL Tomb Raider. Better than anything any archaeologist’s ever done. Or even better than LARA CROFT might do.

And as unbelievable as the news is/ of a perfectly-preserved, two and a half thousand year old mummy. It’s NOTHING to the UNBELIEVABLE NEWS that greeted the disciples that first Easter Sunday morning. Jesus was . But NOW he was alive.

Yet, as hard as it might be to believe, the evidence and argument of John’s gospel. In fact, of ALL the gospels. Is that the resurrection is A HISTORICAL FACT.

Extraordinary – yes! Hard to swallow – yes! But TRUE, none-the-less. A truth that’s worth staking your life on. Which many of those disciples DID.

In fact, it’s the very UNBELIEVABILITY of the event which ADDS to its historical credibility. Because none of the disciples were EXPECTING it.

If they’d been expecting it, you could imagine how they might MAKE UP the story. To save face. Or perhaps how they might be so overcome with grief that they all HALLUCINATED. Jesus’ appearance – nothing more than WISHFUL THINKING.

But instead, it took them by surprise. Every single one of them. Shook their foundations. Re-oriented their worlds.

  1. Grief and despair turned to excited mission
  2. Fear turned to gladness and joy
  3. And doubt turned to belief and worship.
  1. Grief and despair turned to excited mission

Look at how John recounts the facts. The start of Ch 20. It’s early Sunday morning, and Mary Magdalene rushes off to the tomb.

It’s been about 36 hours since Jesus was buried there. The Sabbath’s been in between. The day of rest. So Mary couldn’t do anything then. But now, she’s hurrying off to prepare the body with spices. Perfumes. So the body won’t smell so bad.

She’s already poured perfume on Jesus’ FEET while he was ALIVE. That was back in Ch 12. And now she wants to FINISH THE JOB.

She’s resigned herself to despair. There were no expectations other than someone helping her move the stone out of the way. So she can pay these last respects to the one she loved so deeply.

But when she arrives, she can’t believe her eyes. The stone’s been rolled away.

She doesn’t know what to do, so she runs back and finds Peter and John. Two of Jesus’ closest friends.

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

This is news to Peter and John too. They’re not expecting anything like this. So THEY head off for the tomb. Peter’s a bit slow, and so John gets there first. He sticks his head around the corner of the tomb – one step better than Mary – but doesn’t go in. He sees strips of linen lying there. The strips they’d used to wrap Jesus’ body in Friday night. But no body.

Then Peter finally arrives, and he heads straight in. No beg-your-pardons about Peter. And HE sees – not the wild scatterings of a grave-robber – but the head-cloth, neatly folded in one corner. Just like someone might do when they wake up, get dressed and fold their pyjamas!

Finally, John himself plucks up the courage to join him inside. And when he does, it says there in v8, that HE BELIEVED. He still didn’t understand EVERYTHING. But he BELIEVED that Jesus had RISEN. The unbelievable had HAPPENED.

What about YOU? Is this an incredible adventure YOU’RE prepared to believe? Because your LIFE depends on it!

(PAUSE) Back to Mary. Some time later, she’s outside weeping. Howling. They’ve taken her Lord away, and she doesn’t know where they’ve put him.

She’s still looking for A BODY. So when she hears a noise, turns around, and sees Jesus, she doesn’t recognise him. V15

John 20:15-16 : 15 “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” : 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

And then, all of a sudden, the penny drops. She’d know that voice ANYWHERE. The way he said that one word MARY. And all of a sudden, she wasn’t looking for a corpse anymore, but a SAVIOUR, A TEACHER, A FRIEND.

And as warm and rich as the re-union is/ Jesus has ANOTHER task for her. To the news. In fact, that’s going to be her LIFE-LONG task. V17

John 20:17: Go instead to my brothers and TELL them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”  NIV

Mary’s grief and despair have turned to excited mission. She’s got unbelievable news she just HAS to share. Can you IMAGINE it?

What’s the best news you’ve ever got to break to someone?

I reckon Dean had some pretty special phone calls to make to people when Lara was born.

Imagine Mary? “I’ve seen the Lord! It’s true – He’s ALIVE! He’s raided the tomb, and made it back! I’ve spoken to him. Hugged him!”

  1. Fear turned to gladness and joy

(pause) And later that night, the rest of the disciples get to see for themselves. And their FEAR turns to gladness and joy.

They’re in a locked room. Scared of the Jews. The news that the body’s disappeared has made it out. And the disciples are WANTED MEN.

When all of a sudden, Jesus appears among them. “Calm down. Don’t fear”, he says. And just to prove he’s not a ghost, or a hallucination, he shows them his hands and side. The holes are still there! The scars from the adventure.

And they BELIEVE. And their fear turns to JOY. JESUS HAS BEATEN D.EATH, AND HE’S WITH THEM AGAIN.

But, just like with Mary, Jesus won’t leave it at that. He’s got a job for THEM TOO. V21

21 …As the Father has sent me, I AM SENDING YOU.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  NIV

Their job was to continue Jesus’ ministry. Empowered by his Holy Spirit. To declare to people the same message of forgiveness of sins that Jesus preached.

And the incredible privilege was that people would respond to the DISCIPLES’ words the same way they’d responded to JESUS’ words. Recognising their sins, and turning away from them. And so God would forgive them.

And the very next book in the Bible, Acts – just over the page – tells the story of that mission. An incredible transformation in these men. From fearful, hiding, disappointed FOLLOWERS. To bold, blatant, victorious LEADERS. Leaders who took the message of forgiveness to the world.

  1. And doubt turned to belief and worship.

(PAUSE) But ONE of the disciples wasn’t there at the time. Thomas. And so, the next day, when the other disciples told him what had happened, he wouldn’t believe them. Just like you or I might do. “No way!” Thomas the skeptic.

John 20:25: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I WILL NOT BELIEVE IT.”  NIV

An incredible event just seemed TOO incredible for Thomas. The OTHERS had seen and believed. But because Thomas HADN’T seen, he WOULDN’T believe.

And it was a whole week until he had the opportunity. The disciples get together again. This time, Thomas was there. Same room, same locked door. And once again, Jesus appears in the midst of them. “Peace be with you” he says. V27

John 20:27-28: Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. STOP DOUBTING AND BELIEVE.” 28 Thomas said to him, “MY LORD AND MY GOD!”  NIV

When the Tomb Raider meets the doubting Thomas, his doubt changes to belief. And with belief comes WORSHIP. Worship that only belongs TO GOD. Which is who Jesus is. Because only GOD can conquer d.eath. Only GOD can raid the tomb. Only God can move from D.EATH to LIFE.

And it’s that BELIEF that Thomas is showing when he worships Jesus “My Lord AND MY GOD!”

SO what? Believe and live

And with that exclamation of worship, Jesus jumps forward in time. Beyond the first century. Beyond Jerusalem. TO US. He’s talking about US.

It matters to the Tomb Raider, not only whether his DISCIPLES believe/ but whether WE believe. Look at what he says in v29

John 20:29: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN AND YET HAVE BELIEVED.”  NIV

When we read the accounts of the Tomb Raider. When we ACCEPT them as incredible, yet TRUE. When we BELIEVE them. And TRUST the God who brought Jesus THROUGH the tomb. Jesus says we are BLESSED.

And we can see WHY in the very next verses. :

30 Jesus did many OTHER miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 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.  NIV

John, the writer, is writing TO US. To the READERS. His whole purpose in recording all the things which Jesus said and did. Is that we might BELIEVE WHO Jesus IS. That he is the Christ – God’s chosen king. More than that – God’s OWN SON. The Son who raided the tomb. Who beat d.eath.

And when we BELIEVE THAT, the result is that WE TOO will beat d.eath. Believing means we HAVE LIFE in HIS NAME, or BECAUSE OF HIS AUTHORITY.

To raid the tomb is an incredible adventure. Yet the good news of this part of the Bible is that it’s an adventure WE can be a part of. If we acknowledge Jesus as God’s King, if we TRUST him, then he promises us LIFE. Life that d.eath can’t touch. Life without end.

And that promises to be the greatest adventure of all. I can’t wait!

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