So there you are, walking along and minding your own business, when WHAM! You’re face to face with… well, a giant face. Almost a thousand of them, actually. Welcome to Easter Island, our location for John’s account of the resurrection. (No, I couldn’t help myself. It’s called EASTER ISLAND, people.) Let’s stretch our legs a bit as we admire the tropical beauty of Rapa Nui, most famed for its ancestral statues scattered across the terrain. Stumbling upon unexpected visages rising out of the earth? Pretty cool. But encountering the most unexpected face, risen out of the earth, radiant with glory and calling you by name? World-shifting. Strap on your hiking shoes, friends, and prepare to be gripped by wonder.
Scripture writing: My favorite passage to copy using The Message was verses 26-29:
Eight days later, His disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then He focused His attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine My hands. Take your hand and stick it in My side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.” Thomas said, “My Master! My God!” Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”
Thomas had missed Jesus’ first appearance to His disciples. When the others excitedly shared the news with their friend, he laughed. “You guys are so gullible. I need to put my finger into those punctured hands and jam my fist into the hole in His side before I’m convinced.” And Jesus—with remarkable grace, patience, and kindness—took up that swaggering challenge word for word in front of everyone, leading to Thomas’ awestruck confession. I find the lengths Christ goes to in order to capture our hearts irresistible. What a God.
Studying: Verse 1 says, “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.” As always, The Gospel Transformation Study Bible provided an insightful note:
How appropriate that Mary Magdalene was the first follower of Jesus to arrive at His tomb on resurrection morning. The Light of the World (8:12) had driven the darkness of seven demons from her soul (Luke 8:2); and now she came, while it was still dark, to witness the dawning of the new creation era. “Light and life to all He brings,” says the hymn, “risen with healing in His wings.” In the culmination of a principle that courses through all of Scripture, we see the supreme instance of the truth that through death comes life, and through darkness shines light.
Mary’s presence at this point in the story serves as a reminder that nobody bestows as much dignity on women as Jesus does. Flouting cultural norms, He wipes away our past, speaks a new identity over us, and then stands us up to join His mission. We may feel small or damaged or unworthy, but when the power of our Savior infuses us with the assurance of His love, we’d brave the terrors of the grave to get to Him. And the sweetest moment is when He meets us in that place… because He braved the terrors of the grave to get to us.
Commentaries: Matthew Henry draws out a powerful truth concerning verse 22 (“And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'”):
As the breath of the Almighty gave life to man and began the old world, so the breath of the mighty Savior gave life to His ministers, and began a new world … The Spirit, in the Old Testament, is compared to breath (Eze. 37:9), Come, O breath; but the New Testament tells us it is Christ’s breath. The breath of God is put for the power of His wrath (Isa. 11:4; 30:33); but the breath of Christ signifies the power of His grace; the breathing of threatenings is changed into the breathings of love by the mediation of Christ.
I had to read that quote a few times before its full impact began to sink in. Only Jesus could have transformed the breath that rightly called for our destruction into the breath that would fill us up with life.
John 20:17 proves especially tricky to interpret, according to D.A. Carson: “This verse belongs to a handful of the most difficult passages in the New Testament.” (After Jesus reveals Himself to an extremely emotional Mary Magdalene, He responds, “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.'” This seems complex and uncharacteristically cold.) Examining the text in its original Greek, Carson concludes that
The thought, then, might be paraphrased this way: ‘Stop touching Me (or, Stop holding on to Me), for I have not yet ascended to My Father—i.e. I am not yet in the ascended state, so you do not have to hang on to Me as if I were about to disappear permanently. This is a time for joy and sharing the good news, not for clutching Me as if I were some jealously guarded private dream-come-true. Stop clinging to Me, but go and tell My disciples that I am in process of ascending to My Father and your Father.’
This message wasn’t a rejection; it was an invitation—one that we are to extend even today. Jesus is for sharing, not for hoarding. The more we offer Him to others, the more we experience of Him ourselves. As Christ’s glory multiplies in the hearts around us, so gladness multiplies within our own hearts.
Sermons: Pastor Mark emphatically points out that
Jesus and His resurrection—with all of the historical, factual, and actual evidence—just towers above all of human history.
I love how following Jesus doesn’t require abandoning our brains. The event Christianity is founded upon welcomes those willing to wrestle with truth, as uncomfortable as the truth may be. It’s impossible to maintain intellectual integrity and simply wish the resurrection away; any reasonable person must grapple with reality and decide what to do with it.
Mary Magdalene plays such a special role in this chapter, relentlessly hunting for Jesus’ whereabouts in the midst of her grief. MacArthur brings out a beautiful juxtaposition between this woman and her displaced Savior in verses 11-29:
She lingered at the tomb hoping to find Him dead. He lingered at the tomb waiting to show Himself to her alive.
Can anyone else identify with Mary? All she wanted was to locate the body of Christ and put it back where it was “supposed” to be. Often all I want is to see my expectations met, to preserve some appearance of control. But Jesus is far too wild (and good!) to settle for such scanty hopes. He doesn’t need to be contained—He needs to be encountered.
Journaling: Pouring my thoughts onto paper about Thomas in verses 19-31 birthed a particularly convicting thought:
The Lord doesn’t praise perfect discernment; He praises childlike faith. How can I grow in this area?
In my experience, American Christians tend to fall off into one of two ditches: believing too much or believing too little. Like Thomas, I’ve found a home in the latter camp, proudly shaking my head at some people’s willingness to be duped. It turns out that my fear of looking ridiculous could keep me from connecting with the Lord in a very real way. I’m called to use wisdom, but I’m also called to trust. This is a tension worth living in.
Meditation: John writes in verses 30-31, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” Pondering these words led me to sense that
Of all the possible strategies God could have chosen to plant life in the human soul, He chose story. Because this is true, every believer should hone the art of storytelling; our task isn’t finished yet! Dead people are still hungry for stories of life, hope, freedom, joy, strength, beauty—stories of where we came from and where we’re headed, and especially stories of the cross in between the two, where heaven meets earth in their own tiny worlds. And, boy, do we have a story.
Countless resources are available that can help me learn to craft a great narrative—books, podcasts, online courses. I just need to make it a priority. The raw material of such good news deserves my best. But I also find comfort that, even in the midst of my weakness and foolishness, the Spirit is able to work.
There you go, friends. As incredible as these maoi monuments are, they’re nothing compared to the face of our King Jesus, conqueror of death and redeemer of man. Though this might seem like an appropriate place for John’s story to end, it’s about to get even better. We’ve got one last stop on our whirlwind gospel tour together, and what a stop it will be. Are you ready?
*Following the study schedule right along, my binder has thickened up with doodles, prayers, and tons of background information on the text. This summary is just the condensed version, the highlights of each approach—you can find my full binder notes for John 20 here.
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