John writes his gospel so that you may believe the Good News of Christ. Prior to this text, we see four different accounts in chapter 20 of individuals who come to believe in the resurrection of the Lord.
1. The Searching: What are you running after?
Mary Magdalene had discovered, with a few other women, that Jesus was no longer in the tomb. Immediately upon that discovery, she runs to tell Peter and then John.
No doubt, the news that Mary Magdalene shares with these two men prompts a searching spirit. What would Peter and John do in light of this report? They do what all of us should do. They run to see for themselves. I call that searching.
Evidence #1: The tomb’s tidiness verifies that grave robbers were not responsible for the body’s absence. Enemies of Christ would not have left the clothes behind on account of the gain: But even if they had, they would not concern themselves with neatness. And friends of Christ “would not have permitted the corpse to be dishonored in its nakedness” (Ammonius of Alexandria).
So John and Peter go home after entering the tomb. It is as simple as that: Why should they stay? Christ was no longer there; He had risen.
Verse 8 identifies that John is the first to believe what he sees. That is what an encounter with the empty tomb elicits in the heart of a genuine seeker. Then, I think, Peter believes as well. Even though his belief is not stated, verse 9 moves from a singular pronoun to the plural. The suggestion is that the faith of one has become that of the other.
United in this discovered faith of the risen Christ, they are no longer referenced as Simon Peter and the other disciple. Now they are just described as disciples: Two men who ran after Jesus’s tomb and found what they were looking for. It is what the whole church is based upon — unity in the belief that Christ is risen!
Let me ask you, what are you running after?
2. The Grieving: Who are you turning to?
We learn that Mary Magdalene returns to the graveside after going to Peter and John. At this point, she is alone, and she is brokenhearted with no thought of a resurrection. Mary Magdalene just wants to know where they have taken the body of Jesus.
Follow Mary’s progression amid her grieving.
At first, Mary Magdalene stands frozen by her grief in verse 11. In this initial stage, the angels at the empty tomb seek to console her. It is a good reminder that, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted; that He saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). It is a good reminder that Christians should sympathize with all who grieve.
Next, verse 14 reveals that Mary Magdalene turns away in her grief. Mary does not instantly progress; rather, she regresses. Yet, we should not be too hard on Mary. Most people who experience profound grief, after the initial shock, go on to feel deep pain and loneliness. That’s what I perceive in this moment.
But then sounds a voice of hope. Amid the depths of sorrow, Mary Magdalene hears Jesus speak her name. Now, at verse 16, she turns toward: At the call of Christ, she emerges from her grief.
In other words, amid our most severe grief, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is our most sure hope.
Don’t miss the fact that Mary Magdalene is the first person to experience the personal presence of the Risen Lord.
Evidence #2: The witness of women in the ancient world was rarely regarded. If the disciples had wanted to convince people of the empty tomb during their day, you would expect them to change the first witnesses of it to come from the testimony of men, not women. (This episode also shows a growing respect for the place of women in the Church).
So don’t miss the fact that Mary Magdalene is tasked with carrying out the Risen Lord’s mission … with communicating His message.
That is true for everyone who turns toward the Savior: “The Christian faith is not just ‘Jesus and me.’ It is also Jesus and mission, Jesus and other people” (Thomas Brodie). Jesus tells Mary Magdalene not to cling to Him post-grief, but to act for Him post-resurrection. Jesus says, “Go tell My brothers.” Christ is risen!
Let me ask you, who are you turning to?
3. The fearing: Where are you finding peace?
The report of Easter morning had come back to a misfit band that verse 19 says huddled together alone in fear (minus Judas, who had taken his own life, and minus Thomas, who no one knows where he was).
Would the Jewish leaders soon come for them as they came for Jesus? Would the disciples be accused of stealing Christ’s body from the tomb? They didn’t know exactly what was up, so they were concerned.
Yet, suddenly, right in the middle of them, enters the resurrected Christ. Would a feeling of guilt now become a driving force of their fear? I personally think so. With the exception of John, who stood beside Jesus’ mother at the cross, all the disciples had completely defected Jesus.
If I am right in my perspective, Christ dispels such a feeling of guilt right away. Shalom — “Peace be yours.” The word shalom entails the bringing of harmony back to that which has been scattered and torn. The disciples who had scattered so quickly were just as quickly restored to the Lord. What a gift!
This brings into greater perspective Christ’s words to Mary Magdalene: “Go tell My brothers.” I imagine studying those four words along with Christ’s assurance in John 14:18 —“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” — would help to drown out the weight of guilt with a flood of forgiveness.
Consider the analogy of a judge, where appearing before him in his courtroom was an orphaned young man who had murdered the judge’s only son. Everyone expected the judge to slam down his gavel with a quick sentence of the death penalty. Such a penalty was warranted.
But to the utter surprise of those who witnessed the proceedings unfold, the judge did the unimaginable. He offered the murderous boy a pardon. Under only one condition: That the orphan would allow the judge to adopt him as a son.
Such is the measure of forgiveness that has been poured out upon you and me. Our sin nailed God’s only begotten Son to a tree, and yet we are offered pardon … we are offered adoption into the family of God. I surmise this is why John would write in 1 John 4:18 that perfect love casts out all fear.
What are you afraid of? Persecution? Rejection? Guilt? Death?
Whatever it is, name it. Then study the facts. Jesus Christ died for you to offer you peace. That peace comes with an outstanding reason: The crucified Jesus is alive again. All that which was broken is harmonized once more. Christ is risen!
Let me ask you, where are you finding peace?
4. The doubting: How are you receiving truth?
As I already mentioned, Thomas was not with the other disciples upon Christ’s first appearance to them. Consequently, the disciples (his close friends) joyfully proclaim to Thomas the Good News. Upon hearing their testimony, however, Thomas doesn’t believe.
But, like Mary Magdalene, let’s not be too hard on Thomas either. John 11:16 records his deep commitment to Jesus, and John 14:2-4 reveals his open honesty with Jesus.
If such a man as Thomas struggled with doubt, it’s likely that many of us have struggled with it as well. We can identify with his requirement for tangible proof because we desire the same thing. “Did this really happen? Was Jesus bodily raised from the dead, or is it just something we desperately wish to be true?”
If you find yourself in this camp with Thomas, consider that in spite of his doubts he never dismisses everything entirely; he never disbands from the other disciples. And neither do the disciples give up on Thomas. The verb in verse 25 appears in the imperfect tense — “They kept telling him.” We should never give up on someone who doubts.
We know Thomas continues to meet with the other disciples because Jesus comes to them on the following Sunday and Thomas is there. (Eight days later is equivalent to one week since the ancients counted the present day as the first day).
Evidence #3: The disciples saw the resurrected Jesus, and later about 500 more people would see Him. These individuals were ultimately willing to suffer martyrdom for their resurrected Lord. It makes no sense that they would choose to die for what they knew was a lie.
Of great significance, Jesus meets with His disciples once more on resurrection Sunday, and Jesus comes again “right in the middle of them.”
Why is this so significant? Because it stresses that the risen Lord meets with us as we come together for corporate worship. It also shows that Jesus makes Himself known to Thomas among the brethren.
So, again, if you still identify with Thomas, I encourage you to regularly come under the sound teaching of God’s Word among God’s people. Find a church home. Thomas ultimately processes the truth for himself amid a worshipping community where Christ is revealed. He says, “My Lord and my God.” That is a deeply personal and a profoundly theological profession of faith.
The personal profession appears in the double repetition of the pronoun “my.” Jesus is the One who cares enough for Thomas to meet him at his most needy point — amid his doubt. Jesus cares enough to meet you at your most needy point as well — wherever that is and whatever that involves.
Thomas’s theological profession confirms that Jesus is his earthly teacher (or Lord) and that Jesus is his eternal God. Thomas confesses that Christ came to live as fully man and to conquer death as fully God. It matters what we believe. It matters the preaching that we sit under. Christ is risen!
Let me ask you, how are you receiving truth?
Evidence #4: The tomb is still empty today. The body of Jesus Christ has never been unearthed: And that is not for a lack of trying. Why? Because He is risen, just as He said. The testimony of Christ’s word and the witness of His disciples are true.
Let us thus come together as a professing community of believers, united by the hope that we share in Christ — nothing else. Not programs. Not preferences. Not promotions. Not persona. Not political agenda. Just the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Such proclamation is always an invitation to authentic faith — to a personal and theological profession of Jesus as Lord and God. Whether you are searching today, grieving today, fearing today, or doubting today, John penned his gospel so “that you may believe!”
This bears repeating, not just at Easter but day after day and Sunday after Sunday: Christ is risen; He is risen indeed!
Now What:Respond to the Text:
Take a moment to write down reasons that you can find hope from the empty tomb of Christ.
How can the message of Jesus’ empty tomb offer comfort to those who are grieving loss?
Acknowledge what you are afraid of right now and search out scripture passages that help you overcome your fear through faith.
Commit to sit under biblically-based, Christ-exalting preaching among a fellowship of believers.