Running to the Tomb (John 20:1-10)
I used to run several times a week. I’d go for a walk and it would turn into a jog and that would turn into a run. I even had a small trampoline I used to run in place if the weather was bad.
A few weeks ago, I realized it had been a few years since I’d gone running, so I put on some comfortable clothes, laced up my tennis shoes, and headed out the door. I started my Garmin at the front door, I ran to the end of our driveway, and I turned around and went back inside. Running is no longer for me!
Some of you were runners back in the day—some of you ran track in high school and college; some of you played sports which required running. Some of you walk for exercise. Some of you may never have been runners or enjoy walking, but you may have had a job which required a lot of walking. Some of you don’t need “formal” exercise because you’re active keeping up your house or working in the yard or running errands.
This morning’s text is about running. Mary Magdalene ran “to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved” and told them she had found Jesus’s tomb empty. Peter and that other disciple—John—also ran to the tomb.
Why does this text have so much running? Because the most seminal event in all of history had just occurred—Jesus Christ had been raised from the dead. Therefore, “The tomb was found empty!”
Scripture (John 20:1-10)
Mary Magdalene went to the tomb “early, while it was still dark.” Because Jesus died shortly before the Sabbath began, he was not fully embalmed with spices. Now that the Sabbath was over, Mary went to the tomb to complete that work.
Notice the wording of the text. Mary went to the tomb “early, while it was still dark.” Mary was so devoted to Jesus that she pulled herself out of bed early on a Sunday morning to take care of his body. Instead of the comfort of sleep, Mary went to serve Jesus.
When she arrived at the tomb, Mary noticed “the stone had been taken away.” That was no small feat—tombs in antiquity were often in caves, a deep groove was dug in front of the tomb, and a large rock was placed in that groove to seal the tomb. These stones were huge and required several men to move them. The stone’s being moved immediately lets Mary know that something has happened.
She then ran back to Peter and John and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Mary ran to the disciples because she loved Jesus and she wanted to serve Jesus; she needed to find that body!
Mary seems to have thought that the Roman or Jewish authorities had taken Jesus’s body to a mass grave where the crucified were buried. Because that was a common practice, it only makes sense Mary would have thought that.
Peter and John did not take Mary’s word for the empty tomb. In the first century, men normally did not believe women. Women were seen as lunatics who spread wild stories. In fact, a woman could not testify in court.
Peter and John, therefore, ran to the tomb. They did not walk; they did not take their time getting to the tomb. They wanted to know what was taking place.
When John looked in the tomb, he saw “the linen cloths lying there.” When Peter got to the tomb and entered it, he also “saw the linen cloths lying there,” but Peter also noticed “the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.” I don’t know all the significance of the burial cloths lying as they were, but think about this: The burial cloths lying as they were strongly suggests Jesus has been raised. You see, if the authorities had come to take Jesus’s body to a mass grave, they would have left his body in the linen cloths; therefore, the disciples wouldn’t have found linen cloths left behind. If thieves had taken the body and left the linen cloths behind, they wouldn’t have taken time to fold them; thieves do not leave things in order.
After Peter had entered the tomb, John also entered. “He saw and believed.” It’s highly likely that the linen cloths lying as they were finally convinced John that Jesus was supposed to be raised from the dead.
After John informed his readers that he believed in the resurrection, he wrote a rather sad statement: “As yet they [the disciples] did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” The disciples had spent three years or so with Jesus, they had been taught the Scriptures by the Son of God himself, and they still did not get it.
“The tomb was found empty!” Mary ran to Peter and John to tell them that Jesus’s body wasn’t in the tomb; Peter and John ran to the tomb and found everything just as Mary had told them. Early on a first day of the week nearly two millennia ago, Jesus’s tomb was found empty! No body to embalm. No rotting corpse to smell. An empty tomb. John spent the rest of his Gospel explaining why Mary, Peter, and John found the tomb empty—Jesus had been raised from the dead.
This morning, I want you in your mind’s eye to run to that tomb and find it empty. I want you to know in your very core that “The tomb was found empty!” How can you run to the tomb and find it empty?
First: You need to run to the tomb in Faith.
If you do not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, you will go to hell: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). Listen: You can believe Jesus was a good man and go to hell; in fact, you can believe he is the Son of God and still go to hell. In order to be saved, you must believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead!
John told his readers that he recorded Jesus’s miracles to create faith: John 20:30-31. Can you tell me a greater sign than Jesus’s resurrection from the dead? In this passage, John gave two evidences of the empty tomb which withstand the most intense scrutiny.
One: A woman found the empty tomb.
The testimony of women was not permitted in court and easily discounted. The apostles themselves didn’t think highly of the women’s testimony: “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Lk 24:11). Being a physician, Luke often used medical terms. “Idle tale” was a medical term used for the wild talk of the sick when they were delirious; the word means to speak out of your head. The disciples thought the women were “cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs,” needed to be put in strait jackets, and locked away.
Here’s the point: If the apostles invented the story of the empty tomb, why would they have women as the first witnesses? Why invent a story and have the most unreliable, insane witnesses as your proof? The only explanation for the women being the first witnesses of the empty tomb is that’s exactly what happened.
Two: The disciples did not believe Jesus had been raised from the dead.
Peter and John ran to the tomb to investigate for themselves. Why? The best explanation is that they didn’t believe Mary. Notice further that John believed only after he walked in that empty tomb, and the disciples—Peter and John in this context—did not understand the Scripture about Jesus’s resurrection
- One: If you’re inventing a story, are you going to make yourself look as dumb, dimwitted, and stupid as the disciples?
- Two: If you’re inventing a story, are you going to spend the rest of your life going around the world and suffering persecution for your lie?
The disciples didn’t expect the resurrection to happen—they were not going to invent a story where it did. The only explanation for the disciples’ proclaiming the empty tomb is that the tomb was found empty on the first day of the week.
Two: You need to run to the tomb in Fervor.
Mary loved Jesus and wanted to finish honoring his body, so she went to the tomb early. The disciples ran to the tomb because they loved Jesus and wanted to know what had happened to his body; they wanted to make sure that body was honored.
Now, Mary, Peter, and John were misguided. Mary should have known she didn’t need to get up early and finish embalming Jesus’s body; she should have known there wouldn’t be a body to embalm. Peter and John should have understood the Scriptures; sure, go and investigate the empty tomb, but they should have understood before they ever saw the empty tomb that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
However, they demonstrated great love, fervor, and devotion to Jesus. How much love, fervor, and devotion to you show to Jesus? The Lord himself explained how you show your love, fervor, and devotion: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). On this first day of the week, are you showing fervor to Jesus as did Mary, Peter, and John on that first day of the week all those years ago? What does your life reveal? How much fervor do you honestly give unto the resurrected Lord? Do you need to come this morning and run to the tomb with fervor?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at Church of Christ Deer Park in Deer Park, Texas.