If you have been tracking with us over the course of the Lenten season, you know that we have been looking at the Gospel of John. Specifically we have been looking at seven supernatural occurrences around which John organizes his account of the life of Jesus. These occurrences are called signs because they are not random occurrences but because they point to something, namely Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah.
Today we come to the seventh, and final, sign.
This sign is the answer to the question we should all be asking: Who is Jesus? Ultimately, this sign is what convinced his followers. Without it, Jesus would have been nothing more than just another Jewish rabbi gone off the rails, just another wannabe messiah executed by Rome.
Jesus’ followers were fully expecting him to do exactly what every other dead person had ever done since the dawn of time: Stay dead. Put another way, nobody expected no body.
You see, the problem with Jesus was not with what he taught, or even with what he did. It was what he claimed about himself. He simply claimed too much. And in the end it had all been exposed as a big fat lie. You don’t crucify the Resurrection and the Life. You don’t execute God’s Messiah, whom the Jews had been awaiting for centuries. You don’t put the Son of Man to death.
Clearly Jesus was not who he claimed to be. Like the other disciples, John did not expect a crucifixion and resurrection. He expected a king.
So we pick up our story from last week. After Lazarus, so many Jews were hyped for what was to come. A groundswell of support was building. That had been an undeniable act of God, and now many people were believing in Jesus. Problem: too many. Jesus’ enemies were taking notice, and they had had enough.
As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, the crowds know he is coming and are buzzing with anticipation. The city is full of spies. It is full of fans. It is full of patriotic zeal. Passover was coming, the annual commemoration of God liberating the Jews from slavery to Egypt. The Jews were hoping for a second Passover, when God would liberate the Jews from Rome. This had to be it.
Jesus comes into the city and is greeted by throngs of fans chanting Hosanna. It gets political real quick.
Jesus moves all around the city, teaching, preaching. The religious leaders are watching, waiting, hoping for their chance to get Jesus separated from the crowds and hatch their nefarious plans. Judas loses patience and sells out to the chief priests. He goes off and does his deal with them.
Jesus celebrates his final Passover with his disciples, and in the process, increases their expectations. He announces a brand new covenant, in his blood–which must have weirded everyone out who was in the room. The terms and conditions of this new covenant are very simple. You know them. Love one another. Jesus is about to do something for the nation, except that this is going to go much farther than just the nation. It is going to be for the whole world.
They leave. Judas does his thing. Jesus is arrested and taken to the high priest. They go to Pilate because they want Jesus executed quick. Pilate wants nothing to do with him. They insist. Pilate gives in, thinking that if he has Jesus beaten and released that will satisfy them. It doesn’t. No, they insist, he must die.
So Pilate gives in. They take Jesus away and crucify him. No other details are recorded because none are needed. Once you’ve seen a crucifixion or the aftermath thereof, you can’t unsee it.
John records Jesus’ last words: John, take care of Mom. In the midst of all this John inserts this comment: “The man who saw it (that would be John) has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.” (John 19:35) On the face of it, this seems unnecessary. But John is not referring to what just happened. He is talking about what is about to happen, because that part may be tough.
Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body. You can’t bury a crucified person unless you bribe someone. Nicodemus comes with Joseph and they hastily remove Jesus’ body from the cross and place it in his tomb. They did all this because they were fully expecting Jesus to do what every other dead person has ever done: Stay dead.
They hurriedly prep the body, because the Sabbath is coming. They leave. John and Peter disappear into the city. We don’t know where they went or what they did. But wherever they were, they were surely having conversations to the effect of “Well, that’s three years of our life that we’ll never get back.”
Early Sunday morning, there is a knock at the door. Roman soldiers? No, couldn’t be. Roman soldiers don’t knock. It’s Mary Magdalene. She is panicked and sobbing. They’ve taken Jesus and nobody knows where they’ve put him. She did not assume a resurrection. She assumed a stolen body.
Peter and John feel the urgency of the situation and take off running. John beats Peter to the tomb (Peter was surely dead by the time John gave his account so he felt safe including that detail) but does not go in. Why? Because it’s dark. Because it’s a tomb. He wasn’t going in there. Peter catches up and goes charging into the tomb. Why? Because he’s Peter. That’s what Peter does. He’s always saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.
And there in the tomb, Peter sees the strangest thing: Strips of linen just lying there on the ground, with the headcloth all rolled up off to the side. Grave robbers would not stop to disembalm a body, so Peter is convinced. John goes into the tomb. He sees and believes. That is his formula throughout his account: Seeing leads to believing which leads to trusting.
This changed everything for them. Everything Jesus said was true and could be trusted. Eventually they would see the risen Jesus himself and there would be conversations. John focuses on one in particular, with the disciples and Thomas. Thomas was not present the first time around and would not believe it, and consequently got tagged with the nickname “Doubting Thomas”. But Thomas did exactly as you or I would have done in those circumstances.
John closes with an invitation: Believe and trust. “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” (John 20:31). Why? Because of what happened that morning.