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John 20-21: Believe and Bear Witness Print E-mail
Easter Season
Sunday, 16 April 2017

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Mark Johnston in his study through the gospel of John writes: “‘Faith’ must be one of the most vacuous and slippery terms in the vocabulary of religion.”1 What he means is that we throw the term ‘faith’ around a lot without much meaning or significance. We have ‘faith’ in all sorts of things: our cars to get us to work, our retirement funds to be enough, our favorite sports’ team to win the Series. But Johnston says that we even do this when it comes to religion. We put our ‘faith’ in our favorite preacher or author, our favorite church or organization, even faith itself at times. Often faith is very broad: ‘I just believe in God,’ or ‘in a Higher Power.’ So let me ask you a question this morning about your religious faith: what do you believe? Where does your faith rest?

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The Gospel of John was written for the sake of faith. But it was not written for vague faith. John writes for a particular faith. Look at 20:30-31. John wrote this book for you to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Promised Savior of the world, and that through faith in Him you would have eternal life. He wrote to tell you what Jesus did to save you from your sins. On Friday, we talked about His evidence for the crucifixion of Jesus. This morning we are considering His recounting of the resurrection. And make no mistake about it, you must have faith in the resurrection of Jesus to have eternal life. No one is saved believing in a dead savior. As we look at a few themes from John’s telling of the resurrection, I challenge you to be asking yourself: ‘Do I have faith in the resurrection? Do I believe in the good news of the gospel?’ Let’s look at three themes of the resurrection from John 20-21.


John tells us that Jesus appeared to people after His resurrection. For John, this is strong evidence for the truthfulness of what he is claiming. So who does Jesus appear to in John?

First, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene. She is the first to find the empty tomb and she reports back to Peter and John. Jesus then appears to her. Look at verses 11-16. The empty tomb only left Mary weeping over Jesus’ death. She thought someone had taken or stolen His body. But surely the appearance of the angels had her wondering what was going on. Yet, before she could think too much, she realizes that someone is behind her at the tomb. John tells us that it was Jesus, but that Mary could not recognize Him. This highlights the fact that Jesus’ resurrection body is different, as Paul tells us ours will be (see 1 Corinthians 15:35ff), but that He is still Jesus. Mary realizes this when He speaks her name. How amazing to have the resurrected Lord call you by name!

We might ask at this point: why Mary? Mary had two strikes against her for being a witness to Jesus’ resurrection. First, she was a woman and her testimony was not even accepted in many of the courts of the day. Second, she had a sordid past, being identified as a former prostitute. This is the first person that the Lord of the universe, Conqueror of the grave, chose to reveal Himself to. What can we learn from this? It is evidence that John is not making up the story. If the disciples were trying to bolster belief in the resurrection by inventing facts, they probably would not have started with Mary as the first witness. The fact that she is indicates that they are simply reporting the truth. We also see in this that Jesus came for the marginalized and for sinners. What a loving Savior we serve. He is not fooled by the powerful and the paparazzi. He loves the lowly. He loves sinners like you and me!

Next, Jesus appears to the disciples. John records three appearances to the disciples even though many others took place. First, He appears to them on the day of His resurrection. Look at verses 19-20. Again, notice that He was different: He could walk through locked doors. Yet, He was the same Jesus who died on the cross, for He showed them His scars. Since Thomas was not present at this appearance, Jesus appears to them again a week later. Look at verse 26. We will look more at this appearance in a moment. The third appearance that John records for us is found in chapter 21. He tells of Jesus helping the disciples catch a load of fish and sharing a meal with them. In all of these appearances we see eyewitnesses coming in contact with the living Lord. As we see in the book of Acts, their lives were radically changed by the Risen Savior. John records these appearances so that we too would believe and be transformed. 


John did not write his Gospel to make us smart or entertain us. He wasn’t trying to sell copies or win awards. He wrote so that we would believe. He wants us to believe in the resurrection and be changed by the empty tomb just like he was. As we said, Mary is the first to make it to the empty tomb. When she tells Peter and John, they go to see for themselves. John is younger so he outruns Peter, but he hesitates at the tomb. Bold Peter does not hesitate and John eventually follows him in. And what do they see? An empty tomb! Look at verse 6. John notes that Jesus’ grave-clothes were still there, which points to a couple of truths. First it is evidence that Jesus’ body was not stolen because robbers would not have left the grave-clothes behind. Second, it contrasts with the resurrection of Lazarus, who needed help to get out of his grave-clothes (see 11:44). This indicates that Jesus was raised to eternal life, unlike Lazarus who would later die again. He had a new body and a new existence as the firstborn from the grave. How does this impact John? Look at verses 8-10. The empty tomb was enough to convince John that Jesus was no longer dead. He is still growing in his understanding of everything that is happening. But the empty tomb was powerful evidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God!

Another episode that emphasizes the importance of belief is Jesus’ appearance to Thomas. Look at verses 24-25. Maybe you are like Thomas this morning. Maybe you feel like you need more evidence, more assurance. Maybe you can sympathize with his doubt. If that is you, then look what happens next. Look at verses 26-27. Jesus comes to Thomas and goes right after his doubt. The Lord obviously knew what was keeping him from believing so He tells him to reach out and touch the scars. And then He tells him, in a loving, but firm way: ‘Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Jesus is saying to Thomas: ‘I understand your struggles, but the time for doubting is over. Behold and believe.’ Perhaps Jesus is saying that to you this morning. Maybe He is gently, but firmly, calling to you: ‘Give up on your doubt and believe.’ If that is you then I encourage you to respond like Thomas. Look at verses 28-29. In one sense, this is the climax of the entire Gospel. Jesus is Lord and Jesus is God. He has died for our sins and been raised from the dead. The only faithful response is to agree with Thomas: Jesus is my Lord and my God! Will you believe like that? Will you turn from your sins and follow Him?


One other theme to note in John’s telling of the resurrection is the call to mission. Jesus gave Mary the mission to go and tell the disciples. Look at 20:17-18. She became the first witness to the resurrection. But not the last! Jesus also sends the disciples. Look at 20:21-23. When Jesus appears to the disciples He tells them that He is sending them on mission. He breathes on them and speaks of the coming Spirit, which is probably a symbolic act foreshadowing Pentecost. He tells them that they have authority to forgive sins, which points to the power of the gospel that they share. The only way that sins can be truly forgiven is through faith in the good news that the disciples will share. But they can be forgiven! Believe in their witness. Believe in the witness of John and be forgiven of your sins today! Peter is sent on mission too. Jesus speaks with him in chapter 21. Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him three times. Of course the significance of this is that Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times. After each time Peter tells Jesus that He loves Him, Jesus tells Him to be on mission. He tells him to feed and take care of His sheep, which implies pastoral ministry over the flock of God. We see Peter carrying out this mission in the book of Acts. The call for Jesus’ followers is to be a witness to His resurrection. You are either obeying this call by telling others the glorious good news of His death and resurrection, or you are not following Jesus faithfully, perhaps not at all. True belief in the Risen Savior will lead to faithful witness, through our lives and our lips.

So then, does John’s evidence of Jesus’ death and resurrection convince you? Are you ready to believe? Are you ready to turn from your sins, trusting in His sacrifice at the cross, and follow hard after Jesus? Just saying you believe is not enough. True belief will change a man. Just look at Peter and John in Acts. So what about you? Will you let go of your doubts and say with Thomas: ‘Jesus is my Lord and my God!’ The time for doubting is over. Repent and believe today! Join with us in the glorious mission of bearing witness to Jesus’ resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Amen.

1 Mark Johnston, Let’s Study John (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2003), p. 257.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Friday, 28 April 2017 )

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