The Resurrection: Reality, Relevance, And Response

John 20:1-28 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. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “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.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”


Happy Easter, Grace Church! It is the great hope of all mankind that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! Every promise of God is “yes” in Jesus because of the empty tomb. Truly, the fate of all of humanity literally hinges on our response to the resurrection. For all those reasons, preaching on Easter is one of the most emotionally conflicting experiences of my year, every year. The best term I’ve heard to describe it is “glad gravity”. There is an unparalleled weight—gravity—attached to the responsibility of heralding this message—getting it right and sharing it with an appropriate, God-honoring heart and delivery. And at the exact same time, there is an unparalleled joy—gladness—that comes with the absolute conviction that it is true and the great privilege of being the one to tell you about it. Glad gravity. I hope you all experience that as well. I hope this sermon helps you appreciate both the heaviness and wonder of this day and then launches you out into the world to live in light of it and tell the world this good news. To those ends, we’ll consider the reality, relevance, and right response to the resurrection.


One of the most important aspects of Easter is the fact that it is a historical event. It really happened. The Gospels tell the truth about the facts of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. It is not a metaphor or a parable or a spiritual lesson. Settling on the reality of the resurrection is a key to any right response. Biblically, there are four aspects of the fact of the resurrection that I want to draw your attention to: It was planned eternally, promised consistently, endured willingly, and happened historically.

Planned Eternally

There are many passages in the Bible that speak to the fact that God’s plan of salvation—including the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus—was established before the world was made. We see this in the promise of salvation in passages like Ephesians 1:4 which says that God “chose us in [Jesus] before the foundation of the world. And in passages like 2 Timothy 1:9, “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began…”

We also see it in passages that speak directly of God’s plan of resurrection through Jesus from before time. Consider 1 Peter 1:20-21, “[Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” Likewise, Ephesians 3:9-11 says, “[God] created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The first point for us to see as we consider the reality of the resurrection is that it was not an afterthought of God or one of several options He had at His disposal. The resurrection was God’s plan to save the world from all eternity. We tend to plan most for the most important things in life. The resurrection and all that was accomplished through it is one of the most important events in history and so God planned it before history.

Promised Constantly

And because the resurrection was a part of God’s eternal plan, it should be no surprise that the Bible contains many promises of the resurrection. There are a number of OT hints and types, but the clearest examples come from Jesus Himself who spoke often of the certainty, goodness, and divine origin of His death and resurrection.

One of the clearest is found in a passage we saw earlier in John, 2:18-22. “So the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’ 19 Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ 20 The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”

Likewise, in Mark 8:31 we read that Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

And not long before His actual resurrection, “As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18 ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day’” (Matthew 20:17-19).

The reality of the resurrection is such that it was planned eternally and promised constantly. Jesus spent a good deal of time preparing His followers for what was to come because it was going to be the most significant act of love ever performed, but in the most unexpected way.

Endured Willingly

It was also endured willingly by Jesus. In addition to the passages we just saw, in which Jesus spoke of His crucifixion and resurrection as something He knew was certain and good, there are two passages in particular that speak directly to His willingness to be crucified in order that He might also rise.

The first is Hebrews 12:2. There we read that “for the joy that was set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame”. And the second is Matthew 26:39: “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’”

There are others, but these two perfectly capture the universal, biblical teaching that Jesus willingly, even lovingly and gladly, followed the Father’s long-promised plan into His crucifixion and resurrection for the salvation of the world. Praise Him for this, Grace. We do not have a reluctant, co-opted Savior. In Jesus, we have a Savior who perfectly knew what awaited Him physically, and even more significantly, spiritually, in the forsaking of the Father; and yet for the joy set before Him willingly endured for your sake and mine, and for all who would receive Him in faith. Would you receive Him in faith today, the One who conquered death invites you to share in that victory?!

Happened Historically

Finally, again, the Christian claim is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical fact. The Bible simply leaves no room for a merely symbolic, metaphorical, spiritual, or otherwise ahistorical resurrection. Jesus actually, bodily, suffered, died, and rose from the dead. The Apostle Paul declares that these are not trivial issues or technical, theological matters. He calls them matters of “first importance.” If we get this wrong, we lose everything. In 1 Corinthians 15, he wrote,

3 I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures [That’s our cue to listen up. What does Paul consider a matter of first importance?!], 4 that [Jesus] was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

As a matter of historical record…According to His own words, Jesus’ whole life moved toward His death and resurrection. They were set in motion on Palm Sunday when He entered Jerusalem during Passover week and finally and fully presented Himself as the Christ. They were held at bay until the proper time as Jesus left Jerusalem each evening and went to Bethany, the town where He’d raised Lazarus from the dead. On Thursday night, Maundy Thursday, for the first time, Jesus stayed in Jerusalem because His time had finally come. The Bible is clear that this was part of God’s plan. Therefore, He was not caught off guard by His betrayal at the hands of Judas, His arrest at the conspiratorial hand of the Jewish and Roman leaders, His sham trials, His denial by Peter, or even His torture and crucifixion. These events are as well documented as any events—and far more than most—from the ancient world.

The God-man, Jesus of Nazareth, died on Friday afternoon, was taken down from the cross, and buried that same day in a tomb purchased by Joseph of Arimathea. For fear that Jesus’ disciples might steal Jesus’ body and falsely claim that He rose from the dead, the Jewish leaders convinced Pilate to set a Roman guard to protect the tomb. Jesus remained dead and buried all day on Saturday. And then, on Sunday, the third day, just has He had been planned eternally, promised continually, endured willingly, the resurrection happened historically. Jesus conquered sin, defeated death, and rose from the dead. In His new and everlasting resurrection body, Jesus appeared to hundreds, including the eleven, His broader followers, and even strangers and enemies. This was further proof of the reality of the resurrection.

And make no mistake, the historicity of the resurrection is no technical or trivial matter. Our entire faith rises and falls on it. This fact is beautifully and passionately attested to by the Apostle Paul as he concludes His resurrection thoughts to the Corinthian Christians with this: If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead!


I hope it’s easy to see that if Jesus had not risen from the dead, it would have invalidated much of the Bible’s teachings, including Jesus’ own words. In that sense alone, the relevance of the resurrection ought to be clear. At the same time, however, the resurrection is relevant for many, many more positive reasons as well.

Several years ago, the relevance of the resurrection was the entire subject of my Easter sermon. In it, I listed twelve biblical benefits of the resurrection. You might want to go back and look if you’d like all twelve. This morning, though, I only want to mention four to help you see why the resurrection matters. Apart from these things, it might seem kind of cool, but more like a party trick than a significant part of our salvation. As I hope you’ll see, far from a party trick, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead provides some staggering blessings for everyone who receives it in faith.

The resurrection proved that Jesus truly was the Son of God

Jesus made some fantastic claims about Himself. Among the most shocking was His claim to be the very Son of God (Matthew 27:43; John 10:36). I suppose anyone could make a claim like that, but what could you possibly do to back it up? Well, how about rising from the dead?! Romans 1:4 tells us that Jesus, “was declared to be the Son of God in power…by his resurrection from the dead.” Jesus’ resurrection proved that He was who He said He was. And that’s great news because it means everything else He said and did is worthy of trust and praise.

Living hope and new birth come through the resurrection

In 1 Peter 1:3, Peter paints an unbelievably beautiful picture of the new life that God grants His people through the new life of Jesus. It really is a remarkable verse. It reminds us that we are born spiritually dead and that our only hope for spiritual life is to be born again. Peter tells us that this second birth is connected to Jesus’ resurrection. According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). Oh, what grace is ours through the resurrection of Jesus! The second birth we need and the living hope we receive from it comes “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” How’s that for good news?!

The resurrection guarantees that there will be no condemnation for those in Christ

More still, the resurrection of Jesus means that all who have faith in Jesus will never be condemned again. Paul writes, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised… (Rom. 8:34). Much of the end of Romans 8 describes the contrasts between life in Christ and life out of Christ. In Christ, since God is for us, nothing in the entire universe can successfully stand against us. In Christ, since God gave us His highest treasure—His own Son—we are guaranteed that He will never withhold any lesser treasure. In Christ, since God has already declared us “not guilty”, we know that no lesser charge can hold up. And, in Christ, since Jesus died and rose again to cleanse us of all our sin, nothing and no one can successfully condemn us before God. Do you feel the weight of your sin? Have you experienced brokenness and hardship? The resurrection is the good news that there will never be condemnation for those who are in Christ.

Jesus’ resurrection means that death is dead and Christians will rise with Jesus

Finally, the resurrection of Jesus is also good news in that it means that Christians will be raised from the dead with Jesus! In 2 Corinthians 4 we read, “[We know] that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence” (4:14). Similarly, Romans 6 says, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (6:5).

Grace, the good news of the resurrection of Jesus is that death is dead! Jesus’ death defeated death (2 Timothy 1:10). Easter is death’s funeral. Therefore, since He defeated it, it was impossible for death to keep Jesus and those in Him (Acts 2:24). And that means that for Christians it is not death to die. Jesus’ resurrection definitively proved these things. Grace, because of Jesus’ resurrection and all it secured, we too will certainly rise from the dead into new and everlasting life, in the perfect presence and unending blessing of God. For us, physical and spiritual death will never meet!


We’ve seen the reality and relevance of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. To have grasped these things in even the smallest, most child-like manner, is to demand that we ask, “What should we do in response to this spectacular news?!” Since all this is true, what does that mean? What kind of response does this call for? Let’s consider the response of those who first found the empty tomb.

Jesus’ First Followers

  1. Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John ran. Mary ran to tell the others when she discovered that Jesus’ body was gone (1-2). Peter and John ran to see for themselves (3-4). In their excitement and confusion, walking wouldn’t do.
  2. John and Peter investigated. Not entirely sure what to make of the fact that Jesus was missing, John went into some detail about the investigation he and Peter undertook. They didn’t know if they should go into the tomb at first. They saw Jesus’ burial cloths lying there and eventually went in to look more carefully. Mary joined them in a bit, but none of them knew quite what was going on “for” according to v.9, ” as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
  3. Mary wept. When Mary got back (apparently, she was not as fast as Peter and John), still taking it all in, she broke out in tears. V.11 says “Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.” Again, probably overwhelmed with a mixture of fear and hope, Mary couldn’t hold back tears.
  4. Not only was Mary sad, she was also confused. While she was at the empty tomb Jesus appeared before her in His glorified body and she didn’t even recognize Him. She mistook Him for the gardener and said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
  5. Mary clung to Jesus. Once Jesus enabled her to recognize Him, however, she threw her arms around Him. Filled with joy and wonder, she clung to Him.
  6. Mary proclaimed the good news to the rest of the disciples. At Jesus’ command, Mary left Jesus and went back to the others to let them know, “I have seen the Lord”!
  7. The disciples were gradually glad. A bit after sending Mary to tell the disciples, Jesus came to them as well. “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” As John recounts this interaction, he gives the impression that it took a bit for the disciples to make sense of what they were seeing, but “then” eventually, “the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”
  8. While ten were relatively quickly won over, one, Thomas, who was not there when Jesus first appeared to the disciples, remained skeptical. In the famous line he said, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
  9. Eventually, however, Thomas believed. When Jesus finally appeared to him and allowed Thomas to see His scars, “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”

The point for us isn’t necessarily to run or investigate or weep or doubt or any of these things. John simply tells us what the disciples did, not necessarily what they should have done. The point, rather, is that the empty tomb necessitates that we do something! Grace, we simply cannot understand it and be indifferent to it or casual about it.

Perhaps you noticed that even though the disciples still didn’t fully grasp its significance (and wouldn’t until the Spirit indwelled them), they understood enough to know that the resurrection necessitated a response beyond the ordinary. This is anything but a normal event and so it requires anything but a normal response. To read the Gospel accounts of their responses is to feel the disciples’ urgency, amazement, confusion, desperation, hope, and awe. Until you’ve felt those things with them, you too are still searching for the true meaning of the resurrection. As we consider our proper response to the resurrection, then, we must pray that God would help us make sure it is in proper proportion to the significance of the resurrection.

Jesus’ Followers Today

How, then, should we respond to the resurrection? That’s the great call of the Christian life. Every one of us are living between resurrections—Jesus’ and ours. Let me close by suggesting five familiar ways we might respond to all of this.

  1. Pray. Truly understanding, appreciating, and responding to the resurrection is a gift from God. Pray earnestly and ask God to fill you with a true understanding of what happened and what it means. Ask Him to fill you with appropriate awe and wonder. Ask Him to fill you with the kind of focus and courage only the resurrection can provide. Ask Him to give you the kind of love that He showed to you in sending Jesus to die and rise for you.
  2. Read the Bible. The whole Bible, and the NT in particular, is primarily a description of the ways God means us to respond to the Good News, the gospel, of Jesus’ resurrection. It is not up to us to decide how God means us to live in light of the resurrection. It is not up to us to decide the proper response. God has graciously told us all He requires of us. A right response to the resurrection, therefore, means expectantly reading the Bible through that lens. Let me encourage you to commit to prayerfully scouring the Bible, by yourself and with others, for all the ways it describes life in the wake and power of the resurrection; and then with the Spirit’s help, live like that!
  3. Praise God. Above all, consider all the Bible says about the reality, relevance, and right response of the resurrection and praise God for it. Worship God. Praise Him in the highest. He deserves all glory and praise, and there are few places that’s seen more clearly than in the resurrection. Praise Him in prayer, music, art, obedience, and in all of your life. As God grants you genuine awe at the empty tomb, turn that back to God in worship.
  4. Tell someone. Don’t keep this good news to yourself. Tell someone today and tomorrow and until Jesus returns. More than any athletic victory, academic reward, financial windfall, work promotion, physical healing, or any other good news, share this greatest news, with greatest urgency and joy, with the whole world.
  5. Finally, live with focused confidence. The reality and relevance of the resurrection, more than anything else, fixes our eyes on the things that truly matter and fills us with confidence that victory is certain. Because death is dead, we have perfect purpose—to glorify God by making disciples of all nations. And because death is dead, we have perfect confidence—that to live is Christ and to die is gain. This enables us to live in gladness and freedom and love and hope regardless of our circumstances or how others respond.


Before we turn all of this back to God in musical worship, let me remind you of one more thing. None of us rightly understands, appreciates, or responds to the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. None of us ever have or will on this earth. By God’s grace, we will grow in this, but none of us will get fully there in this life. The fact of the matter is this: Easter is a reminder that we are never accepted by God because of what we have done, even as we are never acceptable to God because of what we do. You can’t get your resurrection response dialed in enough earn God’s favor. Instead, the resurrection is an eternal declaration that Jesus did for us what God requires of us. While we were dead in our trespasses and sins, Jesus lived in perfect obedience, died in our place, and then rose from the dead to give us everlasting life. We gain access to that not by our works—the flesh is of no help at all—but by trusting that Jesus alone is sufficient—and His resurrection from the dead declares that in power!