Easter Week 3 – John 20:1-18
This isn’t the case for everyone, but the resurrection might be old hat to you. Like many other things about our faith, overwhelming familiarity with the concepts and stories of the Bible can make us less astounded than we really should be. It might take some work to make the resurrection fresh again in your group discussion, but it’s worth paying attention to. Upon Jesus’ resurrection stands every hope the Christian has for this life and the next. Paul says it this way: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.”(1 Cor. 15:17)
This week we’ll look at the initial discovery of the empty tomb, the reactions of Peter and John, and in particular, Jesus’ appearance to Mary. The first people on the scene of Jesus’ resurrection were female disciples (indicated in John 20:2 when Mary says, “we”; see note below about the Marys). This has some important takeaways, which we’ll get to in a moment. After these women leave and Peter and John come and go, we get to witness Jesus’ incredible compassion and tenderness towards Mary Magdalene. Now, Mary and the other women came to the tomb that day fully prepared to mourn and complete Jesus’ burial rites. At the disappearance of his body, they only assumed someone had taken it; with Jesus’ enemies, someone certainly could have had motives for disposing of his body dishonorably. If you can, try to feel what Mary felt, still grieving Jesus’ gruesome death, now weeping in his tomb over the theft of his body, when she heard him call her name. Imagine her heart leaping at a hope she had never thought to harbor, the realization of an impossible reality. As we read this account we get, as Tolkein put it, a glimpse of joy beyond the walls of the world. This is the hope of the resurrection.
As mentioned, Mary and the women with here were the first witnesses to the evidence of the resurrection. When Jesus appeared to Mary he then made her the first person to be witness to his resurrection by telling her to go and inform the apostles. These elements of Jesus’ resurrection are remarkable; in the first century, the testimony of a woman was thought to be unreliable. It was legally inadmissible in a courtroom. Furthermore, women were perceived as second-class citizens. They were unworthy of the honor that Jesus gave them here. But in the face of these cultural edicts Jesus gave these women the most precious news. This is the upside-down Kingdom, where God utilizes what the world calls weakness in order to shame what the world calls strength. As much as we are focusing on the resurrection of Jesus and the hope that brings us, we really should pause to see God’s heart towards women in this passage. It was worth Jesus’ time to include women in his resurrection story, so it’s worth ours.
In our discussion we’ll also look at Jesus’ appearance to Thomas. This is primarily so we can see how Jesus deals with skepticism towards his resurrection, and reassures us today who were not eye witnesses that we are even more blessed to not see and yet believe. This is often a hard truth to accept for believers; it’s easy to think the disciples had it easier than us, getting to see Jesus themselves. But that’s not what Jesus thinks.
Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that Jesus specifically calls the disciples his “brothers” in verse 17. Remember, just a few days ago these men had entirely abandoned him. And yet here Jesus calls them his brothers. Jesus only directly calls the disciples his brothers twice in the Gospels, here and in Matthew 28:10, also after his resurrection. In his resurrection there are new realities for the Christian, and through the work of redemption we now have access both to the Father and to him as our perfect Elder Brother.
Questions for Discussion
• How have your Easter celebrations gone? What do you feel like you’ve learned this Easter season?
• Can someone read John 20:1-18 for us?
• What stood out to you from the passage?
• How did Peter and John react to finding the empty tomb?
• What can we learn about Jesus from his interaction with Mary?
• Could someone read verses 24-29?
• How does the resurrection lead us to worship Jesus just like Thomas did?
• What role do you think Jesus’ resurrection plays in the daily life of a believer?
There are a bunch of Marys in the Gospels (four to be exact), so it’s tricky to keep them separate. As you can guess, Mary was a really common name in Jesus’ day; supposedly one in five women in first-century Palestine was named Mary! With all the Marys out there you can see why some of the ones below were identified by their home town, such as Mary of Bethany, or their family relations, such as Mary the wife of Clopas.
So, the resurrection accounts of the four Gospels (Matt. 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, & John 20), it seems as though the women who visited Jesus’ tomb were:
- Mary Magdalene, who Jesus healed from demon possession in Luke 8:2 (and who was not, in fact, the same woman who washed his feet with perfume in Luke 7:36-50)
- Mary the mother of James and Joseph/Joses, who is likely also the “other Mary” of Matthew 27:61 and “Mary the wife of Clopas” from John 19:25
- Salome, the mother of the two apostles, James and John (who is also Jesus’ aunt, cf.John 19:25)
- Some unknown additional women are also possible.
So that’s two of the four Marys in the Gospels; the other two are Jesus’ mother and Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus (who is sometimes confused with Mary Magdalene). Thus there were three Marys at the foot of the cross in John 19:25, Jesus’ mother, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene, and at least two Marys at the tomb on Easter morning.