Going Away Empty-hearted: Part 1 of 2

by John Lowe
(Laurens, SC)

7 October 2005

John 20:1-20:18


Let me start out with a situation for you this morning. Every day, a gentleman went to work. Every day, he would ride the elevator all the way to the bottom floor of the high rise apartment building that he lived in. But when he came home from work, he would ride the elevator back up to only the 6th floor. Then, he would take the stairs to his apartment many stories higher in the building. He did this every day, unless it was raining. If it was raining, he would ride the elevator all the way to the floor of his apartment. Why?

Here’s another one to think about. Ann is lying on the floor dead. There’s broken glass and water all around her. Stuart is asleep on the couch seemingly oblivious to the death that has occurred. How did Ann die?

Did you ever play those kinds of mind games where you are presented with a scene, and you have to figure out what happened to make that scene the way that it is by asking questions that can only be answered with a “yes” or “no”?

Just so that you won’t be trying to figure those out the rest of the morning instead of listening to what our main topic is today, I’ll tell you the answers to them. In the first one, the reason the gentleman would only go the 6th floor on his return home from work was because that was the highest button that he could reach on the elevator control panel. He was a short man. On days that it rained, he had his umbrella with him, and he could use that to punch the button that indicated his floor.

In the second situation, it might help you to know that Ann is a fish, and Stuart is a cat. And the glass and water all around Ann on the floor is from her fishbowl that Stuart successfully knocked over.

Let’s try one more. On Friday night, a man dies. He is buried on that same night. On Sunday morning, some friends of his arrive at the tomb where he was buried to pay their last respects only to discover that his body is gone. What happened? That’s the situation that we’re going to look at this morning. Let’s read vs. 1-2 of John 20.

1 Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
2 Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

Early in the morning, a group of at least 5 women approached the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid. There had not been sufficient time after His crucifixion to properly prepare Him for His burial. As they got closer, suddenly a thought occurred to them: “Who is going to roll away that huge stone from the door of the cave?” (Mk 16:3) But in spite of the obstacle, they kept on going. When they got to the tomb, they found a scene that they did not expect. They found the soldiers that guarded the tomb lying on the ground, looking very much like they were dead. (Mt. 28:4) But more amazing than that, they found the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb. (Mt. 28:2 – an angel rolled it away)

So they walked past the guards and entered the tomb where Jesus body had been placed. When they got there, they found the body gone! Suddenly, two angels appeared and proclaimed to them that Jesus had arisen! The angels told them to go and tell His disciples, so that is exactly what they did. (Lk 24:4-6) When they got there, they caught their breath for a moment, and then they began to excitedly tell all that they had seen and heard.

But the men didn’t believe them. It sounded like a bunch of gibberish to them! (Lk 24:11) Guards that seemed to be dead…the stone rolled away…men in bright clothing…Jesus alive?! None of it made any sense. But the message was intriguing enough to provoke two of Jesus’ disciples, John and Peter, to go to the tomb to see for themselves. So John, Peter, and Mary Magdalene head off to the tomb to see for themselves if they can figure out this mysterious occurrence that had happened that day. There was an empty tomb. No one doubted that part of the women’s story. But what they needed to decide for themselves was why it was empty and what it all meant. That’s the same thing that you must decide. We all agree that there is an empty tomb. You wouldn’t be here today if you didn’t believe that. But the question is how you are going to respond to that empty tomb. How is it going to affect your life? Three different people came to the tomb that day, and each one responded in a different way.


The first to arrive at the tomb was John. The Bible says:

3 Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.
4 So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.
5 And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.

When John heard the news, he jumped up and ran with all his might to get to the tomb. He wanted to believe. He loved Jesus. Of all the disciples, he had been the most faithful. He had been in the courtyard when Jesus was interrogated and sentenced to die. He had been at the foot of the cross when Jesus hung there dying. He had willingly taken Jesus’ mother into his home to care for her. He was so excited about the possibility that Jesus might actually be alive that he ran faster than he ever had before. But when he got to the tomb, he did not go in. He looked inside and saw some of what Mary had said was there, but he stayed outside. Maybe he stayed outside because he had to catch his breath after the long run. Maybe he stayed outside because he was afraid.

What if Mary was wrong and Jesus’ body had been moved to another part of the graveyard? He didn’t want to see Jesus all mangled from the torture of the beating and the cross. What if once he and Peter were inside the tomb, guards who had been hiding suddenly appeared? It could be that this was all an elaborate trap set up by the Roman officials. They’d take Jesus’ body away to lure the disciples there. Once the disciples arrived, they’d arrest them and say that they caught them trying to steal the body of Jesus to make it look like Jesus had risen from the dead. After a few minutes, Peter arrived at the tomb.

6 Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie,
7 And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.
8 Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre,

Brazen Peter walked right in without the slightest hesitancy. He saw everything just as Mary had said. The linen that had covered Jesus’ body was all neatly lying in place – like Jesus’ body had just dematerialized from inside the clothing. When Peter arrived and entered the tomb, John figured that it must be ok to enter, so he went in too. They both saw all the evidence, but they had different responses to the evidence. The Bible says: and he saw, and believed. (9) For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.

John saw and believed. The empty grave was enough evidence for him that what the other women had said was true. Jesus really had risen from the dead! John didn’t need to see Jesus to know that Jesus was alive. He had heard Jesus’ prophecies about His coming death and resurrection, and now, here was the empty tomb. It was enough.

There are many people like John here today. We believe because there is an empty tomb, and because there is the testimony of Christians through the centuries to the fact that Jesus is alive. We don’t need to see to believe. We join with John in being the ones who Jesus spoke of only a few verses later in this same chapter when He said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:29). John reacted to the empty tomb with belief.


Then there was Peter. Peter was a little slower than John to arrive at the tomb. Maybe it was because John was younger than Peter. Or maybe it was because all those years of fishing had given Peter arthritis of the knee and back. Or maybe it was because he too was afraid of what he might find. He wasn’t afraid of soldiers so much. He had whacked off the ear of one of them when they tried to take Jesus.

Peter wanted to see Jesus, but there was a part of him that dreaded the idea. The last time that he had looked into the eyes of Jesus was just after Peter had denied Him. If Peter saw Jesus, he knew he was going to be confronted with his sin and guilt. He wasn’t sure that he could handle that. Peter’s vision was clouded by the pain that he felt over his past. He wanted Jesus to be alive, but he didn’t know how he was going to be able to face Him.

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