The RaisedRev. Philip Miller | July 25, 2021
Selected highlights from this sermon
Cognitive dissonance is the result of an intellectual contradiction. In other words, when your tidy framework of reality is suddenly unsettled by unexpected facts, and you start to see the world differently.
Resurrection morning created a massive amount of cognitive dissonance for disciples. Pastor Miller shows us three curious moments that the apostle John highlights from resurrection morning. Let’s meditate on them so that we might understand the significance of our resurrected Jesus.
I was in college when I first heard the phrase, “cognitive dissonance.” Cognitive dissonance is the influx of intellectual disequilibrium. It’s when the tidy framework of reality that you have is suddenly unsettled, disrupted by unexpected facts, and everything changes. You start to see the world differently, or to use more common language, it’s when your mind gets blown, right?
Whenever cognitive dissonance occurs, we usually respond in one of two ways. The first way is we get defensive. You know, “Impossible. That can’t be. That’s not real.” And so we double down on our assumptions, on our framework, and we ignore reality and it ends up stunting our growth, right, intellectually? Or the other response, instead of being defensive, is we can be curious. Curious. Curious is one of the few neutral emotions. Curiosity says, “Wait, wait, wait! What? What? Is there—I can’t believe that. What?” And you lean in into the dissonance and it leads to greater understanding, and ultimately the formulation of a more comprehensive understanding of reality. So curiosity is the key whenever there is cognitive dissonance.
Why do I bring this up? Well, because resurrection morning created a massive amount of cognitive dissonance for the disciples. No one saw this coming. No one was standing outside the tomb going, “Three, two, one—” Nobody. And not only did they not see it coming. At first, they couldn’t believe it.
Resurrection morning. The first resurrection morning was not full of trumpets and Easter lilies and bunnies and Cadbury eggs. No, resurrection was full of angst and cognitive dissonance and blown minds.
So as we open our Bibles now to John 20:1–18, you’ll find this reading in the blue pew Bible there on page 906. We are confronting a scene that is full of cognitive dissonance. And John, our author, is going to point out three curious moments that helped him understand what was happening. He wants us to meditate on these moments, these curious moments, that we might understand the significance of our resurrected Jesus, who is, as we’ll see in this passage, The Conscientious Guest, The Mistaken Gardener, and The Ascended Lord. These are your three buckets for this morning: The Conscientious Guest, The Mistaken Gardener, and The Ascended Lord.
Would you bow your heads and pray with me?
Heavenly Father, as we now turn to your Word, to this glorious morning where everything begins to change, help us change. Help us see Jesus in all of His glory. Help us be curious about this most radical event in all of history. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen. Amen.
First, The Conscientious Guest, the conscientious guest. John 20:1: “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. 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.’”
Now, what’s interesting is that in all four of our Gospel accounts, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, they all begin narrating this resurrection story with the same phrase that’s telling us that it was the first day of the week. It was Sunday morning. By Jewish reckoning this is even more significant because the Jewish calendar, the Jewish week, was oriented in reflection of creation from Genesis 1. The creation events took place Sunday through Friday in creation, days of creation, and the last day, the seventh day was a day of rest, the Sabbath. And the early Christians moved their observation of the holiest day of the week from Saturday to Sunday basically on the basis of the fact that that was the day that Jesus Christ rose again and started this whole new era of humanity.
But the point in this text here is there’s a hint of a dawn of a whole new creation. But at this point what we are basically saying is it’s just the first opportunity that Mary Magdalene had to come to the tomb. She’s been observing Sabbath and now she comes out into the light here. Mary Magdalene was a follower of Jesus Christ. He delivered her from severe demonic oppression. We know this from Luke 8:2. Her liberation by Jesus no doubt accounts for some of her affection and interest in being at Jesus’ tomb here on this Sunday morning.
The other Gospels mention that Mary Magdalene did not come alone. She came with some other women who were with her, but John here has just sort of cleared the field, simplified the account to zero in, focus in, on Mary’s personal experience with Jesus. And upon discovering that the tomb had been opened, the stone rolled away, Mary rushes now to tell Peter and John (This is John, our author who, as usual cloaks his name.) and she gives what she assumes is the only possible explanation of the day’s events. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
No doubt, Mary assumed that graverobbers had come and had stolen the body. This was not uncommon in the first century. People were often buried with valuables (rings and jewelry and things like that, personal effects) and so graverobbers would go in and they would get what they could from off the body. And the point is the body has disappeared, and the body is who knows where. They’ve ditched it somewhere.
Peter and John immediately head out for the tomb in what becomes a kind of foot race. It’s very fascinating. Verse 3, “So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.”
Now at the time of this account John was a relatively young man. Peter was middle aged, so it’s not really surprising that John outpaces Peter in this race to the tomb. John gets to the tomb. He stoops in, looking into this, probably a cave. He sees the linen cloths laying there that were used to wrap and bind the corpse, but he doesn’t go in.
“Then (verse 6) Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.”
Now, if John gets points for speed, Peter gets points for guts, right? Because graveyards are spooky places, yes? Can I get an amen? Yeah, and open tombs are even spookier. Right? But Peter, brave Peter, goes in and he sees. He sees the linens that John saw that were used to wrap the corpse, but then he sees something else. He sees the face cloth. It was folded up and off to one side. This is curious. I wonder what that’s all about.
Verse 8: “Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first—” (chuckles) This is the third time by the way, that John has mentioned that he outran Peter and reached the tomb first. Do you notice this? This is hilarious to me. When he’s writing, when John’s writing, he’s an old man. He’s an old man and he’s writing this, and he’s like, “Listen, I want to make sure for all of time everyone knows I beat Peter, so I’m going to put it in the Bible.” (laughs) How hilarious is that?
All right, so “Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.”
So John goes into the tomb now. Just like Peter, he follows him, and he sees something and believes, right? He sees and believes.
Well, it can’t be— What did he see? What did he see? It can’t be the linen cloths. He saw those earlier. What did he see? He saw the face cloth. He saw what Peter saw. He saw the face cloth folded up and sitting off by itself. He said, “He saw it and believed.”
Now what is there to believe about a folded up piece of cloth? Huh? It’s curious. Now think with me. If graverobbers had stolen the body, they might have taken some of the wrappings and the spices off the body to make it easier to transport, yes? They might have done that, but they wouldn’t have pulled off the face cloth. I mean, who wants to see the face of the dead guy they’re robbing? Right? Nobody would do that. And it’s the layer that’s sort of underneath everything, they wouldn’t have taken that off. It’s not that heavy, and even if it fell off as they’re hauling the body, lugging it out of the tomb, they don’t pause and fold it up before they leave.
No, there’s something curious about this. John sees and believes. What did he believe? Well, I think he believed that Jesus thoughtfully tidied up after Himself. Remember, this is a borrowed tomb. What do you do when you spend the night in someone else’s space? You strip the linens and fold them up and you try to be a good guest, right?
John realizes Jesus is a conscientious guest. He stayed a few nights. He’s grateful for His accommodations, and now it’s time to go. So He stretches it and He folds it up and He tidies up His room. How thoughtful is that? (chuckles) He’s a Conscientious Guest. That’s the first point.
The second is The Mistaken Gardner. Jesus is the Mistaken Gardner. Peter and John go back to their homes. But before long, Mary Magdalene, who must have been following on their heels, but much slower, finally gets to the tomb. She’s back at the tomb.
Verse 11: “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 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.’”
Through her bleary eyes filled with tears, Mary sees these two figures in white. Of course, she doesn’t know until later that they are angels until she thought this through later. She repeats exactly what she told Peter and John. Do you notice it’s the same line? “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.”
I was talking to Simone Halpin, who is on our team here. She leads Naomi’s House, one of our extension ministries to commercially sexually exploited ladies here in the Chicagoland area, to help them find healing in Christ. And as I was talking to Simone she helped me with an insight on this passage I’d never seen before.
Simone works with traumatized people and she said, “Mary had a life of trauma, severe demonic depression, and Jesus was her only lifeline to freedom and healing and safety, and now He’s gone and all she wants is to be near His body, to weep for the loss of the only one she had ever come to trust, and then she shows up and He’s missing. This is triggering her trauma. Do you see this? This is PTSD. This is a trauma-induced response we’re watching here. Can’t you sense her fear, her anxiety, her sadness? “They have taken Him away. I don’t know where they laid Him. They’ve taken Him away. I don’t know where they’ve laid Him. They have taken Him away. I don’t know where they’ve laid Him.” She is totally emotionally dysregulated. And as the panic and the tears and the anxiety take hold, who is it that comes to meet her?
Verse 14: “Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 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.’”
“If you carried Him off, tell me where you ditched His body. I’ll carry Him away in my arms. I’ll bury Him in a safe place. I’ll make sure He rests in peace.”
“Jesus said to her (verse 16), ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher).”
No one said her name like Jesus did. Jesus called her name and everything changed. Everything. Isn’t that curious? Remember in John 10, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me— My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
When Jesus called her name, friends, the fear started ebbing away. When Jesus called her name, the anxiety (breathes out) began to calm. When Jesus called her name, the sadness began to be undone. And the man she thought was the gardener turns out to be her rescuer, her healer, her teacher, her Lord, her everything.
Mary – “Rabboni!” (sighs) He’s the Mistaken Gardner.
He’s The Conscientious Guest, The Mistaken Gardener, and now thirdly, TheAscending Lord. The Ascending Lord.
Verse 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.”’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’—and that he had said these things to her.”
This is such a curious moment. Mary is so overjoyed to find Jesus alive that she wants to grab ahold of Him forever and never let go. Who can blame her? But curiously Jesus says, “Don’t cling to me. Let me go, Mary.” Why? He says, “For I have not yet ascended to the Father.”
“It’s true, Mary. I’m back here with you but I’m not here to stay. I have to go again. I’m ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” You see, the reason it’s not time for Mary to grab ahold of Jesus forever and never let go is that Jesus is in the middle of cosmic redemption. Jesus is in the middle of cosmic redemption. Sure, He came to Earth as the incarnate Son of God. He lived a perfect life to pleased the Father. He died on the cross and laid down His life, bearing all of our sin and shame. He died in our place and for our sake and He rose again, victorious over sin and death and Satan and He made us children of God, reconciled to God the Father. As Jesus says here, “My Father and your Father, my God and your God.”
But there is still work yet to be done. Jesus must ascend to the Father. He must be seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high where He will rule and reign until His enemies have been made His footstool. And then He will return, and in that day, justice will reign, and peace will abide and glory will cover the earth. And everything sad, in the end, will come untrue. It will be the new heavens and the new Earth, and the garden city of God will come down and heaven will meet Earth with a kiss. (applause)
As Revelation 21 says: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21).
Friends (applause), amen. Friends, when Mary thought Jesus was the gardener, she wasn’t entirely wrong. He is the gardener, you see. He is the caretaker of the new creation. Just as Adam was placed in the Garden to be the caretaker of the old creation, now Jesus, the second Adam, is standing in the garden, the caretaker of the new creation itself.
Don’t you see? That’s why Mary wants to hold on to Him. She’s back in the garden. It is the first light of the first day of a new creation, on the first day of the week. Hmm? And she finds herself with God walking in the garden toward her in the cool of the day. She’s in Eden. It’s heaven on Earth. It’s the dawn of the redemption of all things. And she never wants to leave. She never wants to let Him go. She wants to stay with Him forever, but not yet. Not yet. There is work to be done in the redemption of all things. Jesus must ascend and return, and in the meantime, Mary has a task. “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
So Mary is now dispatched, you see, with the Good News, the Gospel, that through Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and coming ascension, that the disciples are now “my brothers,” that Jesus’ Father is now their Father, that Jesus’ God is now their God. Because of Jesus, they now have the right to be children of God, and that is who they are.
And don’t you think it curious, friends, that the person Jesus chooses to first reveal Himself to, and the person that Jesus chooses to first send out with the message of the Good News is Mary, demonically scarred Mary, anxiety-ridden Mary, desperately helpless Mary?
“Mary.” With a word, she knows none of that matters anymore. He has always known her completely. He has always loved her utterly. He has always forgiven her entirely. And she knows she is loved by Jesus. This is her ascending Lord, you see.
So what does that mean for us?
First of all, friends, this means Jesus is making all things new. Jesus is making all things new. Friends, do you realize the resurrection is not just something nice that happened to Jesus a long time ago. It is the pattern and promise of what will one day happen to all of creation. Jesus is in the business of bringing redemption to the entirety of the cosmos. He is making all things new. There will be a new heaven, and a new Earth, and a new everything because Jesus is tidying up the universe. Jesus is tidying up the universe. Everything marred will become beautiful. Everything broken will be made whole. Everything sad will come untrue. Friends, everything in this sin-cursed universe will one day be tidied up in redemption and put in its proper place forever. And Jesus wants to begin that redemptive
work in your life today because Jesus is calling your name.
Jesus is calling your name. And when Jesus calls your name, everything changes. Demons flee, darkness hides, sin is broken, death yields. The stone rolls away and a new creation dawns. Do you know His voice? Do you sense Him calling your name? Do you hear the Good Shepherd? He knows His sheep. He knows you. His sheep hear His voice, and they follow Him.
But friends, to hear the voice of Jesus is to believe in Him, and to believe in Him is receive His Holy Spirit, and to have the Holy Spirit is to be indwelt with the eternal life of God now and forever.
Listen to what Romans 8:11 says: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
In other words, the resurrection life of Jesus comes forever alive in us by the power and presence of His Holy Spirit, or as Jesus said in John 11:25 and 26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” That’s Jesus’ question to you.
Would you pray with me?
Father, this resurrection morning broke all the categories. No one was expecting this. Who would have thought that the resurrection at the end of time would break in, in the middle of a garden two thousand years ago, that the redemption everyone thought would have to hold off until the very end of time could start now, could come alive in us, that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead could live inside of us, bringing dead people to life, changing and renewing and refashioning and redeeming us from the inside out so that we might be a little beachhead of the new creation in our own bodies here on Earth under the lordship and life of Jesus Christ, awaiting the full redemption of all things when He returns? Oh, we long to be whole and home forever. We long to hold onto you, and never let go, but until then, you’ve given us this mission to go and to tell of your redeeming work to all people.
Father, help us to live and abide in this resurrection power. Help us to grow and find life in it. Help us to share and extend this resurrection power wherever we go. We are people of the resurrection morning, and nothing can turn that back or stop it. Help us to hear the voice of the risen Christ.
I pray now for those here who maybe for the first time are hearing your voice inside. I pray that you would draw them to life. May they say yes to you today.
Father, I pray for those of us who are here for whom the resurrection life has been more theory than practice. Keep us curious for what this power is and ought to be. Help us yield to your Holy Spirit. Raise us up and give us life. Awaken our souls to abundant life we pray.
Father, use us to bring this glorious redemption and resurrection life to this great city of Chicago and all around the world. Bring life, we pray, as Jesus is lifted high in this room and in our lives.
We pray this in His glorious name, the resurrected Son of God, Jesus, Amen.