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Mar 31, 2013

The Path to Victory...Runs through Transformed Lives

Passage: John 20:1-31

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Path to Victory

Keywords: resurrection, power, transformation, death, doubt


This Easter message looks at how the power of Christ transformed people who experienced both his death and resurrection, how even before the resurrection that weekend, his transforming power transformed people who hadn't yet seen his resurrection power..


`The Path to Victory Travels through Transformed Lives

John 20

March 31, 2013


It’s amazing how quickly life can change, isn’t it?  In a world that’s fallen, so often it seems that the only dramatic changes happening are tragedies.  Someone dies of a heart attack and our world is turned upside down.  A drunk driver runs a red light and someone is paralyzed for life. 

The experiences of life have the capacity to change us forever…even the horrible ones.  

ILL:  Just this week, I was asking our son David about one of his ROTC instructors at Gonzaga.  Major Scott Smiley has been the first blind active duty officer in the U.S. Army’s history. He was blinded in a roadside bomb in Afghanistan several years ago.  The last thing he saw was the man in the car staring blankly at him as he detonated his car.  Shrapnel took out both his eyes.  He is a man of deep spiritual faith who lives here in Spokane and teaches in Gonzaga’s ROTC program.  He has two children he has nor ever will see this side of heaven.  And he’ll never see his wife’s face again.  But despite this overpowering loss of sight, his experience with the power of Jesus Christ has transformed the rest of his life.  Men, we hope to have him share his story with us some morning at Men’s Connection.   


            But the opposite is also true.  Life can change in a moment…in an unexpected moment…for the better. 

Watch this little 29 year old woman hear other people and herself for the first time.



Transformation can take place over years or in mere moments.  Many of us are know that personally. 

  • A simple ceremony that takes just a few minutes transforms the rest of your life.
  • A single act of war can change life for millions of people for years to come.
  • A single notice (like the lottery Dominican Republic immigrant, Pedro Quezada, 45, won this past week for $338 million.  Support enforcement showed up 2 days later to request the $29,000 in back child support he owes.  A moment can change your life!


We’re getting near the end of our “Pathway to Victory” series that has taken us through the last few days of Jesus life according to the Gospel of John.  And it just so happens that we’re landing on the resurrection story in John 20 on Easter Sunday.  Amazing how that works!  J

            Two days ago, at our Good Friday service, we saw how virtually every person around Jesus that horrible day of his crucifixion, chose themselves over Christ.  Everyone from devoted disciples to total strangers turned away from the dangers of identifying with Christ. 

  • Judas chose money instead of Jesus. 
  • Peter chose anonymity instead of Jesus. 
  • Pilate chose accommodation instead of Jesus. 
  • The crowd chose Barabbas instead of Jesus.

 And on and on the list goes.   

            But even before Jesus uttered his last words…before he declared for all of time that the work of redeeming lost sinners was finished…before after he committed his spirit into the hands of his heavenly Father…before after he breathed his last breath as a mortal human being…the transformation started


Sometimes transformations start in the darkest of times.

Not all the transformations that day are recorded by John.  Luke 23 gives us another window into the transformations that started despite the darkness of that day.  He tells us that day actually turned to darkness about noon as Jesus hung on the cross.  That unusual darkness wasn’t simply a solar eclipse. Solar eclipses don’t last for 3 hours.  About 3 o’clock that afternoon, as Jesus cried out to his Father and committed his spirit into His hands, the veil between the Holy of Holies in the Temple and the Holy Place was torn in two, symbolizing that those sacrifices were over and Jesus had purchased by his own blood the way for every human who desires to be reconciled to His Father and enjoy His holy presence forever. 

The transformation had begun…and Jesus wasn’t even off the cross yet. 

Mark tells us that one of the Roman centurions had been standing opposite of Jesus during his last moments of life.  As he watched the world grow dark, heard what Jesus said, watched how he died, and then felt the earthquake that followed, he, this soldier-man who was used to violence and death, found himself compelled to declare to all around, “Truly, this Man was the Son of God.” (Mk. 15:39)

            The transformation had already begun…and still Jesus was not even off the cross.

            Matthew adds yet another fact that happened during that earthquake.  He tells us in Mt. 27 that “the earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” 

            Talk about transformation!  Jesus wasn’t even off the cross…or in the tomb… and already the power of his death was rattling the corridors of time.  Humanity’s last enemy, death, was losing its grip.  What so many had hoped would be the end of God meddling in the affairs of people was just beginning to reveal the power of the transformation that change lives for centuries to come. 

            The transformation had begun…and Jesus dead body was not even cold!


We pick up the story in John 19:38-42.

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

            Both these men were part of the Jewish ruling council called the Sanhedrin.  That body of 70 national leaders had taken the lead in arresting and condemning Jesus to death during the preceding 24 hours.  Mark’s account of events that day tell us that Joseph of Arimathea was “a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God….”  Luke tells us in his account that Joseph was “a good and just man” who “had not consented to their decision and deed” of railroading Jesus to the cross (Lk. 23:50-51).  Further, we’re told that once Christ had died, he “went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.” 

While John comments that Joseph was a sort of “secret disciple” of Jesus because he feared the Jewish leaders, I’m guessing it still took a fair amount of boldness for this national leader, Joseph, to do what he did.  He went knocking on Pilate’s door at the end of what had been a very bad day for Pilate, asked for permission to take Jesus’ body off the cross for burial and then waited around in his palace while Pilate verified with the soldiers that Jesus was, in fact, dead.  Pilate is probably thinking to himself, “Wasn’t it your group, Joseph, that made my day so difficult?”  “Aren’t you one of the leaders of this very group which was so adamant that I kill this man, Jesus?”  “Why on earth are you now so interested in the corpse?” 

John tells us that Joseph wasn’t alone.  John 19:39 informs us that old “Nick @ Night” or Nicodemus was with him.  Two powerful national leaders who didn’t have the guts to fully go public with their admiration of Jesus just hours before now found their hearts and minds changed by his death. 

Jesus’ body wasn’t even cold yet, and already his death was transforming people. 


By the way, it is interesting to note that these two men became the means by which Jesus fulfilled yet another O.T. prophecy.  Isaiah 53, that amazing chapter prophesying the suffering of God’s divine Servant, predicted the very kind and place of burial that Jesus would have when Isaiah wrote, He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” 

These two men, caring though they were at the moment, had been party to the most wicked deed in all humanity only hours earlier—the torturous murder of the only sinless man to every walk this earth.  Yet God was fulfilling his word spoken by his prophet Isaiah over 700 years earlier.  This rich religious sinner, Joseph, was using his own garden tomb to bury the body of God-in-human-flesh.  The irony of it is that he didn’t realize that his tomb would really only be functioning as a temporary morgue. J  The power of death had begun to break…and transformation was happening already…even in the hearts of evil men.


Thus began a very long weekend for some very troubled and grief-stricken people as Jesus’ body was laid to rest just before the beginning of that Passover Sabbath that terrible day.  The only real action that happened in the next 24 hours that the Gospels record is what the chief priests and Pharisees did to ensure that no one faked a resurrection.  Matthew 27:62-66 tells us….

“The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 63 “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”

65 “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.”


Isn’t it just a little curious that Jesus’ enemies took note of his predictions that He would rise from the dead while his own disciples seemed to forget them?  Deep loss does have a way of blinding us to the truth and promises of God.  I don’t think the chief priests and Pharisees actually believed that Jesus was capable of carrying through with his prediction.  They were just operating out of their own scheming mindset:  “If we were the disciples of Jesus right now, we’d be figuring out a way to steal his body and start the rumor that he had risen from the dead.” 

But they were about to have a lot bigger problems than trumped-up rumors to deal with. 


Every Gospel account, including John, tells us that the very first person to learn that the tomb was empty was a woman, Mary Magdalene.  Since Mary was apparently a very popular name at the time, there were actually a number of Marys who were part of Jesus’ followers at this time.  In fact, there are clearly at least 6 different Marys that can be found in the 51 occurrences of her name in the New Testemant.

1. Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1-2).

2. Mary Magdalene, the woman spoken of here in John 20.  Luke 7:37, Luke 8:23, Luke 87:36-50

3. Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus (Luke 10:38-42).

4. Mary, the mother of the disciple James and Joses (Matt 27:55-61).

5. Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12).

6. Mary of Rome (Rom 16:6).


What we know of Mary Magdalene is not all that extensive.  The only thing the Gospels really say of her life before she encountered Jesus is that she had 7 demons living in her. The name Magdalene indicates that she came from Magdala, a city on the southwest coast of the Sea of Galilee. Luke 8 tells us that she was one of a number of women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases who went on to become a traveling follower of Him and financial supporter of Jesus and his ministry.

Because this reference to her in Luke 8 comes right before Luke’s story of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus at Simon the Pharisee’s house in Luke 7, some have surmised that Mary Madalene was that “sinful women.”  Truth is, there is absolutely no evidence connecting those two women.  I think having 7 demons in you was probably enough drama for one woman to be delivered from without being a prostitute on top of it all. 

Mary Magdalene’s transformation had begun well before this resurrection day.  It had begun where every person who wants Jesus to transform their life must begin:  with addressing the presence of evil in our own hearts.  For all of us, that has to do with our own sin—things we have done, said and thought which are in rebellion to God’s will and plan for our lives, things such as, but not limited to, gossip, hatred, lust, sexual immorality, jealousy, lying, stealing, loving other people and things more than God.  The list is literally endless. 

But before we can begin to live out being a follower of Jesus Christ, we must allow Him to call sin and the influence of evil in our lives what it is.  And we must be willing to let him deliver us from sin and evil’s power at work in us. 

Sin is not a popular concept in today’s feel-good culture.  The problem is that we are never going to “feel good” until we face the reality about what is making us “feel bad.”  And that reality is sin that we have chosen and the multitude of evil influences that has opened us up to as a result. 

Even in the psychobabble tendencies of our Western mindset, we still banter about the phrase, “He/she is dealing with some demons of the past.”  What we usually mean is that a person has some deeply troubling and difficult issues from their past which they are trying to overcome.  But I wonder if we shouldn’t call them what they are sometimes—actual demons which have such control over people that their lives are stuck in sin and self-destruction.

Seven demons…I can’t imagine how horrible that must have been for Mary from Magdala.  But I do know how horrible my own sinful flesh can be, how twisted my thinking can become when my heart and mind are not dominated by the Spirit of God or when they are under attack by the forces of darkness. 

Even as a child of God who has the Spirit of God, I’ve had periods in my life when I thought I was going crazy with depression and self-hatred.  Some of you, unfortunately, know what that is like.  And I’m quite sure that, had I not begun to experience the transforming power of Jesus Christ in my life at a pretty early age, I would probably have been overwhelmed by my own emotional weaknesses and the “demons” that attack me in them such that I would have taken my own life by now.  That’s what Satan and his hoard of demons come to do—to steal and kill and destroy the life God has for us at any stage and in any measure they can.

Mary Magdalene knew what Jesus had rescued her from, even before he died and rose again.  But she was about to get the surprise of her life that Sunday morning, a surprise that would absolutely overwhelm her grief with joy.  But not quite yet. 


The first people to realize that something had happened that day were probably the last people who actually expected it.  Resurrection power was about to put their lives in danger…and it was about to make them some money, strange as it may seem. 

Matthew tells us in chapter 28 of his Gospel that before it was even light, an angel of the Lord came to the tomb and, in an earthquake, rolled the stone away from in front of the tomb.  It’s been said that he didn’t do that in order to let Jesus out.  The angel did that to let people in…to see that the tomb was empty and only the grave clothes were still there. 

Matthew records in chapter 28, There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.” 

We’re not told whether these guards ever stuck their heads inside the tomb to see what had happened to the body of Jesus.  I’m guessing they either high tailed it as fast as they could away from the tomb or, at best, drew straws to see who got stuck having to do the inspection.  And had even one of them gone in, they would have seen what the others saw that day—empty grave clothes, undisturbed, lying, not in a pile as if someone had unwrapped the body and left them in a heap, but as if the corpse had simply vanished from within them.  I doubt that sight calmed their nerves very much! J

Matthew goes on to tell us that these soldiers high tailed it into Jerusalem to inform their employers, the religious leaders, “everything that had happened.”  Well, this certainly was an unfortunate turn of events.  Reality can be a very stubborn thing to ignore when you are bound and determined to deny it.  After the priests met with the elders, they must have figured that one more lie and bribe couldn’t hurt, so they gave these guards “a large sum of money” and a large whopper of a lie to tell anyone who might ask them what happened:  “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’”

Only problem was, falling asleep on duty for a Roman guard detachment was a certain death sentence.  That’s probably why these guards went first to the religious leaders rather than their Roman barracks. They needed some cover from people more powerful.  In the short-term, they not only got the promise of the religious rulers that they would come to their defense if the truth ever got out; they also ended up with a rather sizable chunk of change in return for their promise to lie about the whole thing. 

I wonder how well they all slept after that?  I wonder how well their lies held up as Jesus began to turn up in various places in and around Jerusalem? I wonder if any of them eventually became honest enough with themselves to stop denying reality and start believing in Jesus?  I guess we’ll have to wait for heaven to find that out. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that some of those men and their families eventually experienced the transforming power of the resurrection in their own lives.  It’s hard to be that near resurrection power and not be changed by it.


Well, quite a number of people saw the empty tomb that day, empty, that is, of the body of Jesus.  The burial shroud was still there and several of the visitors to the tomb that Sunday morning had a little one-on-one angelic time.  Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome all apparently saw angels at the tomb.  Peter and John simply saw the empty tomb and burial clothes.  There was no small amount of running back and forth from the city to the tomb by both the women and the disciples to verify that, in fact, the body was gone. 

But the first person to actually see Jesus in his resurrected body was Mary Magdalene.  Before that first resurrection day was over, there would be a couple of dozen people who would see Jesus.  There were actually five different resurrection appearances of Christ on that first day of the week.

  • He first appeared to Mary Magdalene as we just read about in John 20.
  • He also appeared to several other women such as Joanna, Mary the mother of James and others according to Matthew 28.
  • He appeared to Peter, according to 1st Corinthians 15 and Luke 24.
  • He appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus on that same day (Luke 24)
  • Fifth, He appeared to all the disciples gathered in the Upper Room, minus Thomas. On the following Sunday the disciples would be together again and this time Thomas would be in their midst.

John records what happened in this 20th chapter of John to transform Thomas from a stubborn skeptic to an immediate worshipper. 

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though 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; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

            For Thomas it took the bodily appearance of Jesus Christ in his immortal, resurrected form to change his stubborn disbelief into acceptance of the truth.  Thomas believed because he saw.  And that belief transformed his life from a skeptic to a radical servant of Jesus Christ.  It so transformed his life that apparently went on to become one of the early Christian missionaries to India.  There, tradition holds, he was martyred by being thrust through by a lance or pine spear. 

            In fact, so transformational was every apostle’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus that every one of them went on to proclaim the good news of Christ at extreme cost.

  1. King Herod had James “put to death with the sword,” likely a reference to beheading.
  2. Matthew apparently took the Gospel all the way to Ethiopia and was ultimately killed by the sword.
  3. Peter was crucified by Roman executioners. According to Eusebius, he thought himself unworthy to be crucified as his Master, and, therefore, he asked to be crucified “head downward.”
  4. Andrew:  Six years after Peter’s death and after preaching Christ’s resurrection to the Scythians and Thracians, he too was crucified for his faith. As Hippolytus tells us, Andrew was hanged on an olive tree at Patrae, a town in Achaia.
  5. Philip evangelized in Phrygia where hostile Jews had him tortured and then crucified.
  6. Nathanael:  was a missionary to Asia. He witnessed in present-day Turkey and was martyred for his preaching in Armenia, being flayed to death by a whip.
  7. James the Lesser was appointed to be the head of the Jerusalem church for many years after Christ’s death. In order to make James deny Christ’s resurrection, hostile Jews positioned him at the top of the Temple for all to see and hear. James, unwilling to deny what he knew to be true, was thrown down from the Temple and finally beaten to death with a club to the head.
  8. Simon the Zealot may have been the last apostle to have died.  Little is known of him but some traditions say he was either sawed in two or crucified.
  9. Judas Thaddaus preached the risen Christ to those living among pagan priests in Mesopotamia.  Judas was eventually beaten to death with sticks.
  10. Matthias, the apostle chosen to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot, was apparently hung on a cross and then stoned.
  11. John is the only one of the twelve Apostles to have died a natural death. Although he did not die a martyr’s death, he did live a martyr’s life. He was exiled to the Island of Patmos under the Emperor Domitian for his proclamation of the risen Christ. It was there that he wrote the last book in the Bible, Revelation. Some traditions tell us that he was thrown into boiling oil before the Latin Gate, where he was not killed but miraculously survived
  12. Paul met his death at the hands of the Roman Emperor Nero when he was beheaded in Rome.

It is one thing for people to die for a sincere spiritual belief because they believe it strongly.  Christians, Muslims, Hindues, Buddhists and others will die this year because they refuse to recant their beliefs.  That does not mean that all their beliefs are automatically true just because they die for them. 

            But for nearly a dozen men to all die, persecuted, destitute and unwavering because they claimed to have seen personally the resurrected Jesus Christ is a very different thing. If we died for our beliefs, we do so because we believe they are true.  But if the Apostles died for something they all knew to be a lie, then they are either all lunatics, all horrible liars or…all telling the truth and completely convinced that the body they are surrendering to death will one day be resurrected to new life just as Jesus was. 


Encounters with the resurrected Lord Jesus transform how you live and how you die.  And that transformation has been touching millions of lives for nearly two millennia.


Which leads us to two very simple yet potentially life-altering questions:

1.)     Have you become one of those people who Jesus told his disciples about when he answered Thomas’s doubts with his own resurrected presence?  Thomas believed because he had seen Jesus physical resurrected body.  But Jesus said, “…blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  The central issue of the resurrection is, “Have YOU put your personal faith and trust in the resurrected Jesus Christ?  Have you so believed in his life, his death and his resurrection that you will build your life, your death and your eternity upon him?   [Prayer of faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ)

2.)    What is it in your life today that needs the power of the resurrected Jesus Christ?  What has died that God may want to resurrect?  What has God promised in His word to do that you haven’t yet experienced? 

Whatever it is, it cannot be bigger than death itself.  God makes available to us that same transformational power that raised Jesus dead and broken body from the grave 2,000 years ago, never to experience suffering and death again. 

The Apostle Paul prayed for every person in the Ephesian church in Ephesians 1:19ff that they would know experientially God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet….