If you’ve ever had your hopes dashed, lost your joy, or experienced deep grief, then it may be that you need to hear the voice of Jesus calling you like he called to Mary on that first Easter morning. Today we hear his voice in the words of Scripture, and through the gospel he offers us the very same peace that he offered to his followers while he was on earth. In this message from John 20, David Platt urges us to respond to Jesus now, while God has given us an opportunity. His claim to have risen from the dead has been believed by even the most resistant skeptics. How will you respond to the risen Christ?
I want to let you know where we are headed. A few minutes from now, I am going to offer two specific invitations to you. One, I’m going to invite you to experience new life in relationship with God through faith in Jesus. I want to be clear that this invitation is for everybody, whether you’ve grown up in church, or this is your first time ever in church, or even watching church online. It’s an invitation for people who may have questions about God. It’s an invitation for people who may feel far from God because of your past, or your present. It’s an invitation for people who may have felt close to God at one point in life, but that was a long time ago and a lot has happened since then. It doesn’t matter about your past, present, personality, age, ethnicity or socio-economic status.
However you might identify yourself, the Bible teaches that we have all turned aside from God and his ways, so this is an invitation for you to come back to God—either for the first time, or for the first time in a long time. If you have any questions about where you stand with God, I want to help you settle those today.
The second invitation is to make a decision today to be baptized as a follower of Jesus. Baptism is the first thing that followers of Jesus do. It’s like a “going public” celebration and declaration that you’re not ashamed to be a follower of Jesus. I know there are many people in this room and online who have not taken that step—for a variety of reasons. Some of you have yet to become followers of Jesus. Or maybe you became a follower of Jesus recently, or maybe many years ago, but for whatever reason you’ve not done this yet. Maybe you would say, “I was baptized as a baby. Doesn’t that count?” I’ll say more on this at the end, but praise God that your parents saw faith as important when you were a child and expressed that faith on your behalf. Every time we see baptism in the Bible, it’s a profession of your own faith, not someone else’s faith. So today you have an opportunity to personally affirm what others wanted for you, however many years ago, in a way that doesn’t reject what they did for you, but affirms, “Of my own volition, I’m following Jesus.” You’re going to have an opportunity, maybe today, to call your family and say, “You hoped that I would follow Jesus. I’m going to make it public that I’m following him.”
Now, to clarify, responding to this invitation doesn’t mean you’ll be baptized today. We actually have a big day coming up when we’re going to celebrate baptisms outside in a few weeks. Whether on that day, or another day that works better for you, I’m going to invite you to put a stake in the ground today and say, “I’m going to make it public that I’m a follower of Jesus.”
Two invitations: to come to God through faith in Jesus, either for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, or to be baptized as a follower of Jesus. I want to show you three words from a story in the Bible that lead to these two invitations. So if you have a Bible and want to follow along, this is in John 20. Let me set the stage:
This is a story about a woman named Mary and two of Jesus’ disciples who go to Jesus’ tomb after he has died on a cross. There they discover that Jesus’ body is gone. Little did they know that by that time Jesus had risen from the dead.
Now for those of you who are not familiar with Easter, spoiler alert: Jesus is alive. Jesus’ resurrection makes it clear that he was not merely a man. Who has power over death? This is God in the flesh.
However his followers didn’t know Jesus had risen from the dead. They assumed somebody had stolen his body. The two disciples were scared, not knowing what all this might mean for them. So they ran back home. But this woman, Mary, stayed—and that’s where we pick up the story in John 20:11:
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.
You can only imagine, in her tears, not only was she not able to recognize Jesus, but she was not expecting in any way that he would be alive. Resurrection was not even in people’s worldview at this point. It was the farthest thing from her mind.
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).
Ah, just feel the weight and wonder of this scene. This is Mary Magdalene, not to be confused with Mary, the mother of Jesus. This Mary had a really rough past. Jesus had healed her from demon possession. She was an outcast in her culture, but Jesus had given her a new start. Now he is dead and her hopes are dashed; her joy is gone. She thinks somebody has stolen Jesus’s body.
Do you ever feel like when it rains, it pours? Have you ever had your hopes dashed? Have you ever lost your joy? Have you ever experienced deep grief? I have a feeling most of us can identify with Mary’s hurt.
So here she stands, weeping and unable to be consoled, even by angels, much less some gardener…until the supposed gardener says one word: “Mary.” All Jesus says is her name and immediately she recognizes his voice. “This is the voice of the One who knows me like no one else. He knows all my past, all my shame, all I’ve done, all my sin and struggles, all my hurts, all the ways others have hurt me. This is the voice of the One who saw me, who looked past all of that and pursued me, who took away my shame, healed my hurts and gave me life.” As soon as she realizes it’s Jesus calling her name, everything changes.
This is where I want you to hear in this story Jesus calling your name. Hear his voice today, right now, right where you are sitting. God, the One who created you, who knows you like no one else, is calling your name. He’s the God who knows your past and your present, better than even you do. He’s the God who knows your shame, your sin, your struggles; He knows the ways you have been hurt and the way you’ve hurt others. God sees you. God pursues you. He alone is able to remove all your shame, heal all your hurts and give you eternal life. This is why Jesus—God in the flesh—died on the cross.
I realize that if you’re new to Christianity, it may sound very strange to come into a room and hear a bunch of people singing about blood. The whole point of the cross is that our sins deserve death before God, but Jesus gave his life—he shed his blood—to pay the price for the sins of anyone and everyone who will trust in him, so we can be forgiven of all our sin and cleansed of all our shame.
Jesus did this for you, ___(insert your name)____. Is this not an awesome thought? In a world of eight billion people, God knows you, right where you are sitting right now. God pursues you and God calls your name. Let me rephrase the language I used at the beginning. I’m not offering you the invitation today—God is. God is calling your name.
This leads to the second word I want to show you. The first is “Mary”—but insert your name. The second word Jesus says three different times in the rest of this story. See if you can notice it with me. Let’s pick up in John 20:19:
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.
Then jump down to verse 24, where we read:
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.”
Did you notice the phrase Jesus says three times? Every time he starts speaking to his disciples, he says, “Peace be with you.” He says it again, “Peace be with you.” When he came to them this next time, the first thing he said among them was, “Peace be with you.”
Get this scene. Just imagine the emotions in this room among these disciples. They are afraid. Surely they are confused—what’s happening? They are anxious—what’s going to happen next? They feet alone. They are in hiding. They are in despair. First Jesus died; now his body is gone. This is the end in a way they did not see coming. It doesn’t seem far-fetched to consider they are depressed.
Can I just pause here and point out that we’re familiar with all the emotions in that room? Fear, confusion, anxiety, loneliness, despair, depression. Isn’t it interesting that in the capital of one of the wealthiest countries to ever exist in the history of the world, with all our jobs and all our stuff, we have so many fears and so much confusion, anxiety, loneliness, despair and depression? Surely this should open our eyes to the reality that what we most need this world cannot provide—but God can. God alone can and it is summarized in this word peace. It’s peace that overcomes fear, confusion and anxiety in this world. Amidst loneliness, it’s peace that comes from God’s presence with you. Amidst despair, it’s peace that is found in God’s promises to you. Amidst depression, it’s peace that wells up from God’s life in you.
But people ask, “How can you say Jesus alone brings peace?” The answer is simple: because Jesus alone has conquered sin; Jesus alone has defeated death. Who else has done that? None of us. Every other person in history—including each one of us—has sinned against God. It looks different in each of our lives, but we’ve all turned aside from God and his ways, so as a result we are all separated from God, from the author of peace, joy, love and life.
This is why the world is in the state it’s in. All of us are separated from God and all of us are going to die. The current percentage rate on people dying is 100%. It doesn’t matter how much organic food you eat or how much you exercise. I’m not commenting on either of those things; I’m just saying you’re still going to die. Death is coming for all of us. And if we die in this state of separation from God, we will spend eternity separated from God, the author of peace, joy, love and life. Imagine eternity in despair. But the good news—the greatest news in all the world—that we celebrate today is that God has not left us alone in this state. God has come to us. He’s pursued us in the person of Jesus. Jesus has conquered sin, he’s defeated death and he’s made a way for us to be restored to peace with God forever.
At which point some might ask, “Well, how do I know Jesus actually rose from the dead?” Consider Thomas in this story. Thomas gets a bad rap because of his doubts and questions. But I for one am thankful God put somebody like Thomas in the story to do a reality check for all of us. I don’t want to base my life on a lie; I’m guessing you don’t either. So many people say religion is just subjective. It’s about what works for you—which may be different from what works for me. But we know that’s actually not true.
Just think about the resurrection of Jesus. This is not a matter of subjective preference at all. It’s a matter of objective truth. Either Jesus did rise from the dead or Jesus did not rise from the dead. That’s not a question of preference; it’s a question of truth. It’s not your truth or my truth, but God’s truth.
In the words of Lee Strobel, who set out as an atheist to disprove Christianity and ended up becoming a follower of Jesus, he didn’t become a Christian because it would be easier in this world than being an atheist. He knew it would be harder. But he said, “I became a Christian because the evidence was so compelling that Jesus really is the one and only Son of God who proved his divinity by rising from the dead.”
Nabeel Qureshi grew up Muslim, yet took the time to study the story of Jesus. He writes that despite his ardent desire to believe in Islam, which he’d grown up with his entire life, he could not escape the historical reality that Jesus claimed to be God and proved it by rising from the dead.
Which all leads to our last word. First we learned about “Mary”—or insert your name. Then “Peace I offer you.” Now the last word of our three. It’s mentioned five times in the last five verses of our story. See if you notice it, starting in verse 27:
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.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Five times in five verses, what word do we see? Believe. This is the invitation Jesus gives to Thomas. Believe. “Believe that I am alive, that I am Lord over sin and death and that I am the God who can give you life.” Then Jesus says, “Blessed are those who believe without standing in Thomas’ shoes.” Then, John—who is telling this story—says he has written these things “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Ah, do you see in this one word how radically different this is than every other religion in the world? This is not a list of steps to take and rules to follow. This is truth to believe, or better put, a Person to trust—God himself. It’s not an invitation merely to believe this in your head. Even the demons believe Jesus rose from the dead. Big deal. This is an invitation to trust Jesus as the Savior and Lord of your life.
Let’s put it all together. God is calling your name. He knows you, all you’ve done, all your sin, shame and hurt, your past, your present. God is saying to you, “I have peace for you now, peace for you that will last forever, if only you will believe, if only you will receive my invitation to forgive you of all your sin and restore you to relationship with me.”
I mentioned two invitations at the start. One, God himself is inviting you today to receive new life in Jesus, some of you for the first time. Others of you for the first time in a long time, he’s inviting you to come back to Jesus. I would put it this way: “If you were to die today and stand before God, would it be clear that you are trusting Jesus as the Savior and Lord of your life?” If the answer to that question is not a resounding yes in your heart, God is speaking to you. Hear him speaking to your heart right now, calling you to trust him. You will be tempted in this moment to put off the voice of God, saying, “Maybe later,” for any number of reasons. But I want to lovingly warn you that there may not be a later. I want to say this as plainly as possible: none of us is guaranteed tomorrow. You or I could die at any moment, on your way home, in your home, then this opportunity will be gone forever. Even if you live for many more years, you don’t want to harden your heart toward God. You don’t want to hear the voice of God’s Spirit speaking to you like he is right now, but you saying, “I’m going to put you off,” then God lets your heart harden all the more and you never come back to this moment. I’m saying to some of you this moment could be your last opportunity.
Today is the day. Don’t make excuses. Today’s excuses are tomorrow’s regrets. Five minutes into eternity, what are you going to be glad you held on to that kept you from Jesus? The first invitation is for you to trust in Jesus as Lord of your life, either for the first time, or for some of you to come back to Jesus for the first time in a long time.
Then the second invitation is for you to decide today to go public, to be baptized as a follower of Jesus. Likewise, you’ll be tempted to say, “I’m going to wait until this or that,” or, “I’m not ready.” The reality is that if you’ve trusted in Jesus, you’re ready—and it’s time. You might think, “Well, it’s not that important.” Really? Are you going to say to Jesus, the Lord of your life, “Your first command to me is not really that important”?
Now, you might say, “I was baptized as a baby.” We referenced this earlier. Your baptism as a baby was a profession of someone else’s faith, not your own. And praise God for that. We honor that faith. You honor that faith in your parents or whomever. But now is the time to profess your faith. You have an opportunity today, not to reject what they did, but to affirm what they wanted for your life. Today is the defining day for people all across this room, others online, to respond to the invitation of God in your life, to God calling your name.
So here’s what I’m going to do. In just a moment I’m going to pray for courage for you to respond to God calling your name. Then as soon as I say ‘amen,’ we’re all going to stand together. I’m going to invite you to put feet to what God is saying to your heart right now. We’re going to stand and sing praise to God for new life in Jesus. Then if you are ready to either begin or renew a relationship with Jesus, or to be baptized, I’m going to invite you to do something really bold in this room. I’m going to invite you to step out from your seat and walk down to the front of this room, where someone with a name tag will meet you and take a moment to encourage you and pray with and for you. The reason I want to invite you to step out and walk down here is because something significant happens when you put a stake in the ground, in a moment like this, saying, “That was the day I stepped out and made a bold decision to trust in Jesus.” Or, “This was the turning point when I came back to Jesus.” Or, “This was the day I decided to be baptized.”
You might wonder, “Well, what will people think about me if I step out?” The reality is, as you’ll see, this room will cheer you on. I think about our 14-month-old little girl taking her first baby step yesterday. You would have thought, “I don’t know what kind of celebration was happening in the room. She only moved an inch or two.” I guarantee, you take one step, and there is a whole body of people who will cheer you on, as well as every step you take after that.
Then two, this isn’t about other people and what they think. If your concern is what others might think, you may be missing the point. There are Christians around the world who will very likely be killed for following Jesus or being baptized—and you’re wondering if you can step out from your seat? The question is: do you trust in Jesus as the Savior and Lord of your life? He’s the only one who matters in this moment.
I should add, if you don’t want to come alone, just turn to the person beside you and say, “Will you go with me?” I’m sure they would be glad to. If they aren’t, well then, they should be coming down with you anyway.
So we have two invitations from God: come to Jesus for the first time or for the first time in a long time, and to be baptized as a follower of Jesus.
So let’s pray.
God, I pray that you would give people courage right now to step out and unashamedly say in this moment, “I’m beginning my faith journey with you.” Or, “I’m coming back to a relationship with Jesus.” Or, “I’m ready to be baptized.” I pray for a spirit of humility and boldness to respond to your voice calling their name—from the youngest in this room to the oldest in this room, from all kinds of backgrounds and all kinds of stories—to make this day the defining moment in their story, in their relationship with you. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
What does the passage say?
1) Read John 20:11–31 aloud as a group. Take some time to let group members share observations about the passage. Try not to move into interpretation of the passage or application of what you have read quite yet. Simply share what you all observe from the text.
- Following His crucifixion, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and His disciples. At what point in this account did she recognize Who Jesus was (vv. 14–16; cf. v. 18)? Upon recognizing Jesus, how (i.e., by what title) did she address Him?
- Following Mary’s recognition of Jesus, what did He send her to do (vv. 17–18)? What did He Himself do (vv. 19–20, 26–27)?
- How did Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ disciples respond to His revelations (vv. 17a, 20, 28)? Upon revealing Himself to His disciples, what offers did Jesus extend to His disciples (vv. 19, 21–23)?
2) How would you explain or summarize today’s passage in your own words?
What does the passage mean?
1) (vv. 16–18) Why might Mary have eventually recognized Jesus for Who He is? By addressing Jesus as “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher), what did Mary signify about their relationship?
2) Note the responses of Mary Magdalene and the disciples when they saw Jesus (vv. 17a, 20, 27–28). What do their responses indicate about a) Jesus, and b) their experience of and relationships with Him?
3) What does Jesus say about those who, unlike Mary Magdalene and His first-century disciples, have not seen Him, yet believe Him (v. 29)?
4) Why did the Apostle John record these (and other) signs in the book of John (vv. 30–31)?
How can we apply this passage to our lives?
1) Read Psalm 139. Do you believe that the LORD, the Maker and Ruler of all creation, knows you specifically, personally, and intimately? How do you respond to the truth that you are intimately known by the LORD?
2) The LORD continuously invites everyone – including you – to receive and enjoy peace with Him through faith in His Son, Jesus (John 6:40 and 17:3, 1 John 5:11, Romans 5:10). This is eternal life. What might prevent someone from fully accepting the LORD’s gracious offer of life and peace? What might prevent you from fully accepting and resting in it?
3) Upon recognizing Jesus as her “Rabboni”, Mary shared Him with others. If you have recognized and personally accepted Jesus as your LORD and Savior, have you shared this with others through baptism? If not, please prayerfully consider being baptized in the coming weeks as a step of obedience to the LORD and a profession of His gracious gift of life to you.
John 20 ESV
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
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.
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
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.”
Jesus and Thomas
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.”
The Purpose of This Book
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
God is calling your name and extending these specific invitations to you:
- He invites you to experience new life in a relationship with Himself through faith in Jesus.
- He invites you to make a decision today to be baptized as a follower of Jesus.