Adventist Review Online | The Miracle in Emptiness

A sermon on John 20:1-20 by Rev Richard Keith on Easter Day 2021

There is great power in using someone’s name. When the phone rings and someone calls me by name, even if I don’t recognise the voice at first, I know that here is someone who knows me. If they ask to speak to the manager of the phone bill, I know I can just politely hang up. They don’t know me. They are just trying to scam me. Using each other’s names means that we know each other. It means that you’ve got my attention. It means, when you ring me up, I might even do what you want me to. We never really belong in a club or an institution or even a church until someone in power knows our name. Today we are looking at the power of the name.

We see it firstly in John chapter 20. If there is one thing that this passage teaches us it is that the disciples were not expecting the resurrection of Jesus. Mary Magdalene and the other women went to the tomb before dawn on the Sunday with perfume and spices. They weren’t gifts for the risen Lord. The women were going to finish what they had tried to start. They didn’t have time on the Friday afternoon to properly prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Then Saturday, the Sabbath came, and they had to stop. But first thing Sunday morning they were there again at the tomb.

And when Mary saw the stone rolled away, she didn’t break out in song. She didn’t rush to greet the living Christ. She ran away because she thought someone had robbed the tomb. She told the disciples, “They’ve taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him”

They didn’t cry out, “Hallelujah. He is risen. He is risen indeed.” Instead they ran for the tomb. It wasn’t until they got to the tomb and found it empty – well, not quite empty because there were the grave clothes and the cloth from the skull cap all rolled up in one place like someone had finished using it – it was only then they believed.

But Mary didn’t. Not then anyway. When the disciples ran to the tomb, she followed behind them walking. As they left, she stood outside weeping. Crying. She was distressed because when there was only one thing she could give Jesus. When all she could do was to give him a decent burial, she couldn’t even do that because his body was missing.

Mary looked into the tomb and saw two angels dressed in white sitting in the tomb on the ledge where Jesus’ body had been placed. They asked her, “Why are you weeping?” She repeated what she had said to the disciples. Someone had taken the Lord’s body and she didn’t know where it had been put. So not even a vision of angels could snap her out of her grief. She turned and looked toward the garden in the cemetery. She saw someone and assumed he was the gardener. For the third time she wonders where the body of Jesus is.

It just goes to show that people see what they expect to see. Unbelievers claim that the disciples only saw Jesus because they were expecting to see him. They wanted to see him so much that they imagined that they did. But what the Gospel accounts show is that they didn’t expect to see him. With Jesus’ death on the cross something had died within them as well. All their hopes and expectations had come to nothing. Mary didn’t see Jesus because she wasn’t expecting to see Jesus.

It was not until the gardener caught her attention, using the power of her name, that she finally saw what was right in front of her. “Mary,” he said. Before he was a stranger, someone she assumed was an employee just doing his job. But with her name she realised that this was someone who knew her, who had the power to get her attention, who used that power to get her to see him with new eyes.

“Teacher,” she said, realising that it was Jesus, that something new and unexpected had happened, like seeing the sun rise in the west, like seeing pigs flying backwards across the sky, like the renewal of hope when all hope had gone, like a new creation, like the voice of God had echoed again throughout the universe, “Let there be light.” At the sound of her name, Mary’s world turned right side up again.

The Lord knows you by name. He loves all people, of course, but more importantly he loves you. If you were the only person who needed saving, he would have chosen the cross for you. When the Lord wants your attention, he doesn’t ask to speak to the manager of your soul. He asks for you by name. He said, “I know my sheep and I call them by name.” And because he knows your name, you know that you belong to him. When all has gone wrong in your life, when all your expectations have been dashed, the Lord can put your life right side up again. His risen life, against all hope, is the promise of hope, not just to the world but to you as well.

And we see the power of the name in Romans chapter 10.

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved … For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

And what the Easter message teaches us is that the Lord’s name is Jesus. The same Jesus who surrendered himself to the soldiers in the garden, the same Jesus who was falsely accused by his nation’s leaders, the same Jesus who was condemned to death by the Roman governor, the same Jesus who was led out to be crucified, he was alive from the dead, the trailblazer, the first of many, the promise that the grave is not our end,         that no tomb can hold us down, that even if our ashes are scattered to the four winds, we are not lost. Because this man, condemned, mocked, and cursed on a cross, was vindicated by his Father and made Lord of the living and the dead. Teaching us that righteousness is not gained by the Pharisees who observe the minute details of the law. Righteousness is not gained by the priests who follow their rituals. For both Pharisees and priests aligned themselves against God’s chosen one, to show that righteousness is granted to those who trust in the one who ate with sinners and preached to the poor and healed the sick and touched the leper. This one is Lord, the original undercover boss.

And this Lord has a name. We don’t have to ring up and ask to speak to the manager of the universe. We can call him by name. Not just a generic God or Lord or heavenly dad, but we can use his personal name. The name that shows that we belong to him and that he belongs to us. And the name of the Lord is Jesus. By right of his suffering and confirmed by his resurrection, Jesus Christ is king of kings and lord of lords. Lord of heaven and earth. Lord of the living and the dead. Lord of all nations and peoples. And we know him by name. So that if we confess “Jesus is Lord” and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead we will be saved. As the Scripture says,

All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.

And the name of the Lord is Jesus.