John 20:1-18


One of the features of life is that we are constantly looking for things and searching for people. In our younger years, as we grow, we need to look for bigger clothes and seek out new friends, And an appropriate education is something that is usually sought. As we mature, our goals change. We begin to look for purpose and meaning in life. In addition, we may seek an occupation, and a companion, or a partner too. When we want to acquire things, an appropriate financial institution (someone who will give us a loan) may be the order of the day. When we move into a new area, there are shops, medical services, and new friends that we need to seek. And as we age, and our circumstances and needs change, so does our searching change direction too.

One of the features of life, then, is that we are constantly looking for things, and options, and people, and purpose, and any number of other things.

However, as we all know, our searching doesn’t always mean that we are looking for things that are new. We may also be looking for older things and the things that we have lost too. And the experts tell us, that we spend a lot of time searching for the things that we’ve lost, misplaced, or put somewhere safe. Indeed, they tell us that over an average lifetime, we can spend the equivalent of several years looking for the things we have lost.

And that means that, over a lifetime, we all spend a lot of time looking for people, purpose, and any number of other things to meet our various wants, needs, and desires. And, as a consequence, I’m going to ask the question, ‘Do we always look for the right things? And do we always look for the right people in our lives too?’


1. Mary Magdalene (1-2)
For example, on the first Easter Day, Mary Magdalene went to a tomb—a tomb where the dead body of Jesus had been laid. And what she expected to find there, Luke tells us, was the dead body of Jesus which she intended to prepare with spices, as was the normal Jewish custom (Luke 24:1).

As a consequence, what Mary was expecting, was to arrive at a tomb which was sealed, with a stone rolled across the entrance. And presumably, with the idea that she would get help, or had prearranged help, to roll the stone away so that she could go in and anoint the dead body.

Unfortunately for Mary, as the story goes, as she got within eyesight of the tomb, she realised that there was something wrong. The stone wasn’t blocking the entrance. Indeed, it had already been moved. And, fearing the worst, fearing that the body had already been removed, she ran to the tomb only to have her worst fears confirmed.

Now, quite understandably, for someone so convinced that there was only a dead body to be found, Mary ran off. She went immediately to Peter and John, and she was totally distraught and probably shaking like a leaf. And she told the two, ‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb. We do not know where they have put him’ (John 20:2b).

Now, of course, we can smile at Mary Magdalene. After all, we have the benefit of knowing the rest of the story. However, the fact is that even after being forewarned by Jesus that he would rise from the dead, Mary still neither understood nor accepted what he had said.

2. Peter and John (3-9)
Of course, as soon as Mary had told Peter and John that the body had been stolen, Peter and John raced off to the tomb as well. John arrived first but didn’t enter. Instead, he looked in from the outside. But Peter quickly caught up and charged straight into the tomb—and only then did John follow him in. And what did they find there? Well, their worst fears were realised. The tomb was empty, the body was gone and, again, the assumption was that the body must have been stolen. Peter and John were looking for the dead body too.

Despite the fact they’d been with Jesus longer than Mary Magdalene, and they would have heard Jesus talk on a number of occasions about the fact that he would rise from the dead on the third day . . . Despite all that, Peter and John didn’t consider any other option apart from the fact that the body had been stolen.

That is, until they saw the strips of linen and the burial cloth lying there in the tomb. And only then, we’re told, that John alone started to get an inkling of the possibility of another interpretation to the empty tomb.

3. Mary Magdalene (2) (10-18)
Sadly, however, Mary Magdalene, who had followed Peter and John back to the tomb and had seen everything that they had seen, was distraught. All she could do was to stand there and cry.

Indeed, we may well imagine that, knowing how distraught she was, Peter and John may have suggested that she go with them. After all, standing outside the tomb, with the authorities maintaining a close eye on proceedings, was not a good idea. So, perhaps they should all have gone somewhere out of the public eye.

But Mary was so distraught that she just couldn’t leave the tomb. Maybe she believed that if she stayed around there was a greater chance to find out who had taken the body and where it had been taken. So, Peter and John went off. And Mary stayed, standing by the tomb, crying her heart out.

Once alone, though, she popped her head back into the tomb (I guess, to assure herself that all this wasn’t just a bad dream). And when she did, she suddenly saw two angels sitting there.

Now they didn’t appear to be ordinary men, and they couldn’t have got passed her and got into the tomb without her knowing. And that meant that the only way they could have got into the tomb was by supernatural means. But, despite that, Mary still didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. She’d had her mind set on seeing a dead body, so in her mind nothing else was possible.

But hearing a voice behind her, calling to her and asking why she was crying, she turned around. And despite being faced with the risen Jesus, who she would have known only too well, she didn’t recognise him at all. And ironically, thinking he was the gardener, asked him the one question that was on her mind, ‘Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will take him away’ (John 20:15b). Mary still didn’t believe; she was still only looking for a dead body.

4. Comment
Now, as I said at the beginning, we all spend much time in our lives searching—searching for purpose, people, and things. And in this story, we see Mary, Peter, and John doing exactly that.

With Mary, Peter, and John, however, their journey with Jesus had begun as three people who were looking for the answers to life. They had looked for reasons for hope—reason to exist and their place within the whole scheme of things. And just as they thought that they had found that in Jesus, Jesus had been taken away from them. And, as far as they were concerned, that meant all their hopes had been dashed.

Sadly, what they failed to realise was they were on the right track. But they’d just got it wrong regarding the empty tomb. And as a consequence, neither Mary, Peter, nor John in those early hours, were looking for a risen Lord. All they expected was a dead body. And that coloured everything that they did.

Now, in one sense what happened on that first Easter Day is quite understandable. After all, being told to expect the resurrection after three days—and actually experiencing it—would have been two totally different things. Yes, they had seen Jesus resurrect Lazarus from the dead. But Lazarus had not died in the way Jesus had died. And as a consequence, Jesus’s death and resurrection was not like anything they’d previously experienced at all.

But fortunately for them, over the next few minutes, hours, and days, they came face to face with the risen Jesus. They then began to accept the necessity of Jesus’s death, and they began to accept the reality and meaning of his resurrection too. Both his death and resurrection then went on to colour their lives in everything that they said, did, and believed. And as a consequence, their search for meaning and purpose in life was fulfilled.


Now, fortunately for us today, we are not faced with the mystery of the empty tomb. We have the benefit of knowing the whole story. And that includes all the proofs of the resurrection, which at this point in our story, Mary, Peter, and John did not know. Regardless of that though, there are people who do not accept Jesus was either crucified or resurrected even now.

The question for us today then is, ‘In our search for purpose, and meaning in life, what have we, as individuals, done with the death of Jesus?’

1. A Story Book Character
For example, if we read the story of Jesus, and leave out both his death and resurrection and simply get engaged in the things that he said and did, we are left with either a figure from history, or simply a nice story to read. In it, we may see someone who expressed good ideals—and maybe some we would find useful to adopt—but the story would have no more meaning than that.

And if that’s the way we see the story, then unlike Mary, Peter, and John we won’t be serious about looking for true meaning and purpose in life. Because without the death and resurrection of Jesus, we won’t possibly find it.

2. Someone Who Died – And That’s It
Alternatively, if we read the story of the death of Jesus and find ourselves faced with the empty tomb, and we get stuck there, never quite believing in the resurrection and, consequently, we identify fully with Mary, Peter, and John’s expectation of seeing a dead body. and have difficulty in progressing the story any further . . . Then if that’s the case, we’ve still missed the most important part of the story. Because, without the resurrection, without God’s stamp of approval on the reasons for the crucifixion, Jesus would have sacrificed himself for nothing. And as a consequence, it won’t help us much regarding our quest for purpose or meaning of life either.

3. Or Someone Who Is Very Much Living Today
On the other hand, if we read the story, and if we accept that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead, and that his death had a purpose, and that purpose was so that all will rise from the dead—those who believe, to eternal life with God. And those who don’t believe, to eternal destruction. And if we have trusted Jesus totally to see us through. Then, if we do that, we will indeed have found life, and purpose, and hope. And all because of the belief in Jesus having been risen from the dead.

4. Application
In other words, depending upon what our response is to the story of Jesus, depends on how it reflects in our lives.

If Jesus was an important figure of history—but only a story book character—then we may be influenced by the way Jesus lived his life, and we might show concern for helping others, and we might go through the motions of religious observance, but that is about as far as it will go.

If we believe in a story of a good man who died, and that’s it . . . Well, all we end up with is nothing. Jesus died without purpose, so there’s a limit to what we can learn for him. And it certainly shouldn’t, necessarily, make any noticeable difference to our lives.

However, if we are truly serious about the story—and particularly regarding the death and resurrection of Jesus—then we will have found purpose to life and something to live for. And as a consequence, that should result in nothing less than a life dedicated to God, where our relationship to God, and being obedient to God, is our number one priory. And as a consequence of that, a life dedicated to spending time with God’s people, learning, encouraging, and building each other up. A life dedicated to joining in together in the worship of God. And, in addition to that, a life dedicated to sharing with others what we believe and what we have received for ourselves.

Each of the choices radically different from the other, and each a result of the different responses to Jesus’s life, crucifixion, and resurrection.


Now, as I said at the outset, one of the features of life is that people are constantly searching for things—and searching for people too. It’s part and parcel of being who we are.

Of course, some of the things that we search for can be relatively insignificant, while other things can be quite profound. Some of the things that we search for are things that are new, and other things are things we have lost.

What the story of the resurrection tells us though is that even though our intentions may be good, sometimes we can lose track of what it is that we are searching for.

Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John were three people who should have known better. They’d spent a lot of time with Jesus and heard much of what he had to say, including being forewarned about his death and resurrection. And yet regarding the empty tomb, they still only searched for a dead body.

Of course, all that is history now. And, while their unbelief was quickly corrected, we have the benefit of knowing the whole story.

The question for us for us today, then, is, ‘Have we worked out the purpose and meaning of life? Are we still searching for it, or have we got it right?’

When we read, hear, or see the story of the empty tomb what do we believe?

That it is a nice story to read but we prefer to concentrate on the life of Jesus—a story where we’ve decided that we can take certain things, things that may make us a better person in life but without making too much of a commitment.

That Jesus died but that was it and, as a consequence, it has no real bearing on our lives?

Or did Jesus really rise from the dead with all that that implies?

Which version of Jesus have we found? Which one fits us best?

Posted: 18th January 2022
© 2022, Brian A Curtis