The Chair – John 20
Preached at Clarksville Highway Church of Christ
April 16, 2017
Scotty Smalls, Hamilton “Ham” Porter, Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, Alan McClennan “Yeah-Yeah”, Michael “Squints” Palledorous, Kenny DeNunez, Timmy and Tommy Timmons are fictional characters from the movie The Sandlot. The Sandlot was released in 1993 and highlights a group of kids who spent the summer playing backyard baseball but also chronicles their mischief typical of kids that age. From Squints kissing Wendy Peffercorn by the pool to the ongoing feud with a massive dog named “The Beast” this movie is filled Americana at its finest. The movie’s main plot is Smalls effort to get a baseball he borrowed from his stepdad that was signed by Babe Ruth that was hit in the Mr. Mertle’s backyard where the beast lies. They have to get it and eventually they do through some divine intervention by Babe Ruth himself. There are a number of lines from the movie that people quote even to this day:
Ham Porter: Hey, Smalls, you wanna s’more?
Smalls: Some more of what?
Ham Porter: No, do you wanna s’more?
Smalls: I haven’t had anything yet, so how can I have some more of nothing?
Ham Porter: You’re killing me Smalls! These are s’more’s stuff! Ok, pay attention. First you take the graham, you stick the chocolate on the graham. Then you roast the ‘mallow. When the ‘mallows flaming… you stick it on the chocolate. Then cover with the other end. Then you scarf. Kind of messy, but good! Try some!
“You play baseball like a girl!”
What I find intriguing about that movie is how that one summer changed the lives of those kids forever. Eventually the kids moved away from the neighborhood and the team was never the same but that one summer shaped the narrative of their lives forever. It changed them. Each character in this story had an integral part and the movie chronicled how that particular summer changed each character forever.
Today is Easter which, if you have participated, is the culmination of the season of Lent that started with Ash Wednesday some 46 days ago. The season is one that historically highlights the need for cleansing from our sin and so disciplines like fasting, confession and repentance are substantial components in this season. If Advent celebrates the birth of Jesus then Lent mourns his death as a result of our sin. All across the globe, most Christians are celebrating today. While Lent does spend time in mourning and repentance, Easter itself is about newness and life. Death, as it were, could not hold Jesus captive. The grave could not contain him. This morning I want to share some stories from John 20 of different characters. Like the Sandlot, the resurrection changed the lives of these characters forever. I want to use their stories as a mirror so that by reading their post-resurrection life we can see ourselves in that story and live in the newness offered to us. I am jumping ahead. First, the text.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed 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.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 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 returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other 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.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because 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 she told them that he had said these things to her. When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
After Jesus rose the first one on the scene is a woman by the name of Mary Magdalene. We do not have much to go on about this woman. There are ten references of her in the New Testament and most of those centers around the resurrection. Luke records an incident in Luke 8 where Mary is mentioned in passing. There was a host of women who were cured from evil spirits and infirmities that followed Jesus during his ministry and Mary is listed as one of those but adds a detail: she had been healed from seven demons (Luke 8:1-2). Seven. It is bad enough to have one demon tormenting your spirit with malicious mischief but to have seven of those things inflicting demonic torture must have been too much to bear. Luke does not give us grand details of how it happened so all we have is a simple statement that she was healed.
In our text Mary does two things: 1) She informs Peter the body of Jesus is missing and 2) She is most likely the first person to see Jesus. For Mary, the resurrection solidified her long service to Jesus. We do not have a lot of details about Mary perhaps because she was too busy serving Jesus and ministering to him. Jesus didn’t appear first to his apostles but to a woman. Her job was to share the message of Jesus with the other disciples that he was there. I think many of us think we have to contain some huge mission for us to participate in the kingdom. Her mission during the life of Jesus was to minister to him and when he arose her job was to say, “I have seen the Lord.” Nothing magnificent or book worthy. Just simple acts of obedience.
Many times in my life I struggle at knowing if I am really following the will of God. I have this utopic vision that my walk with God must mirror Paul’s Damascus vision or it has to be grandiose in some divine fashion. Yet, many people who seem closer to God than myself (which is a lot of people) advise that to do the will of God is as simple as doing the next obedient thing. Mary was obedient to Jesus and the resurrection allowed her to flourish in that obedience sharing the message of newness with everyone.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said, “Only those who are lost will find the promised land.” If that statement is true than there is no better person who bear witness to that truth than the Apostle Peter. One of the worst smells I have discovered in recent years is what I call the post-baseball-softball-soccer-foot smell. The stench is, for all intents and purposes, unbearable. I am not sure what unholy demon camps inside their sock during a ballgame but it is clear that when they take their shoes off evil is on the prowl. Something that is equally as disturbing is that a couple days after their ball game I will open my truck door to get in and to my surprise the smell is still alive and well in my vehicle.
Just two days before the empty tomb the last thing Peter did was deny Jesus despite claiming he would NEVER do so. In Luke’s account he even said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (Lk. 22:33). It was also in Luke who recorded Peter’s three denials and then adds this eerie detail: “The Lord turned back and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord…and he went out and wept bitterly” (Lk. 22:61-62). Here Peter is, two days later standing at the tomb of Jesus and, like my kids feet smell, the stench of his sin is still very fresh. Fresh is not the word…the smell of his sin is “putrid.” Perhaps this is why he and another disciple get in a foot race toward the tomb. We are not told the name of this disciple. Some say it is the Apostle John while others think it was Lazarus. It does not matter as to the identity of this disciple more so than the veracity of which they ran. Perhaps Peter was beat because he was not as gifted or maybe he spent too much time eating fish. Who knows?
Of all the disciples I think Peter most wanted the resurrection to happen. There was no closure and, more importantly, no meat to the understanding that Jesus died and rose for him. I think many of us are like Peter. Peter truly was not going to follow Jesus like he should until he fell completely on his back in his sin. The same pain that Peter experienced is exactly the same pain that would propel him to helping lead the early movements of the church. Jonathan Martin, in his book How to Survive a Shipwreck, said this:
If you wish to become someone and something else entirely than the you that was before the storm came . . . you will have to peer into the sea that threatens to swallow you whole, dive into the mouth of it— and trust. You will have to let God happen to you, which requires letting life happen to you, all the way down. You cannot continue to flail your arms, beat against the sea, and damn the waves. You have to let yourself go all the way under— into the depths of God, into the depths of your own soul, into the depths, of life itself.
Many of you have been in this chair and are even in this chair right now. Outwardly you look like you got it together but inwardly you have not identified the shipwreck that is sure to happen. You may not deny Christ overtly but inwardly your denial is as fresh as Peter’s was. The resurrection for Peter was a fresh start on an old problem.
Many of you will not be able to relate with Mary Magdalene and perhaps a few of you can relate to Peter but I think all of us, Christian and non-Christian, can relate to Thomas. When everyone made the claim, “We have seen the Lord!” he had his tight fists and shouted, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Since uttering those words folks have dubbed him, “Doubting Thomas.” I don’t think that is very fair, do you? I am going to make a claim that will probably offend some but will hit home with most: “A faith that is free of doubt isn’t really faith at all.” Greg Boyd in his book Benefit of the Doubt said,
A true and living faith is never a destination; it’s a journey. And to move forward on this journey we need the benefit of doubt. There’s a kind of doubt that is appropriate as we’re making our way toward a covenantal relationship with Christ, for we need to rationally decide what and who we’re going to base our faith on. Otherwise our faith commitment is determined by nothing more than chance.
Perhaps we could learn from Thomas a bit and realize that having faith in Jesus is something that is difficult. We do not have the luxury of the disciples who could see the risen Lord but that does not lessen the reality that he did rise!
If you are here this morning I totally understand if you don’t buy into this Christian thing. Perhaps you have lost loved ones tragically and somehow hearing about God’s love just does not resonate with your story right now. Or maybe you would like to believe in Jesus but there are so many who don’t act like him. Perhaps they post heated political messages or maybe they cast judgment on folks when it isn’t their place to do so. I totally understand where you are coming from. Yet, at the same time, our doubt and struggle does not weaken our covenantal relationship with him but it actually strengthens it. Think of how confident Thomas was after wrestling with his doubt and then getting assurance from Jesus himself. He wasn’t a “lesser disciple” because of his doubt, rather I would argue he had a deeper commitment post resurrection. Frederick Buechner said, “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving!”
So are you like Mary Magdalene? Perhaps you have faithfully served the Lord for years and your post resurrection task is to simply to follow God’s will by being obedient. Are you like Peter? The freshness of your sin is still on you. Perhaps you need to be washed today of your sin and realize the opportunities for you. Are you like Thomas? You can’t seem to make a commitment to Jesus because there are a list of things you are quite comfortable with and you have more questions than you do answers. My only statement is welcome to the club. Wherever you are these three stories remind us that the resurrection changes us. It should at least. Easter is not about chocolate, pastels, eggs, peeps, Instagram pics, cute outfits, family dinner or lunch. Although those are good things (minus Peeps which are Satanic) Easter is really about the risen Lord who offers us a chair that is at his table. Each one of us are asked to sit in the chair…
” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
Natalie Grant released a song called “Clean” that I want you to meditate on the words. Then after that song we will stand and sing together as an empty tomb gives us an empty chair so that we can sit in it and come to the table. Will you sit in that table?
Grace and peace.
 Jonathan Martin, How to Survive a Shipwreck: Help Is On the Way and Love Is Already Here (p. 23).
 Gregory A. Boyd, Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty, (p. 151).