This is the Easter Sunday sermon for Sunday, April 12, 2009.
The significance of the folded face-cloth.
John 20:1-7 NLT(se) – 1 Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 2 She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”3 Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. 4 They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. 6 Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, 7 while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. 8 Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed—9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.
This Resurrection Sunday we decided to do something a little different. We wanted to make a day celebrating the resurrection of our Lord and fellowshipping with one another. For the believer, Easter Sunday should be at time of rejoicing. You see, our Lord, has been raised from the dead. No other person, no other great philosopher, no other great teacher can make such a claim. We should rejoice today because death could not hold our Savior in the tomb. And if death is powerless over Him, please know this, as Christians, death is powerless over us. The reason is because we are in Christ, and though our outward body will one day decay and die, we will be made alive again in Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:20-22 ISV – 20 But at this moment Christ stands risen from the dead, the first one offered in the harvest of those who have died. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ will all be made alive.
Now this morning you may be wondering about the title of the sermon. Well, as I was looking into the resurrection Scriptures to preach this morning, verse 7 really lept out at me in our text.
John 20:7 NLT (se) – while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings.
Notice that this face-cloth was folded up. It means that Jesus, after He was resurrected actually took the time to fold up this face cloth. I believe that face-cloth being folded shows us a few things:
• First, this wasn’t some spiritual resurrection, but a physical one. This shows us that Jesus actually was resurrected with a Physical body, one that could actually take up things, and fold pieces of cloth like the one that covered His face. Think about this for just a moment: the hands that were pierced by spikes in His death were the same hands that took out the time to stop and fold up the face-cloth that covered His dead body after He was resurrected.
• Second, the folding of the face-cloth actually shows that Jesus was resurrected, as opposed to His body being stolen. There were rumors after Jesus was resurrected that some Roman soldiers took His body, or that His disciples took His body. But how many of you know that when someone takes something illegally, they don’t take the time to stop and clean up after themselves. Let me give you an example. When the church building was broken into and some of the equipment was stolen, the thieves didn’t leave the place clean, but with broken glass, thrown around chairs, etc… Jesus took time again to fold the face-cloth, which meant He wasn’t in a big hurry to leave like some grave-robber would be.
• Third, Jesus was interested even in the smallest detail when it came to the validity of His resurrection. How many of you have even noticed that the cloth that covered his face was folded? It is a very minor issue, but Jesus not only took time to do this tiny little act, The Holy Spirit made sure that we could read about this minor act, 2000 years after Jesus folded the cloth.
Now as we read our text this morning, we notice that there are three principle people involved in the story: Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the disciple that Jesus loved – the author of this gospel – John.
I’d like to use our imagination this morning. Have you ever wondered what the significance of the folded up face-cloth might have been to these three people? Well, if you don’t mind, let’s use our imagination to arrive at some fundamental truths concerning the significance of the folded face-cloth.
To Mary, the folded face-cloth might have represented Salvation for sinners.
Here is what we know from Scripture about Mary Magdalene:
Luke 8:1-2 ISV – 1 After this, Jesus traveled from one city and village to another, preaching and spreading the good news about God’s kingdom. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been healed of evil spirits and illnesses: Mary, also called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out;
There is a lot of debate out there right now about just who Mary Magdalene really was. Tradition states she was a prostitute, but there is no evidence from Scripture that states this. All we know is what this passage actually states. She at one time had been possessed by seven demons, and Christ cast them out.
So, really it doesn’t matter if she was a prostitute or not, we know that she was a sinner at one time that was possessed by evil. She had a glorious encounter with Jesus Christ and He freed her from the evil that controlled her. Perhaps when Mary saw the folded cloth, her mind went back to what Jesus did for her. She was in a hopeless, lost condition, completely unable to help herself out of this condition, yet Christ showed up and graciously saved her and freed her.
In many ways we are like Mary. Oh, I’m not saying we were all possessed. But we are like her in the fact that we are in a very hopeless state – this state is called sin. Notice Paul’s description:
Romans 3:9-18 ISV – 9 What, then, does this mean? Are we Jews any better off? Not at all! For we have already accused everyone, both Jews and Greeks, of being under the power of sin. 10 As it is written, “Not even one person is righteous. 11 No one understands. No one searches for God. 12 All have turned away. Together they have become worthless. No one shows kindness, not even one person! 13 Their throats are open graves. With their tongues they practice deception. The venom of poisonous snakes is under their lips. 14 Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. 15 Their feet are swift to shed blood. 16 Ruin and misery mark their ways. 17 They have not learned the path to peace. 18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
According to Paul, both Jew and Gentile are born under this condition of being bound to the power of sin. Oh, we may not have shed blood, but we’ve been angry enough with people to do some type of harm. We’ve talked bad about people, cursed people, and every-time we sinned we proved that we do not have any fear of God. Like Mary – we all stand guilty before God in this condition.
But the good news is Christ came in a world of unrighteousness to both reveal God’s righteousness and to make righteous those who believe in Him.
Romans 3:21-26 ISV – 21 But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness is revealed and is attested by the Law and the Prophets— 22 God’s righteousness through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and continue to fall short of God’s glory. 24 By his grace they are justified freely through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God offered as a place where atonement by Christ’s blood could occur through faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because he had waited patiently to deal with sins committed in the past. 26 He wanted to demonstrate at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the person who has the faithfulness of Jesus.
This reminds me of a wonderful story I heard in an online message I listened too this week, by a young Pastor named Matt Chandler. Here is a powerful true story he spoke about:
“It didn’t take long before my passion for the gospel and to see lost men and women saved started to collide with the church. And so it wasn’t very long before I decided that if I was going to do this, I wasn’t going to do it as a churchman. This break in me happened during my freshman year of college when I sat next to a 26-year-old single mother trying to get her degree. We began a dialogue about the grace and mercy of Christ in the cross…. A friend of mine was in a band playing in the area and we invited her to hear him. She agreed. She thought it would be a concert. I knew better…. The minister got up and said we would talk about sex. He took a red rose, smelled it, and threw it out in the crowd and told them to smell the rose. He then began one of the worst, most horrific handlings of what sex is and isn’t that I ever sat through. With Kim beside me, I’m thinking, “What are you doing?” As he wrapped up, he asked, “Where’s my rose?” Some kid brought the rose back and it was broken. His final point—his great crescendo—was to hold up the rose and ask, “Who wants this rose?” Anger welled up within me and I wanted to say, “Jesus wants the rose!” That’s the whole point of the gospel: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
So for us as well as Mary – this folded face-cloth represents the Salvation we have in Christ.
For Peter the folded face-cloth may have represented God’s gracious love to the backslider.
Luke 22:31-34 ISV – 31 “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has asked permission to sift all of you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail. When you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go even to prison and to death with you!” 34 But Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you deny three times that you know me.”
Here we see Jesus tell Peter that he was going to deny him. Can you imagine the guilt that Peter must have felt! The one Peter loved so greatly, when push came to shove, Peter denied. How horrible it must have been for Peter to carry this load of his sin against his Lord.
Now we all know the story about Peter fishing and the Lord asking him three times if he loved Him; but there is another thing that happened right after the resurrection concerning Peter. Like the face-cloth it is a small thing, but it is powerful when you look at it. You see, right after Jesus was resurrected the angels singled Peter out.
Mark 16:1-7 ISV – 1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices to go and anoint Jesus. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had just come up, they were going to the tomb. 3 They kept saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 Then they looked up and saw that the stone had been rolled away. (For it was a very large stone.)5 As they went into the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were utterly astonished. 6 But he said to them, “Stop being astonished! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here. Look at the place where they laid him. 7 But go and tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”
What a wonderful message the angels had – Peter, who had backslidden and sinned against His Lord is singled out, and Peter later is gloriously restored. Sometimes in our walk with Christ, the weight of the world may seem too great and for whatever reason, we may begin to lose focus and drift. Know this, if you are in this condition – God is singling you out this morning – He wants you to know that He will wrap His loving arms around you and restore you in a marvelous way.
So for Peter and us, this folded up cloth represents God’s love toward the backslider.
Too John this folded up face-cloth may have represented the closing message of his ministry.
John was different than all the other disciples. He had a special relationship with the Lord. He is also the only one of the original 12 that did not die a martyr’s death, but died of old age. He is also the one who would reveal another great truth about our resurrected Savior – He will one day come again.
Revelation 1:7-8 ISV – 7 Look! He is coming in the clouds. Every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of him. So be it! Amen. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” declares the Lord God, the one who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty.
What a great truth! Jesus Christ, the one who rose from the dead is one day coming back. Not to walk the humble hills of Galilee, but as the Alpha and the Omega, the Almighty, the Lord God!
So for both John and us, this folded up face-cloth represents the return of our Lord.
The folded face-cloth seems like a little thing, but it is powerful in its illustration. It represents Christ saving sinners – Christ restoring backsliders – and Christ coming again. Let this day be a joyous day as we celebrate His resurrection today.