Jesus’s Compassion and Our Mission: John 20:1–18 (Sermon)



Today is the most fantastic holiday of the year. Jesus has defeated death and conquered the grave. He is victorious. His victory is 

  • more wonderful than a Wimbledon and a World Series win, 

  • more superb than a Summer Olympic medal and Super Bowl ring, 

  • more tremendous than a NASCAR and an NCAA triumph. 

He gives you a sneak peek at the victory that is yours through Jesus’s resurrection from the grave. Death no longer has a hold on us who believe. It is a mere passage to heavenly reality with our Teacher, Master, Creator, Healer, Redeemer, Reconciler, Savior, Brother, Father, and Lover. We are one day closer to our grand reunion and celebration in heaven through Jesus’s resurrection 2000 years ago. I am getting ahead of myself.  


I have asked J. and L. L. to read for us. Please stand with me in honor of God’s Word. 


Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away 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.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had 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 went back to their homes. 


But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one 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.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 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.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. (John 20:1–18)


Thank you. Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your one and only Son, Jesus, to die in our place. Thank you that he conquered the grave 2000 years ago. We believe; help our unbelief. Please help us, amid our trials and tribulations, to trust in you. Please help us with our distractions and difficulties that we may depend on you. Please help us with our problems and pain to pursue you. Please help us. Help me now as I share your Word. Move in our hearts, minds, and souls by the power of your Spirit, in Jesus’s name, amen. You may be seated. 


We are breaking from our regular teaching on Matthew for this holiday. So instead, we will look at John, chapter 20. John is the last biography we have of Jesus. John wrote around AD 90. For three years, John was a follower and part of Jesus’s inner circle. Before that, he and his brother James were fishermen with Peter and his brother, Andrew. 


John tells his readers his purpose in writing in chapter 20, verse 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” (John 20:31, ESV).

John wanted us to believe and have life in Jesus. Jesus came to give us 

  • more than a moral code of conduct, 

  • more than a great example, 

  • more than comforting teaching, 

  • And more than a spot in heaven. 

He came to give us abundant life here and now and forever. 


In John chapter 19, Jesus died. In chapter 20, a wealthy man named Joseph of Arimathea arranged to bury Jesus in a new tomb. The Pharisee, Nicodemus, met Joseph that Friday and helped wrap Jesus’s body. They prepared it with 75 lbs of myrrh and aloe. They worked fast because of the Sabbath law. Our story picks up on Sunday morning when Sabbath ends 2000 years ago. 


In the passage that J. and L. read, we see two parts of one story. 

  • Vv. 1–10 An Empty Tomb

  • Vv. 11–18 A Risen Savior 

These two sections hang together with two people: Mary and Jesus. Why did John tell us this? These verses color in details the other writers overlooked. His take gives us insight into his understanding and details about Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus. 


What is so important about that? Through these verses, we see Jesus’s compassion to Mary and his plan for her. That translates for us to this: 

Jesus’s resurrection encounter 

demonstrates his compassion 

and propels us on a mission. 

Let’s dive in. 

POINT 1: Jesus’s Resurrection

First, Jesus rose from the dead. That is a fact. Though there are more reasons. I see three reasons to affirm Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. 

  1.  First, John witnessed the empty tomb and eventually the risen Lord. 

    1. He was not the only one.

      1. In our passage, he reports that Mary Magdalene saw Jesus. But she also had other women with her. In verse 2, she used the word “we” (John 20:2). The other biographers tell us that Mary, the mother of James and Salome, and Joanna were with her that day (Luke 24:10). 

      2. Peter and, eventually, the rest of the nine disciples were witnesses as well. 

      3. There are many more.  

    2. In Jewish tradition, you need two witnesses. John had more than that, and we have more than John. 

    3. The fact is that Jesus rose from the dead. 

  2.  Secondly, John’s recounting of the situation fits with the other gospel accounts. 

    1. They all bear witness that Jesus rose from the dead. 

    2. At the same time, they don’t all say the same thing, which is good. 

      1. When gathering witness accounts, it is a red flag if the witnesses parrot the same narrative. 

        1. Detective and Apologist J. Warner Wallace wrote, “In fact, if three different witnesses tell you precisely the same thing, be suspicious.” Three separate people saying the same thing sounds like plagiarism or collusion. 

        2. Although all four biographies name Mary Magdalene as a witness, they differ. 

        3. How? 

          1. Matthew reports that women met Jesus outside the tomb, and he doesn’t go into detail about Mary’s encounter. 

          2. Mark tells us how Jesus casts out seven demons from Mary but only briefly mentions that she saw him. 

          3. Luke tells us that women saw the empty tomb and met some angels. He doesn’t mention any of them meeting Jesus. 

          4. How do we reconcile various accounts? 

            1. Everyone has a perspective. John was using his memory to write his story. 

      2. In our day, we know this. 

        1. For example, this week, there was an accident on I-94. 

          1. Our daughter saw it from Dance Arts in Stevensville. 

          2. My son saw it on his ride to and from Driver’s Ed. 

          3. We had someone in church stuck in it calling Katie and giving her perspective. 

          4. They all said something different because they were seeing it from different angles. But all of them represented what they indeed witnessed. 

      3. Just because we have different perspectives doesn’t mean they contradict; we will expect to hear differences from each witness. And that is what we see.    

  3. Thirdly, John’s character lends to his credibility. 

    1. One might argue that John must have been out of his mind to claim this. 

      1. However, the other disciples and biographers claimed the same incredible truth. 

        1. Could they all have had some mass psychosis? 

          1. If so, how could the narrative gain significant support? 

          2. The opportunity to challenge insanity and illogical claims would be most substantial immediately. 

          3. The authorities certainly had the power, economy, opportunity, and motivation to silence such narratives. 

            1. Why didn’t they? 

              1. The reason why was that Jesus, indeed, rose from the dead. John and the five hundred other witnesses of the risen Jesus were not insane. 

    2. One might question his character differently and suggest he wrote to gain power or wealth. 

      1. Did he?

        1. No. 

        2. Why do I say that? According to a contemporary, Luke, who also wrote several books of the Bible:  

          1. People persecuted him for his faith,

          2. And they sent him to prison.  

        3. According to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, people went so far as to try to kill him. 

        4. So, why did he write and risk his life for this witness? He believed that Jesus rose from the dead with all his heart. 

    3. How else do we see his character? 

      1. We see it in his humility in writing anonymously. He never says who wrote the book. 

      2. Secondly, if he tried to convince the reader to believe and wanted to make up a narrative that made himself look better, he had the opportunity. For example, 

        1. He could have said he believed it from the beginning. 

        2. He could have said that he went into the tomb first. 

        3. And he could have said that he believed Mary. 

        4. He didn’t. 

      3. Why?  

        1. His goal was not to make himself look good but to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. 

        2. He did this so that we may believe that Jesus was the Son of God and have life in his name. 

    4. John’s character is not in question. It helps corroborate his conviction that Jesus rose from the dead. 

POINT 2 Compassion 

That brings us to my second point, from what we see uniquely in this passage. We see Jesus’s compassion. We see that through Mary’s encounter with Jesus. 

Mary’s State

She was broken. She had experienced Jesus’s power and help. Demons had oppressed her. She followed him, even to the cross. She saw his body hanging there. She heard the mocking. She witnessed the abuse and shame Jesus suffered. She saw the sky darken in the middle of the day, and Jesus gave up his life. She saw the soldier drive a spear through his side, and the blood and water flowed from him. She saw them take his body down. She saw the crowds disperse. She saw Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus take the body to the tomb. She saw. She watched. She grieved. She wept. He was dead. When the Sabbath was over, Mary and the women took a short walk to Jesus’s tomb. They brought spices to care for what they thought Joseph and Nicodemus neglected. The women experienced an earthquake. They came to the grave. And a stone weighing about 2,000 to 4,000 pounds kept Jesus’s body secure. However, it was not blocking the entrance anymore.  (

Not only that, his body was gone. The linen burial clothes remained. Someone took the time to fold the face cloth. What had happened? Mary wanted answers. This wasn’t making sense.  

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.” (John 20:2, ESV)

Where was Jesus? Peter and John ran. As a runner, I love all their running. The distance might have been something like three-quarters of a mile. Peter and John wanted to see for themselves. Arriving at the tomb, they discovered that Mary was telling the truth. The tomb was empty. Peter and John turned around and headed back to tell the others. 

Mary was back at the tomb. She still didn’t understand what was going on. She wept and wept and wept some more. She went in. She was not alone. Two angels were there. They asked her why she was crying. She gave her response. She turned to the entrance. Another person asked the same question, 

“Woman, why are you weeping? 

And then another question. 

Whom are you seeking?” (John 20:15, ESV).

The interrogator knew her answers. He knew what was going on. He cared for her. 

“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’ ” (John 20:15, ESV).

She wanted her Teacher back. She wanted to see her Lord. Was this a nightmare? Would it all end when she awoke? What was going on? She was wrestling. She can put things in their proper place if she has the body. She could see him one last time. She could use the spices she brought with the women to care for the dead. It was at that point that,  

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’ ” (John 20:16, ESV). 

What? This was no gardener, no soldier, no spectator, no angel. This person knew her name, Mary. She wasn’t a demon-possessed person or an undefined woman. This person didn’t call her by her tribe or nationality. He knew her name: Mary. Jesus had compassion for her. 

“She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher)” (John 20:16, ESV). 

Her Teacher, healer, and Master was alive. He was not dead. He had risen and now stood before her alive and well. 

Jesus’s resurrection encounter 

demonstrates his compassion 


Some of you have sorrows and burdens only you know about. What losses have you experienced this year? What disappointments have you suffered? All of us have trials and tribulations. Where do you need God’s comfort and compassion? Jesus came to help us and heal our sin-sick souls through his death and resurrection. He has compassion for you. 

JOHN 3:16

John 3:16 tells us that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. God loves the world. That means God loves you. 


Romans 5:8 tells us that God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Will you accept it? Will you see, hear, and receive his compassion for your soul? Some resist. Pride is a barrier to receiving God’s grace. Humble yourself to embrace the truth that John gave his life for and that Mary witnessed. God’s compassion is your simply by faith in him. Don’t believe in yourself or your plans as the ultimate hope. And don’t put your hope in a pastor, a church, a corporation, an investment, or a political party to substitute what God offers you today. Hear the Spirit speak to you in that small voice calling you to repent of selfishness and believe in the Savior. Hear God’s love. He loves you so much that he sent Jesus to live, die, and rise. Receive that in your heart now. Tell God you believe; you believe he died in your place. You receive his compassion. Tell him you need him. If you do, let me know. We want to celebrate the work of God in our midst. God is not done. He is at work. He is moving among his people. He is calling people to himself. He cares. Will you receive his compassion in your heart today? 


Many of you have received God’s compassion, like Mary. Great. God is not finished with you. Nor was he with Mary. That brings me to the last point, and I will make this point brief.

Jesus’s resurrection encounter 

demonstrates his compassion 

and propels us on a mission. 

Mary sought to embrace Jesus, but he said to her, 

“Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17, ESV). 

Jesus could not be held up. He had yet to ascend, and Mary had a job to do. Our faith does not end with belief. It begins. Her Teacher had an assignment. The class was not over. Mary had something to do. Look at Jesus’s instruction. 

“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.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. (John 20:17–18, ESV) 

Mary was the first evangelist. She took the risk of rejection by sharing her experience. 

  • What if the authorities had caught her on her way back to the disciples? 

  • What if the disciples laughed at her, mocked her, and ignored her when she got to the Upper Room? 

  • Would they listen? 

  • Would they believe her? People knew her past. 

  • Would they call her crazy? How many people get raised from the dead? Thoughts like this may have swirled around in her head, creating resistance to obedience. But in the end, it didn’t matter. She obeyed Jesus. She went and told the disciples what Jesus had told her to say. 


Mary was the first witness but not the last. God has you here for a reason. He wants you to know his compassion, not to keep it to yourself but to share it. You have a mission. Where has God placed you? You may be the only Jesus people ever meet. If you believe God raised Jesus from the dead, you are his ambassador with an assignment. The world is hurting and needs God’s compassion. So how do we do it? Mary shared her experience. You can as well. How? Here are two simple suggestions. 

  1. Be in relationships with people

You can cold call people and tell them about Jesus, but that doesn’t work well in our society. Spending time with those who need to know Jesus’s compassion works better. Whom do you work with? Whom do you study with? Who do you hang out with? Whom do you eat with? Use your 168 hours in the week to be in a relationship with others who need to hear about Jesus’s compassion.  

  1. Be in relationship with Jesus. 

Please get to know him. Encounter him through an active pursuit every day through his Word, the Bible, prayer, and the faith community. Jesus has not left us, nor has he forsaken us. He is with us through his Spirit. Will you listen to his voice? It takes time and space. First, create some margin in your life to be in a relationship with Jesus. Then when you listen to him, he may challenge you to share the good news with those around you. He may inspire you. He may motivate you. He may give you words to say that are not your own. You can share how God answered a prayer. You can share how God encouraged you or helped you. God has a purpose for you, friends. Join me in this mission to share the risen Jesus’s compassion. 


Let’s pray. Dear God…

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