A brief overview for Sunday School teachers and Bible study leaders, of Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” lesson of John 20:1-18 for Easter Sunday, April 9, 2023.
(A video version of this overview is available on YouTube at:
INTRO: Frank Morrison was an English lawyer who lived in the early 1900s. At one point on his life he set out to write a book he was going to call “Disproving The Resurrection of Jesus.” But afte his research was over, he wrote an entirely different book than he anticipated. Instead he called it: “Who Moved The Stone,” and it is a book that is now considered a classic in the annals of law, which confirms the resurrection of Jesus! In the opening of his book he writes:
“This study is, in some ways, so unusual and provocative that the writer thinks it desirable to state here very briefly how the book came to take its present form.
In one sense, it could have taken no other, for it is essentially a confession, the inner story of a man who originally set out to write one kind of book and found himself compelled by the sheer force of circumstances to write quite another. … Somehow the perspective shifted — not suddenly, as in a flash of insight or inspiration, but slowly, almost imperceptibly, by the very stubbornness of the facts themselves.”
Another possible introduction to the lesson — or you could use it elsewhere — is this quote, by British historian Arnold Toynbee: “If only they could have found the body of that Jew, Christianity crumbles into ruins.”
Then ask: ??? WHY do you think he might say that??? Is he right???
(Answer: Paul says if Christ is not risen, our faith is vain! It does all depend on the resurrection.)
We are “jumping ahead” just a bit in our study of the Book of John, as Sunday is Easter Sunday, so we’re looking at John Chapter 20, which gives us the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead on the 3rd day. (Then next week we’ll go back to John 15 & 16, and more on the ministry of the Holy Spirit.)
But as Chapter 20 opens, Jesus has just been crucified, and His body was laid to rest in a new tomb in a nearby garden.
I. The Amazing Discovery: :1-8
II. The Scriptural Prediction :9-10
III. The Personal Relationship :11-18
I. The Amazing Discovery
??? Have you ever gone to see someone/something, and were surprised/shocked when you got there???
(Maybe the person you went to see looked so much weaker/sicker/older. Or maybe it was beyond your greatest imagination, like the Grand Canyon.
Or maybe it was a big letdown. In Tony Horwitz’ book A Voyage Long & Strange he writes about how he went to Massachusetts to see Plymouth Rock, and when he got there he was SO disappointed — it was just some small flat rock with a bunch of trash around it; it wasn’t what he expected.
You/your class have had experiences like that, when you went somewhere, but it wasn’t what you expected.
Then = how Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ grave, but was totally surprised/shocked when she got there!
??? What you think she THOUGHT she was going to find???
(A tomb sealed up with a rock; Roman soldiers; a dead Jesus, etc.
But she found something totally different!
:1 “Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.”
Several things here:
— The first day of the week was Sunday
— Mary Magdalene came to the tomb
— She came EARLY, “while it was still dark”
— and the stone was already taken away.
Matthew 28 fills in some other details: that another Mary came with Mary Magdalene; (the other gospels tell us there were even more) and that the stone had been rolled away by an angel, who had appeared to the guards on the tomb, who fainted like dead men!
:2 says she ran and told Peter and John, who then ran to the tomb and looked in.
:6 says they saw the linen wrappings lying there, but :7 says “and the face cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.”
??? Why do you think this verse is there??? What do you think is the significance of the face cloth being rolled up in a place by itself???
(I don’t know that there is a “right” answer; it has intrigued many Bible students.
— For one, no one just stole the body with the graveclothes on. The body had come OUT. That is significant.
— And then face-cloth being carefully laid aside like that seems very purposeful. It was not “hastily ripped off” or something like that. It was a deliberate action.
— And then I would say this is just one of those details that make a story credible. Why would you make this detail up? It’s not something anybody would expect. These are the kinds of details that happen in real-life situations — and it lends credence to the fact that these people really saw this happen.
So Peter SAW this, but then :8 says John “saw and believed.”
WHAT did he believe? This takes us to the next section:
II. The Anticipated Prediction
:9 “For as yet they did not understand the SCRIPTURE, that He must rise again from the dead.”
“As yet” means “up to this point.” But now evidently John DID believe both “the scriptures” AND the predictions that Jesus had Himself made about rising from the dead.
I think it’s important for us to look at how the Bible says that Jesus’ resurrection was predicted by the Scriptures:
— here in John 20:9 it says “the Scripture (said) that He must rise from the dead.”
— I Cor 15:4: “He rose again on the 3rd day, according to the SCRIPTURES”
— Lk 24:46 He said to them, “Thus it is WRITTEN, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead on the 3rd day”
So at least THREE TIMES the Bible says that Jesus’ resurrection was “according to the scriptures.”
This refers to OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECIES of the resurrection of the Messiah from the dead;
Years ago I read where someone had written that there was NO Old Testament prophecy that ever predicted Jesus’ resurrection.
But that is just not true. There certainly ARE scriptures that point to the Resurrection, just as the Bible says here.
— Psalm 16:10: “You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, nor allow Your Holy One to undergo corruption.” Bible scholars tell us that the phrase, “Your Holy One” never refers to David, but only to the Messiah. So it was predicted that the Messiah’s body would not see corruption.
— Isaiah 53 dramatically prophesies the death of Jesus — but it also hints at His resurrection as well. After it talks about how His grave would be with a rich man, it says: “he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand” (Isa 53:10b). So after He dies, His days would be “prolonged” — He would rise again from the dead!
— Many believe Jonah DIED when he was in the belly of the fish and God made him alive on the 3rd day, as a picture of what He would do in Jesus. It is significant that Jesus QUOTES Jonah as He predicts His resurrection. So evidently JESUS saw Jonah as one of “the scriptures” that predicted His resurrection.
— Hosea 6:1-2 “. . . for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.” Again, a very specific prediction that God would bring them salvation — “re-vive” (which literally means “make alive again”) on the 3rd day.
So there are a NUMBER of scriptures in the Old Testament which look forward to the Resurrection of the Messiah.
IN ADDITION to that, Jesus HIMSELF also prophesies in advance that He would be crucified, and rise again on the 3rd day:
ACTIVITY/INVOLVEMENT: I would print these verses/references out on a slip of paper, and give them to members/volunteers in advance to read at this point. Hearing these multiple references to Jesus predicting His resurrection will be a powerful exercise:
Matthew 12:39-40: “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
Matthew 16:21 “From that time Jesus began to show to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.”
Matthew 17:22-23 “And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men ; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day .” And they were deeply grieved.”
Mark 8:31 ”The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31)
Mark 9:30-32 “For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be [a]handed over to men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.” But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him.”
Luke 9:22 “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes , and be killed and be raised up on the third day.”
Luke 18:31-33 Now He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all the things that have been written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be [a]handed over to the Gentiles, and will be ridiculed, and abused, and spit upon, and after they have flogged Him, they will kill Him; and on the third day He will rise.”
Matthew 27:62-64 “On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate saying, ‘Sir, we remember, while he was still alive, how that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise.” Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, “He has risen from the dead.” So the last deception will be worse than the first’.”
??? What is the special significance of THIS verse???
(Not only did Jesus’ disciples know that that He had predicted that He would rise from the dead, His ENEMIES knew it too — and reported it here. This tells us that they had obviously heard that He predicted He would rise on the 3rd day. That not only His DISCIPLES, but also His ENEMIES testified to this, is even more powerful!
??? So what do you think the importance is, of all these scriptures???
(That Jesus predicted His resurrection in advance is a MUCH more powerful argument, right?)
What’s more impressive: a man who breaks the world record — or a man who had said for 3 years that he was going to break it?
(I think most people would say the man who called it in advance was more impressive. He didn’t “just happen” to do it; He CALLED it!)
Another illustration is from back in the old days of the NFL/AFL and the first Super Bowls between those leagues. The newer AFL teams weren’t as good as the older, established NFL teams and the NFL had won each game of the first two Super Bowls by 3-4 touchdowns. But before Super Bowl III in January 1969, New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath said “We’ll win; I guarantee it.” Everyone laughed. The Baltimore Colts were 3 touchdown favorites. There was no way the Jets were going to win. But they did! 16-7. But not only was it amazing that they DID it; but that Namath actually CALLED it in advance.
(Not everyone can do that. Our son was a placekicker on a high school team that was facing a powerful rival and one of our star players “guaranteed” a win over the rival — and they got so fired up they trounced our son’s school!) But Namath and the Jets didn’t just upset the Colts; he CALLED it; so it has gone down in history.
We need to understand that is what Jesus did with His resurrection from the dead, that we celebrate on Easter Sunday. He didn’t “just” rise from the dead — He CALLED it in advance. Let’s make sure that our class members see that in our passage this week in John 20.
It all goes to show that, just as Romans 1:4 says, Jesus “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” People are always saying things like: “Well, of all the gods and religions and religious gurus, how we know which is the true one?” — as if there was no way to know. There IS a way to know Romans 1:4 indicates. God basically said, I’ll SHOW you which one is My Son — I’ll raise Him from the dead. The resurrection proved that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He is worthy of our personal commitment to Him — which I would address in this last section:
III. The Personal Relationship
There are several indicators here in this part of John 20 that point to the PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP that Mary had with Jesus:
— :13 says an important thing: “Because they have taken away MY Lord and I do not know where they have laid Him.”
Sometimes a very little word is very important, isn’t it?
??? What do you think is a very important little word there??? (The word “MY”! Mary didn’t just “they have taken away THE Lord;” she said, “they have taken away MY Lord”!)
She made it personal.
It’s like we talked about with Martha in John 11, where Jesus told her “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” and then He asked her: “Do you believe this?” Jesus was asking her about her own personal commitment to Him
— We see this again in :16, when Mary at first thinks Jesus is the gardener, and asks Him where they have put the body of Jesus.
And :16 says: “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’
??? Someone using your name??? What did it mean to you?
(Sometimes it can be very meaningful; that someone really knows you. On the other hand, I DON’T like to be called by name by someone who doesn’t really know me. It is like a “sales gimmick.” My name is personal.
And it certainly was here. Jesus called her by NAME. And He knows OUR names too!
— Then in :16 after He calls her “Mary,” she responds, “RABBONI.” It says “which means ‘teacher,’ but it is really more than that. Literally it means “MY teacher”! Here is yet another indicator of the PERSONAL relationship.
Most of us are familiar with the term, “Rabbi,” which means “teacher.” “Rabboni” was a term that refers to the highest teacher in Israel — it would be something like the President of the Sanhedrin, or the President of the SBC, or whatever.
And especially that “i” ending in Hebrew/Aramaic, “Rabboni,” means MY teacher.
Again, it is personal. Not just that He is THE teacher; but that He is MY teacher. He is this to ME.
— We see this personal aspect again in :17, where Jesus tells Mary: “I ascend to My Father and your Father, My God and your God.” This is kind of a unique way to phrase things, but again He is making this point:
My Father is YOUR Father; My God is YOUR God.
It WAS for Mary — but the question for each of us is, is this so for YOU?
This is something important to do on this Easter Sunday morning. Everyone will be there celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus — but challenge each group member: do YOU have personal faith in Jesus? Can you “MY Lord” about Him? Have you ever really made Him the Lord & Savior of YOUR life?
And if you think there might be lost class members present, you could take a moment and say, “Let’s bow our heads, and I’m going to lead in a prayer of salvation; if you need to, ask Jesus to be YOUR Lord & Savior right now and nail it down.” And encourage them to tell you after class if they prayed that prayer — or tell the pastor during the invitation at the service, or tell someone what they did today.
It could be one of the best and most important things you do Sunday: make sure your group members make it personal, that they can say “MY Lord.”
A couple of other things that might be helpful to you with the lesson this Sunday:
C.S. Lewis wrote: “The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Book of Acts.”
If you look at all the messages the disciples preached in the Book of Acts, you will see that’s true. The resurrection — you killed Him, but God raised Him up — is in every sermon they preached. The resurrection is the heart of the Christian message.
As Paul writes in I Corinthians 15:14-19, if Christ is not raised, your faith is in vain. You might even read that passage and discuss how different things would be, if Jesus were not risen from the dead.
Another story you might use for a conclusion to this lesson, or wherever it might fit in your particular lesson plan:
I’ve shared in some previous lessons about the testimony of Nabeel Qureshi, in the book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Qureshi was a Muslim who was led to Christ in college by his friends.
Qureshi and his friends went to a debate at Regent University between a Muslim and a Christian. After the debate, Qureshi admitted to his friends that the Resurrection seemed to be the best explanation of historical facts about Jesus.
“David couldn’t resist taking the opportunity to jab me. ‘So, Nabeel, are you a Christian yet?’
‘In your dreams!’ I laughed, punching David on the shoulder. ‘We still haven’t looked at whether Jesus claimed to be God, which is a bigger issue to me. Plus, when it comes time to investigate Islam, you’ll see how strong arguments can be. It’s untouchable. As far as arguments go, the only thing Christianity has over Islam is the resurrection.’
Gary looked at Mike as if he couldn’t believe what he had just heard. ‘The only thing we’ve got is the resurrection? Buddy, that’s all we need!’” (Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, pp. 167-168)
That’s a pretty good word right there! The Resurrection of Jesus — that’s all we need! Might be a good way to wrap up your lesson this week.
I’ll say a prayer for everyone who watches this video or reads the blog overview this Easter weekend — and if you write something in the Comments below, I’ll be sure to pray specifically for your and your group by name this week.
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Per my licensing agreement with Lifeway:
– These weekly lessons are based on content from Explore the Bible Adult Resources. The presentation is my own and has not been reviewed by Lifeway.
– Lifeway resources are available at: goExploretheBible.com and: goexplorethebible.com/adults-training
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The resurrection is the heart of the Christian message. (Perfect statement) He is My Lord. He knows my name. It is personal. Thank you Shawn for a great insight to this lesson.
Thank you so much for your diligent work in providing these notes to help as we prepare to teach the lesson. I enjoy hearing your illustrations. Phil Smith
Thanks for the great additions to such a central truth of our faith.
Shawn thank you so much for all your lessons. I read them every week. I too have the book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Thought it so interesting and happy that Nabeel did find Jesus. Am I thinking wrong or did he die not long after this? Thanks, Norine
Yes ma’am, he died of stomach cancer about three years after he published that book.
Thank you so much. I appreciate so much the questions you suggest because they give our classes a time to interact and share. We learn through understanding and that comes through thinking things through. When we think visually and auditory and speak it, hopefully it resonates within each member of our class.
Please pray for me. I broke my shoulder when we were on a long awaited trip to Switzerland to cruise down the Rhine. I went anyway but it’s a long road ahead with physical therapy. God hass made sure I could still type!!!! LOL Thanks again for your encouragement. Cindi Neverdousky, Cross Timbers Baptist, Willow Park, Texas
Thanks Pastor Shawn. Your Outline and explanation is a great help for me in preparing a Sunday School Lesson here in Philippines. God bless you.
I so appreciate your lessons each week. I always like your shares and stories.
I lead a ladies study using Explore the Bible.