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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1291

February 26, 2017 John 20:1-18

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript. This series is based on the Book Jesus Speaks by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola)


“The Voice of Jesus: To Mary”


This is yet another sermon series! This series is based on the Bible first, of course, but also on a book by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola titled Jesus Speaks. It’s main goal is to assist us in hearing God’s voice. How many times have you wished or prayed for God to speak to you, to tell you what to do, or to answer some particular prayer? The book Jesus Speaks was written out of a survey that asked people their greatest struggle in their Christian walk and many spoke of discerning the Lord’s voice. So, I want to spend the Sundays between now and Easter looking at the various ways Jesus spoke to people in the Bible post-Easter and how we might tune our ears to better hearing.


Today we look at the day of resurrection and we will be looking at all that followed in how the resurrected Jesus spoke to his people.


  • The Voice of Jesus at Dawn


When Mary came to the tomb, it was dark. She could see that the stone had been rolled back. The tomb was empty. Jesus does not speak in words here, but in action. He is risen! The story reveals confusion and anguish in the question of where they had taken his body. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

The voice of Jesus speaks in his absence. The absence is alarming. The absence is confusing. Yet, the absence is saying something powerful. Death has not won. Death has not been able to keep Jesus in the tomb. He is risen! The good news of that absence is that we now know that Jesus us alive and present and he is still speaking.

Mary begins to cry in the heartache of the missing Jesus, but the next time she looks into the tomb, she hears the angelic voices that ask her why she weeps. The implication of the question is that there is no reason for tears. Why are you weeping? We cannot hear the tone in their voices like Mary did, but the tone probably had that hint of good news that there is no reason to cry, no need for tears, the tomb is empty, not because of a theft, but because of new life. The voice of Jesus speaks through the angels. The Bible also reminds us that we never know when we might be entertaining angels unaware (Hebrews 13:2).


  • The Voice of Jesus, the Gardener


Mary sees and hears the angels and as she turns to exit the tomb, she sees what she thinks is a gardener, but in reality it is Jesus himself. The same question is posed, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? The authors of Jesus Speaks note that the identification as a gardener may be a sign that Jesus has completed his work, “and the Last Adam had restored us to the garden relationship with God for which we were made” (pg. 6). This time it is Jesus’ voice, one that Mary has not yet recognized. The voice of Jesus sounds like an echo of the angels, why are you weeping? The same intent is present – there is no need for tears. The voice of Jesus speaks through unsuspecting identities. Surely Jesus is not a gardener; this is just a gardener. But it is Jesus, only Mary cannot tell yet. She does not recognize him. The voice of Jesus sometimes speak through that which we may not recognize. How often have we realized that it took some time before we could realize that Jesus was trying to tell us something? We might have been distracted by a crisis or sin or thinking we know better than God does, but whatever the distraction, it keeps us from hearing the voice of the Lord. We never know how Jesus may speak.


  • The Voice of Jesus: Speaking Your Name


When does Mary finally realize that Jesus is the one speaking to her? When does it dawn on her that Jesus is alive? When does Mary come to hear the voice of Jesus? It is at the moment that he spoke her name. Mary. He said to her, Mary. Look at verses 15 and 16. He asks her two questions in verse 15 but she has no clue that it is Jesus. All she can imagine is a gardener. Then in verse 16, “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’” That’s all it took. A name. The voice of Jesus speaks our names. She really could not hear him at all until he spoke her name. She could not hear him in the empty tomb, nor in the angelic voices, nor in the words of the gardener, but when her name was spoken...that’s when she heard. We know that feeling when someone in the family speaks our name, calls us out, seeks something from us. It is a familiar sound and one that identifies the speaker. It may be a spouse calling the other spouse or a child saying mommy or daddy. Right away the identity is know to the hearer. Mary knows instantly that Jesus stands before her. Right away she knows why the tomb is empty, that her mournful tears can turn to tears of joy, that this is not just any gardener, but the master gardener who has been sowing seeds of faith in Mary and in the disciples.

Try this exercise sometime, read Isaiah 43:1 and in place of the names Jacob and Israel, place your own name or the names of others dear to you and listen for the voice of Jesus.


But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O _____, he who formed you, O _______: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” The voice of Jesus speaks our names. Jesus has called us by name in our baptism and we are his.


  • The Voice of Jesus: Leading Us Home


The very next things Jesus says to Mary is, “Do not cling to me.” We must imagine that Mary did not want to let Jesus out of her sight. She must have had a desire to “cling to Jesus” either by hugging him or holding his hand, anything to never let him go again. Things had changed too much from Jesus’ life to his death to the empty tomb, and now, his very presence and recognizable voice. Mary may have been thinking like we all do, “that’s enough change for now!” We don’t like change, but we must acknowledge that in the resurrection, everything has changed and everything will continue to change. The voice of Jesus is leading us to be changed in Christ. It is what we have traditionally called repentance, turning our lives around, away from sin and to God.

The authors of Jesus Speaks offer an intriguing discussion on the translation of the word for repentance. In the Greek it is the word metanoia, which means “a change of mind” but some claim that “repentance” is not the best English translation. In the Aramaic language it means “returning home”. Returning home goes deeper than just changing ones mind, but it involves mind, soul, body, spirit, the whole of our person. It is, as Paul states it, the old has passed away and all things become new. We are new creations, returning to the state like that of the garden of Eden where we were once rightly related to God. Returning us home leads to more than just changing how we think or what we do, but who we are. Yes, who we are and whose we are does change our thoughts and actions, but it is not just about showing mercy, but being merciful. It’s not just about doing justice, but being just. If the social justice warriors on the far left would be merciful and be just and be humble, there would be no rioting or violent protests. The voice of Jesus speaks to lead us home.



  • Ears To Hear


I have thus far spoken about several ways Jesus spoke in the initial discovery of the empty tomb. Jesus spoke in his absence, in an unsuspecting identity; he speaks our names, and he speaks to lead us home to God. Much of the problem we have is in listening to other voices. We are often caught in the bubbles of voices to which we pay the most attention. The bubble of sin, the bubble of self, the bubble of entertainment, the bubble of politics, the bubbles of left or right or YouTube or Facebook or cell phone or whatever it is that occupies most of our time. If we wonder why we are not hearing the voice of Jesus, perhaps our first examination should be to whom we are really listening. What is God telling us through the empty tomb, the angels, the perceived gardener, our name, or in leading us home?


  • Hearing Aids


*Like hearing aids we might need to hear a preacher or the television or the people around us, the scripture also offers us hearing aids to help us hear Jesus. The first it to recognize our need to hear Jesus speak. A biblical expression of that might be Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In this context we might interpret poor in spirit as humble in heart and a realization of how desperately we need Jesus. When we humble ourselves before the Lord we are in a position to hear. Remember Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-42) and Martha grumbling because she was left to do all the work of preparing a meal? Mary had chosen to place herself before Jesus in humility. She knew she needed to hear from Jesus. As soon as we stop being humble or stop being desperate to hear Jesus, we become rich in spirit – rich in that we are more like a Pharisee thinking that we have no need for the voice of the Lord. The hardest people to reach for Jesus are those who believe they have no need. As soon as we think we have no need to hear Jesus, our hearing will grow dull.

One of the ways I think about humility is entertaining the notion as often as possible that we might not be right all the time. Have you ever tuned people out who think they know everything? Have you ever been tuned out by someone because they thought you thought you knew everything? People who know everything, that is, people who have no need for God will not be able to hear. Be humble and attentive like a child. Be desperate to know the Lord by listening. He who has ears to hear, listen.



**Another hindrance to hearing the voice of Jesus is the sense that we are not worthy. But know that this is not the case with God. There is no greater love in the world than the love God has for you and in that love He has set us right with him, made us worthy of our call, and made us new creations. Check out Hebrews 9:11-14,

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

We have been cleansed of unrighteousness, cleansed of sin, and set right in our relationship with God. There is no barrier to prevent our hearing the voice of the Lord. We are in error to ask, who am I that God would speak to me? Listen to Paul from Romans 8:1-2, There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” We are free to hear, free to listen, free to know the truth. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.


***A third aid to hearing is to trust that Jesus still speaks. Have faith! So often we may not hear because we do not expect to hear. Do we think that Jesus no longer leads his people like a shepherd leading his sheep? We must trust that John 10:27 is still true today, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” My sheep hear my voice! Do you trust Psalm 23 to still be true? I’d bet so. So too is John 10 and all of scripture where God is speaking to us. He who has ears, tune in.


****To hear the voice of Jesus we must also be willing to respond in obedience to what he says. The great Shema of Deuteronomy 6 means to hear, O Israel, but it also means to hear and obey. Jews knew that the implication, if not the general meaning, of the word Shema included the will to respond in obedience.

4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.


A true hearing is impossible unless we are willing to respond. Jesus said this in John 7:17, If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. Hearing and knowing the will of God is dependent on our willingness to do it as well. What good is it to tell someone what you want done if you know they are not going to do it? Have you ever had that situation? “Can you take care of this for me?” “Sure.” But you know from past experience they are not going to do anything. We might as well do it ourselves. Perhaps God will not tell us anything if we are not willing to do as he commands.


22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25)

He who has ears, do God’s will.


*****The last hearing aid suggested in Jesus Speaks is the right motivation for hearing. The main reason we are spoken to is to be conformed into the image of Christ in order that we might bring glory to God. If we are seeking to hear from God because of selfish notions or our prayers just become all about me, then we are less likely to hear the voice. But if our ears and eyes and hearts are singularly devoted to Christ, our ears will be opened. God is not to be treated like a fire alarm where the glass is broken only in response to an emergency. God is the undivided focus of our lives. Hear Proverbs 4:25-27, 25 Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. 26 Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. 27 Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.

Our focus on hearing the voice of Jesus is to bring glory to God, to help others come to know Christ. If we are only looking out for our own interests, we grow dull in hearing. If we are unwilling to obey, the voice is silent to us. We do not want to be as those who grew dull in their hearing.


8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:8-10)

Isaiah is told to take this word to the people of Israel. Jesus quotes this same word to explain why he told parables (Matthew 13). Paul quotes this passage at the end of Acts (28). The reason people failed to hear the voice is because they failed to be willing to do God’s will. But if they would do God’s will, they would understand (hear) and would return to God and be healed. He who has ears, listen and obey. The voice of Jesus still speaks, through the empty tomb, through an unsuspecting identity, through our names, and through repentance (leading us home). Let us hear the voice of Jesus with our spiritual ears. Amen.