Footrace to the Tomb

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John 20:1-9

Hello, my name is Simon, although you probably know me better by my other name: Peter, the name Jesus gave me when I first met him. A lot has happened since that day when my brother Andrew first brought me to Jesus. Believe me, I have plenty of stories I could tell today. But I want to tell you about a footrace, a footrace that took place that first Easter morning so many years ago. A footrace that changed my life.

Now I hear that you have some pretty impressive races in your time: NASCAR, the Olympics; I hear you even have a reality show called “The Amazing Race.” Well, with all due respect, I believe the footrace I am about to share with you easily qualifies as the most amazing race of all time. And you want to talk reality shows? The race I am about to share with you really happened. And what I found at the finish line is a reality that we must all face one day.

But I am getting ahead of myself – which is not easy to do when you’re running a race!

Let me begin by telling you a little bit more about me. My name is Peter. As I mentioned before, it wasn’t always Peter. It was originally Simon. My parents called me Simon, my brother called me Simon, my friends called me Simon, all I’d ever been called was Simon. And then one day my brother Andrew comes running up to me and says, “Simon, we have found the Messiah!” (John 1:41) The Messiah? The one God promised who would come to deliver our people? The one spoken of by the prophets? The one foretold in the Scriptures?

Now Andrew had been spending a lot of time with a man they called John the Baptist. Most people considered John a prophet of sorts. He lived out in the wilderness and was baptizing people in the Jordan River. Andrew counted himself among John’s disciples. John had made it clear that he was not the Messiah, but that he was only preparing the way for the Messiah to come. And now Andrew was telling me that they had found the actual Messiah?

And so Andrew brought me to Jesus. And when we got there, Jesus looked at me and said, “You are Simon, son of John, You will be called Cephas” – which, when translated, is Peter. (John 1:42) I’m not sure what I was expecting when Andrew brought me to Jesus, but I certainly wasn’t expecting that! It wasn’t just a complete stranger saying that he would change my name, that was odd enough, but it was the name he chose for me – Peter. It means “Rock.” And as everyone who knows me will tell you, I am far from being a rock. When I think of a rock, I think of strength and stability. And although I may be a strong man physically, stability and steadfastness are not my strong suits. I am known for being impetuous. Act first, think later, that’s the story of my life. I am constantly putting my foot in my mouth. Peter, the rock? What was Jesus thinking?

And then Jesus called me to follow him as one of his disciples. I was at the Sea of Galilee at the time. My brother Andrew and I were fishing because, well, we were fishermen. All of a sudden, Jesus walked up. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17) I can’t tell you exactly why we did it, but neither of us hesitated. At once we left our nets and followed him. We walked a little farther down the shore where our fishing buddies, James and John, were preparing their nets. Jesus called them to follow him as well. They got up, left their father in the boat with the hired men, and they followed him too! (Mark 1:19-20)

Before long there were twelve of us. We went everywhere with Jesus. He was amazing! Jesus went through Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread everywhere, and large crowds followed him. (Matthew 4:23-25)

For three years we followed Jesus, watching him perform one miracle after another. It was toward the end of our time with him that he stopped and asked us one day: “Who do people say that I am?” We replied, “Some say John the Baptist; other say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you,” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” And I answered, “You are the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16) Jesus blessed me, and then he told me that this was not revealed to me by man, but by his Father in heaven. And then he called me … “Peter, the Rock,” and he said “On this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:17-8)

Wow! Had I finally earned my name “the Rock?” I was feeling pretty good about myself, until a few minutes later when Jesus started talking about going to Jerusalem and suffering, and being killed, and then raised to life. I took him aside, and I rebuked him. “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” (Matthew 16:22) Jesus rebuked me back. He turned to me and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.” (Matthew 16:23) Well, I’ve got to tell you, I liked the name “Peter” a whole lot better than “Satan.” I had gone from “rock” to “stumbling block” in just a few short minutes. I told you I wasn’t the steadiest person in the world. Why would Jesus give me a name like Peter?

We finally arrived at Jerusalem. Jesus had been keeping a low profile because the religious leaders were plotting to take his life. (John 11:54) But the Sunday before Passover Jesus rode into the city on a donkey as a king while the people waved their palm branches and shouted his praises. The next day Jesus cleared the temple. He drove out those who were buying and selling. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. He said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:15-17)

It all went downhill from there. All week long the chief priests and teachers of the law baited Jesus with questions, trying to trick him, trying to trap him. They feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching (Mark 11:18), and they looking for a way to kill him, Well, they finally found their way. His name was Judas. Judas was one of our own, one of the Twelve, and he agreed to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

We didn’t know anything about it until Thursday night of that week. We were sharing a Passover meal together when Jesus became troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” (John 13:21) We were all shocked, stunned. We couldn’t believe it. Jesus then dipped a piece of bread in the dish and gave it to Judas. “What you are about to do, do quickly,” he told Judas. Judas left and went out into the night, but we still did not understand what was going on. (John 13:27-30)

Then Jesus told us that we would all abandon him! But I told him, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” (Matthew 26:33) Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:34) But I told him, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Matthew 26:35) Brave, proud, foolish words. I meant them when I said them, but oh how those words would come back to haunt me.

After the meal we walked with Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane. He asked us to watch and pray with him, but we all fell asleep. Then they came to arrest him, and sure enough, we all scattered, just as Jesus said we would.

I followed at a safe distance and sat down by the fire in the courtyard. A servant girl recognized my face in the firelight and said, “This man was with him,” but I denied it. (Luke 22:56) Three times that night I denied my Lord, just as Jesus foretold. Some “rock,” huh? I told you I didn’t know why Jesus would call me Peter. The third time I denied Christ, the rooster crowed, and Jesus looked straight at me. That was it. I went outside and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:60-62) Peter “the Rock” had denied his Lord three times. I felt like my life was over.

They convicted Jesus on false charges, and they led him away to crucify him. As he hung there on the cross, he ministered to those who mourned and prayed for forgiveness for his enemies. He cried out, “It is finished!” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)

They buried him in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. Joseph was a good man. He actually went to Pilate himself and asked for the body. Joseph wrapped Jesus’ body in strips of linen and laid the body in the tomb. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance and went away. (Matthew 27:60) Mary Magdalene was there with others, and she saw where they laid him. Pilate posted a guard, and as far as we knew, that was the end of the story.

I had left everything to follow Jesus. Now here I was three years later with nothing to show for it, a broken man, weighed down with sorrow and guilt and shame.

Until the footrace. That’s right, the footrace that changed my life.

It was early Sunday morning, and Mary Magdalene and some others had gone to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, but when they got there they saw that the stone had been rolled away. So Mary came running to John and me and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2)

Immediately John and I started for the tomb. We were both running, but John was faster and he got there first. He bent over and looked at the strips of linen lying there, but he didn’t go in. When I arrived, I walked right into the tomb while John waited outside. Did I mention that I am impetuous? And this is what I saw. I saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.

Now this made no sense. I was expecting either to find Jesus’ body lying there all wrapped up in the grave clothes, or, to find nothing at all. When someone steals a body, they take the whole thing. They don’t unwrap the body and leave the grave clothes behind. It didn’t make any sense. I didn’t know what to think.

Finally John came in. Ah John, the disciple Jesus loved. John came in, and he saw the exact same things I did – the empty tomb, the strips of linen, the burial cloth all folded up neatly and set to the side. But here was the difference. John believed. Right there and then John believed that Jesus rose from the dead. The rest of us didn’t believe until we actually saw Jesus alive. But John believed in Jesus’ resurrection before he even saw him. He was the only one.

We still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. That came later. Later on we would read passages like Psalm 16:10 where David wrote, “You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.” We would read those passages, and we would say, “Why didn’t we see that before? How could we have missed it?” But for now it was still a mystery to us.

In the coming days Jesus appeared to me and then to the rest of the disciples. He forgave my sin and restored me to leadership. And yes, unworthy as I am, my confession of him as the Christ, the Son of the living God became the rock upon which he built his church. By his grace I truly became Peter “the rock,” the name he gave me when I first met him.

I still think about that footrace, a footrace to the tomb. Everything depended on what I would find, or not find, in that tomb. My whole life turned in those moments. It was a footrace to the tomb, and what I found at the finish line changed my life forever.

In a sense we are all on a footrace to the tomb, or to the grave as we tend to say it today. Life is short. We are on a footrace to the grave, and some will reach it sooner than others. Let’s face it, some of us have a head start! Only God knows the number of your days. But because Jesus rose from the dead at Easter, you do not need to fear death. Jesus conquered sin and death so that you could rise with him one day.

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That is the good news of Easter. That is the good news of Christ. Jesus is alive, and he is a Savior to all who put their faith in him.

Are you trusting Christ this morning? Then praise God, you are saved. Your sins are forgiven, and you will live with God forever.

Are you outside of Christ this morning? Then you are missing out on the good news of Easter. Come to Christ today. Put your faith in him who died for you and rose again on the third day. He is risen! He is risen indeed!

© Ray Fowler

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