How do you become a Christian?
Perhaps that's a question that you're asking yourself this morning? Or perhaps you are a Christian, but it's a question you're thinking about for other people. How does someone become a Christian? How do you start to believe?
How do you go from believing that the world began as a random cosmic accident, and a "Big Bang",
...to believing what the Bible teaches, that the world was made and designed by God?
How do you go from believing that when you die, you die and that's it,
…to believing that when you die, that's not it, and there is life after death?
How do you go from believing that there is no God, no one who rules over you, and that in this life you can basically live however you want,
…to believing that there is a God and one day he will judge your life so how you live now does matter?
Isn't that a bit much to swallow? Isn't that just too big a 'leap of faith' to expect from people?
Well, this morning I want us to see how two people, called John and Mary, became Christians.
In John 20 vv 1-18 we see the story of how they started to believe.
So let's start by looking at -
John's story, v1-9
Look at v1-2…
Two days earlier Jesus had been crucified. Jesus had died, and then two men, called Joseph and Nicodemus, had taken Jesus' body, wrapped it with spices and linen "in accordance with Jewish burial customs" and placed it in a tomb. That was Friday. The next day, Saturday, was the Sabbath.
And on the third day, Sunday, the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene went to Jesus' tomb. But before she even got there, it tells us in v1, she
"saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance."
Now the stone was there to keep both the smell of the body in, and any grave robbers out. It was designed never to move once it was in place. So when Mary sees that the stone has been rolled away she knows, or at least she thinks she knows, what has happened. Someone must have stolen Jesus' body.
Look at v2
Now it's worth pausing there to notice something very important.
Both Mary and John loved Jesus. They were there at the cross when he died, and Mary was the first person to come to the tomb, the sun wasn't even up! They loved Jesus. They had followed him as their teacher and their leader. And yet, neither of them expected the resurrection! At least three times in the weeks leading up to his death, Jesus told his followers that he was going to die and on the third day rise again. Three times…he told them exactly how the events of that week were going to happen. And everything he said had happened just as he said it would. And yet no-one, not even John and Mary, expected Jesus to actually rise from the dead.
When Mary saw that the stone was rolled away, she didn't run to Peter and John and say,
"It's happened! Jesus is risen!" No. She said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!" She thinks grave robbers have taken him! And what were Peter and John doing? Had they worked out… 'OK, Friday, Saturday, Sunday...this is the third day, so Jesus is going to rise from the dead today!' No. As far as we know they were sat at home feeling sorry for themselves and hiding.
Do you see? They were sceptics. Neither John nor Mary, nor any of the other disciples expected the resurrection. But look at what happened next. v 3-8...
In verse 5 the word 'looked in' is the word 'to see' and it means that John 'saw' the linen strips, and he noticed that Jesus wasn't there. Then in verse 6 Peter arrives and he goes straight into the tomb and it tells us that he "'saw' the strips of linen lying there as well as the burial cloth that he been around Jesus' head." This time the word 'to see' is the different word and it means that Peter 'saw' and he considered what it meant.
Then finally in verse 8 John goes into the tomb, and this time it tells us that "he saw and believed." And again the word 'to see' is different again, this time it means to understand. When John went into the tomb, he didn't just see the linen and the cloth and that Jesus wasn't there. He 'saw' and understood. He saw and he believed that Jesus had risen from the dead.
And I think the clue to what convinced John is the clothes. It seems strange doesn't it that we're told so much about the strips of linen and the cloth that had been tied around Jesus' head? Why are they important?
Well, if Jesus' body had been taken by grave robbers they wouldn't have left the linen and cloth behind, because they were the only things of any value. And if some of Jesus' other disciples had stolen his body they wouldn't have taken the linen off because that would have left him naked.
So what did happen?
When Peter and John entered the tomb they saw the linen and cloth lying exactly where Jesus would have been, in the exact position, with the head cloth, separated from the linen which wrapped the body, in which Jesus would have been. As they saw the cloth and the linen lying there I think John saw that it didn't look like Jesus body had been stolen. It looked like his body had simply passed straight through.
Do you see? The stone of the tomb had been rolled away not to let Jesus out, but to let the discples in!
To see the evidence for themselves. That was John's story. That's how John started to believe.
Now let's take a look at -
Mary's Story, v10-16
In verse 2 Mary had gone to tell Peter and John that she thought that someone had stolen Jesus' body.
Now in verse 10 she goes back to the tomb. Look at v11 – 15
Mary is weeping, mourning the loss of the friend she loved. And then in verse 16 she hears one word which changes everything. Just like when you pick up the phone and instantly recognise your friend's voice, when Jesus says her name, 'Mary', she knows that it's him. She knows that it's Jesus, and she knows what that means, …it means that Jesus is alive! Look at v16
Before she has even seen his face, she hears his voice…and she believes. For some people, like John, believing in Jesus starts when they look at the evidence. But for other people, like Mary, believing in Jesus starts not when they look at the evidence, but when they hear Jesus speaking to them.
A few weeks ago we looked at John chapter 1 where Jesus met a man called Nathanael. And we read these words
"When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, 'Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.''How do you know me?' Nathanael asked.Jesus answered, 'I saw you while you were still under the fig-tree before Philip called you.'Then Nathanael declared, 'Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.'"
Last week we looked at a conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. After he had spoken with her she went home and told everyone in her home town
"He told me everything I ever did."
For some people believing in Jesus starts when we hear him speak to us. We read the Bible and it is as if we hear God's voice, and we know that it's true. When we read the Bible and we find that it describes us, and our world and our lives perfectly. We sit in a sermon and feels as if God's word is speaking directly to us.
Do you see? Mary wasn't expecting the resurrection. She had loved Jesus, but she didn't yet understand fully who he was. But when she heard his voice, she started to believe.
That is John's story and Mary's story. That is how these two people started to believe. John looked at the evidence and realised it all pointed to one conclusion, Jesus really did rise from the dead.
Mary saw the evidence too, but it wasn't until she heard him speak to her that she believed that Jesus had risen from the dead.
How do you become a Christian? How do you start to believe?
Well, you may have lots of questions about creation and evolution and heaven and hell and the meaning of life and the role of God, and all sorts of other things. Those are good questions. But you don't have to know all the answers or understand everything the Bible says about all of those things before you decide whether to believe or not. No, there is really just one question you need to ask if you're trying to decide if Christianity is true or false. And the question is this…
Did Jesus rise from the dead?
Because if Jesus didn't rise from the dead, if he died on the cross and stayed dead, well then he was a liar and a fraud. But if Jesus did rise from the dead, then he can only be God, made man.
If you're here this morning wondering what Christianity is all about, and wondering if you could ever believe it yourself. Here is where you should start. Find out whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. Read one of the eye witness accounts we find in the Bible and see what you think. Ask a Christian you know how they came to be convinced.
And if you're here this morning wondering how on earth your non-Christian friends and family could ever believe what the Bible says, Well here is what you need to remember. You don't need to convince them about creation and life after death and answer all their questions. You only need to ask them this one question, and help them find the answer for themselves. Did Jesus rise from the dead?
That's how John and Mary started to believe. It's how I started to believe. And it's how you and your friends can start to believe as well.
But it is only the start. Because finally I want us to see...
What Happens Next, Verse 17-18
Mary heard Jesus speak to her, and she believed. And in her joy I think she must have hugged Jesus, or perhaps fallen down and grasped his feet. Because look at what Jesus says in, v17-18
Jesus reassures Mary that he isn't about to leave her again. So she doesn't have to hold onto him now.
Instead what she should do is to go and tell Jesus' other friends what she has seen. And look at the message Jesus gives to her to pass on.
"…tell them,' he says in v17, (that) 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."
What does that mean?
Well, certainly Jesus is telling his followers that soon he will be going to be with God the Father and will leave them until he comes again at the end of time. But I think there is more. You see, for the last few days Jesus' disciples have been in despair. Everything they thought was true seemed to have fallen to pieces the day Jesus died.
When Jesus died, what faith they had died with him. But now that he is alive again, that changes everything! If Jesus really rose from the dead, then he really is the Son of God, and if Jesus really rose from the dead, just as he said he would, then everything else he ever said must also be true. We start to believe, we become Christians, like John and Mary, by believing that Jesus rose from the dead, and that he is God the Son. But that is just the start. Because if Jesus rose from the dead, then he must be God, and we can and must believe and obey everything he ever said. If Jesus rose from the dead, then the God of the Bible is our God. And if Jesus rose from the dead and believe in him, then God is also our loving heavenly Father. You become a Christian, you start to believe, when you believe that Jesus really did rise from the dead.
But that is just the beginning. That is the foundation on which the Bible calls us to build our whole lives.
Jesus really did rise from the dead. Perhaps this morning that means that you should start to believe.
Or perhaps this morning that means you should start to live your whole life for him.