In Bible days, when someone died, it was the duty of a family member to close the eyes and kiss the cheek of the dead. When Christ died, this became the duty of two men: Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus. They went to Pontius Pilate and begged the body of the Lord Jesus.
Then they had to take Him down from the cross…which was not an easy chore. First, they had to rig a ladder, and climb up the side of the cross, and then they had to pull His hands off over the nails. There was no way they could get those spikes out of the wood, not from that angle, not w/ His hands inbetween the wood and the nail head. Once the hands were loosed, they allowed the body of Jesus to sag into a sheet, and would then remove His feet from the nail in the same manner.
They took the body of Jesus to a new tomb, that Joseph had prepared for himself. They washed His body, and wrapped it in white linen, folding His arms over His chest. They closed His eyes, kissed His cheek, and placed a napkin over His face.
They walked away from that tomb, and no doubt they walked in silence…so that all you could hear was the sounds of their sadness, muffled crying, and sniffing. Surely it must have felt like a huge ball of lead in the pit of their stomachs, as they were thinking, “it’s all over, the end of the dream…and it only lasted for 3 short years.”
3 days passed like an eternity…and I believe w/ all my heart that the birds refused to sing, and the sun refused to shine. For 3 days, all the demons of hell rejoiced, and Satan and the forces of darkness thought they had won a great victory. For 3 days, the Jewish leaders, as well as the Roman government, congratulated themselves on their brilliant scheme. But on the 3rd day, something wonderful and miraculous happened, as God the Father said to an angel in heaven, “Go get him!” And when the angel’s feet hit the ground, the stone rolled away, and up from the grave He arose…He lives!
In our text, Mary comes first to the empty tomb. She sees the stone rolled away and it frightens her. And so she runs to get Peter and John, and they run together to the tomb as fast as they could. John outran Peter, and when he got there, he looked inside, and saw those grave clothes lying there in disarray. Then Peter arrived and, just as we’d expect of him, went right in. He also saw the linen clothes lying there, but there was something unusual in that scene. Something caught their eye that was very interesting.
The Gospel of John tells us that the napkin, which was placed over the face of Jesus, was not just thrown aside like the grave clothes. The Bible takes an entire verse to tell us that the napkin was neatly folded, and was placed at the head of that stony coffin. Is that important? You’d better believe it! Is that significant? Absolutely! Is it really significant? Yes!
In order to understand the significance of the folded napkin, you have to understand a little bit about Hebrew tradition of that day. The folded napkin had to do w/ the Master and Servant, and every Jewish boy knew this tradition. When the servant set the dinner table for the master, he made sure that it was exactly the way the master wanted it. The table was furnished perfectly, and then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating, and the servant would not dare touch that table, until the master was finished.
Now if the master were done eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers, his mouth, and clean his beard, and would wad up that napkin and toss it onto the table. The servant would then know to clear the table. For in those days, the wadded napkin meant, “I’m done”. But if the master got up from the table, and folded his napkin, and laid it aside his plate, the servant would not dare touch the table, because the servant knew that the folded napkin meant, “I’m not finished yet.” The folded napkin meant, “I’m coming back!” Excuse me while I shout (Baptist style).
Peter and John had walked w/ Christ for 3 years. They had watched as He opened blind eyes and deaf ears. They watched as He literally raised people from the dead. Then they watched Him die…and as they watched, all of their hopes, all of their dreams were shattered! All they could think was, “it’s over, it’s all over!” And for 3 long days they were in the depths of despair…the lights of their soul had gone dim. Peter even said, I’m goin’ fishin’. I’m goin’ back to what I used to do.
Then after 3 days, they saw an empty tomb. Not only did they see an empty tomb, but they saw a folded napkin in that empty tomb! I believe w/ all my heart that when they saw that folded napkin God spoke to them in their being and said, “He’s not finished yet…He’s coming back!”