There was a lot of confusion happening on the first Easter morning. The resurrection had happened but it was neither expected nor accepted by all at first. Mary Magdalene ran to tell the disciples what she saw, and they ran to check out her report. What they saw was compelling evidence of a resurrection, but only one of them really connected all the dots. Let's see why.
"But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name" John 20:31.
Believe:879 is an epic journey through the book of John led by Pastor Skip Heitzig of Calvary of Albuquerque. As we explore each of the 879 verses of this gospel, we'll grow in grace and in our knowledge of Jesus Christ. From His pre-incarnate existence, to His public ministry, through His death and His resurrection we'll traverse familiar territory and embark on new adventures of faith.
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Greek terms: Βλέπω; blepó-see, take notice; Θεωρέω; theóreó-to gaze, examine; ὁράω; horaó (εἶδεν; eiden)- to see with comprehension, understand
Publications referenced: "The Anvil of God's Word" by John Clifford
Figures referenced: Ravi Zacharias, King Tutankhamen, Claudius, John Stott
Cross references: Matthew 24:35; Luke 7:15; Luke 7:47; Luke 8:2; Luke 24:11; John 11:44; 2 Peter 1:16; 2 Peter 1:19
Keywords: Easter, resurrection, hope
Would you turn in your Bibles to the Gospel of John, Chapter 20. We finally made it to one of the best chapters in all of scripture, The Resurrection. We've been contemplating slowly and in depth all of the events that surround the crucifixion. And now, there's a turn in the corner. We come to the some of the greatest literature of all and that is what gives us hope.
John Chapter 20. Let's pray. Lord, the reason that we always pause before we consider any text. It's our way of saying that we need your help in understanding it, because as we understand, it can't only be with mental acuity or capacity, it must be something deeper, it must affect our actions. Only that can be done with the work of your spirits. And so, we say to you that we submit to you. We ask that you would search us and as you search us, direct us, establish our goings. We pray in Jesus name, Amen.
How does a person know anything at all? That is how is knowledge formed? How is knowledge established? How is knowledge developed? Those questions give rise to a branch of philosophy known as, here's the million dollar word "Epistemology", which is the theory of knowledge especially how knowledge is validated and the methods of acquiring knowledge. That branch of philosophy seeks to know how a person can come to know something is true and to believe that it is true.
Now, why is that important? It's simply because what we do is based on what we know. If what you know is faulty then what you do, your behavior following your belief will also be faulty. So if I say I believe in gravity, but I'm wearing weights on my ankles everywhere I go that betrays my belief is not genuine. Ravi Zacharias said, "The modern student goes away to college in order to learn. The same student comes back from the same school knowing that there is no way to know anything." That is so true and so sad, it's the idea that—well, you really can't know anything for sure. There is no absolute knowledge at all. So in their Philosophy class under Epistemology, I guess if you put a question mark, you passed the test.
There are three people who come to a cemetery in the text we're about to read. They come to the graveyard. All of them walked away knowing something, but only one of them is right.
We have in our texts, Mary Magdalene. She sees something with her own eyes. She makes a report based on what she sees, but she is wrong in her report. Peter comes and he sees something with his own eyes, he doesn't quite know what to make of it, he's puzzled by it. John comes and sees something with his own eyes, and he forms an understanding and a belief.
Verse 1 Chapter 20. Now, in the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early while it was still dark and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved. We believe that that is John the Apostle. John had a love for anonymity and loved to be called the one whom Jesus loved. He's the author of the book and he doesn't name himself. That's his style.
So Mary Magdalene came to Peter and to John and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him." Peter therefore went out and the other disciple and they were going to the tomb. Watch this. So they both ran together and the other disciple did outrun Peter and came to the tomb first.
He wants to make sure you know that.
And he stooping down looking in saw the linen cloth is lying there yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came and John could have easily have written "Panting, out of breath."
Following him and he went into the tomb and he saw the linen cloth is lying there and the handkerchief that had been around his head not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in the place by itself. Then the other disciple who came to the tomb first went in also and he saw and believed, for as yet they did not know the scripture that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away to their own homes.
Did you notice that all three of the people mentioned in the text all knew something based upon what they had seen that day and what they had experienced, but all the results varied. It wasn't the same. What Mary saw and believed and what Peter saw, what John saw and believed were all different.
There was a little boy who was at home on a Sunday afternoon, he came out of his room very puzzled and said, "Mom, is it true that we all come from dust?" He had been in Sunday school that day, apparently he heard that. His mom smiled and said, "Well, yes sweetheart! In Genesis Chapter 3, the Bible tells that we all came essentially from dust and were all going to return to dust. We came from it we're going to go there." And the little boy said, "Well, I just looked under my bed and there's someone who's either coming or going."
That little boy formed a belief based upon what he had seen and experienced. He was inaccurate of course. He just simply made a belief that if there is dust, there must be person coming or going.
Whenever we talk of The Resurrection of Christ, we typically speak of the empty tomb. But the tomb of Jesus Christ really wasn't empty. There was something inside of it. Interesting that when people die, their relatives will sometimes place things in the casket. I've heard of some crazy things being placed in caskets, like golf clubs. I don't know what people are thinking or playing cards, alcohol, drugs? Or what? To take away the pain? What is this?
The Egyptians used to make an entire culture out of burying their dead with the accoutrements of life. Some of the pharaohs that were buried, King Tut, King Tutankhamun, the boy king was buried with the equivalent of three fourths billion dollars worth of items, from clothing to shoes to jewelry et cetera, et cetera.
When Jesus was placed in the tomb and then resurrected, there was something that was left behind. It was the not quite empty tomb. And what was left behind forms a clue. They all saw it but John saw something there and it says that he believed. So we're going to look at the story again. We're going to look at it from three different angles and with each angle comes a principle.
We begin with the first two verses, The False Report. It says now on the first day of the week. What day is that? Sure, Sunday. This day! Today is the first day of the week. This was a Sunday morning. This answers the question why in the Book of Acts, the earliest apostles started meeting on a Sunday rather on the Jewish Sabbath, Saturday. They were commemorating The Resurrection that's why the Bible says "They met on the first day of the week."
So on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early while it was still dark. Actually, Mary Magdalene wasn't the only woman to visit the tomb. The other gospels put together give us the picture that there were at least four women who came to the tomb that day. John only records Mary Magdalene. Why? Because she came the earliest. It says that she came to the tomb early while it was still dark, the others came after sunrise. She came while it was dark, early. "Early" is the technical word in the Greek for the last of the four watches of the night, somewhere between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m., she came to the tomb.
Then she ran after she saw what was done, that the stone had been taken away. She ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they laid him."
Who is Mary Magdalene? Mary Magdalene was a woman who had a very unique love for Jesus, because Jesus had done for her what no one had ever been able to do and that was, give her forgiveness. In Luke Chapter 8, we're told that Mary Magdalene once had seven demons and they were cast out of her. Her life was a living hell when she met Jesus. Like the old Beatles song, "She had a devil in her heart" literally. She was demonized, demon possessed. She was tormented. That was her background.
The Jewish Talmud tells us that the town she came from Magdala, that's why we get the name Mary Magdalene or Mary who lived in Magdala. That Magdala was known for its prostitution. That's why most people think that she was a very "loose" woman, morally. But Jesus also said the one that has been forgiven much, the same loves much and this woman loved Jesus that's why she was last at the cross and she was first at the tomb to show her love. She couldn't come on the Sabbath Day as soon as the Sabbath was over, she woke up early and she headed out for the tomb.
When she got there, we're told in Verse 1 that the stone was gone from the entrance, those big round, circular, rolling stones that weigh somewhere between one, one and a half to two tons that sealed the tomb shut, it was gone. And she thought immediately the worst, they've stolen his body.
Now, this was a common crime, grave robbing was indeed very typical in those days. It became so common that eventually the Emperor Claudius issued capital punishment for that offense. If a grave was robbed, if a body was moved, if a rolling stone that had been sealed was moved, that was capital punishment. Notice what she says. She says, "They", notice that in Verse 2. They have taken away the Lord and we do not know where "they" have laid Him. Question, who are "they?" Nobody knows, but that didn't need to say because we get this. We do this all the time, right? We say, "Well you know they say --” really, who's "they"? Well you know they've discovered. Typically for hearsay, pull out the generic "they".
It was just something that forms an opinion but it's better just to count and say, "I know what happened. They've taken away his body. They've stolen it." So she comes, she sees and she assumes. She's connecting all the dots. The only problem is, she's dead wrong.
Here's what I want you to see. Mary out of the broken emotion and sorrow in her heart makes an assumption and the assumption is inaccurate. Did you know that assumption is the lowest form of communication? And yet people live by it. They don't talk about it. They don't discuss it. They're not straight eyeball to eyeball, let's get the fact straight. They assumed things. See I did it again. They assumed things.
We know what that is like. All the things you read into a situation that may or may not be true, that's assumption. Assumption is the tone of voice you assign to an email that may or may not be true. It might not be there. You take it one way. It might have not been written that way. Assumption is the motive you attached to somebody's silence. "They didn't call me back. They didn't write me back." That must mean something is wrong, maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. Assumption is you filling in the blanks, coloring in the black and white with your own color scheme. That's an assumption.
Okay, so it's true, the stone is rolled away. There's no body inside, but was it true that the body was stolen? Nope. The Jews will try to make that up in Matthew 28 as a common belief and that's what they'll say. "Oh, that's because the body was stolen." We'll see why that's impossible in a minute. So if what she said wasn't true, Jesus never predicted, "I'm going to die and they'll going to steal my body." The Old Testament never predicted the Messiah's body would be stolen and it didn't happen.
So there's a principle that emerges out of this. Not every idea about Christ is correct. Even when those ideas are spoken by well-meaning followers of Jesus, what she said about him was inaccurate. That's why any belief held by anyone must be evaluated by something more than that person's experience. Their experience is their experience. It's a subjective way of knowing things. There has to be something greater, more objective.
Now, I have a theory. These are just Skip's opinion. I believe it's her background and her profile that helped formed her assumption. She lived a hard life before she met Jesus. She had seen the dark underbelly of humanity. If indeed she was a "loose" woman from a town of prostitutes, she had seen men with their worst motivations doing their worst possible things and yes, she has discovered Jesus Christ and she has been forgiven. But you know what it's like in a moment of crisis, we often revert back to our old ways of thinking. She thought "I know what happened. They did their worst. They stole his body." That was her assumption, a false report. Let's move on in the text.
We come to the first responders. In Verse 3, Peter therefore went out and the other apostles, the other apostles, the author of the Book John and we're going to the tomb. And so they both ran together and the other disciple outrun Peter and came to the tomb first.
Okay, let's back up. The disciples had all been locked behind closed doors, confused, scared like little kids, not understanding what has happened. And at first, when the women came and said that Jesus had been risen from the dead the other gospels tell us, they didn't believe it. Listen to how Luke puts it. For their words seemed to them like idol tales and they did not believe them. But there were two. There were two in that room, Peter and John. Their ears went up like my doggy when I come home and call his name. Peter and John heard that and they got out of that room and they undertook the first resurrection marathon. They ran to the tomb. I find that a little bit interesting. Mary tells them—they don't say, "Mary take my arm, let's go together." They just sort of leave her in the dust and run, gentlemen, right? Yup, John tells us that he beat Peter. Peter was sort of like a fallback. He's only good for 50 yards. John was younger. Probably in better shape.
Now, why did John write this? Did John want forever to be known as the guy who beat Peter in the resurrection marathon? "I beat Peter! I beat Peter!"
Maybe, but I don't think so. I don't think John would have included that detail for that reason in this place. He might have. Here's another thought. Do you remember growing up? When you did something that well it wasn't great around the house. You were with your mom and your mom would simply say, "Wait until your dad gets home." She didn't even have to say it rough. She could just say, "Wait until your dad gets home." And you thought, "Uh-oh!" That's right! Dad is going to come home and if I'm not right with mom and therefore I'm not right with dad, I'm in trouble. Remember that?
So when dad came to the door, things were good with you and mom and you and dad, you were happy to see him. If they weren't, you aren't too happy to be around them. I think that's how it is with Peter. Last time Jesus and Peter were together, Peter denied Jesus afterwards. Even though he said, "I'll never deny you." He denied Him three times and Jesus looked at Peter when he was arrested. Peter is coming to the tombs with mixed emotions to say the least with a load of guilt. He's not too excited about getting there and being back in that situation and getting close to it again. Oh, he's going to come and check it out, but "Uh oh" things are different with Peter.
Now, there's a principle here with this. Not every reaction to Christ is the same. You'll notice there are three different responses here. Mary came, saw the tomb was empty, the stone was removed and she thought the body has been stolen. Peter comes and he saw and he's puzzled by the whole thing and said, "Huh! An empty tomb!" Whereas in Verse 8, John saw and believed. Okay, now stop for a moment. If you just read it in English, you have the same word she saw, he saw, he saw, he saw, he saw. It's repeated several times. It's the same word. In the Greek language, there are three. Get this. Three different words used in this text for "they saw". I want you to notice them.
In Verse 1 and in Verse 5, that's the first word. Mary saw and that she simply noticed. Verse 5, he, that is John stooping down, looking in saw the linen cloths lying there and did not go in. It's a simple word “blepo” in Greek. It just simply means to take note of. I see it. Okay, I'm observing it. There's a second word. If you look at Verse 6, this is Peter. Simon Peter came following him (panting) and went into the tomb. That's just like Peter, isn't it? "Get out of my way! Let me get in there." He's impetuous. He wants to get close. He went into the tomb and he saw the linen cloths lying there, different word altogether. This is the Greek word not blepo, but to-theatro (phonetic). I know it sounds weird it just we get the word "theater" from this word. It means to study something, to gaze at something because there's something unusual that catches your attention.
Peter look into it, "Huh! Look at that!" He checked it out. Verse 8 is an entirely different word. Then the other disciple, that is John came to the tomb first within also and he saw and he believed. This is the word “orao”. It's in its airiest form, I then, which means to see with understanding and comprehension. He looked and he got it. He connected all the dots. Something made sense to him. He said, "There must have been a resurrection." And of sense, he believed.
James Montgomery Boice says, "In that moment, John the Apostle became the first Christian." Jesus has not appeared to John yet or Peter or Mary, but John believed. Now the other two, Peter and Mary, they will come to understand that Jesus is risen. But they're not yet on the same page with John. And that's the point I want to make. Be patient with people who have a different response to the truth than you have.
Okay, you become mature. You become enlightened. You understand things in the scripture, but sometimes I've observed Christians who become so zealous "They've discovered something. Wow! It's right there in the Bible. It's so clear. How come everybody doesn't know this?" And they make it their goal to make sure everybody knows this. Maybe it's a long forgotten truth or a truth that they never saw until now or an experience that they're seeing with the Lord some epiphany moment and now they've just got to boldly share it with everybody.
Okay, cool but back off a little bit. Allow God to grow up and get those others to realize just like He has for you, just like He was so patient with you, be patient with Him. Soon, both of these Peter and Mary will also understand what John has come to understand.
Let's go back to the text. Go back to Verse 8. Let's finish off where we have. There's the third angle, the factual reality. Then the other disciple— again, we know that is John who came to the tomb first. There it is again, he's first. He went in also and he saw and believed for as yet they did not know the scripture that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.
Now what did John believe exactly? Did he just believe that Jesus was gone? No. Peter believed that too and Mary believed that. John believed specifically Jesus must be alive right now based on what he saw. So let me paint the picture for you. Let's try to figure out what he's looking at. Let's begin with Jewish burial. I'll refresh your memory. Whenever Jews buried their dead, they typically bury them the same day that their loved ones died. If you die that day, you're buried that day. And the way they would bury as we have mentioned, they did not embalm but they entombed. So they took the body and before it could decay, they would wrap the body in strips of linen. First, each limb individually, each arm, each leg and then the body would be wrapped totally. Mixed in between the folds or the winds was a gummy substance, a mixture of myrrh and aloes, a sweet odiferous gummy substance that was quite weighty when you add that to the body weight. And that was put in between and on top of all of the folds so that it became sort of an encasement, a cocoon if you will. This gummy that will eventually harden into a cocoon. That's how the Jews would bury them. They would wind the wrappings from the ankles all the way up to the neck and stop. The head was treated separately with a cloth or a napkin or a turban, if you will.
That's important to realize because when Jesus raises from the dead, the son of the widow at Nain in Luke Chapter 7. It says the little boy sat up and began to talk. The reason he could speak is that the wrappings weren't around his head, there was just a cloth. He could speak through it. That's why we read in John Chapter 11, Lazarus came out of the tomb bound hand and foot with grave clothes and his face was wrapped with a cloth. That's how they bury the dead.
So what is John looking at? Same thing Peter is looking at, Verse 6. He saw the linen cloths lying there. Now listen, literally he saw them lying in their folds, undisturbed, unfurled, not piled up in a heap, not in disarray, neat and orderly just as when the body was there all wrapped up, but the body is gone. That's what they were studying. Now, let's say you and I could have been in the tomb the moment Jesus was raised from the dead. What would we have seen? Would we have seen them kind of like waking up and going "uh, uh, uh, uh!" And then like grabbing some of the bandages and throwing them off? No, that's not a resurrection that'd be resuscitation. And you would find—they would have found a pile of bandages here and there and spices scattered everywhere as Jesus got out of that cocoon. Rather, he was there dead and then he just as John Stott put it, "Disappeared or vaporized through the cloth." Like passing through that cocoon, out of that encasement, and out of the sealed tomb.
By the way, the reason the stone was rolled away wasn't to let Jesus out if you could get out of that encasement, you can go out of the tomb like later on you could get in and out of rooms without using door. The reason the stone was rolled away wasn't to let Jesus out, but to let the disciples in to see this. It was an advertisement, "Come and check this out boys!"
So Jesus would have just left there, just vaporized. And the grave clothes that cocoon, that encasement would have mildly collapsed like a flat tire because the body wasn't in it. John saw that and he goes, "I get it! I get it! Nobody moved him, nobody stole him. There's been a resurrection." See, let's suppose they're right. The generic "they" who say, "Jesus didn't die, he just fainted on the cross or swooned and then he woke up in the tomb." Well, if that were the case then you would read that they saw bandages scattered everywhere in the tomb because he got out.
Let's say they stole the body, let's follow that theory. If they would have stolen the body, do you think they would have unwound the body and then taken the body out and wound the windings back up, so it looked like a body had been there? They would have stolen the whole encasement and trashed the bandages, thrown them somewhere else.
John understood that. It was an epiphany moment and he got it. There's an interesting detail, look at Verse 7. And the handkerchief, John wants you to know about that handkerchief. And the handkerchief that had been around his head not lying with the linen cloths but folded together in the place by itself. Now, why does John include that? Simply as an added proof of a resurrection, once Jesus passed through that encasement, he took the cloth and he folded it up and neatly placed it next to it.
I know it's going to happen. Parents are going to leave today and they'll going to be telling their kids in the future, "Listen, if Jesus before he could leave the tomb could fold up that napkin, you can certainly make your bed before you go to school." I can just hear it.
Fair enough. It was proof, added proof of a resurrection. Not a stolen body, not a swooned resuscitation but a resurrection. Something else I've read on one of the commentaries that I found interesting. According to Jewish custom, if you were the guest in somebody's house, you came over for dinner and they were very hospitable to you and you thought they were just great, you love the meal, you love the time. At the end of the meal, you would crumple up your napkin and throw it into the food, the plate, but if you felt you really didn't like your company, they weren't all that hospitable, the food wasn't really that great, you would politely fold your napkin and place it next to the plate. It was a polite way of saying, "I'm not coming back here again."
Here's Jesus folding up a napkin saying, "I'm not coming back here again. I haven't been treated all that nice. I came into my own and my own did not receive me." So here is Mary, she saw and she panicked. Here's Peter, he saw and he scratched his head and was puzzled and said, "Wow! Huh! Look at that, an empty tomb!” I wonder what it means. Here's John, he saw the tomb empty but he saw the unfurled encasement and he believed in a resurrection. But he had something. And this always puzzled me and I draw your attention to it as we close.
Verse 9. For as yet they did not know the scriptures that he must rise from the dead. Now what did they know? They knew that the stone was rolled away. They knew that the tomb was empty of a human body. They knew that there was that encasement still lying there and the napkin folded, that they knew. And they formed their assumptions or belief system based upon what they saw and experienced, solely upon their experience. Now, by the time John writes this down, it's different. At that time, they didn't know the scripture. They only knew what they saw. But when John is writing this, now they know the scripture. Now, they've put it all together. They formed a theology, and epistemology of why they know that Jesus Christ physically resurrected.
So their faith that was once based upon experience and evidences, the open tomb, the body gone, and the clothes intact as good as that was to convince John at that moment. That's not enough to sustain a person through life. It seems that John saying, "This is what I saw. This is what I knew and believed, but we didn't know the scripture yet that he must rise from the dead." As if to say, there's something even better to base your belief and knowledge upon. And that's the objective in errant scripture that has been predicted, the Bible predicted, Jesus predicted that He would—risen from the dead.
Now, that's what John wrote. Peter, who was there that day would say to John, "Amen, Brother John." I believe what he said because later on when Peter writes one of these letters. He talks about the eyewitness testimony. "I was there. I saw. I heard." But then he writes this, "But, even though I was an eyewitness and I saw and I heard, we have a more sure word of prophecy. So how do you know that you know?
How do you know anything? You could say, "Well, I know because I saw." Okay. "Well, I know because I heard." Okay. But here is something better, "What I saw and what I heard was predicted long ago in the prophets." So now, I have my subjective experience and the objective prediction of the Bible and that's unshakable. That is unshakable. That's what I want you to see in this text. That's what I want you to walk away with. Jesus said in Matthew 24, "Heaven and earth will pass away. My words will never pass away." There are only two things that will live forever, the soul of a human being and the word of God will endure forever. And the text have come for the last 2000 years, they're mounting again in a fresh with new atheist movement. And many of them are pointing their barrels at the scripture saying, "You can't believe. You can't trust. There are so many different accounts." To the uninitiated, they would seem like compelling arguments. But no, the evidence, if you care to check it out is there. That is objective evidence in the validity of scripture, in the resurrection of Christ, and you marry the objective evidence to your subjective experience with Christ and you have unshakable faith.
Years ago and I close with this, I know you've heard me say I close, I close, I close one of these times, I'll be right. John Clifford wrote a poem about a blacksmith who was hammering pieces of metal with a number of different hammers that had worn down over time. The anvil that he was beating the metal on remained the same. And he writes this, "I paused one day beside the blacksmith's door and listened to the anvil ring the evening chime. And looking in, I saw upon the floor old hammers worn from beating years of time. And so I thought, the anvil of God's word for ages skeptics blows have beat upon and though the noise of infidels was heard, the anvil is unworn, the hammers gone. And eventually, all the new hammers that have been developed by your college professor, by your Philosophy students or professors or by books that are written, those hammers will be gone and the anvil will remain the same."
We have the experience that we have with Christ, which is valid only as it is tied to something that is outside of your experience that is objective and that's the inerrant word of God in scripture. That's unshakable. With that, you can face anything. Now, if you just have the inerrant word of scripture but you don't have an experience with God yourself, then it's not personal. If you have your personal experience but it doesn't match with what the scripture says, that is not reasonable. Put them both together, it's powerful.
Father, we consider these things and we thank you that you as God able to make the heavens and the earth, would certainly also be able to keep in written form the truth of what happened as well as your will preserved in book form. We have a more sure word of prophecy because the Bible tells us these men though men infallible. They were moved along and directed by your spirit who prompted them with even the words, so that Jesus could say, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." Now, one jot or one tittle will pass from the law until all of it is fulfilled.
So Lord, even as John and Peter and Mary who saw things and formed a knowledge, a belief system based on that, they still said, "What's better than we saw and heard is what was predicted all along which is what we saw and heard." Help us to live with that stability of faith. A faith that knows. A faith that is certain. I pray especially for those Lord who are facing death in some capacity losing a loved one, have recently lost a loved one, are facing an unknown disease themselves, and possibly the termination of their own life. I pray for a special strengthening and increased faith that would sustain them in this hour. In Jesus name, Amen.