April 21, 2019

Easter Sunday – There is Joy in the Little Things

Passage: John 20:4-9

Bible Text: John 20:4-9 | Preacher: Pastor Mark Tiefel | Series: Easter Sunday | There is Joy in the Little Things
1. As proof of the resurrection
2. To keep your faith in Jesus strong

John 20:4-9 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. (ESV)

When something significant happens, we remember specific details. I remember the inside of the room where Micah was born. I even remember what was on TV that night, the national championship game for college football featuring Auburn vs. Oregon. I can’t match any other specific national championship games, dates, or opponents in the games since then. But thinking about that little detail brings me joy.

I remember the first night that I spent as a tenant in an apartment. The first official night that I have living on my own. Partly, because it was Fall and I was too scared to turn the heat up so I shivered in the cold.

When something important happens, the details are not lost. If it’s a good memory, those details give us joy. We hear John’s memory of Easter Sunday this morning, and it’s filled with little details. But they matter.

John gets specific about his race with Peter. They started at the same time. John got there first, looked in the tomb. Peter got there second, ran straight into the tomb.

John portrays the burial cloths. The linen strips that were around the body. The individual covering for the face. The fact that it was folded up neatly.

These details don’t seem important. One may wonder why with limited pages on which to share the resurrection of the story, John would record such things. But these are the details. These were the images that came into John’s memory as he thought about the Resurrection – that monumental moment, and he organically records them to transport us to the scene, as if we are there by his side. The details matter because they prove this is the testimony of an eye-witness.

The entire chapter of John 20 is about evidence – the right kind of evidence to believe. John records these words at the beginning when speaking of his own faith. The latter half of the chapter contains the memorable story about Thomas – who demanded physical proof and to whom the Lord said, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” And the final verse, John 20:31 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 is talking about why we can believe in the resurrection. It’s not about what we see, but what God says. John needed that reminder. Thomas needed that reminder. Every believer needs that reminder. Let us not minimize the importance of the minor details, for they are proof of Jesus’ resurrection. But let us also keep from making them more important than the very Savior who died and rose for us.

ESPN has a new sports feature called “Detail.” It takes a respected professional from a certain sport and gets their in-depth analysis of current players and games. It provides a detailed look behind the scenes at the customs, terminology, and inner workings of certain sports – the type of content that normal fans and viewers don’t get to see. It’s a good idea. [Paradox between our access to details today and our fatigue of details]

Imagine getting Jesus to “detail” His path to the cross – to give us the in-depth story, the behind the scenes look. He could share what He felt when Pilate questioned Him, or all the features of crucifixion that made it so agonizing. It would be interesting, but eventually it would probably be too uncomfortable. The death of Jesus is not a light-hearted thing like sports. We need that reminder so that we don’t get indifferent to what He endured but it’s also good to keep our space from the gory details.

There’s no interview with Jesus, but it’s almost as if we have one with John in His Gospel. He tells us here what it was like to witness the open tomb. He tells us what it was like on Easter morning. Running to the tomb in haste. Excitement and expectation. Shock and surprise. Some say that John was hesitant to enter the tomb, even though he arrived first. It fits well with Peter’s ambitious attitude to charge into the tomb. John saw what was there though, even though he didn’t immediately enter. We are given the details of the scene: John sees in verse 6 and then again in verse 8. Then he believes and finally he was reminded of the Scripture. But, what did John feel? That’s harder to put into words.

John was certainly questioning what to believe at the beginning. And so, his faith had to grow. He sees, believes, and then remembers what he knows in Scripture. That was the process for John. We get a fuller picture of how he felt about that at the beginning of his first epistle. There he writes, again as an eyewitness, saying,

1 John 1:1-4 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life– 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us– 3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.

Notice the end result – joy. Full joy. Joy was what John felt on Easter. That’s what we receive when Scripture is at the root of faith. Think of how many times Jesus directed the crowds of people to believe in His Word, not just in the signs He performed. John gives his own example here. Thomas’ comes later in the chapter. There is more to trust than seeing, it’s about what God has done and continues to do in His Word. When our faith is enriched by the Word of God, there is joy.

John’s words in his first epistle sound very familiar to something Jesus said on Maundy Thursday. He told His disciples: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). It’s no stretch to think that as John reflected upon what he saw and what the Scriptures had said, he was reminded of these words that Jesus spoke. We, too, should be reminded of the same when we hear John’s testimony and when we reflect on what Jesus did for us. He wants us to feel joy – full and complete joy.

So, why don’t we always feel this same joy? Where is the Easter joy of our Savior most of the year? It’s easy to have it today, but what about the rest of the time? Why is it that we often feel burdened and distressed in our faith, as if it’s a weight to bear in this unrelenting world? Of all the feelings in life, joy indeed seems to be most minor of all details that gets forgotten about.

Well, maybe we lose our joy by forgetting the small details that prop up our Savior more clearly in His Word. John hung onto what he saw and what he felt because it was such a monumental moment in his life. He was there. He witnessed it. It was an unforgettable experience. We don’t have that. In terms of shock value, the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t make as deep of an impression for us as it did to those who saw it. This is why we need to hang on all the more to what we have been given, the Word of God.

But don’t look at this as second best. For even Jesus directed His disciples, on the very day of His resurrection, to the same thing. John went back to what He knew about the Word, even when standing in the empty tomb. Thomas was gently reminded, even with his own hands in the Savior’s wounds– “Because you have seen you have believe, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” In the upper room on Easter evening, Jesus told His disciples, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. 46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day,

Even Paul would write, For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Peter, upon recalling the details of another surreal experience that stuck in his memory, this time about the Transfiguration of Jesus, concluded that experience by writing, 2 Peter 1:19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (ESV)

God’s Word is not second rate – it’s the way to complete and full joy. We live in an age where people want to separate the resurrection of Jesus from His Word. There are indeed some who claim that He didn’t rise, yet they find some value in some of the words of the Bible. But more serious that this are Christians who think that the resurrection had nothing to do with the rest of the Word. Christians who want to say “Jesus is Risen,” but not that He is Creator, or that He calls us to repent, or that He tells me to take up my cross, or that He tells me not to gossip and lie, or to love my enemy, or to be on guard against greed. Have you become this kind of Christian? Do you see the gospel as most important, and the rest of God’s Word as secondary? We all do in some way and it robs us of our complete joy in Jesus.

In my experience, not just as a pastor, but also as a sinner – the times I have the least joy in my faith are times when I’m resisting God’s Word. Do you find that to be true in your life? Jesus tells you that He suffered, died, and rose again so that His Word would be fulfilled, which would mean that your joy may be full. He’s done it. It’s true and it’s there for you.
Your formula for joy is the same as John’s – see, believe, and know through the Word of God. The details matter. There is complete joy in the little things. They stuck with John because it was the most important of his life. He shared them in Bible so that you hear and feel what it was like. Because what the resurrection is about is complete joy in Jesus. And it’s yours. Amen.