Sunday, April 8, 2012

Jesus Rose. Why Is There Still Fear?

The Resurrection of Our Lord
Easter Day
April 8, 2012
Sorry to begin on such a down note. I know that today is supposed to be a day of rejoicing and excitement, and it is. But I can’t help but think about all the regrets. All the things I haven’t done that I should have done. I can’t get out of my mind all those things I’ve done that I shouldn’t have done. All the people I’ve hurt. All the things I’ve said that I can’t take back. All the times I should have spoken up but was too afraid. All the people I didn’t help because I was too busy thinking about myself. All the sin. All the guilt. I can’t do away with them. I can think about good things and I can rejoice in good things, but all those stains on my conscience hang around. They’re not going away.

Maybe you’ve come here today putting on a smiling face along with your Easter Sunday best clothes, but inside you’re sad or worried or afraid. Perhaps you’re wracked with guilt or you’re nursing a grudge or you’re being beaten down emotionally by a co-worker or your boss or a family member.

I wonder if these were the kinds of things that were going through the minds of the women on that day they went to the tomb. They were expecting Jesus to be laying there in the tomb, His lifeless body waiting for them to anoint it. But He wasn’t there. It’s not that someone had moved or stolen His body. He wasn’t there because He was no longer dead. He was alive and that was cause for joy and excitement. But instead, in one of the more remarkable passages in all of the Bible, Mark concludes his resurrection account of Jesus in this way: “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

It seems to make a lot more sense how Matthew handles the account of the resurrection, where he says: “So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” He at least gets the joy part in there. Even Luke is a little more helpful than Mark, in that even though he doesn’t say anything about joy, he doesn’t mention the fear either, just a simple “and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.”

When the women realized what happened, they were alarmed. We can definitely understand that. The angel even addressed their state of anxiety with his encouragement to not be alarmed. It was only afterward that they were afraid. We don’t hear any exhortation from the angel to not be afraid.

It finally dawned on me one day what it is that I think and feel. It is fear. I don’t mean all the time. And I don’t mean only fear, either. But I do realize that I’m afraid. I’m afraid when I look at what is in my heart. I’m afraid at the thoughts I have and the sins I’ve committed and the things I haven’t done that I ought to have done and the things I’ve done that I should not have. There’s guilt. There’s sadness. There are regrets. There are many other things. But there’s also fear.

How is that the case when Jesus rose from the dead? How was it that when the women went away from the empty tomb that they were afraid? We can see how they would have felt that way on Good Friday after He died. But Easter Sunday after He rose? Why did the Holy Spirit who inspired Mark to write this Gospel account of the resurrection of our Lord guide him to write that these women went away in fear? Couldn’t he have ended it on a much more joyous and positive note?

I would like to submit to you today that that is exactly what it is. Ending it in this way tells us exactly what we need to know. For one thing, it tells us that it’s okay to be afraid. At the least, it tells us that as human beings living in this life, we are at times afraid. God knows how weak we are, that even when we hear the best news we are often not fully embracing of it. Even though God loves us so much that He gave His Son to die for the sin of the world and that He rose from the grave conquering death, we face many things in our lives that remind us of our mortality and our sinfulness and our guilt. If this doesn’t cause fear in us we should take a step back and be aware that as we stand before God we are unworthy and utterly sinful. On Judgment Day we will understand fully what fear is if we stand before God in unrepentance.

But there is another thing we learn from this. We learn that the key in all of this is who Jesus is and what He has done. Whether you are afraid or not Jesus died on a cross for every sin you have ever committed. Whether or not you see clearly your guilt and your unworthiness the tomb where Jesus once lay is empty. He is not dead. He rose from His grave, He awoke from death. The Holy Spirit did not inspire the writers of the Bible to write the events in such a way as to give a glowing picture of how the resurrection of Christ immediately changed everyone and they now were no longer afraid and they all understood perfectly now and everything in their lives was now okay.

God the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Bible to write things as they happened. Guess what, the people who lived back then were ordinary people like you and me. They were afraid, just like you and I may be at times when we know we should be feeling something else, such as joy or excitement. This means that who Jesus is and what He has done means exactly the same thing for you as it did for them. It means sins forgiven. It means death conquered. It means guilt washed away. It means eternal life. All of this is for you even though you still struggle, even though you are still wracked with guilt, even though you still wake up every day and find new ways to sin. It does not depend on you it depends on Jesus. That’s why He went to the cross. That’s why He rose from the tomb. You can’t pay for your sins, He did. You can’t bring yourself back to life, He did.

It would do no good to come here on Easter Sunday and act as if everything is okay, act is if you’re supposed to be joyful when you’re really not. What good would it do to ignore all those things you’re holding inside? It would do no good and the great thing about God is that He agrees with this. The great thing about the Bible is that it’s real. It doesn’t sugar coat things. You’re met with details like these, where when the event that shatters death once and for all the people who were there to witness it were afraid.

Frankly, I can identify a lot more with those women who went away from the empty tomb afraid than if they had gone away thinking, “Everything is now okay.” We know things aren’t just okay. We know that there’s a lot that is wrong. We know that much of what is wrong is deep in our hearts. We know that that guilt hangs around for a reason. It won’t go away on its own. With Jesus actually conquering the grave we know that He is in actuality who He says He is, that He is Lord. There is s a certain amount of fear in that.

But isn’t the Resurrection of Christ supposed to be a joyful event? Isn’t it supposed to put to rest our fears and our condemnation for our guilt? Yes, it is; and yes, it does all those things. But that’s the beauty of it. The Bible doesn’t tell us that this was just such a wonderful event, that everyone felt so happy and good after they found out Jesus was no longer dead. When it tells us that they were seized with trembling and astonishment and that they were afraid it is showing us what an amazing and wonderful blessing this is that the Holy Spirit inspired Mark to write these words rather than some sappy emotional account of how everything was now just fine and wonderful and they felt so good. What Christ has accomplished in His death and resurrection doesn’t depend on our feelings. It depends on Him and who He is and what He has done.

This is good news! You don’t have to rely on yourself. If you are wracked with guilt or holding a grudge or avoiding doing something you have a duty to do or are caught up in a sin you are having difficulty stopping, you can see in the account of the Resurrection good news. Not just in the fact that Jesus rose from the grave, but in the fact that those who were there were afraid. If it had been up to them, we would all be sunk. If salvation and hope relied on human beings there would be no salvation or hope. The fact that those women were afraid is not just a detail of the account of the Resurrection it’s a fact that gives us hope.

It shows us that the Resurrection is for you and me. It show us that it’s for people who really are struggling. It shows us that we can thank God that the conquering of death and guilt and sin relied solely on Christ and His power to come to life from the dead and not on us. Amen.


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