April 20, 2014 / Easter Sunday
Matthew 28:1-10 / Don’t Be Afraid!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As you get ready for bed, you check the weather reports. Great, the weather is supposed to be bad again! Looks like we may even get some storms tonight. You go and tuck your children in to bed. You turn off the lights and go back to surfing the web and watching tv. Lightning strikes. You look outside and you see the trees waving around like those wacky waving inflatable tube men at used car dealerships. And you return to your TV show. All of a sudden, you hear a blood curdling scream come from the kids’ room. You become a little paranoid. You bust into the kids’ room inquiring what’s wrong. The kids cry out that they saw a shadow on the wall of a guy with a pitchfork outside their window. You laugh a little but you comfort them and turn on the lights. See! There’s no pitchfork wielding killer outside your window. You don’t need to be afraid.
Being scared like that never really goes away for us, does it? It’s not necessarily the dark or storms that we are afraid of. Isn’t it more that we are scared of the unknown? Whether it be the things creeping around in the dark, or the uncertainty of life, or even death? We get scared and we wish someone would turn on those lights!
Can you imagine that same feeling that the disciples of Jesus had? The gut sinking feeling. Peter had denied Jesus. They all practically abandoned Him. They left their best friend and mentor in the dust. Now what would the anti christians do to them now that Jesus had been crucified? Would they be crucified too? And what about Jesus? Everything that he had said, everything that he was promising? Was it all just a big lie? There were so many questions that seemed unanswered.
After all, even if Jesus would actually do what he said he would do after three days, the gravesite was completely on lock down. The Pharisees and teachers of the law weren’t dumb. They had remembered that Jesus promised his resurrection for the third day. They didn’t actually believe it would happen. But they were scared that the disciples would work up the emotions of the people so that the teachers would suffer. So, they went to Pilate, yet again, to demand that he place guards at the grave to protect it from potential grave robbers, who might claim then that Jesus rose. Even Pilate seemed uncomfortable, maybe even scared, as if there was that still small voice reminding him of what he had done. The grave was then closed and sealed. Every precaution was taken. We see this place, this grave. This place was secure.
And bright and early on this Easter morning, several women woke up to anoint the body of Jesus. This hadn’t been done yet. So very early, they came to the grave to do this, in order to prevent rapid decomposition. On the one hand, we may criticize them for their lack of faith and not remembering Jesus’ prediction of the third day. But let us not overlook their exceptional love and loyalty. Yet, can you imagine the hope that they had in Jesus seem utterly dashed to pieces as they went to the grave of Jesus. Imagine the tears that they shed on their walk. Is there any place where more tears have been shed than at the gravesite of a loved one? When you walk along the rows of tombstones, you see birth dates from the 1800s. You see all different types of tombstones. It seems so disconnected until you see the gravesite of your loved one. All you do is stare. It doesn’t seem real. It seemed like you were just talking with them yesterday. We see this place, this grave of Jesus. This was a place of sadness and weeping because death is so final. Death is irreversible. And we know from observation, death can come at anytime.
I think that is what makes us so scared about the future. It is the fear of the unknown. What will happen to us tomorrow, in a week, or 10 years? Will I be able to make it through this upcoming surgery? Can I really continue to live with these health problems day in and day out? Will we be able to afford our house in the future? What will happen when I am on death’s door step? Is there really life after death? Or will I just be pushing daisies? We see from God’s law that sinners should fear death and we should fear God. We, as sinners, ought to die because of our sin and wickedness. The grave really should be the place of ultimate defeat and sadness for mankind.
We see this grave of Jesus. It was a place of Roman security, of sadness, of loneliness and of what seemed to be the end of the road. But, when the women were approaching the grave of Jesus, the earth shook. We probably would think that this earthquake would have been caused by Jesus breaking through the stone almost like how our St Paul basketball players break through the fancy paper before their home games. Interestingly, this earthquake came from the angel. When the angel had appeared, Jesus was already risen. The angel moved the stone, not to let Jesus out, but to let the women, and later, Peter and John enter it. And the angel was sitting right on top of the stone. I love how the language of this section makes the angel seem so nonchalant as if the angel was hanging out, smiling, chewing some bubble gum, and thinking, these people are going to be in for a treat!
And don’t forget about the guards! They were so scared that if someone had asked what was shaking more, the earth or the guards, I think people would have said the guards! The jewish leaders had done everything they could to guard the tomb from people tampering with or even stealing the body of Jesus that they forgot to guard it against Jesus himself!
However, the angel looks at the women and says, DO NOT BE AFRAID! That’s sort of the gospel in the nutshell! This is what Gabriel said to Zechariah and Mary, when the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, and when the angels appeared to the shepherds. That is the message of easter! Don’t be afraid. This wasn’t a place of Roman security, of sadness, of loneliness and of what seemed to be the end of the road. This was the place of the greatest manifestation of God’s power. Just like the father turning on the lights outside to show there is no crazy pitchfork wielding crazy guy but just the trees, the angel shows them the clothes still there in the grave. He says to the women, come and see the place where He lay. Hold up the strips of cloth that you yourselves put on around his bloody and mangled body. He isn’t here, just like he told you before! This isn’t a grave marking death. This is a grave marking life and victory.
Wow. I think the women would have been standing there with their jaws to the floor. That fear was still there, especially seeing this angel sitting right in front of them! If the angel wouldn’t have told them to go, I think they would have continued to stare in amazement. But, see that now in their struggle with fear, joy is what triumphed. Although they were having a hard time believing everything, and although even the disciples wouldn’t believe them, their joy was about to become even greater. Jesus appeared to them in flesh and blood. He was real! The very one who had been crucified not more than three days ago. Now, any fear that they had previously was gone.
Death’s power had been broken. The resurrection of Christ was God’s pronouncement of justification and forgiveness for the world. Our sins have been forgiven, even the sins that we never thought could be forgiven. Think of the apostle Peter! The one who bragged about his loyalty and yet denied Christ, the one who may have been feeling the most guilt, needed to hear that Christ was truly alive! How awesome that Jesus specifically remembers Peter. Because of Christ, God remembers our sins no more, even those times when we were so scared, when we felt like we had no where to turn and it was just too difficult to trust and believe that God really knew what he was doing. God sees that perfect sacrifice of Christ, he looks at us, and he says, “you are mine. Don’t be afraid.”
Everything that Christ has done is made ours. So really, Christ’s Easter is our Easter too. Our life doesn’t end at the grave. The sting of death has been removed, and the grave has become the portal of eternal life. Our grave is not a place of sadness, but of life and victory through Christ.
Christ has risen “just as he told you.’ Every word of God is true. Jesus fulfilled everything that he had promised including his resurrection. He will continue to stick to his word of being with us forever. He will continue to watch out for us. We are in the Lord’s hands! We have that wonderful comfort every time we read and hear that assurance in God’s word.
Why would you not want to continue to hear that every day and to share it with everyone you come across? Jesus didn’t want this to be a secret. He didn’t just meet these women. But he met with his disciples. In galilee Jesus intended to meet a lot of his believers. The apostle Paul lists this meeting as one of the great proofs of Jesus’ resurrection in 1 Cor. 15 where he was seen by more than 500 people! God wants us to take this message everywhere we go. From the mailbox to the grocery store to work to the gym. Everywhere we go, we take that message of forgiveness.
I leave you with one question. Why do we worship Easter? I know you’re thinking: wow pastor, you should probably know this by now! But why do we worship Easter? Why do we get all spiffed up? Maybe wear a bow tie? Because Christ took us from that darkness and turned on the light. He said don’t be afraid. The resurrection is the Father’s Amen to the words on the cross: “it is finished.” He took care of it all for you. All of our questions and all our fears about life and death are put to rest. Our faith rests on the fact that Jesus Christ has risen! Let us continue to live in that Easter joy and confidence for the rest of our lives. Amen.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.