An Emotional Easter

People respond to unexpected news in different ways. The parents who are surprised by the delivery of twins might rejoice, faint, or be filled with anxiety. The news of a tragic death causes some to scream, others to spring into action, and still others to quietly withdraw. The news of a great inheritance may cause some to dance, others to pump their fist in triumph, and others will weep with joy. It doesn’t matter whether the news is good or bad – you can never be quite sure how someone will respond.

This morning we travel back to a garden tomb. The tomb belonged to a man named Joseph. He graciously donated it as the burial place of Jesus. As you may recall, Jesus died most likely on a Friday afternoon, just before sundown. Since this particular sundown was the beginning of the Sabbath, Jesus was hurriedly buried. (The Sabbath prohibited any kind of work and burying someone was considered work). Joseph of Arimathea and his friend Nicodemus only made the most basic preparations to the body. The intention was to finish preparing his body for burial after the Sabbath (on Sunday). This is when the events of the Resurrection took place.

When the women came to finish preparing the body of Jesus they were startled to find the tomb open and devastated to find the body gone (they assumed the worst). The Jewish leaders (who had Jesus executed) had put a special seal on the tomb and a guard outside of the tomb to make sure that no one tampered with the grave. The guard was gone and the tomb was open. Imagine the distress! They had experienced unspeakable heartache and disappointment and now it was still worse!

Matthew explains what happened,

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

In Mark 16:8 we read,

8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Why Were the Women Afraid?

We understand that the women were startled by the angels. We also understand why they were startled by the appearance of Jesus (like they were seeing a ghost, but way more real). Luke adds additional words to what the angel said,

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words. (Luke 24:5-8)

As the angel spoke these words I wonder if the women thought, “You’re right! Jesus did say he would rise.” We expect this to bring a sense of overwhelming joy. Jesus was vindicated. The grave was conquered. He is indeed the Lord!!! I suspect they felt a sense of hope but they were still afraid. We aren’t told why they were afraid but it isn’t difficult to speculate.

First, they may have been afraid because they had experienced an encounter with the divine. Fear is a common reaction to an encounter with God or one of the angels of God.  It is a common reaction. Abraham was afraid when he realized he had been talking to angels, Moses was fearful when he stood before the burning bush Isaiah was “undone”, Zechariah was “griped with fear”, Mary was “greatly troubled”. The guards at the tomb were afraid and became like dead men. When you stand before the holy or the reflected holiness of God you become very conscious of your own unworthiness. (Think about how unworthy we feel when we stand next to a classmate who has “made it big” at a class reunion. We often feel like a loser). When we see ourselves reflected in the light of Heaven our sinfulness is starkly exposed.

Even after the women left the tomb they continued to be afraid. We expect them to be fist pumping, dancing, and shouting at the news that Jesus is alive and has been vindicated. The women felt joy. They understood that the news was incredible and life-changing. But they were still filled with fear.

Have you noticed that whether you have just been told that something horrible has happened or that something wonderfully life-changing has happened the response is frequently the same: we say “No”. It is because our emotional system is on overload. We have trouble thinking straight.  When there is good news we tell someone to “pinch us” because we wonder if we are dreaming. If it is bad news we tell people “to wake us up out of this horribly bad dream”.

I am not surprised that the women were conflicted. I am not troubled by their fear mixed with joy. It seems like a very human response to the news they had just heard. Think about it,

1.  They may have been afraid that they were mistaken. Even though they heard the angel and saw the empty tomb . . . their circuits may have been overloaded and it scared them. They may have been afraid of another devastating letdown. Perhaps they were saying to themselves, “I just can’t take another disappointment”.

2.  They may have been afraid of what the others would say. Who would believe the news that Jesus had risen from the dead? They were having trouble believing it why would anyone else believe their testimony? In the Gospel of Luke we learn the disciples didn’t believe them when they relayed the news.

3.  Perhaps they were overwhelmed with the implications of the resurrection. What would the Jewish leadership do? What would the Romans do? What should the followers of Jesus do? Perhaps they understood that the news was life-changing but they did not know to what extent. I find myself feeling fear whenever I am entering into an unknown or new situation. This was uncharted territory to be sure.

Many people still respond to the resurrection with fear. They hear the message of the resurrection proclaimed but for some reason they hold back because they are afraid of being scammed. It seems too good to be true. How can we be forgiven from the mountain of sin in our life by the work of another? How is it possible for someone to live eternally? How could a finite human being have a personal relationship with the God of the universe?

People are afraid of what others will say. They are concerned that if they embrace the message of the Resurrection of Jesus their friends and family members (even their spouses) might call them insane. No one wants people to make fun of them. We live in a society that desperately pushes us to “conform”. If we don’t conform we are branded as “odd” or “defective”. Consequently people resist commitment to Christ because of the threat of the crowd.

Still others are afraid that if they truly embrace the One who rose from the dead their way life will change. As much as we complain about how difficult our lives are, they are predictable and we know how to handle what is predictable. Many are afraid that if they become followers of Christ the Lord will send them to Africa as a missionary, make them change their priorities and remove everything fun in their lives.

Another Option

The woman did not just feel fear . . . they were also overjoyed. The resurrection is the best news possible. It is better than an announcement that war has ceased and we have won the battle. It is better than the Doctor announcing your new baby is healthy. It is better than a “yes” to your proposal of marriage or a promotion in your work. This news brings joy because,

1.  It means life is not empty and futile . . . we are not on a road that heads nowhere. We are not alone. Life has meaning and purpose.

2.  It means Jesus was telling the truth about forgiveness, new life, and the love of God toward us. We can have a new beginning.

3.  It means wrongs will be made right and good will be rewarded. There is a Judge who will make things right.

4.  It means we can be reunited with many who have died and gone before us

5.  It means this world cannot overcome us.

6.  It means Jesus is worth following with the utmost enthusiasm.

Joy is an appropriate response to the Resurrection.

How Do We Get from Fear to Joy?

The question is: how do we move from fear to joy? Matthew tells us,

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

I love this part of the story. The women told to tell the disciples but they had no intention of telling anyone. Instead of being rebuked by the Lord He appeared to them. The women came to Jesus, they touched Him, they saw that it WAS true. I can see them (like Thomas) examining the holes in His hands and checking out to see if there were holes in His feet. They realized that their Lord was the true Lord of Life. They worshipped Him. Fear had been changed to joy and now they were ready to tell the world.

The gospels report that the women did tell the disciples. The disciples didn’t believe at first but Peter and John went to the tomb to see for themselves. When they returned, they confirmed what the woman had said. Jesus appeared also to them.

The Lord wants His followers to believe. He invites us to truly and carefully examine the evidence. Many of you have been swayed by the evidence and your heart leaps at the idea of forgiveness and life beyond the grave. Yet, some of you do not follow. You are praying that He will take you to Heaven when you die but you are unwilling to commit to Him now. You don’t want to commit yourself to Him because you are afraid. WHAT are you afraid of?

Are you afraid that it is too good to be true? Are you protecting yourself from one more disappointment in life? Do you think it is “too easy and there must be a catch”? Let me say a couple of things to you. First, examine the evidence. Read the accounts. Hear the testimony of the eyewitnesses. Read the books of those who have looked carefully at the evidence.

It is true that many scholars scoff at the Resurrection. Ask yourself if these people made their decision before looking at the evidence? That’s what has happened to many. They are looking for reasons to not believe rather than following where the evidence leads them. Ask the critic a simple question:  “What happened to body of Jesus that was under Roman guard in a sealed tomb in order to prevent the very thing that happened?”

People can speculate all they want. They can scoff at the eyewitness accounts. But if they cannot tell where the body of Jesus has gone . . . if they cannot explain why the despondent band of followers suddenly became a bold and energetic group of witnesses willing to die for what they proclaimed to be true, they have no argument.

It is true that we want the resurrection to be true because the alternative is that life has no purpose and ends in a pile of dirt. However, the evidence sustains our conclusions.

Perhaps you resist the Lord because you are afraid of what others will say. Will others talk? Probably. Will some ridicule? Most likely. Consider something. You are willing to debate politics with others even though they may disagree and become antagonistic. You are willing to aggressively cheer for your home team even when you are in the opponent’s ballpark.  You are even willing to argue about which contestant on the Reality show deserves to win. These things don’t mean anything in comparison to discovering forgiveness and new life! If you are unafraid to stand for what doesn’t ultimately matter, why are you afraid to stand with the One who controls time and eternity?

Maybe you are afraid that if you follow Jesus He is going to change your life. Have you considered the fact that your life may need to be changed? Again some questions:

How is it going so far with you in control of your life? Do you know peace? Have you found joy? Do you feel that your life is making a real difference in the lives of others? Why do you think you will do a better job of guiding your life on a productive path than the One who knows the pathway?

Do you really think God is fooled by professions of faith that have no impact on the way you live your life? Jesus calls us to believe on Him. We don’t truly believe if we aren’t ready to follow.

If someone came to your home and offered you a check for 3 million dollars would you eagerly take it? What if there were conditions on what you could spend the money on, would you still take it? Would you say, “Look, I appreciate what you are offering me but I really want to experience the struggle and heartache of life . . .I’m going to just do things on my own.” If you would take the money (it IS 3 million dollars) why won’t you embrace eternal life from the God of the Universe (something money can’t buy)?


Let’s draw some quick conclusions

1.  The Resurrection does not take away all fear but it does reveal how to overcome fear. Life is dangerous but Jesus is the Lord over life. Life is confusing but Jesus has promised to guide us into all truth. Death is scary but Jesus has overcome the grave. Focus on Him and fear turns to joy.

2.  The Message of the Gospel is intimidating…if you haven’t trembled a little, you don’t “get it”. If you have never trembled at your own sinfulness in light of God’s greatness, you are not seeing clearly. There is something wrong when someone “fears” the police, their friends, or a trip to the boss’s office more than they fear God who sees what is done in secret. Until we realize we deserve judgment, we will not appreciate the love of God that overcomes fear.

3.  We must not allow fear to cause us to miss the joy and blessing of Easter. “He is risen!” is a one-word sentence in the original. This one brief word announced the greatest miracle ever wrought on earth. It is the door to understanding Jesus Christ and the entry to a new way of living.

The unknown can cause us to tremble.  The child heading off to school will experience fear. The person heading to the first day of the new job may be anxious and afraid. The person heading out on that first date may be fearful. Fear is a part of life. However, if we let the fear imprison us . . . we will miss the greatest blessings of life. However, if we face the fear and dare to trust the Lord of Life . . . fear will be swallowed by a joy that is greater than words can convey. When that happens we will celebrate Easter with a joy that will flood the rest of our living. When we “get it” it will change us forever.

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