Sunday, April 24, 2011

Fear and Great Joy: An Easter Story

On Good Friday at our church we were able to go and quietly observe the 12 stations of the cross. It was a humbling, worshipful, and joyful experience for Erin and I. As we walked through each station several things jumped out at me from the various scripture verses we read at each station. But at the last station something in particular stood out to me in a powerful way as I read through Matthew 28:1-10 which is Matthew's rendering of the Resurrection. I will focus more on that below, but first the reading (from the ESV):

Matthew 28

The Resurrection
 1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you." 8So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9And behold, Jesus met them and said,"Greetings!" And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.10Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me."

As I read the passage I was struck by the phrase "fear and great joy". Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (the mother of James and Joseph) have arrived at the tomb where Jesus was placed after His crucifixion. Without question these were anxious and heartbreaking moments for them. Jesus (whom they love) has days before gone through the most ultimate betrayal, suffering, and death ever recorded in human history. They arrive at the tomb no doubt with questions and fears. When they arrive the tomb is still sealed which must have been devastating for them to see. Had He not promised that in three days He would rise again? They had that hope, but they had that fear. Then something amazing happens - a great earthquake caused by the descent of an angel of the Lord, who proceeds to roll back the stone covering the tomb - causing the guards watching the tomb to tremble and become like dead men. The women too were afraid. Imagine the scene! Then, the angel of the Lord speaks! "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay." These faithful followers of Jesus were the first witnesses of the greatest event recorded in human history - the Resurrection of Jesus Christ! The angel of the Lord then charges them to go and tell the disciples of Jesus that He is risen and will see them in Galilee. And this they do, but the text says something extraordinary about the moment -  "they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples." Fear and great joy. What a combination. One would think that the two could not be found at the same time, but that's not true. In 2 Timothy 1:7 the Bible says, "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind". God does not give us fear. But God gives us joy. Fear is human. Joy is divine. And in this most historic moment of all time we find both Mary's are experiencing fear AND joy - great joy. And that spoke to me. Consider why they would fear:

1) Until this moment Jesus was dead - an absolute heartbreak for these women
2) They had witnessed one of their own betray Him
3) They had witnessed just about everyone else who followed Him flee from Him
4) They had witnessed his ultimate suffering and crucifixion
5) They must have felt very much alone and uncertain at this moment in their life
6) It was not a good time to be a follower of Jesus - even after His death
7) There were soldiers at the tomb
8) There was a great earthquake
9) An angel of the Lord appeared, rolled back the stone covering the entrance of the tomb, and spoke to them
10) In historical context, they were women. Women were woefully treated in society and they have just witnessed the most amazing event of all time - given a charge to go and tell the disciples of the news. What would the disciples - or anyone else for that matter - even say to this?

That's a short list, but it's plenty to ponder. Read each of these carefully, placing yourself in this moment in history. Imagine how profoundly horrible and fearful it would have been to live in this time. I can't imagine the fear they must have had, but I understand why they would have fear. But now they have just received and witnessed the Resurrection! Talk about a lot to process at one time. It is no wonder they had fear - and great joy! And I love that. In our own lives we have fear. It's natural. We live in tough times in this country. People are losing their jobs all around us. But it's nothing compared to the suffering of the rest of the world. We all have loved ones who are sick. Maybe you're sick. Perhaps death is a real possibility for you or someone you love. Maybe we have friends or family who are far off and living lives filled with hopelessness. And we wonder how they will be reached? I can think of several families who are working through tremendous marital problems, some have even lost their marriage. Finances, health, death, suffering, abandonment - the list can be long. We all have fear. But that's not the end of it all. For the Christian we have something more powerful than our fear. More powerful than anything, and it's what we went to church to celebrate today - we have a risen Savior and Lord. We have the Resurrection. And this fact separates Christianity from all other belief systems in the world. Because of the Resurrection, we have hope. We have faith. We have - great joy! And no matter how our world gets turned upside down - no matter the fear that comes our way - our joy is greater than our fear because we lay hold of the Resurrection. And that is what we must ever hold before us. We must live a life that reflects what the Resurrection has done for us. If we allow our fear to be bigger than the Resurrection, then what does that say to those who have no hope? It's OK to have fear to a certain extent, because we are humans. But we have the Resurrection therefore we have great joy! And that should be the attitude that marks our life as Christians. So if you have fear today, lay hold of Resurrection power for He is alive. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Now lets' get up, go, and tell someone just like these amazing women did. Behold Him! Take hold of His feet as they did! Worship Him! See He is risen! Do not stay in your fear! Go and tell everyone that He is alive and God-willing they will see Him! May we all live in the power of the Resurrection and with the great joy that it produces!

Grace and Peace.