28:1 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.”Matthew 28:1-10
I can’t remember your name. Did we know each other? “Mom, it’s me,” she said. About every other time that would work to jog her memory, but even so there was not much left of the woman who raised her. “Come quick,” he said. He was racking leaves in the yard, when his rake hit something. He was smart enough not to move the leaves aside with his hand to see what he had hit, and moving the leaves aside with the rake, he saw it was a snake. A snake that would land you in the hospital quick, if not handled properly. “I don’t care,” he said as she walked out the door. It had been years since they had a real conversation with one another, and finally with the ultimatum of a packed bag she was about to see how little he cared to chase after her. “Stay home,” is the message said over and over to prevent the spread of the virus. In all of these situations, there is fear.
“I was afraid this would happen,” he said. He tried to outrun what he knew would happen, but it did not work. God had called Jonah to tell the city of Nineveh that they were going to be destroyed by God if they did not turn from their evil ways and ask God’s forgiveness. Jonah tried to outrun God by boat, but that landed him in the belly of a large fish for three days. Afraid, Jonah prayed for God’s deliverance from inside the fish and God granted his request having the fish vomit him up on the shore. From inside the fish Jonah said, 9 “I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’” He followed God’s direction and shared God’s message with the city of Nineveh. At once, the people listened stopping their evil ways and asking God’s forgiveness. At this, Jonah 2 … prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” Jonah was afraid that God was so gracious and compassionate that he would forgive an entire city. It was a foolish, selfish fear.
When fear is in your heart it leads you to foolish selfishness. Forgiveness, not fear is our truth as believers. The foolish fear that threatens you today is that this Easter is less joyful than Easters in the past. This is a blessing in disguise for you because today might be the Easter you best understand what happened on the first Easter morning for you. When the group of women we heard about in Matthew 28, who followed Jesus woke up the third day, they felt afraid, lonely, unsure of the future and confused by strange political alliances. They feared the mob who cried for Jesus’ crucifixion would find them, they were lonely without their friend, unsure of the future without their leader and confused by the church calling for and state allowing a man to be put to death after being held in custody for less than a day. Yes, today you fear gathering in large crowds, you feel lonely deprived of contact with family and friends, you feel unsure about the length of time the isolation and financial strains will last into the future and you wonder what the empty church buildings and new government regulations will do to this country as policies change day by day. Yes, this Easter, fear threatens to put foolish selfishness in your heart, but this was the message to the women that first Easter, 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.’” There is no room for fear because the tomb is empty. Foolish are those who do not listen and take to heart the good news of the angel. Selfish are those who do not find joy in this message and do not share Jesus with others.
Joy is the enemy of fear. And on Easter, joy fought fear to the death and won. After hearing the good news from the angel, 8 … 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.” Jesus proved fear and death to be liars spreading the news that they control your life. Jesus proved that joy and life are the truth ruling your life.
Joy fills your heart because Jesus came back to life. Hearing the events of the resurrection fill your heart with joy because they turn your eyes from the tomb to the treasure. In Colossians 3, Paul encourages you to, 2 “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Fear threatens to focus you on earthly things, on a tomb and you will work every day to decorate that tomb only to lay in it oblivious to all that surrounds you because you are dead. Instead, you have been refocused away from fear and death to joy. You see the treasure hidden for you with Jesus who is with the Father in heaven. Storing up treasure in heaven is not limited by you being at home right now.
The worst fear you face is forgetting true Easter joy comes from the risen Jesus who gave his perfect life as a payment for your debt of sin, so that you are now forgiven and set free for a future of eternal life in heaven. Jesus knew those three days he was in the grave would fill his followers with fear. He knew the crowds who welcomed him with palm branches and praise would turn on him filling the few who truly loved him with fear of being identified, tortured and killed with him. Jesus knew the fear in your heart that he would see you for what you are, a sinner, afraid that you are not good enough and afraid God really doesn’t care about you so that he would leave you to die and go to hell. Jesus knows your fears, and he fights those fears with facts. No fear of yours changes his perfect life sacrificed on the cross. No fear of yours changes the empty tomb. No fear of yours changes heaven’s open doors because Jesus stands holding them open for you.
Churches are empty and you are watching at home alone or in a small group, but our Easter joy is not based on how we feel or where we are now. Easter joy comes from what was done by Jesus at the resurrection and what will be done at your resurrection. “Do not be afraid,” he said. Jesus said those words for you. If you are afraid of forgetting, he has not forgotten you. If you are afraid of being surprised, he is not surprised by your weakness, worry or wickedness, but has forgiven you. If you are worried about being abandoned, he will never leave you or forsake you. If you are afraid, Jesus said that joy is yours because the tomb is empty and eternal life is yours. This is your message today, a message of joy. Those who saw Jesus alive the first Easter would have been overjoyed to know that you have devices with cameras, text and audio to reach all those you know, and even those you don’t with the joy of Easter. Do not be afraid, go and tell your friends and family, “The risen Jesus fills your heart with joy.” Amen.