Matthew 28:1-10 (The Resurrection of Our Lord—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
April 16, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Easter Gospel recorded in Matthew 28.
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. 2 And 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. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then 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.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
The advice columnist known as Ann Landers received an average of ten thousand letters each month—nearly all of them from people with problems. She was asked if there was one predominant theme in the letters she received. She said, “The one problem above all others seems to be fear. People are afraid of losing their health, their wealth, and their loved ones. People are afraid of life itself.” According to estimates, around 19.2 million adult Americans are affected by specific fears or phobias.
What a sad commentary. In George Lucas’s Star Wars, he includes fear as the first step in the path toward the “Dark Side.” Fear, he is suggesting, is not a good thing; it leads people down a path that they should not wish to go. In 1539, when the plague struck Wittenberg, Martin Luther described how paralyzing fear can be. “When nature takes fright, it cannot digest its food, for it is weakened and cast down. The spear becomes paralyzed in the hands of cowardly warriors. Then they cannot defend themselves. Similarly, if someone frightens you during a plague, no member of your body performs its office and work; for nature is beaten.”
Certainly, fear was present when it was becoming light on that first day of the week some 2000 years ago. A great earthquake accompanied an angel’s descent from heaven. Those posted to guard the tomb of Jesus were so afraid that they shook with fear and became like dead men, paralyzed with fear. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were also afraid. We know this because the angel of the Lord answers their unspoken fear with the words, “Stop being afraid.” These women later depart from the tomb, Matthew tells us, with both fear and great joy. The risen Jesus would then also tell the woman, “Stop being afraid.” In other words, keep the joy but lose the fear!
In Bible class a few weeks ago, the topic came up about fear in our reading of the account of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was asleep in the boat when a great storm arose and the boat was being swamped. The disciples freaked out; they were afraid and woke Jesus up saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” Jesus then asked them, “Why? Why are you afraid, O little-faithed ones?” Shouldn’t they have been afraid in the storm when the boat was filling with water? No, because Jesus was with them. They didn’t trust that they were safe with the Lord who made the seas. Their fear demonstrated their lack of faith and trust in Him who commands both wind and wave.
Isn’t that the nature of fear? We are afraid when we cannot control a situation. We are afraid when factors outside of our control threaten us with harm or perceived harm. Children like their night-lights because they are afraid of the dark. The light gives them a sense of control over the things that go bump in the night.
Fear, then, is a consequence of sin. It comes from our destroyed relationship with God because of sin. We read in Genesis, “But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’” (Gen. 3:9-10 ESV).
Sin brings fear because our sinful nature tells us that each of us is ultimately in control—“you will be like God.” But when we can no longer be in control, when factors outside ourselves take that control from us, we turn to ourselves and realize that we are powerless and helpless. We cannot handle what we must deal with. We cower in fear because we realize that we are not able to cope with things as we once thought. In effect, we realize that “we are naked,” meaning that we are powerless and helpless.
So we are prone to fear. We fear the troubles and “storms” and situations that life in this world throws at us day after day. We fear our own helplessness. We live in fear because of the guilt over the evil that we have done and because of the guilt over the good that we have failed to do. We become afraid of the consequences of our actions that merit God’s wrath and displeasure. We fear death, physical and eternal, which is the just punishment for our sins. We are afraid of the reality of hell and damnation.
The guards at Jesus’ tomb were terrified at the presence of God’s holy angel. They must have felt that they were coming face to face with their mortality and it surely marked their doom. The women, likewise, in the presence of the supernatural, were afraid. Does this visit from God’s angel mark their end as well? What does the angel say, “You are right to be afraid”? Not any such thing! Rather, he says, “Stop being afraid.” In other words, “You can stop being afraid because I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. I’ve got good news for you. He’s not here! He has been raised from the dead just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.”
Something, dear friends, had changed. Something is now different in the relationship between God and His human creation. There is now no reason to be afraid. Why? Because God is no longer angry with us because of our sin. God the Father gave the world His One-of-a-kind Son, Jesus, to receive the wrath and punishment that we sinners deserve. In our place, Jesus faced the wrath and anger of God against our sins as He hung on the cross, shedding His blood, the once-for-all perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world (Heb. 10:10). In the words of the hymn, “Jesus Christ, our blessed Savior, Turned away God’s wrath forever; By His bitter grief and woe He saved us from the evil foe” (LSB 627:1).
Jesus’ death on the cross on Good Friday has taken away God’s wrath from us because, with His sacrificial death, Christ purchased and won our complete forgiveness of sins. We read in Colossians 1, “For in [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Col. 1:19-22 ESV).
You do not need to be afraid of God. He is not angry with you on account of your sins. You are washed in the blood of Jesus; your sins are forgiven. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also eternal life and salvation. This means that you do not need to fear death. On the cross, Jesus suffered the death and hell you deserved so that you will not suffer it. Jesus’ resurrection conquered death, defeated death. Paul says in Romans 8, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:1-2 ESV). Physical death itself has also lost its sting. For those who live by faith in Jesus Christ, death is as harmless as sleep. It is for the believer the gate of everlasting life. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (Jn. 5:24 ESV). Again our Lord proclaims, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn. 11:25-26 ESV).
He who Himself is resurrection and the life, who Himself was raised from the dead, never to die again, is the Lord Jesus Christ who gives you life everlasting so that you do not need to fear death. As Jesus rose, you also will rise again in your bodies on the Last Day. Death cannot hold Jesus, nor can it have any power over you who are in Christ Jesus by grace through faith. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. . . . Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:4-11 ESV).
Stop being afraid! God is not angry with you because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. You stand before Him forgiven and redeemed from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. Stop being afraid! You have been given eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ—baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection—death no longer has power over you. You will rise again in your bodies on the Last Day to live before the Lord in righteousness and purity forever.
But what about living now? There is so much in this world to be afraid of. Here, too, the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection echoes powerfully, “Stop being afraid.” To use a comparison, Jesus is in the boat with His disciples. You are His disciples and He is with you every day in this boat that we might call “life.” The Living Lord promised before His Ascension, “I am with you always.” There is never a moment when He will abandon you to the trials and troubles of the world. He is with you, bestowing on you His forgiveness, His peace, His grace, and His love. He sends His holy angels to guard and to protect you. In the words of Psalm 46, used by Luther to pen, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” the psalmist writes, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. . . . The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Ps. 46:1-7 ESV).
Jesus’ death and resurrection mean that we do not need to be afraid. God’s wrath is turned away from us. Forgiveness of sins and everlasting life is ours. Death is defeated. Our God and Savior is with us each and every day, no matter what. With faithful trust and confidence in Him who is our Risen Lord, we can confess . . .
No guilt in life, no fear in death—This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man, Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.
 “In Christ Alone” Words and Music by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. Copyright © 2001 Kingsway Thankyou Music