And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
If the resurrection is true, as it most certainly is, then we who believe have reason not to fear.
Early Sunday morning a great earthquake shook the ground as an angel of God rolled the stone away and sat upon it. In response, the guards literally shook with fear and became as dead men, passed out on the ground. They were terrified.
Understandably, the women were perplexed when they found the open tomb. And when they saw the angel, they too were afraid. But the angel said to them, “Fear not ye.”
Why must the women stop being afraid? Because Jesus is risen!
What fears plague our souls in the midst of this valley of tears? Do we fear an uncertain future? Do we wonder what will happen to our children and grandchildren? Do we fear the persecution coming on the church? Do we fear God’s punishing wrath? Does guilt burden our consciences as we feel the consequences of sin? God speaks to us the same message as He did to the fearing women: “Fear not ye…Jesus is risen.”
The guards who watched over Jesus’ tomb exhibited one kind of fear on that resurrection morning. These guards may have been the very band that had been appointed to the task of crucifying Jesus, given by Pilate at the direction of the chief priests. If that is so, then some of these guards struck Jesus in the face and called out, “Prophesy, who is it that smote thee?” They might have been the ones who dressed Him in purple, put a crown of thorns upon His head, and then mocked Him saying, “Hail, King of the Jews.” These soldiers spit upon Him, hit Him on the head, escorted Him to Calvary, nailed spikes into His hands, and set His cross in place. They parted Jesus’ garments among them. They felt the earthquake when Jesus died. One of them pierced Jesus’ side with a spear. Whatever the case may have been, these soldiers surely knew at least some of the history surrounding Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.
Early Sunday morning the guards suddenly felt another earthquake and found the stone of the tomb removed. They saw a shining messenger of God, and their hearts were filled with terror. So intense was their fear, they fell to the ground as dead men.
As soon as they recovered enough strength, they ran back to the Jews and reported what happened. These men witnessed the incontrovertible truth of Jesus’ resurrection. They felt the earthquake and saw the angel. We might imagine that they would immediately repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Instead, the soldiers showed the hardness of heart that belongs to unbelievers. Evidence stares them in the face, but they refuse to believe.
These unbelieving soldiers represent all unbelievers. When something dreadful happens, they tremble in fear of death. Though they might utter a prayer in the trenches, when the crisis passes, they continue on their merry way, living life for themselves, pursuing the gods of money, pleasure, entertainment, and sports. In spite of many infallible proofs of Jesus’ resurrection, the ungodly refuse to turn to Jesus in repentance and faith.
These do well to be afraid of God’s messengers, because the angels are reminders of the coming day of God’s wrath. When Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead, it will be too late. The wicked will be cast into outer darkness. The fear of unbelief is a terror.
Those words “Fear not!” were not directed to the guards. There is no record of any word to them. The angel gives them no message like that heard in many churches today, “Fear not; God loves all men and wants everyone to partake of the resurrection life of His Son.” Rather, the angel speaks this message to the women: “Fear not ye.”
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, Joanna, and other women who loved Jesus brought sweet spices to anoint Jesus’ body. They intended to preserve His body from the stench of decay.
Of course, if the women had believed Jesus when He had told them He would rise again, they would not have needed any spices. Nor would they have wondered about rolling the stone away because there would not have been a need. Theirs was a problem that often plagues us—a lack of faith. They had not hidden Jesus’ words in their hearts and held onto them.
But there is a fundamental difference between the unbelief of the guards and the unbelief of the women. It is true, these women should have known better, just as the rest of the disciples. But their heart was in the right place. They witnessed the crucifixion as the soldiers probably had. But the women responded differently. Why? Because by God’s regenerating grace they believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah. And yet, they did not understand the nature of Christ’s kingdom and how the cross was the way into that kingdom. Although Jesus had explained it to them, their understanding was still weak. They believed, but they were plagued by unbelief at the same time. Thus the women came to the tomb in true faith, seeking Jesus whom they loved.
Why then such fear in the presence of God’s holy angel? Because they understood they were sinners. They knew that a righteous and holy God cannot look on sin. They knew they deserved to be cast out of God’s presence. Yet their fear is not the kind that runs from the tomb and denies the resurrection. Their fear does not keep them from seeking Jesus. The angel acknowledged that: “I know that ye seek Jesus.”
Why must the women stop fearing? Why must they set aside their anxiety and grief and confusion? The reason is the most glorious news ever given: “He is not here: for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” Fear not! Jesus is not in the grave any more. He is risen!
The evidence was clear and compelling. In the first place, the angel reminds them how Jesus told them that He would rise again: “He is risen, as He said.” That is, “Remember how He told you when He was yet in Galilee, that the Son of man must be crucified and that He would rise again the third day?” And they remembered His words.
Secondly, the angel invites them to examine the tomb: “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” Why did the angel direct the women to look at the spot where Jesus had been? Evidently, he wanted them to see the grave clothes. They were not unwrapped, as was the case when Lazarus came forth out of the grave. Rather, Jesus’ grave clothes lay in the shape of His body; but the body was missing. The only explanation is that Jesus was risen indeed. His body went through the grave clothes and left behind the shell. He went through death and came out on the other side with a glorified body. In that sense, Jesus’ resurrection is completely different from all those that rose up before Him. Jesus received a new heavenly, glorified body.
God would have the women (and us) consider who it was that had been in the grave: “Come see the place where the Lord lay. The One who went into the grave is He who deliberately laid down His life that He might take it again. Surely, He was Master over His death, having walked deliberately into Jerusalem and having given Himself over to the wicked Jews. He was Master over His soul so that He committed His spirit into His Father’s hands. So too, Jesus was Master over His life to take it back again. He rules over life and death. He is victor over the grave.
The resurrection of our Lord and Master is the end of all fears. The Lord owns us body and soul.
What fears rush in upon our souls?
Do we fear future uncertainties? The possibility of persecution? Where the next paycheck will come from? What others think of us? What will become of the troubles we experience? Fear not ye! The risen Lord is alive and knows and cares about our circumstances. He prays for us and sends us His Spirit and grace.
Do we fear the frailties of our human bodies? Diseases, heart conditions, chronic pain, old age? Do we fear the valley of the shadow of death? Fear not; the risen Lord is with us to shepherd us all the days of our lives.
Are we afraid of the righteous and holy God? Afraid that He will call us to account for our sins and sinfulness? Do we fear the judgment day? Fear not ye! Jesus is risen. His bodily resurrection is visible proof that God accepted His sacrifice in our place. He was delivered for our offenses and raised again for our justification. Surely, our sins have been paid for.
Do we fear that sin might overthrow us? Will temptations get the better of us? Will our corrupt natures sink us spiritually? Fear not ye! Jesus is risen. We have been raised with Christ through faith. And though we sin daily, God will never take His Spirit from us. None can snatch us from His hand.
His resurrection is a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection, the beginning of which life we already enjoy.
Christ the risen Lord is our Refuge and Strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear. Christ the Lord is risen today. Hallelujah!