“Do Not Be Afraid”
Text: Matthew 18:1-10
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!
“Do not be afraid,” the angel tells the women that first Easter morning, “He is not here, for He has risen, as he said.” That’s what this day is all about. The angel’s message to those women that first Easter is God’s message to us today: Do not be afraid. For Jesus has been raised from the dead.
Easter means that Jesus is alive, and what that means is that we don’t have to be afraid anymore. Easter makes it possible for us to live our lives unafraid. Not by erasing our fears. But by transforming them. And this morning we’ll see just how the message of Easter does this. But to do that, we have to back up, and put ourselves in the shoes of those women who bravely went to Jesus’ tomb on that first Easter morning.
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had every reason to be afraid that morning. A man they admired and loved, and whom they had hoped was their long-awaited Messiah, was dead. And He had died in the most cruel and awful way imaginable; He’d been crucified. They had to have had questions. What did His death mean for them? What would come next for them? Would the Roman authorities begin executing them, and all of his followers? The apostles were so afraid that they locked themselves away in the Upper Room. But not these women. They approached the tomb that first Easter morning, no doubt with fear, but also with courage.
As we continue to place ourselves in their shoes, we can only imagine what it would have been like to arrive at the tomb, only to find, in the midst of a great earthquake, an angel of the Lord descending from heaven, his appearance like lightning, and the guards shaking and becoming like dead men. No wonder the angel began by telling the women not to be afraid! But its doubtful that their fears were suddenly erased. But they were transformed. They might no longer have been afraid of the guards or the Roman authorities, but how could they not be afraid of God’s awesome power? The women were now filled with a holy fear, the fear of the Lord.
It’s a fear they must be taking with them as they leave the tomb with instructions from the angel. They left quickly, we’re told, “with fear and great joy.” Their fears, in other words, weren’t erased. But they were transformed. Now, their fear contains great joy. It’s become a fearful joy.
And that’s what God wants for us today: a fearful joy, or a joyful fear. A transformed fear, now filled with great joy. Not a Good Friday fear, but an Easter fear. Not a crucifixion fear, but a resurrection fear. Not a fear rooted in despair, but a fear rooted in faith. A fear, in other words, that has passed through the very worst that life can throw at us, and so it is now a fear mixed with a joy that nothing in life can take away from us.
The resurrection of our Lord fills us with both a holy fear and a heavenly joy. A joy that nothing in life can take away, because it’s a joy based on that wonderful Easter fear. That’s the true gift of Easter. Making it possible for us to live life unafraid. This Easter gift of joyful fear rolls away the stone from whatever tomb we find ourselves in. Whatever your tomb might be – whatever it is that’s keeping you from living the life for which God created you, and to which God calls you, the fearful joy of Easter can roll away that stone, and offer you a brand new life. A life where your fears are transformed, and where your joy is complete.
You might ask how Easter is able to do all that? It’s a fair question. An empty tomb can’t do that. But a risen Lord can. When the women left the tomb that first Easter morning, they were met by Jesus himself. And Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee; and there they will see me.”
We’re beginning to get an answer to how Easter transforms our fear. It’s found in the place to which we’re sent. For these followers of Jesus, that’s Galilee. We might wonder, why Galilee? Why did Jesus tell them to go there? Why not stay in Jerusalem, where they are? Why not the Upper Room? Or the Temple? Why Galilee, sixty miles away, so far removed from the miracle of Easter?
The answer is quite simple: Galilee is their home. Jesus is telling them to go back to their families; back to their jobs, back to their daily lives, and there they’re promised to see their risen Lord. The fearful joy of Easter, in other words, is not found by escaping our lives. It’s found by experiencing Jesus’ presence in the midst of our lives.
The message of Easter is that Christ is risen, but also that He is with us, now and always, wherever we find ourselves. Easter means that we can expect to be met by Jesus in places where we least expect to find him. For Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, that place was His tomb. But what about for you? Where do you least expect to find Jesus? It might be in a hospital room or a funeral home. It might be at work or school. It might even be in your own home.
Wherever that place is, it’s yours. It’s your “Galilee.” The place where your fear and your dread threaten to overtake your hope and your faith. Galilee. The place where you least expect to be met by our risen Lord.
Go there with me, for a moment. Go to that place where your fear and your dread are greatest. For those listening to Jesus, Galilee was far from the immediate reality of the resurrection. Far from the peace and comfort they’d come to know from their time with Jesus. Go in your minds to your “Galilee.” And then listen again to the words that the angel spoke to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary at the tomb on that first Easter morning:
“Do not be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said … and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”
There, in Galilee, in the very place where you might least expect to find Jesus, there you will see him. There, in that very place where your fear and your dread threaten to overtake your hope and your faith, there you will see Jesus. That’s the angel’s promise to you today. That’s our risen Lord’s promise to you today.
Easter, in other words, is about much more than an empty tomb. It’s about our risen Lord, who promises to be with us. Easter is about Jesus coming to us in the midst of our fear and our dread and our despair, to give us renewed courage and hope and joy.
Jesus is with us. So, what do we have to fear? The greatest of all fears is the fear of death, and our Savior has conquered that. So, what do we need to fear? Being alone? Jesus promises that we are never alone – he is with us, always. So what do we need to fear? A health concern? A situation at work or at school? Do not be afraid. Christ is risen and you will find Him there. There you will see him, just as He promised.
So, what do we need to fear? There is no place we can go where Jesus has not already gone. He has literally gone to Hell and back for us. He is with us now. So, what do we need to fear?
This is an important question to ask because it goes against the message that we so often hear everywhere else. Much of what we hear in this world makes us afraid. It’s supposed to; after all, fear sells. Fear causes us to stay tuned to that news channel. Fear causes us to vote for that candidate. Fear causes us to buy that new security system. Fear sells. And so, we hear over and over again that we should be afraid. Or that we should do this or buy that to deal with our fear.
All this fear can cause us to stay locked up in our own Upper Rooms, with stones rolled over our doors. Fear can prevent us from living with joy, and with love, and with peace. Which is why it’s so important, today, and every day, to remember the great miracle of Easter. That the Son of God lives, and is with us. And so, we don’t have to be afraid anymore.
Jesus is alive, and He is there, in your “Galilee,” bringing new life out of death, new faith out of fear, new hope out of despair, and new light out of darkness. And because He’s there, we don’t have to be afraid. Our worldly fear is transformed into heavenly joy, the joy of the Lord.
Today we celebrate much more than an empty tomb. In fact, we celebrate even more than the resurrection of our Lord. We celebrate and give thanks for His living presence among us, and His promise to be with us always. Wherever our journey takes us, our risen Lord goes before us. Wherever He sends us, Jesus is there, just as he promised on that first Easter morning:
“Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee;
there they will see me.”
For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.