Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Yeah right. Try telling that to the man being mauled by a bear, or the woman about to be hit by a car, or anyone facing a life-threatening danger. Just telling them they don't have to fear it doesn't quite do the job.
A couple years ago, my daughter was walking home from the school bus when a neighbor's dog that was at least her size came roaring out after her. It charged her, knocked her down and was on top of her barking and snarling. What good do you think it would have done at that time if her brother nicely said to her, "There's nothing to fear, sis." I'm guessing she wouldn't really have bought that. In fact, she still doesn't buy it when she sees a dog she doesn't know, not until that dog is safely out of sight.
The only chance you really have to remove fear is to remove whatever it is that is causing the fear. Thankfully for my daughter, her mom came down the street to help get that dog away from her. But just telling someone not to be afraid accomplishes nothing.
People afraid of what their cancer will do still have cancer even if you tell them not to be afraid. People afraid of losing their jobs still may still be in jeopardy. People afraid of loneliness could still be all alone. Saying "Don't be afraid," does nothing by itself. You've got to remove the reason for fear first, otherwise fear can be paralyzing, literally.
We see that in our text, Matthew 28:4: "The guards were so afraid of him (that angel) that they shook and became like dead men." The earthquake Matthew 28 tells us about would be scary enough, but to see an angel? Remember what angels can do. We're not talking about chubby-faced babies with wings. Remember, it was an angel who took out 70,000 Israelites as a result of David's foolish census; it was an angel who killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night. Imagine seeing something powerful enough to do that in front of you. It makes sense that the soldiers dropped unconscious.
But notice something. The women didn't. Both groups felt the earthquake and saw the angel, but one group became like dead men.
The only difference we see in the text is that the angel spoke the word to the women: "Do not be afraid." The soldiers didn't even stay conscious long enough to hear that.
The appearance of the angel could only make sense to those who knew why the angel was saying those words. This is exactly what Jesus had promised. Those women had become accustomed to seeing God work in their lives so they were ready to be reminded not to be afraid.
Which group are you in?
Are you the strong, mighty, self-sufficient soldiers, or the weeping women?
The soldiers knew something about Jesus; after all, they had posted a guard. They posted a guard because they knew what he had said. They posted a guard because they were afraid it might be true, that they were wrong.
They had lined up with his enemies. If they were wrong, they were in trouble. And seeing the angel proved that they were wrong, that they had reason to fear.
But for the women - they heard the message differently, they saw the angel differently. They experienced that whole day differently because they experienced it through their relationship with Jesus Christ.
How about you?
Because you do have earthquakes, and some of them have more power to shake your life than even that 9.0 on the Richter scale that rocked Japan. You feel earthquakes. The question is how you handle them.
All of us have things that make our lives shake and our world quake, no matter who you are or whose you are. Think of the fear inspired by those big words, the C-word:Cancer ...The D-words: Divorce ...Death. The difference between the soldiers and those women was not what they had been through. It was how they handled it. It was how they heard those words: "Do not be afraid."
When the junk of life happens, and it does - does it do any good to say to you "Do not be afraid."? Please, don't let these be just some empty words. Hear the word that has actually taken away the reason for fear. And the more a part of your life that word is, the more you're able to handle things - because you are accustomed to seeing God work.
Have you seen that play out? Two people lose the same loved one and one is a wreck while the other seems to be a mountain of strength? Why? Because one hears the word.
Here is that word. For now, just read it. Next week, we'll dig into it and see what it means for our fear.
No matter what your problem, here is the solution. Mathew 28:5 "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay."
So we really don't have any reason to fear. Happy Easter.
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.