Last week, we noticed the difference between the soldiers (Jesus' enemies) and the women (Jesus' friends) at the tomb that first Easter Sunday morning. The soldiers fainted in fear. The women listened to God's word and found joy. Here's Matthew 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."
Most every time you see an angel appear in Scripture, his first words are "Do not be afraid." If not for the death and resurrection of Jesus, every encounter with God or his representatives ought to paralyze us with fear. Really, it ought to kill us, because we've lined ourselves up on the wrong side of God, just like those soldiers had.
That is what sin does. If you are imperfect, no matter how close you are, if you've ever done anything wrong (which you have), you have made yourself the enemy of this Holy One who must condemn sin.
But yet, the angel said, "Do not be afraid," and it worked. Those ladies didn't fall over dead, because they were looking for Jesus, who was crucified. Perfect, holy, sinless Jesus was crucified. And that, my friends is what removes the reason for our fear. He paid the price for our sins.
He paid the penalty for our treason. He was crucified. And the fact that he wasn't in that tomb, that what the angel said was true, "He has risen, just as he said," meant that he was who he said he was and he came to do what he said he came to do. He came to make us right with God. He came to remove our reason for fear. His word is true. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
You'll notice something about how all this affected those women. It says that they left that angel, "afraid yet full of joy." Sure, they had his word announced by angels, and they believed it, but their hearts were still confused, their earth was still kind of shaking.
Even when we know the truth, the fear is still sometimes there, isn't it? That's why God goes one step farther. Not only does he remove our reason for fear by giving us his word, he removes our reason for fear by giving us his presence.
This is Matthew 28:9: "Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid." Did you catch that? He says the very same thing as that angel, and his word has power because he is right there backing it up.
He didn't just send word, but he himself came back and appeared to these women here and to Mary Magdalene, and to the disciples in the upper room and to the more than 500 on that mountain and to Peter and to Paul... and to you.
No, we don't see him standing here with these eyes like they did, not yet. We will when he returns physically at the end, but right now it's not our physical eyes (that can be so easily deceived) that we rely on. It is our eyes of faith. We see him through his promises and what he really, physically does.
God knows that just because the reason for fear is gone, that doesn't mean Satan stops attacking. So God builds in another way to repeat his message, another way to reinforce in us that we really don't have to fear. God gives us his presence because we need it.
Do you realize how important that makes your time at church every week, where we gather together with our brothers and sisters in Christ? Remember what Jesus promised? Matthew 18:18: "Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." When we worship together, we have Jesus' own word that he is with us!
So join us at church and feel his presence, and not just on the big holidays. I mean, it is certainly true that Jesus gives us these reminders and attacks our fear on Christmas and Easter, but Satan doesn't just work two days a year. The earthquakes of life don't just reserve themselves for the week of High Holy Days in the church year. The earthquakes will come, so you need to see your Savior removing the reason for fear again and again. And he comes to you through his word. He comes to you at church.
So get to church this Sunday and remember: You have nothing to fear. Instead, like Jesus commanded those women: Go, and tell, Christ is risen!
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.